Friday, October 30, 2009

Rev Gals Friday Five - Lifesavers!

I found this Friday Five intriguing and worth musing about, and it is a good way for me to finally post! Thanks Kathrynzj. Here is her post over at RevGals and my answers:

In honor of BE Three I thought I'd offer up a Friday Five of lifesavers. I'm going on our cruise (are you?) because I am excited about meeting up with my blogging buddies again, I am interested in the speaker and because when I went on the first one my life was saved (okay, that may be a little over-dramatized but if you saw me getting on the boat and then the difference when getting off the boat you would know of what I speak).

I don't expect - or need - another life saving moment but I want to support the conference.

Of course lifesavers can come in all sizes and with far less drama. I would readily admit that I have considered a person (children's sermon substitute), the location of a bathroom, and a beverage (the last diet coke in the back of the fridge - score!) all to be lifesavers at one point or another.

And so today I ask you - dramatic or fairly common - what have been/are your lifesavers:

1) Your lifesaving food/beverage. Can I have more than one? The first would be Coke Classic. Not diet. Even while on Weight Watchers I allow myself 8 oz. a day at lunch. There is nothing like the flavor and the fizz and that nice little jolt of caffeine to keep me going, especially since I don't drink coffee or black tea.
Then there is a daily hot cocoa, preferably made by Starman using our cappuccino machine (given to me by my dear M-I-L) - I use skim milk, Hershey's special dark cocoa, and granulated sugar. Yum. I have to give this up while on WW and it is quite painful!
But really, chocolate in any form, mostly dark, has gotten me through life - through having three under 5's in my house, through long nights of studying physics and chemistry and then Tillich and Barth.

2) Your lifesaving article of clothing. I have a few of these too, but I will just mention two - my light blue polarfleece zip-up from REI - comfy and warm. And my Wicked Good Slippers, fleece lined with plastic soles, from LL Bean. Did I say warm? And did I say I spend my winters being COLD all the time? Yeah. Wool socks, too.

3) Your lifesaving movie/book/tv show/music.
When I am down, Phil Collins cheers me up. No doubt. Or helps me wallow. Depending. Right now, I like

Follow You Follow Me, which epitomizes the 25 years Starman and I have been together. I saw this in concert, and loved the background too!

It doesn't fail to bring me up when I am down!

4) Your lifesaving friend.
Many of these, actually. Too many to list - I have been blessed. Two are my best friends from college, who now live 40 minutes apart from one another in Colorado. We've been together since we were 18. We lived together, and Starman lived with us, so they know him well. We IM each other three or four times a week. They accept me for who I am, and they know me well.

Starman of course. I never get tired of being with him! Looking forward to a date night tonight. He is funny, and fun, and caring. And sometimes he even cleans the bathrooms!

5) Your lifesaving moment.
One that I can think of happened about 6 weeks after Skye, my eldest daughter, was born. After four miscarriages and a stillbirth, her very presence seemed like a precarious gift. She was "born blue" with the cord wrapped around her neck and had to be pulled out with forceps. It took her two weeks to learn how to nurse. I felt as though we were fighting for her survival. But one day, when she was six weeks old, she looked at me and smiled. And I knew she was ok, and I knew I loved her, and I knew I could trust that love. I don't know why I received the gift of her life, or the gift of the two others who followed her, and did not get to hold the five before, except in my heart. But I finally trusted the gift, that day.

Of course there were more of these as well...

What about you?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sermon for Pentecost 15B

(ed. note - this sermon has no real title, cause I couldn't think of one!)
Did you find yourself missing the smell of fresh pencils and new markers these past few weeks? Did you maybe find yourself wanting a new notebook or a new backpack? Maybe you even found yourself shopping for some back-to-school clothes – at least for fun!

I know the majority of you here no longer start school each September, or even have anyone in your household who is in that mode any more. But there is something about the fall weather, and the air in September, that makes us think of new starts, and school days, isn’t there? Of course, you know in my house, I am the only one who doesn’t go to school. This year, I have three girls at Amazing Elementary – a kindergartener, a third grader and a fifth grader. And of course my husband Starman never left school – he got his PhD in 1991 and since then he has been teaching physics in one form or another at university.

There is a certain sense of expectation that comes with September, no matter how long it has been since you last sat in a classroom. Here at MidCity First, as well as at other churches around this square and in fact, around the country, this is the Sunday when we start our programming for the year – new Sunday school classes, choir at the 10:50 service, a sense of “hustle and bustle” to the church that we don’t see as much of during the summer. New Sunday school teachers are commissioned – in fact, this past week I met with 8 people, including a some of you here , to begin a year of Disciple Bible study, that, if all goes well, will finish up next June. Oh, and by the way, I would love for a few more people to join that class, so see me after service if you are interested! The class will meet from 6:30 to 8:30 on Wednesday evenings starting September 23.

