Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Flick- If We Are the Body

Thanks to Eric for tagging me for a meme, and to Unlikely Conversationalist for letting me know also. I will get to it this weekend, taking a sermon prep break and thought this was a good question to ponder.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Freed From Blindness

Freed from Blindness-Part II

SOrry for the double post but I had trouble getting Photobucket to do what I wanted. Many of my classmates are still battling endless bouts of disease this winter. For them I pray for healing and restoration. It somehow seems appropriate that the reading for Sunday from the Gospel of John is a story of healing. In this case the healing of a man who has been blind from birth.

It is hard to imagine the flood of emotions when you see for the first time- ever. I have been told that when people hear who were deaf that it takes awhile for their brain to catch up and be able to interpret what the neurons are doing. But imagine what it would be like to actually see what only your imagination could provide before. And imagine the even greater liberation of knowing that you are not an untouchable sinner. It is hard today to fathom that it was believed that being blind was the result of sin- what it your sin? your parents'? It is a harsh reality to picture one's health in terms of " you get what you deserve."
Each of the pictures in this slide show depicts the healing of the blind man. Each has a distinct style and message. My favorite is the Mafa picture because it is in this picture that there is a look of deep emotion on the face of the man being healed. While this story speaks of the power and identity of Jesus, the transformation of this man from multiple levels of bondage is most clearly seen here for me.
In many ways this man has been freed from a life where, as a sinner, he has been shunned. He is beyond the aid of the community, a community which has judged him and his family. Dependent upon the benevolence of others who might only give when it was important to look good. He cannot work or worship. He has no friends. His parents have long been wondering what they did to deserve a blind child. He is a beggar not merely for money but for any sign of love or care. The community is in fact blind to him.
Blindness in our lives can be literal or figurative. The things we cannot see, choose not to see, are unable to see. In each of our lives, there are things to which we are blind, people to whom we are blind. May Jesus work in us to remove our blindness so that we may more fully be about the mission to which we are called.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Listen, God is Calling- Can you afford it?

I was hanging out at my fellow Lutheran Blogger Prepare Ye, and I encourage you to take a gander at his post, Baptism of Fire. And inspired by the match he lit, I want offer my own addition to the burning question- What is the future of the seminarian? Are some of us destined to be known as the "once and former" seminarian? I fear so.
What are the reasons for this? They are as many as the day is long. We could talk about how it is time to consider retooling seminaries, as Nick Carter suggests in his "Constraints and Opportunities" article in the new issue of Christian Century. We could talk about how giving to the national expression of the ELCA (or any other denomination) is down. How this is in part because giving to congregations is down, which means giving to the synods, who give to the ELCA is down. We could talk about the efficacy of having four years of college debt and jumping from the fire into the frying pan by adding another four years of education debt. We could talk about lots of things, but the truth is that there are several goals of the church as an institution- 1) we want educated pastors; 2) we want them to come to our congregations even when that is in a rural parish or a declining sized parish; 3) we want our parish to be a nice place to be; 4) we want our pastors to be under 65 when they get here.
If we are to believe Mr Carter, he thinks seminarians should be trained to be entrepreneurs, who need to plan for "increasingly independent futures." Well, excuse me if I vehemently disagree.
Where is God in all of this? What about the part of the story where after Jesus tells the disciples to come, and bring nothing, we hear how the community will provide. With all due respect, if you want me to walk by faith and live in that word, I want to know what about the other end of the equation? The part where when it says you will feed me lunch on Sunday because I am with you from 7:30 until 4 or much later, that you do it. I want to know that when we say we are proud of our seminarians, we show them not just by kind words, which are great, but by actions in love. Seminarians living on the blessing of 19 cents a pound dry goods, worried about how to keep their car running, and their health intact is not the vision. Yet these same seminarians, try to donate to the needy. We just voted to offer labor to a playground building project because we want to give, but have no money.
There is a suspicion I have that people still envision that we go to school and it costs $250 a semester and there is a houselady who feeds us and does our laundry. Because it once was that way. But, it is not. If we all go to school part-time until we can finish in an economically responsible way, expect a couple decade's worth dearth of pastors, or pastors will have to be only those for whom wealth and priviledge exist. ( In the interest of fair disclosure, I must say that I am blessed, but on behalf on many wonderful, caring and brilliant scholars, I cannot say this does not concern me.)
I especially like when we get the slick multi-colored brochures that talk about mission and giving and theological education. Maybe if we took that money and used it to create broader support for those of us studying there would be more of us able to finish this. And we would save the rainforest too.
What about synods working to relieve first call pastor's debt so much a year for the first five years of a call? What about lifting up the real world of the seminarians in 2008 not 1958?
We are all here because we feel called, and we love being here, and we love serving Christ's church. And we know this is not a maximum income potential deal. But there is a difference between sacrificing and loss of dignity. We are all preparing for long and odd hours, for stressful times, and uncertainties. But if we are, as Carter suggests to become "entrepreneurs" to be savvy in this post-modern world, then we may as well say that external call is irrelevant. Because who will bother or care to be in larger community if it is each man or woman for him or herself? If that is the direction of the church, I say bring back indulgences.
Since I suspect this is not desired, and indeed it should not be, I call upon all who care for the church to be intentional about looking at the present and future with eyes wide open. Deeply committed people are sinking- now is the time for a new vision, but one where God and not the almighty dollar is the core.
Listen, God is calling us, all of us, to care for the future of the church.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Heavenly Friday Five- Revgals

