Friday, November 30, 2007

My Christmas 3 x 3-Thanks for the study break, Coach!

Tagged by Coach, at Prepare Ye, and even though I do not "Christmas" until Advent, here's my Christmas 3 x 3:
What are your three favorite Christmas songs & who sings them?
O Holy Night- growing up we had an alto singer who sang this as a solo from the balcony, at the Christmas Eve service. Think candles, and peacefulness and an ethereal voice floating in from on high... still gives me goosebumps.

Silent Night- Again, ever since I was little, it is the first carol I remember learning back when I was in kindergarten- I thought it was "round john virgin"- that's why I had to come to seminary- to get the real answer.;)

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree- Have a Happy Holiday!( but a close second is I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus- you can tell I was little in the 60's)

What are your three favorite "Christmas" foods? You know, the stuff you only get around Christmas or the holidays.
Ambrosia- part of my Southern roots. Oranges, apples, pineapple,coconut, honey and rum- no marshmallows. Yum!

Sandtarts- Just a little brown on the edges with walnut and cinnamon sugar on top. We make them as a family.

Eggnog-How much nog is in eggnog?

What are your three Christmas secrets?
I recycle gift bags- years ago there was a Christmas that lots of festive gift bags showed up holding gifts we four got, and the following year, I recycled them. After initially frowning, my in-laws now keep track of who has the favorite Santa bag.

I actually like fruitcake

Every year something gets lost at Christmas- one year, it was the Baby Jesus for the nativity ( since we do not put Jesus in the stable until the "proper" time) . I thought the dog ate him. One year, my 3 year old decorated the Christmas tree with my car keys. Bright, shiny, with a convenient hanging hook. They landed on the back side of the tree and were not found until Epiphany.

SO, there you have it. I tag Diane, at Faith in Community and Gannet Girl ( I know it's finals, but come out and play!)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The World Needs You

My Advent focus is the ELCA World hunger appeal concern. Below is the link to a 40 day calendar which you can use with your family or your church.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Love One Another

As many are out and about traveling in the bustle of the holiday and the frenzy of shopping and visiting, I offer this prayer from the Church Of Scotland "Pray Now" initiative.

On pavements packed with pushing people,
In cities that never sleep,
In the roar of traffic and the glare of lights,
You speak...
Love one another.

Among the streetwise and the tourists,
Between the natives and the immigrants,
Inside the shops and the restaurants,
You speak...
Love one another.

In the crowded square and the darkened alley,
In the gorgeous galleries and the dirty gutters,
In the noise of so many different languages,
You speak...
Love one another.

God of love,
In the honesty of labour and in the creativity of the Arts,
In the gathering of the nations and in integrated community
May we speak love, to one another.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Starting "Christmas"

As many of you know, I commute to seminary and hence have lots of time to listen to the radio, books on tape, XM, etc. I have discovered that until a certain point in my commute, I must listen to the local FM station that has the best Traffax report so I know what might lie ahead. This also subjects me to sometimes amusing and often banal "morning drive time" DJ banter. Each morning, there is a question that people can call in and respond to. On Friday, here is what went down:

A local woman, who "loves Christmas" had put up all of her Christmas decorations outside, which apparently involved a lot of electricity and a lot of "stuff." Keep in mind that we have only just observed Veterans Day. Overnight, someone came and took her stuff and left a note telling her that the theft was in punishment for decorating too soon. Lots of behavior to consider.
So .. the morning question was essentially, don't people have to right to "start" Christmas whenever they want?
After all the economy and the world news are a real downer and we " need a little Christmas." This spawned a litany of people who all started calling in talking about their decorations and how important they are to them and a kind of pact to call all of their friends and all decorate NOW to assert their right to "Christmas" whenever they want it.
Did anyone call in to suggest the real meaning of Christmas? NO
Did anyone know the basis of the tradition for lights? NO
Don't even ask is the word "Advent" or "Christ" came up.
The closest anyone got to stating that things might be more than a little off kilter was one person who espoused the rule: No Christmas until after Thanksgiving.
Heavy SIGH.
I think that people are right, that the economy is a downer, that the war and world politics can be depressing and worrisome.
We DO need a good word.
But for all of the lights and inflatables and other "stuff" I think it is fair to say that there is no good word found within them.
Would that we would fight for the right to claim and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
But I guess there is still no room for Jesus - in the aisle at WalMart.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ten Random Things

I've been tagged by fellow seminarian, David at Here I Stand to post Ten Random Things About myself. These are not necessarily in the order of priority, importance or general amusement value, but, here goes:

10. I am not able to get through a day without chocolate. It can be any kind, but unlike many people I know, I actually like the kind that have the cream center- raspberry is my favorite, followed by orange. My favorite feel good kind is Divine Chocolate. Yummy and socially responsible.
9. I own too many black clothing items ( hence I went to seminary). Probably every length of skirts, pants, and type of footwear in black can be found in my closet, which leads to my next thing.
8. I am uncapable of keeping an organized closet or desk. Open a drawer or door at your peril. The other day the dog was attacked by an avalanche of sweaters. I am a packrat. I save things just in case they have a future use. Invariably they will, but I may not remember where it is stashed.
Remember the Thompson Twins? I love 80's music- of all genres. We sit around and crank the volume. Sadly we have ruined our children. However, I am a musical mutt- really anything except country or violent rap is fair game- for cranking purposes, really good organ music- Vidor's Toccata comes to mind.
6. I cannot kill anything including moths, lost ladybugs, or any other bug. I also save wayward rodents or bats and usher them outside ( even though I guess they will just come back).
5. The places I wish I could travel to are: The Holy Land; Germany; New Zealand and a safari in Africa ( no gun- just a camera).
4. The hobby I wish I had time for is photography, but becoming a better writer is up there.
3. Watching the little kids carry out the Baby Jesus to the manger while we sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve in the candlelit sanctuary makes me cry.
2. My pet peeve is injustice- people disrespecting others in all forms.
1. The thing I miss most about my daughters being older is how cool it is to hold a snuggling baby.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Change of Seasons

After a long spate of unseasonable warm weather farther into what I consider fall, it is now officially and definitively, autumnal. And as usual, we are overdue for taking in all of the porch things for the winter because "you just never know" it could still be nice another day. As much as I love fall, I am always a little wistful about the end of summer because the combination of "the school year" and being inside more, and not being able to pad around the property barefoot is an adjustment to the system.
This year, with the advent of my seminary education, the change of seasons has meant something even more pronounced. This morning, as I lumbered around the kitchen waiting for the coffee to kick in, my Beloved came in hoping that today was the day I would make pancakes. He is the perky morning person that I am not. ( I actually have a coffee mug that says "Attention morning people, be perky at your peril." )
I was actually not thinking of making pancakes, after another late night of high school football. ( The good news is that we have made the playoffs; the bad news is it is now cold, and last night rainy).
But here is the eager pancake person, and what was the last thing I did that reflected more than just trying to get through the balance of the week of school, teaching parish, marching band, and music lessons? When did my seasons change?
So, as I made the pancakes, I remembered that I used to make baked goods each week for our church fellowship- baking has a therapeutic quality for me. And I notice that my baking powder is now past its date, and there is a fine layer of dust on the stand mixer. And the bread machine? Lonely and untouched since August. I have shelves of cookbooks and always collected recipes to try, jamming them into the leaves of other cookbooks so that when you open the book, they flitter out like butterflies as they head to the floor. I used to be that person.
And I while I could blame the load of schoolwork, and family and parishas the exclusive reason for this change, the truth is it is more about transition.
As I continue to make the switch from prior vocation and focus to the present, there is more on the side of the scales that is "new and unknown" and less on the side of "same as it ever was." Recently Gannet Girl blogged about her health woes and the balancing act of returning to school.
For me the woe is that of redefining parts of self while desperately trying to hold on to others. I still want to be sitting on the porch in my barefeet... and yet, while this is beginning to sound like a pity party, in the midst of this, there are indescribably wonderful moments in the parish I am serving, and in school. I've been asked to do a session on the seminary radio program and I was told I presented a striking thesis in a paper on the Didache, which I view as instructive to the church as we address seekers in our midst. How to instruct others in the faith in new and engaged ways, while retaining core beliefs. Change of seasons.
Last Sunday I spent Sunday dinner in an 1800's farmhouse and learned not only all about the parish, and when the modern electrics and indoor plumbing was installed from lovely octogenarians, but about the struggles of the members and their commitment for decades to teaching the seminarians. Unless however, this parish is prepared to change seasons and invite the new, their time is limited. As I recently read in What's Theology Got To Do With It?, the failure to accept change denies God the ongoing nature of creation.
Something to ponder. God does not seek to keep the season unchanging, either outdoors, or in our lives. Stated another way, God is active in our lives bringing forth creative and redeeming work. So while I will continue to struggle with what of the old me can survive, the seasons are changing and I should give thanks for the new and challenging things I am blessed to explore.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mini Sermon on Luke 15:11-32

As a part of our homiletical theory class, we need to deliver a 3 minute mini sermon. Comments are invited:

But now, he’s broke; credit cards are max-ed out; he’s been evicted; no wants to hire him with his criminal record; all of his “friends” have moved on; he’s HIV-positive. He dives in dumpsters for food and catches a day labor job when he can.
“Maybe my old man will put me up for awhile-I’ll see what I can get out of the family.”
This is what he thinks as he starts hitching home.
“I’ll tell him I’m sorry”
But somewhere along the way, he really believes it. Home is the one place they will still love me- even now. “Forgive me!”
His Dad gets a call from the neighbor who swears he saw the kid hitching on the Turnpike at the last interchange. And the father jumps in his car and takes off to find him. Even now- even after the son stole the family’s Social Security numbers and ran up debt.
For one simple reason he goes- compassion. Not just love, or pity. Not mere sympathy or even yearning, but deep down, melt your heart , raw emotion in your gut, in your very being- compassion. The father loses himself to compassion for this flesh of his flesh- “This is my son!”
Compassion fuels the process of restoration. The son is embraced again, not after a period of reintroduction, restitution and passing litmus tests; not after ritual purification and works of righteousness , but NOW.
The Greek word for compassion is used six times in the New Testament, each in a similar way. Compassion and healing of wounds; compassion and caring for the distressed; compassion and raising the dead.
And this son was by all rights “ dead” because of the separation. He was lost, ruined and without life. Jesus will go on in Luke Chapter 19 to state that the Son of Man has come to reclaim just such people. Not by teaching in the temple to the worthy, but by seeking out the lost, and sharing among them and living in their midst.
What of the “lost” in our world? Often they are those who have made really bad decisions; those who are hard to love or even scary to be around. But, coming back to our text, I wonder if there is a reason the parable stops short of wrapping up the story of the older brother. The one who has remained faithful in the family; who is angered by the lavish party.
It can be easy to feel like him. “Why should my money support the welfare mom who just keeps having kids?” “Why do I care about the immigrant, or any of these others?” “What is there to love about these?” “They’ve made their bed – they can lie in it!” “Let them follow the rules like I do!”
Hear again the Father: “Rejoice with me! Your brother was lost and now is found! Come to the celebration- be a part of the restoration!”
We don’t know if the older brother joins the party or not. What we do know is that God loved us and had compassion for us to the extent that the Son was sent to run out and meet us. Even though all of the “older brothers” grumbled at the ridiculousness of it all. God lost all sense and sought us out anyway. Later in the New Testament, the disciples are commissioned to carry on this ministry- seeking out the lost and proclaiming the message of grace, mercy and forgiveness. And God is seeking still.
SO who are we? Lost ones found? For sure
Angry older brothers and sisters? Let’s hope not. For just as we are beloved children of God, so are all of our lost brother and sisters. We need to ask- what kind of family does God call us to be?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Eyes Front

I am putting together a multicultural independent study project for J-term, which I hope will take me to working at Water Street Rescue Mission about a half hour from my house. And in that half hour drive, my car will transport me from a homogenous bedroom community/small town that can still feel like 1950's America, to "the City." Having done most of my growing up in Pittsburgh, I know that "the City" is not on the scale of Pittsburgh and certainly not the size of the major US cities.
But, as far as I can tell, poverty is not exclusive. Extending across ethnic, racial and gender barriers, it robs people of their dignity.
I am finishing up exegesis on a sermon on Luke 15 for an assignment, so my focus really is on the lost. The Mission, houses men and women and children, in short and long term programs, as well as offering medical and dental clinics.
I visited their blog,
One of the entries by a staff person, was entitled "Eyes Front." I lift it up to you and also lift up the work of shelter projects across our country that are in many ways the hands of God for the least and the lost.

"Did you ever walk by someone who lives on the street and look the other way, hoping they wouldn’t notice or, God forbid, speak to you? The temptation to react this way is huge, and society teaches us that this is an acceptable reaction to poverty and homelessness.

We’ve become so comfortable with poverty and homelessness that we hardly notice their end results. As a former resident of Chicago and Boston, my ability to see without noticing became finely tuned, although having this ability didn’t alleviate the nagging feeling there was more going on here than meets the eye.

I have the opportunity to interact and work with our clientele on a daily basis and I can tell you that each one of them has a life history filled with many of the same things as you and me. The biggest thing that usually separates us is a few decisions along that way the either of us could have made differently.

I recently had the privilege of having my teenage step-son (Daniel) spend a day with me at the mission. During that day, he spent several hours working with one of our clients (Don) and the two of them developed a real connection. As we were driving home that day, Daniel said to me “I really like Don. We had a great time together, he’s a great guy!” I agree; I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Don and he is a special person. The next thought that came into my head was: how would Daniel and I have reacted to Don if we’d met him on the street instead of at the Mission? It’s upsetting to me that there was a time when I would have discounted Don as a person and just walked past him while trying to avoid looking at him.