So, with all this talk about school and classes, it seems kind of fitting that our scripture passages for this week are centered around the ideas of teaching, and wisdom, and knowledge. We have a passage in Proverbs that talk about Wisdom.
And in James, we hear about what it takes to be a teacher, and how dangerous the very act of speaking can be. And then, in Mark, Jesus gives his disciples a pop quiz – one that Peter alone seems to pass, but then Peter fails the big midterm exam that comes a few verses later.

We started reading from the book of Proverbs last week, and will continue with this book as our Old Testament lection next week as well. Proverbs is kind of a sticky book. A lot of short sayings make up the book – sayings that people like to quote when they work for them – like “better a neighbor who is nearby, than kindred who are far away” (Prov. 27:10). But like most short sayings, there is often another side to the story.

In today’s reading we hear about Wisdom. Wisdom is one of those great and wonderful things. Wisdom is a quality we want to possess, but which remains elusive and hard to define. To help the reader gain an understanding of Wisdom, the writer of this section of Proverbs has created a character, a literary device: Wisdom personified as a woman. This character, Wisdom, has some things to say. And some of these are not very nice things. In this section of Proverbs, Wisdom is full of scorn and anger. She is angry that her people are not listening to her, angry that she has stretched out her hand to help and the people have ignored her. A teacher whose words are ignored by the students is not a happy teacher! So, says Wisdom, because you have chosen to ignore me, because you have chosen to reject my advice, I will not be there to save you.

Wait a minute. If this Wisdom is an aspect of God, as we may believe it to be, then is this a God we want to know? This isn’t the God revealed in Jesus, who grants us grace even at the last hour. This God, this Wisdom, seems particularly devoid of grace. I have to tell you, I am not really sure what to make of Wisdom, here, laughing at those who have messed up.

H. James Hopkins, writing for the preaching resource Feasting On the Word, has this to say:
Many of us struggle with this side of Wisdom, this swaggering, self assured, “I would listen to me if I were you” representative of God. Perhaps the poet who penned Proverbs overstates his/her case just a bit. Perhaps God does not actually laugh at the calamities we bring upon ourselves. Still it is difficult to argue with the truth of Wisdom’s warning. When we forget about the ways of God, we often get ourselves into some terrible predicaments. When we think we are beyond the basic lessons of loving justice, doing kindness, and walking humbly with God, we often end up doing or saying things we regret.

Did you ever have a teacher like Wisdom is personified here? A teacher who made you realize the consequences of your actions? A teacher who pushed you a little bit, maybe made you grow in ways you didn’t want to grow?

My eighth grade algebra teacher, Mr. M, was such a teacher. I can’t think of anyone who liked Mr. M. He was strict, and never once cracked a smile in class. And he introduced us eighth graders to the horror of pop quizzes. We never knew when they were going to come. We would walk into his class and sit down (none of us ever talked before class when we walked into that classroom). And he would always march in right after the bell, at a fast clip. And then would come those dreaded words, never on any particular day – he was very good at surprising us, without any warning at all. “Put your books inside the desk or on the floor.” That’s all I remember. “Put your books inside the desk or on the floor” and then he would hand out the paper for the day’s pop quiz.

I learned to be scared in Mr. M’s class. But I also learned to be prepared. I learned a lot of algebra that year, and maybe even enough so that I was ready for the rigors of engineering school when they came along 5 years later.

The kind of God portrayed in Proverbs is not an easy God to live with. I am not even sure I do believe in that kind of God. I think it's a huge mistake to tell a story of God's judgment and wrath without also telling the story of God's love and saving grace. But the warnings from Proverbs ring true, nonetheless. I have seen the consequences of my actions played out in ways that have taught me a lot – and made me even more grateful for the grace I know God provides.

The passage from James is more of a cautionary tale than an admonition in the way of Proverbs. James is considered a form of wisdom literature, but in James the words that are spoken are more reminiscent of Jesus’ own sayings.
This week, James has a lot to say about a very small part of our bodies – the tongue. The writer uses every kind of comparison to make the point of how much power is wielded by what we say, and how we say it. This is not the time to bring out the adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” – do you remember that one from your school days? Was that true for you? I think this is one of those cases when a proverb doesn’t really work.

Language is a powerful tool. And when you are in a position of power over others, it becomes especially important to be aware how you use language. Think of the teachers you have known who have inspired you, encouraged you, challenged you in ways that made you a better person than you were before you knew them.

My track coach and calculus teacher, Mr. K, was one of those teachers whose words I will never forget. Mr. K was not a young man when I met him – and he certainly wasn’t a runner. He had been stricken with disease when he was a child and had been hospitalized for over a year. And one of his legs was about 2 inches shorter than the other, causing him to walk with a permanent limp.