Singing Owl shares:
I am in Seattle assisting with family stuff and preparing to attend a memorial service (Saturday) for my sister who died of complications of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

I am not grieving much, since the shock and tears and goodbyes and losses have been many and have occurred for a long time now. I am mostly relieved that my wonderful sister and best friend is free from pain and confusion, and I am thinking of eternity. That sounds somber, but I don't mean it to be. I decided to have a little fun with the idea. So how about we share five "heavenly" things? These can me serious or funny or a combination of the two.

What is your idea of a heavenly (i.e. wonderful and perfect):

1. Family get-together:
I am an only child, and in general my family is not large. My husband comes from a much larger group. I think my wish would be to widen the net. I moved a lot growing up. I would like to have a get together with our families and our friends over the years. And in this gathering, everyone would be healthy, no one would bicker and not talk for years and no one would be drunk, or depressed. As a fellow traveler on the Alzheimer's journey in both sides of my family, it would also be cool for everyone to be who they were before parts of them slipped away. All of the things that here on earth keep us from being who we could be would be gone.

2. Song or musical piece
It is hard to pick just one. Because it makes me think I would be stuck with one piece of music for eternity. Kind of like being stuck on hold with a one-tune soundtrack. But for starters, Widor's Toccata, Faure's Requiem, and maybe a really good gospel choir to lift us up.

3. Gift
I would like to be able to bring peace

4. You choose whatever you like-food, pair of shoes, vacation, house, or something else. Just tell us what it is and what a heavenly version of it would be.
To see the world, but not just the way it is now, but to see places at their best- in whatever time that was ( like the hanging gardens in Babylon for example) Unrealistic and it involves time travel, but why not dream big?

5. And for a serious moment, or what would you like your entrance into the next life to be like?
I would like to be surrounded by family, having said my goodbyes, with nothing left unsaid, and then someone reaches out and takes my hand to walk me into the next and eternal life- and I breathe my last on this earth but it just feels like a sweet sigh of contentment, like falling in the arms of a wide embrace that ends with being reunited with God, and everyone I have known and miss that is already a part of the saints, is there, and everyone I have ever wanted to know or meet is there. And there is indescribable joy.
What, from your vantage point now, would make Heaven "heavenly?"
Being in the presence of God

Just feeling a little philosophical today- thanks SO, and prayers for you and your family at this time.
The picture above is by Akiane, a child artist whose work is here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Live Within the Text

"Live within the text" is etched in my mind. I am taking a course on Preaching Matthew, which I thought was wise since, for those using the Revised Common Lectionary, you know it is Year A, and I have to preach in my teaching parish twice, and also three times in my preaching class, and I have a Gospels class, in which I have weekly exegesis and a sermon prep. It will all align perfectly I said. Well, for starters, I am not only bound by the lectionary, but also the assignments from said teaching parish and my preaching class. But I think I see the planets align- I am told I am preaching Palm Sunday in the Country Parish and I am preaching this text in advance, so to speak in my preaching class.
Then it hits- pick one thing from the Passion Narrative, preferably not the focus of the Triduum and preach it- and only that, says my preaching professor. I pick the mocking of Jesus. Matthew 27:27-31 for those who want to see it. There is no grace there, only unanswered questions. ( I will be preaching differently in the country parish) but, now that it is done I realize that confronting this text was a Lenten discipline in itself. How hard to stop...stop and focus on just this passage and live there. It may be one of the darkest things I have ever written. But it allowed me to think of others for whom there is darkness.
So, here it is, my living in this all my years I have never so fully contemplated just these five verses of the Passion narrative read on Palm Sunday:

How quickly the readings for today move away from the parade. Today’s processional verses remind us that before we walk through the Passion narrative, there is the parade- the entry into Jerusalem. Jesus attracted crowds, of supporters, critics and the curious. By the time the crowd reaches Jerusalem from Galilee, they have become a wave of humanity pulsing along, from the countryside to the city. And cloaks and palm branches are strewn on the ground. Crowds ahead of and behind Jesus, shouting, “HOSANNA!” There is this claim of hope for Jesus’ mission. Jesus is riding triumphantly on the donkey. An entry fit for a king, hearkening back to the days of the Old Testament with a procession for a conqueror or liberator. Amidst the whipped up frenzy of the crowd- the appointed time was here! Seemingly the beginning of glory and honor and a challenge to power.
But sitting astride the donkey, Jesus knows what the others do not- where the road will go from here, after the parade. There was such excitement in the air, and people craning to see what was coming. But who is this?
The same question asked over and over again, by the Jewish leaders, by Pilate, by soldiers, in the events of that week in Jerusalem.
Who is this King of the Jews?
As the final drama begins to unfold, Matthew’s story will invert, will turn upside down, the notion of who this King is and how we treat him, and will lead to the cross on the outskirts of town.
The betrayal has occurred and the trial is over. The onlookers and disciples are gone. It is after the sentencing and before the crucifixion in The Passion of our Lord.
“Passion” is defined as “the condition of being acted upon”- of letting others do to you; and also the “endurance of suffering.” Either of these speaks of our Gospel for today, of what Jesus knew would and must come, even as He sat astride the donkey.
And now Jesus stands at the mercy of the soldiers, hardly a figure of power.
Maybe the soldiers were acting on orders. Maybe they got carried away, after all, what is a little excessive force when national security is involved? “They say this guy is the ‘King of the Jews’ – that militant on the list.”
Everyone stands poised to play their roles as the players take the stage.
“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters”- the curtain comes up on Jesus truly living out this “passion.” He apparently says nothing, and if he cries out it has not been recorded. He is taken to the governor’s headquarters, located just beyond the temple wall, in the shadow of the Holy of holies.
From his birth, he has been called the King of the Jews, by those who hope that he is not. His mere existence is a threat to the prescribed structure of power. “You want to be a King? We have a way of dealing with Kings here.” Pilate is here because it is the Passover, and we need to keep an eye on these Jews, and their would-be king. He is just in time for the show. He may have even watched the spectacle unfold. This deadly dance happened in the courtyard, not tucked away in some dark dungeon, but publicly in the shadow of the temple.
Just beyond the courtyard, a fence separates the Gentile area ( where the Romans are) from the sacred and holy spaces of the Temple. But a wall of silence allows this macabre drama to unfold..
And “they gathered all of the cohort over him.” A “cohort”, is a type of Roman military unit of as many as 600 men. And with such a crowd for the festival, it was probably close to this number to quell any potential uprising. As many as 600 men--- and one of Jesus. We may have always envisioned a handful of soldiers at most. Not ..600. These men have been fighting the Jewish uprisings. Maybe as writer Tom Wright has suggested, they have seen some of their buddies killed by these rebels. Maybe they are tired of being away from home, and maybe they have been here longer than they thought.
Maybe it is a few who begin, at first, but the number swells as people want to see what will happen with this man who may have been depicted as a dangerous militant, and a rebel. And once the energy of what happens begins, group frenzy takes over. Matthew tells us that these men are not just around Jesus, but over him, both physically and psychologically. The just-flogged Jesus may well have been crumpled and lying in a heap, dragged from one place to another..maybe on his knees before them.. powerless. But, they say he is “dangerous.”
The next thing you know, they are “Stripping him.” This perverse and demented drama includes a costume change. We don’t know if it was immediately that they put a scarlet cloak on him, or whether a part of the sport of it all was the humiliation of nakedness. The king deserving a royal purple robe, forced to wear a scarlet military robe, a symbol of being drafted into service. The king, forced to endure the taunts and jeers he knew there would be.
“Where’s your power now, King?”
“After twisting some thorns into a crown they put it on his head.” The anguish of this mental cruelty is carried out in a slow, protracted hell that seems to have no end in sight.
“And they placed a reed in his right hand.” Not a stick, or a sword, or even an object of substance. A flimsy, breakable reed, which will be bent to the will of another. Used to inflict the ultimate insult in Jesus’ day- slapping his face. What a great way to settle scores. The common Roman soldier is resentful of the hordes of the occupied. Those Jews are always so full of disdain for the soldiers. Well, who is in charge now? Gifts of honor have been twisted by sick humor. And those in charge- will conveniently have no recollection of the events.
“Kneeling before him they mocked him”, the one to whom kings once traveled, who was worshipped with gold, now reviled and ridiculed in this reversal of how it all began so long ago. Now the soldiers pay a warped homage to their victim. And where did they get the reed, and the crown of thorns, and how long did the drama go on as one by one each added his own tribute to the king?
Saying “hail King of the Jews” A juvenile and cruel take on the honor shown to the earthly ruler- “ Hail Caesar!” Maybe they even forced the King to process and receive their accolades. It is the mockery, the repeated mass mockery that is the focus here. Perhaps as one writer has suggested, Matthew is offering to us a commentary about words being the primary instrument of torture. We don’t know what else may have been said, about Jesus, his appearance, his people, his religion, his family, the threats, the lies, this warfare designed to make a man break, to finish the destruction of his soul. What we can know is that it was not one person making one comment, but a swarm of angry, bullying, men, each taking turns in this pageantry of destruction.
Maybe the soldiers calling out “Hail King of the Jews “ have another sick idea in mind, for “Hail “ can also mean “long live” – “Long live the King- the one we are about to kill.” And at that moment, Jesus may be wondering just how long the torture will go on. And like other torture victims, he might begin praying for sweet death to just come.
Physical taunts unfold- they begin “ spitting upon him.” Once baptized and anointed, now passed from one person to another each inflicting pain, until he may begin to be unrecognizable.
But now this drama is closing – the gifts are taken back-“They took the reed and struck his head-“And when they have finished, they strip him of the cloak. This performance will soon be done.
“They put his own clothes back on him.” He is led away to die.

