One thing I have learned at seminary from the pipeliners is just how far from my twenties I am. Actually it has been really energizing to be around them and to connect. While I will post more after my final tomorrow, I got to thinking about music from " back in the day." From when I was in high school, I was reminded of this Keith Green song I hear at a Creation event. Bring on the bamanna bread!
Thursday, August 30, 2007
1. There is nowhere that life will take you where God is not right there with you.
This is the teen version of the Romans verse which is my fave
( my Lutheran Chicks are 13 and 15)
I have relied on this to get me through many things. We are NEVER without God
2. Although not every thing can be fixed, there is nothing than cannot be forgiven.
First taught to LC #2 when she pulled a page out of the printer too quickly
and it went "crunch". When told this her tears and fears melted away.
3. Everyone is different- that is what makes life interesting. But be who you are.
4. There is a difference between being " the best" and doing "your best."
The first is a matter of opinion and opinions change. Working to be your best shows that you are using your gifts from God the best you can. Sometimes this will go well, sometimes it will go not so well. But God's grace is unending.
5. Never pass up a chance to show someone you love or care for them. You never know if there will be another. You may be just what that person needed at that moment.
Do this and you will not have regrets for what could have been.
So there you have it. I hope the Chicks live these out. I see times when they do and I am reminded of how blessed I am to have my children and my husband- gifts don't get much better than that!
Friday, August 24, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
How long it has been since I texted my kids or emailed my Mom and Dad. How short was the time I spent with my husband over lunch yesterday.
And it is easy to get sucked into the vortex of studying and stressing and memorization and the whole learning/testing cycle. But yesterday hit the wall and my brain just needed a break. And I was kind of clunking around, wondering what to do to avoid the nagging presence of my Greek. And yet I really should stay focused.
In the midst of this, one of my classmates, who is from Ethiopia, and has come to Virginia to obtain education, was meeting with his candidacy committee. And I thought I had stress!
Here is a man who has come here with his family, is still learning the crazy ins and outs of our language and Greek on top of it. He has left Ethiopia where he was an evangelist in the Lutheran Church to come here to become a pastor. And he is doing this while serving a church for Ethiopians here in Virginia, where he plays the organ, preaches and teaches. He began by posting flyers at the airports and other places where Ethiopians would see and he has a growing congregation serving a ministry need. He has a wife and three children as well.
And so as I rejoiced and praised God with him last evening that he has been given positive entrance by his Synod, I thought some more about perspective and time.
The night before his interview I sat with him and listened to his story and we shared candidacy experiences. Last night we could spend some time being glad.
And while it is important that I work hard, it cannot be any more important than being present to others.
And when I think about whatever sacrifices I am making to be in this place, my classmate really is proof that God will move mountains much bigger than my worries for the sake of His church.
And since we really only get so much time, we should try to be good stewards of it, not just in the busy work of a day, but in the connections we make and the relationships we build.
In Ephesians, Paul writes in chapter 5, verse 15 that we are to be careful how we live, making the most of our time. True enough, but I think that even more defining is the words of the earlier chapter, Chapter 4, 1-7 in which he urges fellow believers to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are one body, one Spirit, with one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all.
We each have different gifts, we come from different lands, and times, but the more that we can remember this unity of purpose and spirit, we and the church will be strengthened and sustained, even when 24 ways to say "the" is calling.
I have seen a great video about time and how we use the gift of it. Unfortunately I cannot directly post it here, so I offer the link:
Enjoy the gift of time God has given to you this day!
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I took a position as an associate lawyer in a mid-sized firm but my primary location was as the second attorney in the town where I lived ( about 10,000 people). At the time many people living here were "from here." And I was the only female lawyer in town so I became known as " that lady lawyer."
I also learned that since many people did not think of women as lawyers, if I was standing near the receptionist's desk, I must be a secretary. This was still a time where women were required to wear a suit with a skirt to Court and this rule applied even in winter when men came in with khakis, a blazer and duck boots. I was once chastised for wearing snow boots for a brief routine presentation in Court where I had just driven forty minutes through a foot and a half of new snow to get there.
So.. I expected to mainly write wills, maybe do some real estate closings and some other civil law things, and lots of research for other older lawyers. And I did do those things. But what really happened was this..
Two weeks after I started my boss went on vacation and there were thirteen-fifteen real estate closings to do every day. I had seen him do one. Mine. Thank the Lord for a good paralegal. Several of the closings had weird issues come up but the strangest one was where the people had a house built and by the time of the closing, it became obvious that the wife had ordered a lot of "extras" like special fixtures for the house. She had not, however, talked with her husband and the total was ore than the amount of money they had.
So there sits the wife in tears, the husband in shock, the builder in fits. And this was not something I was prepared for- having to tell everyone what happens if people walk away and litigation starts. Deep breath. They have no idea that as scared as they are- I am petrified.
I suggested we take an hour break for everyone to evaluate their options and come back ( after all other people are stacked up waiting for their closings). I suggested it was in everyone's interest to not be too hasty. For some reason they listened.
I still do not know what happened during that hour but the buyers came back with money from a friend or family member and we closed the deal. They are, miraculously, still married.
Pretty soon after I started, my supervising attorney started giving me files to handle start to finish and many of them were the divorces he did not want to do. I never had a family law class in school ( because after all I was going to write wills). I realized quickly how little I knew about the dynamics of these cases, even though I have practiced in this area now for many years, I have struggled with the context of reducing lives to numbers and formulas. From the perspective of each person there is too little or too much, or too soon or too late.
Wanting litigation experience I answered a posting for a part time-public defender in criminal cases. When I was called to tell me I had the job, I was now working full-time for my law firm and part time for the county. I was handling preliminary hearings for everything from stolen lawn ornaments ( real case) to arson. Routine traffic violations and aggravated assault.
I had the chance to get in a couple of trials as well. One of which involved a 14 year old who got mad because a known drug dealer made fun of his girlfriend and he bought a fully loaded gun on the street for $40 and came back and blew the dealer away. My job was to handle the juvenile certification phase- should he be tried as an adult or a juvenile? In the process of preparing his defense we learned a lot of the markers of troubled people.
He was Hispanic, living in the worst part of town. No father in the picture. His mother was clearly overwhelmed by raising several children. She did not speak English well and therefore was relegated to working in a laundry. Long hours, not good pay. And this young man had learning issues, and ADD- which was not fully addressed in school or at home because this city school district did not have the resources, and the mother did not have the time or the desire or the energy or could not make it to school without missing work because if she did she would lose her bad job - but it was her only income. ( Yes that was a run-on sentence for effect- this is how people relate the stress of their lives).