But he was an inspiring and encouraging coach and teacher. His attitude was that each of us should try to do our best, every day, in the classroom and on the field. He would print up time sheets after our races – not noting so much who came in first, or second, or last – but comparing our times on the course to our previous times and noting when we had beaten our time – had gotten a “personal best” for the course. When we ran a race, he would pace up and down the field about 100 yards from the finish line, yelling for each person on the team – and he would not stop cheering until his last runner had crossed the line. I know – because sometimes that last runner was me. As soon as I came out of the woods and started that last sprint toward the finish of our cross-country course, I would hear him. “Come on Di! Come on Di!” he would shout – he had nicknames for everyone on the team.

One year our girls’ cross country team wasn’t a particularly strong one, and I happened to be the seventh best runner on the team. Seven runners went to the state meet every year, and so, I along with my six much better teammates started some extra practices to get ready for the meet. The problem was, I was always a few minutes behind my fellow runners, no matter how hard I tried. One night after practice I was waiting for my mom to pick me up, and feeling pretty sorry for myself, and wondering if I should just quit the team. Mr. K was walking to his car when he saw me. He came over and put an arm around me. “Tell Uncle Frankie what’s wrong” he said. We never called him that, but the funny name he called himself did get me to smile. I told him how I felt like I wasn’t good enough to run in states, and I was just letting my team down. “I chose you to run that race” he told me, “and I think you’re good enough. Just get out there and do your best.” A few weeks later, I ran the race. I didn’t come in last, and Mr. Kelley was there, cheering me on, somehow managing to be at several points in the course, just when I needed to see him. “Come on, Di!”

Every now and then when I go back to my hometown, I’ll meet up with Mr. K in the grocery store or around town. And I will always remember how he encouraged me – how his words made me be a better person, if not a better runner.

The tongue can be used to encourage or discourage. That’s true not just for those who have jobs that label them as “teachers” but for all of us. Those of you sitting in the pews tonight might think “well, no one really pays any attention to what I say. It doesn’t really matter.”

But I can tell you, your words matter to me, even when I am the one who is supposed to be speaking. I am always looking out for those of you who are smiling and nodding at me during the service (don’t worry I don’t expect any amens!) And it means a great deal to me when one of you tells me afterward that something I said resonated with your own experience. I wouldn’t be here, if I couldn’t also trust you to tell me when I mess up (there are a few of you who can do that well) and to tell me to get out of the way on occasion so we can all worship.

Words matter. As United Methodists, here in this place today, I would not be before you and you would not be here listening if we did not agree on this. Indeed, for me an important component of my call to ministry is a call to preaching. But how does God act in the world through our words? Who speaks for God?

I must confess that I've never much liked that prayer from Psalm 19, the one we said at the end of our call to worship: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” When I was growing up, we had a preacher who said those words – and then went on to condemn us all from the pulpit. Now he was a real “fire and brimstone” preacher – something like the writer of our Proverbs passage. And, I will confess, after a while I became convinced that this man was not speaking well on behalf of the God that I knew, the God of Love.

So is seems kind of pretentious for me to pray those same words up here before I preach. I know despite my studies and training and earnest striving that my view of God is really just one small sliver of all the wonderful things that God is about, and I know that for all my experiences, I cannot hope to comprehend all of the different ways in which God interacts with the people of the world, with the people here in this place. So from my small and limited view, despite my prayers, I am not going to get it right every time. Occasionally I am going to miss the mark. Some of my sermons are going to be clunkers. And despite the fact that I stand here before you now, my words are my own words, not God's words. I do not, by myself, speak for God.

And yet, I do believe that something powerful, something of God, can happen when we are together – when we use our tongues to praise God together. The thing is – it takes all of us, singers and musicians, preachers and hearers – to make worship happen. Not just the words of my mouth. But the prayers and hopes and open hearts of all of us. For the truth of God's words comes not in the speaking in one voice, but through the voices of many. Together, all of us can speak for God. And the words of God act not just in the speaking, but in the listening, where each of us is here together. Yet alone in our hearts, we each find the one truth we need to hear today. Just as God speaks in many voices, we each receive from God in accordance with our where we are and what we need to hear.

So consider, as James tells us, how we can all use our tongues in wise ways instead of foolish ones. Let us look to each other for models. Consider those wise and wonderful teachers who have shown us what it means to speak with wisdom. And remember, each of you are a speaker on behalf of the family of God. Your voice can be God's voice. As you go forth from this place, know that the God of truth goes with you. Know that you, each of you, has something to say, a word to share, that can encourage someone, and bring the Good News to someone who needs to hear it today. Go forth to share what you know – this Jesus, who came to lose his life so that we may all be saved. Thanks be to God.


Friday, September 4, 2009

RevGals Friday Five - Recharge!

Hello friends, it has been a LONG time since I have paid any attention to this here blog. Mostly, I have been confining myself to SpaceBook, because I just dig the instant feedback and for some reason when I blog, I get all concerned over whether anyone reads what I write. Not a good reason to blog.