Who is this King of the Jews? Rejected by the Jewish leaders- “he is not our king”;
refused by the Gentiles- “you cannot be king.”
Who can we see as the curtain falls in this sad and sordid drama? Have you ever seen something horrific and you just had to watch? Have you ever been a part of something the group was doing and you knew it was wrong but you stayed anyway? Have you ever seen someone being mistreated but decided it was none of your business, and turned away? Whose face is in the tale of the bullied, the misunderstood, the tortured, and the ridiculed? How many really watch it all take place? How many would rather be entertained than intervene? We would like to believe that this kind of wicked brutality was limited to this story.
But who is this King of the Jews? Do we see him today?
Who is this King?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just dealing with things beyond my emotional maturity

Yesterday I took the teenaged Lutheran Chicks to see "Juno." They wanted to see it. And I was not adverse to them seeing this movie about a teenage girl who sleeps with her friend because there was nothing good on TV, and ends up pregnant. Much of the movie is clearly in the genre of how the average 16 year old girl in a small town would deal with being pregnant in high school. One person told me they thought the movie focused too much on the teenager. But there is real coming of age through that lens. Was there some language I would rather not hear? yes. Were there moments if I thought this was such a good idea? yes. But it reminded me of when I wanted to see "Saturday Night Fever." Yes, I AM that old. My parents would not let me go without my Dad. He sat there cringing through the sex scene and some of the language and innuendo. I was not bothered. The truth was, that this was language I was already hearing at school, and life for me in high school was different than the
So it was for me with the Chicks, and this was not the 70's. And I wanted them to see the movie because it dealt with teenage pregnancy. At one point, the girl comes home for the day and her Dad asks what she has been up to and she says, "Oh, just dealing with things beyond my level of emotional maturity." And that is why, though it is gritty, this was a good movie to take them to. Watching the wheels turn, and having a good conversation, with my almost 16 year old saying " I promise I would never put myself in this situation." In one scene, Juno has decided to have an abortion and goes to the clinic. She meets a classmate outside of the clinic who is protesting. They talk and then Juno continues on toward the door. It is at that moment the protesting friend says, " Did you know your baby already has fingernails?" She tries to ignore this fact and cannot.
So, after the movie, we come home and I am still thinking about whether this was too mature. Then I remember there are pregnant girls at the school. Then I hear how my older daughter has finally convinced her friend to tell someone about how her Mom is treating her. Then is when I learn that Mom pushed the girl down a flight of stairs, among other things, and my quiet child, did not betray any confidences but convinced the friend to get help. Then is when I find out that our spare teen has not had her Mom at home for the last day and a half, just Mom's boyfriend who tells her he wishes she did not live there. SO she stays in the basement and eats ramen noodles in her microwave to avoid having to be upstairs with him. Then is when I remember that my children live in a world with Juno's and teens whose lives are just as complicated. We could wish it was different. We can wonder why it is not. We can be amazed that these people live in nice houses that do not belie the truths behind the doors. But God's work is here. May we help those in our midst who have to deal with things beyond their maturity every day and may we show them that God walks with them.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday Five: What Are You Doing For Lent?