So what does a young guy with no hope who people make fun of with too much energy and a brain function issue like ADD that prevents you from properly reading social cues do? He acts impulsively, angrily. And yet after he shot the dealer, it did not seem real. It seemed just like the video games. And since nobody cares about the dealer because he is a bad guy, does it matter?
Years later I watched a movie called Children of God about the drug slums of Rio. I thought of C. the young man who shot the dealer.
And the truth is that C was also using drugs so he had another relationship with this dealer. And the dealer had another tool to taunt C- you need me to feed your addiction so I can mess with you and what are you going to do about it?
He was tried as an adult- there was after all no real way to successfully argue otherwise. And he got a life sentence. That was 16 years ago so he is now 30.
Over the next years I would condense a lot of quick learning about much more than just the law.
Monday, August 20, 2007
So suddenly we were the proud owners of a two story house that has been another lawyer's offices. What to do with the property? Our congregation did what is often done when such things arise, we formed a committee. Other than singing this was one of the first things I became involved with. Lots of ideas were kicked around, such as just renting it out, tearing it down and paving it over, among others.
This was one time where as a lawyer I saw a need. I had been practicing for a couple of years and had started to become involved in family law cases, some of which are exacerbated by issues of abuse. Getting a protective order against an abuser is one thing, and the abuser can be evicted from a residence, but this is not as simple as it sounds in real life. what if the only breadwinner just got kicked out and you will not get support money for months? What if you are just too scared to stay because the abuser will violate the order- the law is not enough? What if you are in a bad landlord tenant situation and you need safe housing? None of these need long term solutions when first there is an immediate need.
So I pitched the idea of transitional housing. To my surprise the committee was on board because it fulfilled a ministry role for an identified need. We were able to furnish the apartment from donations within the congregation. I drafted the housing agreement and had it reviewed by a the local district judge to assure its enforceability.
When I became aware of a need, I met with the person, we reviewed what the "rules" of the housing were. We clarified the time which the housing could be used and explained that if someone stayed too long it meant someone else was out in the cold.
With a couple bumps in the road over the last 15 years it has served a valuable purpose. Perhaps my two "favorite" times- defined as being good we have had the resource were:
1. People called me with an apartment that had just been condemned because the roof was collapsing. It had a hole in the roof, the snow was coming through, and had shorted out the electric. The family was heating with kerosene and the daughter was treating for Hodgkins. The 30 days with us allowed the family to pool resources and get a refund form the landlord of rent through the legal process.
2. A client of mine had an alcoholic spouse who was abusive. Even though she got an order for protection my intuition told me he would be back. I convinced her to move with the children to our apartment. He did come back swinging an ax. There was only one way in and out of the apartment. The resident downstairs heard the commotion and called the police- he was arrested. The family was already elsewhere.
We have more recently hosted Mekeshti Turks who are resettling here after excaping persecution.
This was my first foray into real faith in service. Each time I work for the kingdom helping those others would rather not get their hands dirty with, I come away learning more from them than I can imagine
Sunday, August 19, 2007
As I mentioned earlier I joined the choir and the handbell choir. Music has always been a major part of my life. Although in my profile I listed a few types of music I enjoy, the truth is, I am a music mutt. I love all kinds of music, vocal and instrumental. In worship I love to sing. Sacred, contemporary, African praise, Taize, you name it. One of the things I have loved being a part of on occasion is to sing the psalm or verse for the Gospel procession as a cantor. And more recently to intone the kyrie and lead the Hymn of Praise. I look forward to the proper preface.
As much as I love to sing, I get nervous- less now than I used to. But when I get nervous, in the choir pew I would take off my shoes. Which is the first thing I do at the end of a day to get comfortable. One Sunday the acolyte stole one of my shoes and I was faced with communing with one shoe or no shoes. Good times.
As I said, I would get really nervous. Because after all this God we are talking about here. Eventually I have come to terms with the "gotta be perfect" and I enjoy solo parts more. Gotta love grace.
But one thing I can tell you is that my voice changes with the piece. I do not really try to do this. And although I have the ability to sing outside of church, it is in service in worship where sacredness of the moment and space allow me to transcend what I could normally do.
It just happens.
Our congregation is blessed with an outstanding organist and music director, as my home congregation was when I was growing up so music has always been integral to my faith experience. And seeing music as an offering in worship service, not a performance is a distinction worth mentioning.
Sometimes I wish we did more to educate the congregation about the events that lead to certain hymns or pieces being written. It allows the words to be even that much more meaningful. Like a piece composed by Paul Manz when he believed that his infant son would not live through the night and he invoked the Lord Jesus to swiftly come.
One of the things I rejoice in is the youth choir and youth instrumentalists who perform prelude and offertory music. A Sunday does not pass where there is a tear in my eye for their talent and gifts and their willingness to remain connected to our faith. Of course, there is definitely a tear when it is one of the Lutheran Chicks at the front of the church. LC#1 is hoping to successfully audition for Lutheran Summer Music Camp which is a month in the summer at Gustavus Adolphus so I will need tips from the Minnesotans if she is selected.
Before I leave you with a list of some of my favorites, I share this with you. In my experience, music is intertwined with the milestones of our lives in faith. I still remember the hymn sung for each Lutheran Chick's baptism. The music and anthems offered at weddings and services of Resurrection victory and ordinations put flesh onto the bones of the Word. One of the times I feel the greatest sense of service is in services of resurrection victory when our music is part of the balm.
So here is my partial list:
Lift high the Cross
Lead on O King Eternal
O Sacred Head Now Wounded'
If You But suffer God to Guide you
Tree of Life
Let Us Break Bread Together
Here I am Lord
A Mighy Fortress
Of the Father's Love Begotten
Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Prayer
Shepherd Me O God
I want to walk as a Child of the Light
O Come and Mourn
Jesus Christ is risen today
Were You There
I am sure there are others but that is my list for now.
What are your favorites?
Saturday, August 18, 2007
So many of my junior class are here for the thrills of the Summer Greek adventure at LTSG. One quiz down,6 quizzes and 2 exams to go, but who's counting? During our first day together there was a opportunity for each person to share where they were from, a little bit about their journey thus far. Pipeliners, and some of us not, fro all across the country, men and women, different faith backgrounds. Many of us running from getting here for quite awhile; others who always knew, heard and obeyed. Learned a new phrase "genetic Lutheran" which I guess has replaced "cradle Lutheran."
There were a couple of common threads. Everyone clearly is moved and energized by serving God's church- no one is here because it was something to do. Everyone sensed that once he or she decided to embark upon this journey, obstacles fell away, doors opened, the path was made clear. Having the opportunity to hear alot of the same thoughts and experiences that have been kicking around in my head and world was frankly a relief. And a blessing.
While we are and will be diverse when it comes to approaches and opinions, and we will be scattered across the country like seeds in the wind, I hope that the faces we meet here will be lasting connections and a collective resource for all of us.