This Friday Five, from one of my fave bloggers, Sally who blogs here brought me back. Here is what she writes over at RGBP:

A few weeks ago my lap-top battery died, suddenly I found myself looking at a blank screen and was rather relieved to find that it was only the battery and not the whole computer that had failed. This morning a new battery arrived in the post, and suddenly I am mobile again!

After a week with what feels like wall to wall meetings, and Synod looming on the horizon for tomorrow I find myself pondering my own need to recharge my batteries. This afternoon Tim and I are setting off to explore the countryside around our new home, I always find that walking in the fresh air away from phones and e-mails recharges me. But that is not the only thing that restores my soul, so do some people, books, pieces of music etc....

So I wonder what/ who gives you energy?

1. Is there a person who encourages and uplifts you, whose company you seek when you are feeling low?
That would have to be my husband, Starman...we have been through a lot together, and he is a great listener, comforter, and even better a great dancer! We don't usually get down at the same time, so we can bring one another up. On October 25, we will celebrate 25 years of togetherness (our first date was that night in 1984, when I was a freshman in college and he was a senior).

2. How about a piece of music that either invigorates or relaxes you?
When I am feeling low, I like music that has a beat, to lift me up. I like some of Phil Collins' or Genesis' stuff, and lately Axel F, the theme song from Beverly Hills Cop of all things, has been playing loud in my car.

3. Which book of the Bible do you most readily turn to for refreshment and encouragement? Is there a particular story that brings you hope?

I love the "comfort passages" in Isaiah. This week while at the bedside of a parishioner I read Isaiah 25 to a woman who has been in her hospital bed for 3 months.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

9It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

4. A bracing walk or a cosy fireside?

Both, in that order! I walk every day, and I do mean every day, no matter what the weather...and it clears my head and recharges me and readies me for what lies ahead. But in the evening, a cosy (love that British spelling Sally!) fireside is the place to be, with the family gathered round.

5. Are you feeling refreshed and restored at the moment or in need of recharging, write a prayer or a prayer request to finish this weeks Friday Five....
I am in serious need of a recharge after a very busy summer of trying to fit work in around the girls' summer schedules! But today, Starman is taking the three, right after school, for a weekend in Michigan at his parents' cabin. I can't go, since I have to preach. It will be the first time, ever, that I have been alone for more than a few hours in our house! I have been looking forward to it for weeks. I have a long list of cleaning chores, but the hammock is already set up in the backyard, and it promises to be a beautiful weekend - my prayer is that I can balance making the house look better with taking some time to read and reflect and journal. If you could pray that I end the weekend feeling refreshed, recharged, and accomplished, I would greatly appreciate it! Thank you! And if you are not a reader of RGBP, post your own recharging thoughts in the comments :)

Thank you Sally!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Five - Exercise!

Sophia over at RevGalBlogPals has created a meme based on one of my favorite things - exercise! So, without further ado:

She writes:
So how about you and your beautiful temple of the Holy Spirit?

1. What was your favorite sport or outdoor activity as a child? I loved them all - my mom played basketball, softball, tennis with us. We skated on the cranberry bog near our house. Once, my best friend David and I took a yardstick and measured 50 yards on our street so we could run 50 yard dashes and time one another. He taught me how to hit a wiffle ball. We climbed trees, and rode our bikes everywhere. In the winter, we had great sledding hills nearby. We lived near a small lake, and the ocean, so swimming was another favorite pastime. We spent a LOT of time outside, and it was fun!

2. P.E. class--heaven or the other place?
I actually really enjoyed P.E., starting in 7th grade, when my new best friend and I decided to take it 5 days a week because we liked the teacher, Miss Littlefield. With all that practice, although I had very little innate athletic ability, I learned to swing on the rings all the way across the gym, to run the hurdles, and to do at least three pull-ups. I learned, more than that, to enjoy sports and that practice made me better at them.
In high school, P.E. became more dull, but by then I was running track and didn't really have to pay attention to it.
In my college, we were required to take 4 semesters of P.E. class to graduate - this was a very nerdy engineering school, so it was kind of an interesting requirement. There, I learned how to scull on the Charles River (really fun!), how to play water polo, and a little bit about rock'n'roll partner dance. Again, really fun!

3. What is your favorite form of exercise now?
I walk 6 days a week with my Golden Retriever dog Dunstan, around a small lake near our house in the early morning. These walks are always what I need, whether they are alone with the dog (when I listen to pray-as-you-go on my iPod and generally try to be in a state of prayer) or with several close friends.
On Saturdays, and a couple of nights a week, I have been playing soccer with a group of moms who are mostly like me - 40 something, in basically ok shape, with varying levels of skill. It is really fun to play a team sport and not be as self conscious as the teenager I was the last time I played! You need to understand, I never, ever saw myself as a jock, especially since my mom is one, and can beat me still at just about every sport. So I marvel that I can actually score a goal once in a while.