Friday, February 08, 2008
Friday Five: What Are You Doing For Lent?

Ready or not, Lent is upon us!

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?
I observed Ash Wednesday at Eucharist at Seminary, singing Return to the Lord Your God with the choir, and receiving ashes. Then I went to my teaching parish, The Country Church where I was cantor and assisted, and imposed ashes with my pastor. Both sides of the equation.

2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?
The year my older daughter, who was probably two years old had to be taken out of church shrieking after she saw the Pastor's large black thumb headed for her forehead, and she freaked out.

3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it? I grew up Presbyterian and we did not really celebrate Lent, other than Ash Wednesday. Many of my friends were Catholic or Lutheran and I heard of their practices. And the Catholic Church was next door to mine, so on Wednesdays and Fridays it was obvious there was a lot going on.

4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?
It is a mixed bag.
5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year?
I am reading Bread and Wine. I have a Lenten discipline partner at Seminary. We participated in a blessing service where about 30 of us haved paired up to discuss and keep each other accountable as we journey in Lent. She gave up Coca Cola products because their factories create water shortages in the countries where they mass produce. I gave up making excuses - for things like why I did not eat healthy, did not exercise, did not make that phone call.. If the choice is to do it or not, and you cannot justify the action, one of two things will be the focus, discipline and forgiveness. It is good to embrace and accept both.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Yes We Can- Barack Obama video

I saw this over at Diane's Faith in Community. If you visit you can learn more about how this song came together from, who because I have teenaged children I can say I know who this is. For those of you in Super Tuesday states, and regardless of your politics, exercise your right and responsibility and Vote!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Friday Five-RevGals

Sally at RevGals asked us to either discuss the SuperBowl or Second Candlemas/ Imbloc/ Groundhog day/ St Brigid's day- all of these fall on either the 1st or 2nd February, and answer the following:

1. Do you celebrate one or more of these?
2. How?
3. Is this a bit of fun or deeply significant?
4. Are festivals/ Saints days important to you?
5.Name your favourite Saints day/ celebration.

When I was growing up I remember the SuperBowl was a big deal.It was new. It was the reason we got our first color TV ( I remember us borrowing the neighbor's station wagon to get it, and my friend and I sat in the back keeping the TV from sliding around. Needless to say, the back seat was folded down and we were NOT wearing seat belts). When I was in in junior high and high school I lived in Pittsburgh when the Steelers were winning championships. It pretty much consumed the city, and our high school marching band got to play the halftime show at a Steelers game. But I am not a football fan, so I picked the second option.

Groundhog Day
1. As I mentioned I lived in Pittsburgh for many years, and not far away was the town of Punxatawney, home of the infamous Punxatawney Phil. The Phil "cult" is perhaps best immortalized in the movie with Bill Murray, "Groundhog Day." The movie is actually not far from the truth, and the hoopla has grown immeasurably since the movie. What was once a humorous regional intrigue is now much more on the radar. There is an official website, and you can buy regalia. The public access channel for Pennsylvania carries the festivities. And even though we know this is just shenanigans, I admit my kids ask if the groundhog saw his shadow. We skip the all night partying that apparently happens on Gobblers Knob in Punxatawney. Here in Lancaster County PA, we have a rival groundhog, Octorora Orphie, whose prognostication is issued by the Master of the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge, who stands atop a manure speader here is farm country to do it. You are probably wondering how I managed to move from one part of Groundhog Country to the other in the same state- I honestly have no idea. But just to make it complete, our state lottery ads feature a groundhog encouraging people to "keep on scratching" those tickets. So there you have it.
2. See above and enjoy this clip:

3. Let's go with fun..
4.Changing direction totally, I do find Saints Days to be important to me. My daily prayer book is a series entitled "For All the Saints." In the Lutheran tradition we are all saints, but pondering the lives of significant figures in the life and witness of the church is powerful, and need not involve "worship" of them.
5. There are two actually. Saint Michael and all Angels, both because it is my husband's saint's day, and also the day upon which our older daughter was baptized.
And All Saints day. This is the day upon which my younger daughter was baptized. But also, I particularly enjoy a practice of our church of reading the names of all of those of our community who have entered life eternal within the past year. Each name is read, and the bell is tolled, in a slow and deliberate part of the Prayers of the Church. This has been a treasured practice of our congregation, and brings to fullness our prayers for joining the saints when we ourselves enter eternity. I can picture each person in my mind as his or her name is read, conjuring up a memory.

Happy Birthday, Sally, what a great idea to donate to a worthy cause and thanks for a great F5!