In the meantime, it will be back to Greek and getting ready for the fall term.
And I sense that there will be times of introspection, challenge and refining.
Each morning I use For All the Saints as my resource for morning prayer. Today's prayer seems apt for the coming week:
This week we may be given challenges instead of ease,
courage instead of contentment,
opportunities instead of rest,
But we have a Savior who brings
strength out of service,
faith out of struggle, and
victory out of defeat.
Go then, fear nothing,
sure that in everything we are held secure
in the Master's steadfast love.
E. Lee Phillips
Friday, August 17, 2007
|You Are Dr. Bunsen Honeydew|
You take the title "mad scientist" to the extreme -with very scary things coming out of your lab.
And you've invented some pretty cool things, from a banana sharpener to a robot politician.
But while you're busy turning gold into cottage cheese, you need to watch out for poor little Beaker!
"Oh, that's very naughty, Beaker! Now you eat these paper clips this minute."
Thursday, August 16, 2007
I have made my dinner, gone over what I am supposed to know for the first day quiz. Listened to some great music. Stopped over to visit friends who just got in from Alaska earlier this week- the really big move.
And it feels right to be here. This spring and summer felt discordant because I was walking between two different worlds- the career that is ending, and the process of doing that, and the new journey of which will take directions that can only be imagined..
As I have allowed God to mold me I have seen a transformative process at work that has been both jarring and amazing. Through this I am reminded that the Holy Spirit at work is not exclusively a "warm fuzzy". The fire of the Spirit can be discomforting, can be a catalyst. Can be confrontational- putting before us what we need to be about or need to face. Several of you, have been blogging about Luke and Jeremiah and the lessons for 12th Sunday after Pentecost. Unlikely Conversation and Heart of a Pastor come to mind.
From where I am sitting today, it is not just about "the" church but about each of us seeing our part in it. For me, that part means getting totally out of three comfort zones.
One, I had pretty much figured out the lay of the land in practicing law. Talking in Court-easy. Preaching- not so sure.
Two, I am out of my home turf. After moving my whole life, I stayed put ( and liked it) - one place since 1989. Totally new landscapes to navigate.
Finally, I have come back to academics for the first time in 19 years. More than a little daunting to me.
And at a point where feeling upended is more than a little change. I have said before that I feel like the rock that got tumbled in the "Gemfinder" and came out a semi-precious stone, but forged in the foundry may be more like it. And just like the blacksmith keeps putting the iron back in the heat to work a little more, so I suspect it will be.
So the analogy of what grows after the fire is feeling pretty apt to me. But for once I am not going to engage in the controlling nature of containing the fire. Because I think this is the time to see what the Spirit will plant next.
And now I just really want to get started.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
As I get ready to leave for Summer Greek, the Friday flick is a little early. To everyone who has been a good listener, has given me food for thought, encouragement nd prayers, thanks seems like not enough to say. Not sure when the next post will be - moving in for 2 weeks tomorrow. Peace and blessings and enjoy the flick!
I had also never been in a church where the peace was shared, and the only time anyone processed in my home congregation was for the service of Lessons and Carols. I never left my pew for any purpose growing up because you were served communion in the pew with the trays being passed. My church had no altar and no image of Christ on the cross, just a simple cross on the communion table. So there was a lot I was not equippped for and I didn't even know it before that day.
We walked in and there were lots of very happy peeople buzzing around. The greeters were eager to shake our hands and fill them with bulletins. We sat in the back. The church which holds about 250 was full. And unlike my home church, people were sitting down and talking in the pews instead of being quiet.
And then the full choir was lining up behind us to process with the cross. And I see my coworker- I wave unobstrusively. This prompts the people in the pew to introduce themselves and ask if I know her and how, and is this your first time to worship here. And I learn they are still getting used to the new worship book ( the LBW).
The service was vibrant, the pastor gave an animated sermon. The congregation were belting out the hymns- Luther would be proud. No as loud on the liturgy but it was still pretty new.
And I have no clue where we are a lot of the time between the bulletin and the LBW, sit, stand, kneel. But the music was great, the sharing of the peace inspiring. No mere casual shaking of the hand on either side. The pastors are coming through the church, people and the choir are out of the pews and walking around. It takes abotu five minutes of hugging, handshaking, laughing and getting back where they belong for the rest of the service.
And my husband, the lapsed Catholic is happy because he has been to enough masses to know more about the liturgical service than I do. He seems comfortable. So by the end of the service we have been met, greeted, and embraced by this group of people.
We decide to worship there again. And so it continued for awhile.
My beloved's initial response to church up until this point was " I will go, but don't expect me to join." After about a month or so, he pronounces "Ok, I will join, but don't expect me to do anything." This is progress. But suddenly it dawns upon me that I am not sure whether I can be theologically a Lutheran.
I have been raised in the shadow of Calvin, predestination, the importance of works, and that communion is a remembrance not a time of the real presence in the elements.
What if this is not what I can embrace?
So I began to read a little Luther, and do alot of thinking. And the overwhelming things I found was that the concept of grace was so compelling. Not that Presbyterians do not believe in it, but still a different perspective. Each Sunday the pastor is preaching about grace, but at a certain level I was still bothered. It seemed like our actions were immaterial because we have grace, that it did not matter whether we tried at all to be different. So I went back to Luther.
And for me what I found was not that we should not care because we have grace, but that our knowledge of grace should inspire us to more. Not that our works earn us anything, but that if we are not inspired to do God's work, maybe we need to re-examine our faith. And I had long conversations with the Pastor. As for communion, I feel that it is for me so much more comforting to believe that God is present in communion in, with and under the elements rather than a more distant sense of our Father.
So we became a part of a new member's class and joined in February of 1990. By then I was singing with the choir and ringing with the handbells. Though there is much more I could say about faith and our time in this congregation perhaps the most important post-script is my beloved. He later went on to become involved with evangelism, then serving on Council, and chairing evangelism. And now serves on an inter-synodical committee for campus ministry. Had I insisted he do any of this, I am sure it may well have turned out very differently, but watching his faith and service develop has been a great joy. We hope we are passing this on to the Lutheran Chicks.
Much more to be said about our home but as I look back over the almost 19 years, it seems hard to imagine not being here.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
My parents come up from FLA for the summer to a place I bought and renovated for them to spend time with the grandkids when they were younger. Now the Lutheran Chicks are teenagers and my parents are, well, not.