4. Do you like to work out solo or with a partner?
Both - although I never look forward to the solo walks as much as the ones with friends, they are often just what I need when I haven't taken the time to pray.

5. Inside or outside?
Outside. All the time. No such thing as too cold, too hot, or too rainy or snowy when I have finally accumulated the right equipment after all these years - rainpaints, rain jacket, layers, waterproof walking shoes, crampons for icy sidewalks, a headlamp - I will not be deterred!

Thanks Sophia! This was fun and one of my favorite topics!

An Update - if you can call it that

Hello gentle readers,
I have been quite remiss in posting to this blog, and I notice those who used to read it haven't been lately, probably because my posts have been well, rather DULL! But that is my life - watching girls grow up, writing sermons, trying to keep the house in some sort of order, walking my big fuzzy dog and petting my too furry cats. Not very interesting. But lots of fun!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Watching for the Morning - Pentecost 4B

His daughter was dying. He was sure of it now. The little, ragged breaths she took had slowed down and he could barely hear them. Her body, once lithe and strong, now sank into the blanket on the mat he had laid on the floor beside their own. Her mother would not leave her side – she sat there all day, all night, moistening her child’s dry lips with water, praying silently, singing all the childhood songs she could remember.

She had only been this way for a week. The fever came on suddenly, and would not leave her. But she hadn’t eaten, and yesterday she couldn’t even swallow the little bit of water her mother tried to give her. She was dying, he was sure of it.

He had been in the synagogue every morning and every evening to pray, joining the minyan of old men there for the death-anniversaries of their wives or their fathers. He had asked everyone he met to pray for her. He had called the doctor in not just once, but every day, but at this point even the doctor with all his ideas and remedies didn’t know what to do.

It was from one of his neighbors that he heard that this man Jesus had come to town. Jairus had been hearing about Jesus for a while now – he seemed to be attracting a bigger and bigger following. Some people said he had performed miracles – had cured a man who had a withered hand, made a paralyzed man walk again, had made many sick people well again. But then again, he had done some of this healing on the Sabbath, in direct contradiction to the Law. And the last Jairus had heard, this Jesus was over on the other side of the lake, hanging out with Gentiles, even talking to pig farmers. Pig farmers! Talk about your unclean Gentiles!

After praying in the synagogue that morning, he went back home to see how she was doing. His wife met him at the door. He had never seen her look like this – her face drawn, her whole body curling in upon itself. But it was the fear in her eyes that hit him the hardest. He had never seen her so afraid. “She’s not speaking any more, Jairus, and she won’t respond to me at all!” his wife said, “Please, do something! She is going to die!”

It was that fear that drove him back out. He headed for the doctor’s house – but on the way he saw the crowd, with Jesus in the middle of them. Some of his friends from the synagogue were there, on the outskirts of the group, trying to seem uninterested and aloof. They saw the desperation in his eyes.

When he saw Jesus, that desperation took over. No one else could save her. This man had healed so many, he knew it now. Jesus could save her, too. Ignoring his friends’ stares and whispers, he pushed to the front of the crowd and fell at Jesus’ feet, “Please, sir, please, you can make her well, I know you can. Please heal my daughter, my only daughter. Come and lay your hands on her, so she may be made well, and live. Come, please, lay your hands on her so she made be made well and live.”

Have you been where Jairus is? Have you been to that place of desperation – that place where you find yourself just begging for something to change in your life…that place where you will do anything to make it happen?

Our Psalm for today, Psalm 130, speaks from that place. This Psalm is titled “A Song of Ascents” and is one of a group of songs with this name. It is thought that these songs were sung by faithful Jews on their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for a festival celebration. On their journey, they would sing or chant these songs to express their feelings as a group, but also as individuals. It is interesting that these psalms are not all psalms of joy, but speak of the many different emotions the pilgrims may have been experiencing on their journey.

Psalm 130 begins at the point where Jairus is when he speaks to Jesus. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” The depths, the deep places of our souls, where we can do nothing but cry out to God.

Our Old Testament lesson, from the 2nd letter of Samuel, also speaks from this place. This summer we have been reading about David – about his anointing by Samuel – the youngest son of Jesse, brought in from the fields. And last week, about his defeat of Goliath – the little guy with the slingshot and no armor defeating the mighty warrior.

But now David is in a different place. David is in the depths of his soul. Saul, the previous king of Israel, had spent months chasing David and trying to kill him while asserting his own authority. And Saul’s son, Jonathan, had stood up for David against his father. David had run from Saul, and had even had the chance to kill Saul, but he had not taken it. David and Saul had continued as adversaries, with Jonathan trying to support David, until a final battle with the Philistines, when Jonathan is killed and Saul, badly wounded, kills himself so the Philistines will not have the satisfaction of killing him.

In our passage for today, David uses an ancient hymn called the Song of the Bow to express his grief and sorrow – not just for his close friend Jonathan, but also for his adversary Saul. His words echo through the ages in a cry of pain and loss, especially the last verse, where we read of his deep love for his friend.