We can’t all work at a rescue mission, nor should we, but there is more you can do. I invite you to take a moment to consider your reaction to poverty and homelessness, based on only one idea: there’s a real person of God’s creation under the rags, the smell, and the dirt. It’s very likely that this person under the rags is someone that could have a real impact on Daniel, me, and you if given the chance. You don’t have to give money, cars, or even your time to our clients or those still on the streets, but I invite you to consider giving them your love, respect, and most of all, your prayers. Look them in the eye and say hello, you might be surprised at the good it does for both of you."

- Scooter Haase, Operations, WSRM

Saturday, November 3, 2007


This has been a rollercoaster week at school and on the homefront.
On Monday, our football team, still undefeated, stomped the archrivals-GO BEARS!!
One more game to go to be undefeated!! Our town has become truly energized- we never have a winning season and have not beaten our rival in 27 years! Our town is galvanized into a community that suddenly remembers how great it is to all be here together. And now we have 6000 people at the football games. The secret to success is not that there are one or two standout players. The secret is that these guys are a team and play in concert with each other. It is remarkable to know that in a day and age where "it's all about me" is everywhere, these guys have learned that it really does take everyone.

On Monday night ( rained out Friday) we took our two kids and our spare teen to the game. I had to leave early to get the concession stand open ( we sell a lot of food when there are 6000 people at the game), and my 13 yr old gave me a hug, as I was leaving. Then our spare teen, D, spontaneously did the same thing. Why is this a big deal? Because she never shows affection ( Not sure she gets any at home). And since she is now at our house about half of the days of the week after school and for dinner because Mom is not around, I have mixed feelings about us being her "parent" figures.

On Tuesday, I went to school and stayed over that night because it was time for the annual attack on the Martin Luther statue located next to the Chapel. Here at LTSG,the juniors must wrest control of the statue from the middlers. In past years, as I understand it there have been water battles, people perched in trees waiting to " attack" , etc. Our class clearly outnumbers the middlers. We had a well orchestrated plan with people in camo on bikes, and waves of attack, BUT..

The middlers announced they did not want to play that way. They had a series of "quests" in mind, a la Monty Python. We were more than a little skeptical.
However, it turned out to be great fun, we met "pirates" and had to don eye patches and hats come up with a pirate song. When we did this, we got a number to remember.

Then we met the knights that say "idou" which if you have had Greek is more meaningful. We had to answer Greek questions and we got a number. Then the knights flipped the signs hanging around their necks to Hebrew and we had to answer Old Testament history questions. We got a number. It turns out the three numbers are the combination to a padlock on the statue which is wrapped in Saran wrap.
So we had to scale the statue and unlock it, and unwrap it.

Once "taken" the statue is to be dressed up. Each year the statue is dressed up to depict someone on campus. Usually a member of the faculty or the administration. BUT..
We chose to honor a person who has served our community for 40 years, and who has as crucial a role as anyone in the lives of seminarians. The head of Maintenance, Billy. I was in charge of our decorating crew and must say that it is a blessing that we all have boxes that recently held newly ordered albs, and computers, and thanks be to God for pizza boxes. With some paint, duct tape and miscellaneous items, we captured "Billy" as seen above.

I should mention that this event is in conjunction with the annual Luther Colloquy which took place Wednesday, and there were several of our Bishops from across the ELCA as well as pastors, alumni council, all " on the Ridge" for meetings and festivities. As a team, we were able to pull together our ideas, our resources and honor a great part of our community while maintaining the secrecy until the "reveal."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it was time for Friday football. Our last regular season game. We entered undefeated. But we had played THE really big game on Monday, and we have a few injuries, and the other team has the top two running backs in the Section. They played a really great game, a perfect game actually. So, we are no longer undefeated, but share the section crown with another team, and are headed into the playoffs. GO BEARS!
As our team leaves the field, the band kids, who have been trying really hard the whole game to keep the spirit up, stand up and cheer their team- leading the adults.

Normally as we are riding home on the bus, our band kids are wired for sound and cheering with the windows open as we enter town. They were a little down as we are getting off of the highway. One of the kids on the bus says, "But remember last year we would have killed to be 9-1. We are having a great year!" And then we see what lies ahead of us. And why I love our town which even though we are 14,000 still feels like the small town.

All of the firetrucks, with lights flashing, and horns blaring, and the police are there to escort their "winners" into town anyway. And there are people holding "You're in Bear Country" signs and the kids are cheering in the parking lot as our football team, cheerleaders and band buses pull in.

And isn't this what any community is about? Celebrating the good, and building each other up, and recognizing the dedication of others? And amidst all of the really big things we think we are about, and people who get on our nerves or let us down, remembering that a little hoot and holler can go along way. I think we all crave these connections and pray our kids remember these lessons throughout their lives.