A year ago my mother's twin died from a self-inflicted wound. She is still stuck in some bitter grieving and is reliving all of the unhappiness of a dysfunctional childhood. She still is working everyday and spends much of the day on the phone and computer this summer. Then she fell on some stairs and got hurt pretty bad and that has been her summer. She has really not been interested in seeing us much and this is hard for everyone to understand. She also has not been happy with the seminary decision because it is just not what she envisioned. Saying " my daughter is a lawyer" sounds so much better than, "My daughter is a pastor." This is also hard but is proof of why I did not follow this path in my younger days. It will hopefully work itself out,but I cannot make the change occur, only pray for it.
My Dad is a kind soul and is retired. His daily faith has become his life focus over the last 10 years and he is an inspiration to me. Since my Mom is "busy" all day, he ends up spending most days with me until her workday is done. In fact, it is a blessing that we have had so much time to just talk this summer. He traveled when I was growing up and I feel like a I was given the gift of this time this summer.
But he is getting a little forgetful, and occasionally agitated. I find things for him to do each day. He has taken most of the last several weeks to paint trim in my living room.
I could have done it in a day, but he seems very content. I have touched up the things he could not really see well at night. His father had dementia and I see where we are headed. I wonder what next summer will be like. But it is not here. So I take a deep breath and live this summer with him. Because you never know.
The Lutheran Chicks really enjoy spending time with him and seem to help him when he gets a little confused, or has forgotten his hearing aid, or where his glasses are. I hope they are this patient with me some day.
I am feeling a little anxious about being away for 2 weeks. One week of this they will be with my parents during the day and then school starts. I am sure they will be bored but it will be time for our community's Fair so my beloved will take them there at night to get their fill of farm animals, junk food, seeing their friends, riding rides and getting the required milkshake from the the ladies of the Grange and root beer floats from the Lutheran men.
I will miss all of this for the first time in 15 years. Wistful moment.
This has been a summer where everything was in flux. Diane of Faith in Community has written recently of living in the tensions. How true.
A couple of years ago we rented an enormous house in Blowing Rock, NC and took the kids, our mountain bikes and invited my parents and my uncle and his wife. It was a great week. When we talked about putting it together I said it was because you never know what the future brings. It will always be my most lasting and favorite memory of a man who later became beyond reach.
And so this was the summer of long conversations with someone I see beginning to slip away. And I do not know how long it takes, but I am grateful for the inutition to embrace it and all of its tension.
Monday, August 13, 2007
SO the first time I am called it is as a lawyer. Lots of emotion and anger and crying by the daughter. I recommend a lawyer to her because I have wrapped up my practice. At the end I ask if I can pray for her and her mother.
She angrily says it will do no good because these events have convinced her there is no God because nothing is going her way.
I point out that the court papers she dreads have not come. And that she has the names of two lawyers. And that I have spent 45 minutes listening and helping and maybe God is there. She is not sure.
A couple weeks later she calls and there are new processes and waiting and anxiety. We talk through it in about 30 minutes. Less crying and anger. I ask if I can pray for her and she says I can if I want to. I tell her I will
Today she calls with new issues about her the older woman's health. Now she is just calling because I will listen and get her on track. After about 15 minutes, she thanks me and says, "I hope you are praying for me and my mother because we really need it."
We have gone for pure rejection to hope that I am praying. And this may or may not be the end of it.
But in some small way I rejoice that God has used me to encourage her steps toward faith. And who knows, next time maybe she will agree we can pray together.
So I suggested we visit each. We started with the Episcopalian parish. I am not sure why. We arrived for the service. It was a lovely stone church with very pleasant greeters. The sanctuary looked like we were in the British Isles if a little small. About 40 people were there including the pastor and organist. The service bulletin and the service itself were easy to follow. At the conclusion of worship we were eagerly greeted and invited to the church basement for coffee and danish. We went. Light hearted banter with people who were genuinely enthused and introduced us around. We felt almost like we were in a James Herriot novel ( he of the All Creatures Great and Small). What we also noticed was that they had one confirmand, no significant childrens programming and we were clearly the youngest people there by 30 years. And yet here was this wonderful group of folks doing their darndest to change that with people like us. But we were the only ones and this is a town of 10,000 people. We knew we planned to start a family in a few years. How would this all play out? We did not go back. I felt horrible picturing these saints of God who we would not be coming back to. For years I could not drive past the church. They are still hanging on as a congregation but it is a struggle.
Next we visited the Methodists. Very large congregation. An abundance of activities and programs and an enormous campus. Large more modern sanctuary. Tons of kids and young adults. During the service the pastor talked a lot about money and how they needed more money to reduce their building debt, and there were posters and flyers about the money needs as well.
The greeters were pleasant in a kind of neutral way. No one in our pew said hello. When we left at the end of worship, everyone was disbursing to all of the activities in a swarm, but no one made any contact with us, in fact it seemed we were in the way of traffic. We signed the visitor's pad but no one followed up-ever. We did not go back. I have been in this church many times since because my brother in law now lives here and worships there. Each time has been about the same and his family has even said you just try to make your group of friends.
Meanwhile at my new job, my coworkers are interested in my church search. Finally my secretary says that we might like her church- the Lutherans just down the street. Tells me when the services are and tells me that if we come which service she goes to if we want a friendly face. And that if we do not go or do not like it she will not think anything of it. Low-key evangelism.
Neither my beloved nor I have ever been to a Lutheran service and we go for Reformation Sunday.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
As people were seeing me in the hall before church, having seen the Godspeed in the bulletin, and then during the actual service itself, I was pretty sure I was going to cry. Women in their 40's sometimes just do that. Instead it felt energizing and peaceful at the same time. A kind of validation of where I am and what comes next.
As I was communing people, they were holding my hand and the bread. Normally there is a moment with each person, but this was more today.People kneeling and looking up at me, in a much more connected way than we Pennsylvania Germans will engage in.
At the end of the recession, I come out into the center of the aisle for the sending. Someone is trying to talk to me and wish me well.
Lots of hugs and best wishes in fellowship time. Lots of congratulations. I jokingly said that the time to congratulate me will be someday when I have completed my studies. One person said," No, congratulations for being able to make this step and be open to God's call. Not everyone can or will."
Early in my discernment I wondered if I was worthy of a calling such as this. Then my thinking shifted to the idea that the question is as much about being willing. Willing to trust, willing to have that conviction of things unseen and assurance of things hoped for. Willing to allow God to mold me.
In the daily life of a congregation it is easy allow the minutiae to drag you down, and then we lose sight of the real purpose and goal. And it can be hard to see Christ in others when they are telling you that they cannot teach today and that is in 15 minutes, or they forgot it was their week to bring the snack, or I am on my way to worship and someone just needs to vent about a mistake in the bulletin concerning altar flowers because as a Council member I should know. We all know these moments that can just sap the ability to love your fellow Christian at that moment.
As St. Ignatius states we are created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord. Kind of a personal mission statement for us and our expression of God's church. He also states ( and I paraphrase) we are to rid ourselves of the things that hinder us from accomplishing this.