Unlike the gospel reading, neither the 1st Samuel reading or the reading from the Psalms offer healing. In both of these readings, we hear instead the pain and agony of fresh grief – we hear the cries of those who are overwhelmed by all life has thrown at them.

Can you hear your own voice in those cries? What do you do when you are in that place, that place of depth and sorrow, that place of grief and fear, the place where you are so overwhelmed? How do you move from that place? Is it even possible to do that?

I believe all of us encounter those places in our lives. I know I have shared here some of those places in my own life. There are places, it seems, when God has left us, when we are all alone, and we have no idea where to turn.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord…where is the morning, the dawn we seek? Why are we stuck in the darkness?

When I was a little girl, I was a pretty nervous kid. One night my cousins from Belgium were at my grandmother’s house for a visit– Su, who was my age, and David, who was the same age as my sister. We were having so much fun playing together that we decided it would be a great idea to sleep over that night. So, around 8 o’clock, my parents left for home, about 20 minutes away, and my grandmother got us all settled in bed. It didn’t seem to take anyone else very long to get to sleep, but I tossed and turned and began to worry and fret. I didn’t have the stuffed elephant I usually slept with. Would I ever be able to fall asleep? What if I didn’t sleep all night? My grandmother was a pretty strict woman, and I thought if I woke her up, she was going to be really mad at me. But finally my worries got the best of me, and I tiptoed into the living room. My grandmother heard me, and came out of her bedroom. I tearfully told her I just couldn’t sleep. Instead of scolding me, she offered to call my dad, and while we waited for him to come, she told me how she herself had been scared to sleep away from home, and how when she went to Girl Scout camp she couldn’t sleep all night, either. I was not scolded by her, or by my dad who got out of his own bed to collect me. And once back home, I fell asleep immediately. The dawn came again.

In my desperation, I cry to you O Lord. O Lord, hear my cries!

The Gospel story shares a response to desperation – in desperation, Jairus leaves behind his worries about what his friends may think, his concern about what someone with his standing in the community would do. He ignores proper protocol and instead reaches out to Jesus with everything he has.

The woman with the hemorrhage reaches out to Jesus as well. As a woman living with a bodily discharge for 12 years, this act of pushing through a crowd, of even touching Jesus’ cloak, was an act of courage born of desperation. According to Jewish law, a person with a bodily discharge was unclean and could not be touched, could not be in a group of believers. We can imagine that for 12 years, this woman had been alone. She had been isolated, ostracized – and probably weak and worn out. Finally, she cannot take it any more. She overcomes her fear of retribution, her fear of being recognized and called out, and makes her way to Jesus. Unlike Jairus, she doesn’t beg for Jesus’ attention, but quietly reaches out to touch him – and receives his power, and his blessing.

What does it take for you to reach out to Jesus? Where do you have to be before you recognize that God is right there waiting for you?

One of my blogging friends led me to this year’s commencement address to the graduates of Wellesley College. The journalist Kimberly Dosier spoke of her own times of life in the depths, and the choices she made. Her words, as recorded by the New York Times on Sunday June 14, are these:
You chose a Wellesley grad who spent the first decade of her career broke, begging for freelance work, who constantly heard that she was under qualified or, later, overqualified (that means old) or basically just plain wrong for whatever it was she wanted to do. She eventually ended up with a really great job, doing exactly what she wanted to do, exactly where she wanted to do it: in the Middle East. And she got hit by a car bomb; they nearly took her legs off. She had to come back from the dead, roughly five times, and learn how to walk again. So it tells me a lot about you and your current state of mind that you all thought you needed to hear from me, with whatever lessons I had to offer from those experiences, as you leave college for the rest of your life. In short, you all want to know how to be bomb-proof, right? So, you're right: I learned a lot. Most of all, that every time I ran into a wall, I had two choices on how to face it: hope or fear.

Hope, or fear. Do we really always have such a choice? Sometimes, in our depths, it doesn’t really seem like hope is a choice we have. When we have exhausted all possibilities, when someone we loved more than life itself has died, how can we choose hope? Where is the hope?

I have asked myself the answer to that question during dark days of grief and anger. And sometimes, I haven’t had an answer to that question. When we are lying in the darkness and feeling alone and afraid, the answer may not be there. When I tossed and turned in that bed at my grandmother’s house that night, I could not see an answer, for fear had consumed my ability to see. God was nowhere to be found, until I got up and chose the hope that my grandmother would not scold or punish me, but listen to me.

Where is the Hope? Where is the morning, the dawn we seek? How can we wait for the dawn when we are sitting in the darkness? In our Scripture, the word for hope and the word for wait, or watch, are the same. So when we choose hope, we join those who watch, who wait for the morning.

Choosing hope over fear is not easy. It is a decision we have to make over and over again. It does not solve all of our problems – it does not mean that suddenly our child will be raised from the dead, or our illness will disappear. It does not change the diagnosis the doctor makes.

What it does change, though, is how we live. If we can take one small step in hope, we will become aware of God’s presence beside us. Because I truly do believe that God has not left us, even when we are crying from the depths of our souls.

So, this is where the hope lies. The hope lies in the fact that even in the darkness, God is with us. God is with us is through the night. Somewhere deep in our souls we recognize that the morning will come. Somewhere, we know God will not abandon us. We can mourn, we can cry out to God, knowing that God will come to us. Knowing that in fact God is right there with us even if all we see is darkness and despair. And so we know, the morning will come. In what time, in what way, we do not know. And this is where the hope lies. Thanks be to God.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Five - Talkin' Bout Pop Music

Mary Beth over at RevGalBlogPals writes:

Happy Friday to you all!

The sad news of Michael Jackson's untimely death has me thinking about music and its effects on us - individually, as cultures, as generations. Let's think about the soundtracks of our lives...

1) What sort of music did you listen to as a child - this would likely have been determined or influenced by your parents? Or perhaps your family wasn't musical...was the news the background? the radio? Singing around the piano?

We didn't really have all that much music in our house as I remember. No piano, my sister played guitar but hated to practice. In the car, my mom liked to play John Denver and Johnny they and Kenny Rogers were my early favorites, as well as Neil Diamond.

This song was actually the "theme" of my wedding in 1989 to Starman. We saw John Denver in concert in the early 1990s...guess that early imprinting had an impact!

2) Going ahead to teenage years, is there a song that says "high school" (or whatever it might've been called where you lived) to you?
Well, there were a are a couple of important ones, the first from my breakup with my first "real" boyfriend:

Eewww! That is a hard video to watch!

And then the song that was played at our junior prom, where I had a lot of fun with a good friend:

3) What is your favorite music for a lift on a down day? (hint: go to and type in a performer/composer...see what you come up with!)

I really like this one, but I have a lot..

4) Who is your favorite performer of all time?
Without a doubt, Phil Collins. Saw him live in 2004 and with Genesis in 2007. I love his music and the lyrics to his songs, and I must admit to even thinking he is kind of cute now (not so much when he was younger)

his drumming is out of this world!

5) What is your favorite style of music for worship?

I love it all, actually, depending on the time and place. At our Youth Annual Conference I can get into the praise music. When in a cathedral I enjoy the choir. At our home church our choir does a mixture of anthems and gospel music, and I enjoy both...

Some of my favorite hymns to sing are Gather Us In by Marty Haugen, Guide My Feet, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

Last week the choir sang "River in Judea" and I have been humming it all week.

Thank you Mary Beth!

Friday, June 19, 2009

RevGal Blog Pals - Friday Five -

Jan over at RevGal Blog Pals writes:

Digh, Patti. Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful,
and Live Intentionally. Guilford, CT: Skirt!, 2008.

Jennifer recommended this book, which I got because I always value Jennifer's reading suggestions. The author of Life is a Verb, Patti Digh worked her book around these topics concerning life as a verb:

* Say yes.
* Be generous.
* Speak up.
* Love more.
* Trust yourself.
* Slow down.

As I read and pondered about living more intentionally, I also have wondered what this Friday Five should be. This book has been the jumping off point for this Friday.

1. What awakens you to the present moment?

Usually, it is something one of my girls does - maybe something annoying, maybe something cute, usually something loud...I tend to spend most of my time in the present moment when they are around!

2. What are 5 things you see out your window right now?
Starman painted our porch when I was gone to Annual Conference for church, and that is a nice sight to see! Also our porch swing, unfortunately with the weed wacker on it so I can't sit there right now. A stick he used to stir the paint, and our good kitchen shears on the railing, not sure what he used those for! And the beautiful trees that line our street.

3. Which verbs describe your experience of God?
loving, forgiving, pushing, opening, holding

4. From the book on p. 197:
Who were you when you were 13? Where did that kid go?

Active, sports loving, anxious, God-loving, worrywart, hard working, tree climbing - I haven't changed much! Wish I had grown, and I have quite a bit, but that person is still just beneath the surface most of the time, for better or for worse.

5. From the book on p. 88:
If your work were the answer to a question, what would the question be?
God asking "Can you show the world how much I love EVERYONE? Can you tell the world my story?"

Bonus idea for you here or on your own--from the book on p. 149:
"Go outside. Walk slowly forward. Open your hand and let something fall into it from the sky. It might be an idea, it might be an object. Name it. Set it aside. Walk forward. Open your hand and let something fall into it from the sky. Name it. Set it aside. Repeat. . . ."

Spent the ride home from Annual Conference basically doing that, and figuring out that it seems that God is telling me it is time to move forward with my long in coming ordination process.