As I have contemplated this for the last couple of weeks, I have focused in part not upon tangible things, but the intangibles. What are the things that we allow to hinder us from honoring God's call to us in our journey?
I think that my fellow parishioner had it right- it's not just about what we can do, but what we will do. AND whether what we will do serves God or merely serves our own list of demands, preferences and "gotta-have-its." And in my home church there is much to be excited about and a lot of nervousness about the dreaded "c" word-change. I pray that they can and will make the culture shifts that will carry them into the years ahead vibrantly, rather than riding off into the sunset remembering the glory days gone by.
In the moments of today where good friends and people who are fellow parishioners who I know mainly in passing, made the effort to connect, inquire, encourage and sustain me, they did more than just exchange pleasantries.
I came into today a little wistful, and a little nervous about how this acknowledgment of change would hit me ( even though I knew it was coming). Without realizing it, they ministered to me in a way that was God's touch upon my arm reassuring me. And in the end, this is why it will be hard to leave, because the tedious nanoseconds don't linger like the long term warm fuzzies of these folks.
A few years ago I read a book entitled A Generation of Seekers-the Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation by Wade Clark Roof. It was published in the mid-90's and so it a little old now, but the information it imparts is not. Roof uses prototype characters to illustrate life stories of various boomers and the diversity of experience they depict. I led a Sunday school class with different people depicting the personalities and each week we had a couple players present their person in character and then we had Q & A and talked about whether we have met people like this, what their life view was and what is "religion" to this person. We had huge attendance and loads of comments and personal sharing by people.
What we learned and what the book shows is that geographic mobility ( I lived in 13 different places before here), greater numbers of people with higher education, social issues that arose have led to a much more pluralistic experience. Which had shifted the old model of church, family and government as the pillars of culture.
We also discovered that in our congregation less than half of the members were cradle Lutherans. And we talked about what brought us to this church in particular(as in the building, not the denomination). And as we have become consumers with too many choices, for many people, church is just one option for what someone will do on a given day. And the church someone attends may have very little to do with deep theological beliefs for some.
Finally we learned that not everyone intends to settle somewhere, they may just be passing through our area, or our church. They may just be seeking and we are not necessarily the end of their journey as they seek to define spirituality in their lives. We may be one of many things from which they will draw their beliefs. Kind of an a la carte system.
So it really is not so unique that a person born in Indiana, who lived in Tennessee and Pittsburgh would end up in what some people call "Amish country" looking for a church other than the one she came from.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Everything happened in order. And for the time from 5th grade until I married, this was the model I saw when I thought of worship.
In spite of the seriousness with which worship was treated on Sunday mornings, we had an outstanding youth program that was truly intergenerational for elementary through the end of high school. This was where you really got to know people and see that for the most part, we all were in this together. And although it was very organized it was your time to have fun in learning about faith.
So, anyway, we go to the "recommended" church and the minister is in a suit with a turquoise tie, and he just looks like he should be on a televangelism show. No robe, no pulpit, walking around with a microphone sharing. He looked so tan and perfect. And everyone there was just so..perfect. Lots of Volvos in the parking lot and yuppie superficial smiling. I felt like we might be in the wrong tax bracket and I know our used Toyota looked a little forlorn in the parking lot.
The church was more modern looking and the sanctuary had folding chairs. OK, but people had staked out their chairs like you would at a concert. As pulled together as the "Church of the Really Big Deal" had been, evangelism had been a strength and even when I was the new kid from Tennessee I never felt looked down upon or like a was someone's new service project. In one impression my beloved and I exchanged looks about the likelihood we were in the right demographic.
It was mission Sunday. They had a prison ministry person who gave a riveting program and then and there encouraged people to volunteer their time. Deathly silence. Then he said monetary contributions were welcome. Audible sigh of relief as checkbooks began whipping out. Wouldn't really want to get to close to the prison population.
The choir director wanted to offer her personal testimony before they sang the anthem. Lots of feeling really good about themselves but no one seemed to want to expand the circle. It just felt wrong to us. There were not other Presby options nearby.
By now I was engaged and I asked my fiance to come to church with me on Sundays because it was important to me. He was a lapsed Catholic, baptized but never confirmed. The child of a Methodist and Slovak Catholic. Since they could not agree on a church, there had been none. My beloved's experience was limited to what he learned at all of the VBS programs his friends took him to.
I decided it would be easier to plan a wedding at this church rather than the "Church of the Really Big Deal" back home. We met with the associate pastor. He was about 2 years older than us. He gave us a Myers-Briggs and determined that we were both too "J" to marry...but if we insisted. Such misuse of the test if ever there was. Actually, he is an ISTJ and I am and ENTJ. We complement each other very well because even though we may approach situations differently we have the same general method. What this means in reality is that we procratinate about different things. Since we were not members, we paid for everything. The church, the sexton, the organist, the candles, everything was for a price. We were not asked if we wanted to join. We worshipped there for a year and not one person ever shook our hand, introduced themselves, noticed our checks in the offering plate. We were invisible.
It came time to plan our vows and service. I said I did not want to promise to "obey" but would "cherish" or "respect." This unleashed was a maelstrom of recrimination from the Presbyterian pastor. I suggested that we should consider the context in which the text upon which the vow was based, I suggested that Jesus' ministry was about establishing equality and respect. And that there may have been other broader issues in the church addressed in the verses. He laughed and asked if what people would think if he preached that on Sunday. He also asked us what would be things that could end our marriage. I mentioned physical abuse or infidelity. He told me that as a wife I should be open to forgiving my husband of anything, even infidelity or abuse because it might be possible I did something to induce it. This was the week of the wedding and now we just wanted to get married. My beloved mentioned that it was not important to him that I "obey". During our wedding the homily was on the high rate of divorce. Someone had the last word-'nuf said.
The month we married, we bought a house, I started a new job in lawfirm, got married and we left for our honeymoon in Scotland. A month later I was 26 years old and ready to start advising people about the problems in their lives.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
My second year, two cool things happened. First, a bunch of us formed a group that raised money to fund public interest legal internships for those who were willing to not take a big lawfirm summer job, and I met the man who would ultimately become my husband. Hokey as it may sound, when we met and were talking, I actually heard a voice tell me "this might be the man you marry." I am known to be a skeptic, but I kid you not.
I was the first guinea pig for the internship program and at the end of my second year of school I packed up my car and headed to Allentown PA to help with an elderlaw project with Legal Services. Maybe there was meaning afterall.
I spent the summer not only helping the impoverished elderly, but also abused women, evicted tenants and pretty much any person in need. I learned how quickly life can change in an instant. And how emotionally charged a situation can be. Although I saw these things through the eyes of a 23 year old. There was still much about life I did not know.
But when I came back to law school it was clear that I was to take a real job, at least in the eyes of my peers and my parents. Even among law students the "free" lawyers are seen as second class. Which is too bad because they tend to be better because they have less to work with.
I had also learned that while I could get a great job in the State Department with a pay incentive for knowing Russian, I could be assigned anywhere and that could be Ethiopia where my language would be worthless and my coworkers would hate me because I made more. Besides, by now I suspected I might be getting engaged to my husband who was from a different part of the state and who had already graduated. I took a position with a judge in a county near him for a year to see what might come next.
This was a time before fax, email, cell and the internet ( I know -hard to imagine). We wrote. She was at Wheaton College where she had to sign a covenant of conduct. I off-handed mentioned a cute guy I went to see a movie with. His name clearly indicated he was Jewish. It was REALLY just going to a movie.
The letter I got back was a lecture about the light and darkness mixing. How every social context could lead to a romantic relationship. My soul was clearly in danger. She wanted to write more but she was leaving to do street ministry in Chicago. Repent!
And when I came home for Christmas that year, they all knew.
OK, but I brushed it off. And I loved the Church of the Covenant. Great people who really wanted to talk to the college kids. They held a study break every term at midnight with caffeine and munchies the entire four years I was there. Now that I am older and I recall how old they were, this was really hospitality ministry in the extreme for some of them. I have never forgotten their witness. Most, if not all, of us would move on. They were just being Christ's presence. I had faith that there was more to the story, but I was also living the college kid life pretty hard my first year.
My freshman year I had signed up to take Russian. I also took a January term trip to the Soviet Union ( now defunct). My dad had been in military intelligence and I almost did not make it through customs, but I did. Lots of great experiences with the people, and I was absolutely awe-struck in the Orthodox churches and a monastery that I visited. We visited an iconography museum with the largest collection of ancient icons not in churches. I found myself drawn in to the icons. Time seemed to stop. Everywhere else around me though it was clear that life for the "American tourist" was vastly different from the average Ivan on the street. Went to visit dissidents and we drank chilled vodka, smoked my American cigarettes and listened to bootleg music while arguing politics. The next day I was sneaking money to the monk in the monastery from the group because with my traded-for silver fox hat I looked most "Russian."
Every Sunday that I went to the Church of the Covenant I went with the guy who needed a good cover. By the end of our first year he was depressed. Over the summer he committed suicide. Hard funeral. The only one that had been harder was a guy in my senior class who dropped over dead of an aneurysm two months before graduation. But that was a different kind of hard. In the fall, I just couldn't bear the questions from the well meaning Church of the Covenant ladies about where he was. So.. I found reasons not to go. My home church was becoming less like the church I knew in some shifts of theology and I was always working or picking up extra credits in the summer.
By the time I was in my junior year, I went back to the Soviet Union. This time packing Cyrillic language Bibles which made it through. More sneaking money to the priest. While I was there I had a cyst develop and rupture at the base of my spine that I never knew I had. There was not time to take me to the "Tourist" hospital. I went where the regular people would be sent. Without an interpreter because she was to stay with our group. Tested out my Russian. There was a changing room which had cubicles and shower curtains just like the old public swimming pool. I was told to take off my clothes and wait to be called. I had a small towel the size of a handtowel. When it was my turn to go to surgery, I did my best to cover up with the small towel and walked through a room full of other undressed people waiting for surgery.
Turns out that since the surgery was considered not internal, there was no anaesthesia. Which it would have been nice to know-the vodka would have been a blessing. Not sure how I lived through that. But there was vodka after for sure!
Made me really wonder about the others. There is a Russian word "borba" which means struggle. It was clear that every day these people lived with that word. Who knew how long they had waited just to get care and I was going ahead of them. I felt so unworthy.
Worked for a Congressman in the summer after my junior year and had become very involved in Republican political work. Started traveling to DC alot to help the Reagan Revolution which seemed right at the time. Tried to decide between pursuing further study in Russian and an intelligence job, or law school which I was told I was made for. Although I was still a person of faith ( after all, what idiot takes banned Bibles in a suitcase and gets past the guys with guns for kicks?), church was kind of just an afterthought because there was not a real group to attach to when I was home.
This was such an idyllic time for me. Playing in our newly developing neighborhood. Leave in the morning with friends and just be home for lunch and supper. We had the world by the tail, or so it seemed.
And in my church, it seemed that every grownup cared about the teeming mass of baby boomer kids running around. Lots of church basement meals and classes in the big room with the expandable dividers.
I remember the Bread for the World banks that looked like a loaf of bread where we saved money for the poor starving children around the world. Flannelgram Sunday school stories and trying to get my fingers to do "Here is the Church, here is the steeple, open the doors and here's all the people."
Little did I know that elsewhere the adults argued about the budget, the mission and who was and was not pulling their fair share of the weight on committees. Little did I know that when my Father changed companies and we moved, my parents were burned out with the "stuff" of church work.
Before I was nine, we moved to Tennessee when my father transferred to another company. We lived in Appalachia in a rented house across from a farm on a rural road. Our next door neighbors had some kind of interesting expanded family going on. There was a couch on the front porch, a couple cars on cinderblocks in the yard, the Dad "drove truck" and there was never enough money but always plenty of beercans. The kids were friendly but sad. Even I could see their life was going nowhere fast. I wished there was something I could do about it.
With another promotion, my family moved down the road to a better town and home. During the couple of years I lived there, we did not have a church home. I learned alot about the social stratification in the South of its day. I had to walk through a "poor white" neighborhood to get to school, and I discovered that by befriending these kids the "good kids" looked down upon me. It was very confusing and it made me angry but it seemed to be the way of life. Or as George Orwell said in Animal Farm, " All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others." I missed my old church with nothing to replace it.
Just prior to starting 5th grade, we moved to Pittsburgh because my father was given a substantial promotion. I made friends in the neighborhood and began attending the Wednesday night program at the Presbyterian church with them. I became actively involved in the youth group, choir and bellchoir. My parents attended, but had not joined the church. They came to see my choir sing, my bell choir ring and to help with youth group meals, but the emotional commitment beyond obligation was elusive. I learned that my parents had become disillusioned. While attending confirmation classes, I challenged my parents to re-join the church before I was confirmed. If it was good for me, how could it be not good for them? Couldn't it be possible that whatever bothered you in another church and time might not be the case here? In the end, they did join and have remained faithful and active members in their faith ever since. I look back now and wonder what my parents must have thought about my being so brazen as to question their faith decisions.
As a youth in Pittsburgh, I was impressed by the commitment of the pastors and lay people dedicated to nurturing youth, in a year-round program, including summer interns. My confirmation sponsor, with whom I met regularly my final year of confirmation was also a role model. I still have the Halley’s Bible Handbook she gave to me after passing my written exam and interview by the session prior to confirmation. In high school, I attended an annual summer Missionary Conference highlighting our presbytery’s connection to mission work around the world, and went to church camp. The summer after my junior year, our youth group traveled to Tennessee to clear brush and perform masonry work for low income housing in Appalachia for two weeks. We participated in Sunday worship in a little white clapboard church on a dirt road, and at a new contemporary Christian worship center that was vastly different from the structured Scots-Irish large suburban "Church of the Really Big Deal" we normally attended.
My servant experiences have stayed with me, and are my inspiration to remain involved in other service projects such as Thrivent Builds with Habitat. I was thrilled when I was asked to preach at the Easter Sunrise Service which was a youth led service. I doubt anyone remembered what I had to say because Easter in Southwestern PA is often ( and was that year) a frosty experience and the service was an outdoor one. I went to youth conferences, bought Christian music, saw Tony Campolo speak when he still had hair. I was energized!
In high school, I felt drawn to a vocation in the church, however, my presbytery and home church were adamantly opposed to ordination of women, which closed that door for me at that time. A very tense conversation about God only speaking to men did not go well. I was confused, but did not leave my church. I went off to college instead but the bloom was off the rose for me and my home church.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Now that LC#2 is back from Whale Camp and the laundry is done, LC#1 has started Band Camp. She is in our local high school marching band and every year they have a week of all day practice of the music and drills it takes to put on their field show and their music in the stands. Nine hour days, marching on the parking lot. Which brings up my gripe. Why is there no willingness to allow the kids on any field to practice, after all, they will play on the field. And it is a little cooler, and easier on the feet? But no field can be spared even if it is not being used this week- they must be saved for the athletes. GRR.
After this week they will have three hour practices twice a week until school starts. We have the largest band in the county-200 kids-and ( if I do say so myself) , one of the best sounding. Both the directors are Lutherans. In a time when many schools have gone to a competition band by audition, we have not. Our band is open to anyone. And because of this, many kids who come to high school have a place to land and make friends who might otherwise struggle. And school violence is down in the same proportion as the band has grown. Hmm..could be on to something. IN a day and age where many people complain about what is wrong with "kids today" at least in our town, this is one thing that is right with "kids today."
Now of course I am waxing fondly not just because my daughter is in this program, but I also was in a marching band in school. We performed at all of the football games, but we also were in lots of parades, we played a halftime show at a Pittsburgh Steelers game, and we took an annual band trip in competition. And we had such a heavy schedule of practice and performance, marching band was a sport in which you could letter.
Like athletics, it teaches teamwork, pride and responsibility and trying to do your best. But it also teaches creativity, and learning that carries over into academics. In fact studies show that kids in music programs perform better in school and have fewer discipline problems. This past year, in a flurry of budget cutting and slavish devotion to state test scores, our school district was going to make band a purely extracurricular thing. No class time, no sectionals during the day, you pay to participate. Because we need the space for other classes not a band room. Becaue we need the class time to teach to No Child Left Behind. Because, because, because, because. But then they realized how much good attention our band brings to the district. How it would be hard to justify athletes leaving early for away games, but band students cannot have class time. So after a lot of stress, the program survives. The tradeoff is that the kids must get out and perform across the region to "showcase" the school district. But that is a good thing. Getting off my soapbox now.
LC#1 has made good friends, some of whom now come to our church Youth group events. Some things are timeless. Percussion never listens, tubas are always troublemakers, there are always a couple trumpets who are divas and try to squeeze out high notes they really can't hit. And she too will have great memories of nailing a performance, crazy antics and the water battle on the last day of band camp ( it helps to have a really big cooler for maximum drenching.)
Monday, August 6, 2007
But I love Maine, and each time we are there we go somewhere new. I love geological phenomenons- massive rocks that seem to have been scattered by a giant hand; the results of massive glaciers grinding their way across the land; the force of the tides; the trees shaped by the rushing winds; land shaped by the volcanic upheaval of magma that creates igneous rocks; horizons that seem to stretch on into never-ending space.
In our sojourns around this planet, I long to find these things. No matter what may be on my mind, seeing the awesome power of the Creator is rejuvenating and centering. And I have yet to tire of these things. I have yet to see a place and say,” Oh, well this is really just a duplicate.” A tangible expression quantifies for me that God is not fully quantifiable. Somehow there is irony in that.
So too can it be said that we cannot fully know God’s mind, or his plan.
Paul writes in Romans, 11:33-12:2
“O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
Or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him
That he might be repaid?”
Have you ever listened to your prayers and realized they sound more like giving God advice about what ought to be? I have. Good thing that God is patient. When I am in his creation, I am reminded how limited I am in all ways, compared to our Maker.
Paul goes on to write,
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen. I appeal to you brethren by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Edward A. Steimle, in his book, Are You Looking for God?, wrote,
"These exclamatory statements were all Paul found left to say about the ways of God after he had struggled with the whys and wherefores of God’s wisdom. Judgement and love. Because for all of our knowledge and experience of God as they are expressed in creeds and dogma, he is always beyond us, beyond our understanding and reason, beyond our neat little blueprints and formulas.
Which brings me to this: Never be misled into supposing that we Christians
think we have God all neatly packaged and labeled for our easy distribution
and consumption like a package of frozen peas. Our creeds and dogmas only
serve to lead us into the “depth of the riches” of God’s being. There is a mystery
about the nature and ways of God that you and I can never expect to fathom
entirely- otherwise God would not be God. We do but touch the fringe of his
garment. But we do believe that the fringe which we touch is real!
Harry Emerson Fosdick once described it as being like a man standing on
The beach at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. This little portion of the coast
line and the ocean which touches it, I know this is real. But beyond it are
incalculable miles of shore line and ocean which I can never know
intimately and about which I can only surmise. These two things I know
about the ocean and God: this portion which touches me is real; beyond it
Is far , far more than I can ever know.
The creeds and dogmas of the church then are no pat formulas which provide all
the neat answers man can ever find as to the nature of God. Nor are they
barriers bearing the legend, ' Thus far and no farther.' Rather are they invitations
to adventure, a kind of spiritual road map offering you the experience of
others who have found a rich and exciting experience of God."
As I stood in Acadia National Park in Maine, the mist was rolling in and enveloping the water, and surrounding small islands, and coves, and in particular, a tiny island lighthouse. The island seemed isolated, and at the same time embraced by the mist.
So it is that I see our walk with God. We are part of the world, but not of it, and yet, never alone. Always embraced by our Creator.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you only greet your brothers what more are you doing than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same? Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Most of this lesson is easy enough to follow, but the last sentence has always seemed a little out of kilter to me, because if the point is that we cannot be perfect, why are the disciples being told to do just that?
How can we be perfect like God?
First, a little bit of background might help. Matthew, Mark and Luke make up what are called the synoptic Gospels. We see the word "optic" in "synoptic" which means "view" and "syn" is familiar to us in the word " synonym." "Syn" means similar. So the three synoptic Gospels tell the story of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus from similar viewpoints. Not all of the stories are in each, but many are, and the key events weave through each of them. Each was written for a different audience to carry the Gospel message. Matthew was written for the Jewish people. Therefore the law and tradition of the temple has a central focus.
With this in mind, it makes sense to hear Jesus relating to his disciples and the others listening, in the context of Mosaic law, talking about the law and the prophets, anger, adultery, divorce, judgment, retaliation, and then, as we see in this text, our treatment and response to enemies and those who persecute us. In each of these statements, Jesus begins with "You may have heard it said.."before clarifying the true intent of Old Testament law, rather than the legalistic approaches that had developed among the Jewish people.
It was thought that a slavish devotion to all of the law, practices and customs would make one pure, holy..able to achieve perfection. In the Old Testament, God is portrayed as a ruler, a Lord, and a judge. And there are great tales of smiting the enemy. "Loving your neighbor" would include coming to their aid in battle, not coveting what they had, or violating one of the "big" commandments like adultery, murder or theft. But if someone was an "enemy" none of these rules appeared to apply. Kind of a free license to behave badly, or even sin in the name of what is right. It is in the New Testament that God becomes more of a Father figure than just a far away judge.
This is when Jesus alters the landscape. In the verses just before this, he has refuted the notion of " an eye for an eye" and expresses that nonconfrontational behavior is the answer. So what follows next addresses what we feel in our hearts. The nonphysical behavior. It is not enough not to strike back, we are called to not harbor hatred. And there's more, we are to pray for the very people who inflict pain, hatred and harm. Making my enemy really just another "Neighbor." Love even these. Well, that's asking just a little too much isn't it? This is what Jesus means when he says we should be perfect as God our Father is perfect, Not perfect in devotion to every detail of the litany of laws and expectations. I know that if I were a Jewish male of the day, I could never be that detail oriented, every action and process prescribed in a certain order; my faith is not usually built on that kind of detail. But Jesus is talking about perfection of the spirit.
Jesus was calling out the Pharisees for the various displays of holiness, their sanctimonious show of ashes and sackcloth, praying, fasting when people were sure to see. What I hear is, "You Pharisees who pride yourselves on dotting all of your "I's" and crossing your "t's. False righteousness. You want to demonstrate how perfect you are? Here's a real test." Loving your neighbor isn't just about being nice to the beautiful or worthy people; it's about being nice to people who make your skin crawl, the people who cheat you, who you won't talk to because they are beneath you, who beat you up and take your wallet, the person who spread a rumor about you at work.. the list goes on. Love these.
It's that hard to be perfect.
And Jesus is challenging the Pharisees and others to make the inside match the outside, not just some of the time, but all of the time. To walk the walk, not just talk the talk. For those who think that appearing "holy" earns them the reward of the heavenly kingdom, Jesus says, what reward is there in doing what you would do anyway? And to drive home the point he mentions lowlifes like the tax collectors and Gentiles- unholy people for sure. How is the Pharisee any more holy or worthy if he does nothing any more than these others? Because in the mind of the Pharisee, being holy is all about maintaining a class structure of those who are worthy and those who are not.
It's not easy to love enemies. It may feel impossible. In the Psalm reading for the day, the psalmist has been betrayed by a person with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war, appealing to God to cast the enemy into the lowest pit, and shorten their lives. Recently a couple of people said some really hateful and untrue things about me. And when I would see them, they were just so sweet and kind, and then stabbing me in the back as soon as I was gone. Insidious comments that were hard to even respond to. Killing me on the inside. It took a long to get to forgiveness.
But Jesus is also telling a person who lost someone on September 11th in the terrorist attacks not to hate the person who obliterated your life as you knew it. We really want the story to end like when Esther has saved the Jews and Haman is put to death and his house given to Esther. Retribution feels good. It feels like we had the last word, vengeance is ours. But Jesus would know what it meant to live his lesson out. To not fight back, and even with his last breath to pray for those who put him to death.
And these verses say something else. God makes the sun rise on good and evil, and the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. It is God's world. God is in control. On his timetable. He even has been known to change an "enemy" to a "brother" in the life of Saul who becomes Paul.
So what does this say for us here and now? Well, certainly, we should strive to model what Jesus says, and ultimately demonstrated upon the cross. And we should avoid our owon self-righteousness and litmus tests about who deserves forgiveness. I try to imagine the face of someone who feels like an enemy and picture myself telling this person by name that I forgive them. Hard. To tell them by name that I love them? Even harder. But until I can get to this point, I know I need to pray for God to help me.
But I think we are also being asked to rethink who is our enemy in our daily walk, and to see everyone as a neighbor. To pray for God to give us the strength to become more like Him. Maybe if we tried to see Christ in our "enemy" we could take a step closer. And maybe if we spent a little less time engaging in the destructive patterns we can all fall into that tear each other down, that make us someone else's enemy, we would take another step closer. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we are encouraged not to let anger fester. If you believe someone has wronged you go to them and try to set it right. Take someone with you if you must, but pray for your situation and go work it out.
That's hard too. As painful as it is to be angry, it sure seems easier than the heavy lifting of making something right, maybe acknowledging our own wrong, having to apologize, or making the effort only to have the other person push us away. Not easy to sign up for that experience. Martin Luther in the Third Article of the Small Catechism states,
"I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him." But God sends the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, make us holy, keep us true in the faith. And to forgive all sins. Ours and those of others. It is through the work of the Spirit that we can strive to be more like Christ.
One way to tell people are related is that they look alike or have a common mannerism. When Jesus says that if we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, we may be children of the Father, it seems to infer that by acting in keeping with His direction we will look more like His children. People will know whose we are. And that the doing says whose we are, rather than doing things for appearance to define for others who we are.
While the doing says whose we are, we cannot be who we are called to be if it is just a show. No one can do that without real change in our hearts. That change will not happen instantaneously, but think about a world where we all really tried. My daughters listen to a group called Nickelback and one of their recent songs contains these words:
If everyone cared, and nobody cried; If everyone loved and nobody lied; If everyone shared and swallowed their pride, then we'd see the day when nobody died.
Sounds like a pretty good world-sounds like God's world will be someday. And so He calls us forth, offering grace and forgiveness, refreshes us with the Meal, and then sends us out to try anew. But even when we fail, the sun will still rise on us, because Jesus'death and resurrection has already assured our reward, and God who is our Father loves us still.