Thanks Jan!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Seeds and Trees - Pentecost 2B

(ed. note...I don't actually even mention the gospel here, just using Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92)
“Weeds and Trees”
Well, it happened this week. I knew it was only a matter of time, with a 10 year old girl, and an 8 year old girl, and a 5 year old girl. We were headed somewhere in the car, and Freckleface, the eight year old, said to me, “How did you dress when you were a teenager, Mom?” When I told her, I pretty much dress the same way I do now, she said “I can’t imagine a teenager dressing that way!” I had to push the point, “Why not, Freckleface? Is there something wrong with the way I dress?” “You just dress so old” she told me.

Sigh. Well, actually, teenagers in the early 1980s did wear oxford shirts, and skinny jeans, and white running shoes. They also wore leggings, ripped sleeveless sweatshirts, and feathered hair, but I didn’t tell Freckleface that, mostly because I never adopted that style (well, ok, I did do the feathered hair). But it is official, I guess. I am old. My children think I dress old. I celebrated my 40th birthday a few years ago. I have friends who are my age who have children who have graduated from high school. My own three girls will all be in elementary school next year, and I don’t see any more babies coming to our house.

One of the benefits of working here at Medium City First United Methodist Church is that I am one of the younger people on the staff. And because I didn’t even start seminary until I was in my 30s, and I am still in the ordination process and have been for the past 10 years, it is easy to still think of myself as young – a young clergyperson, just starting out. And I am just starting out, and I do have a lot to learn, but by the time WisePastor was my age, he had been a pastor for 20 years already. So playing that young card only gets me so far.

What does it mean to get older? In our culture, we seem to like people to be just the right age – somewhere between 25 and 35, I think. If you are younger than that, you are too young, and beyond that, you are, well, out of touch, as my daughters made very clear to me the other day.

As WisePastor mentioned to you last week (or as you may have heard me say), for the month of June he and I have decided to focus on the Psalms in our preaching. We don’t usually read the Psalm for each week in our services, although I do try to use it in the call to worship. With four readings as a part of our revised common lectionary each Sunday, reading all of the texts during worship isn’t always easy, and frankly, I don’t usually focus on the Psalm when I preach, so leaving it out hasn’t seemed like such a bad thing.

WisePastor and I are not really alone in this practice. Peter S. Hawkins had this to say in a recent article in The Christian Century:
Most worshipers take the psalms for granted, treating them like background music that establishes a mood but has little grip on the imagination. Yes, the 23rd Psalm is brought in for comfort at funerals, and folks would miss the “green pastures” and “still waters” were they not invoked. But mostly psalms provide responsive readings no one really attends to, or offer a transition between more important scriptures.

I hope you all paid attention when Dalton (Jacob, WisePastor) led you in the reading of today’s Psalm. Because I think it has a lot to say to us, especially when we couple it with the other readings for this week.

I didn’t have (WisePastor) read all of our readings for today, or else there is no way we would have gotten done with worship before the sun went down/lunchtime/Sunday school hour was over. In addition to our reading from Ezekiel, there was also a reading from 1 Samuel in our Old Testament selections for this second Sunday after Pentecost. This passage tells the story of how David got to be king of Israel after Saul – maybe some of you are familiar with it. God sent the prophet Samuel to visit Jesse, a farmer who lives in Bethlehem. Jesse has a number of fine sons, and when Samuel shows up, Jesse obediently trots them out, one by one, for Samuel to see. Samuel is looking for some word from God that the one he sees is to be the next king of Israel. Samuel keeps expecting that the next one he sees is going to be the one God wants – as the elder sons are trotted out, one by one, for inspection. But one by one, God rejects them. Finally, no one is left, and Samuel asks Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” “Well,” Jesse admits, “there is one more, the youngest one, he is out with the sheep.” Jesse didn’t even consider David as a possibility – he didn’t fit that narrow age range he assumed God was looking for to make a good king – maybe in those days it wasn’t 25-35 but 15-25, since life spans were so much shorter.

Samuel asks to see David, and Jesse calls David in from his shepherding job. And that’s it. “Rise and anoint him” God tells Samuel – and David becomes King David, a youngster who makes some mistakes, to be sure, but the one who also leads Israel to a period of great triumph, and who becomes the ancestor of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.

What happens when we tell people they are “too old” to be of any use any more, or on the flip side “too young” to know what is really going on? What happens when we dismiss people because we think we can’t learn anything new from them, or that they are somehow just not really going to add anything to our community?

Today’s Psalm addresses that issue. The Psalm begins as a pretty standard song of praise. In fact, many of the Psalms start out this way, singing praises to God. Now, before you think singing praises to God is a kind of mundane thing to do, think about what this Psalm is saying here, and who is saying it. This Psalm was likely written during the time of the Exile, when the Israelites were forced to move to Babylon, and forcibly acculturated by the Babylonians – told to act and dress and worship the same gods the Babylonians did. They were displaced from their homeland. They were forced to live on the lowest rungs of society. And yet, they sing songs of praise to God.

And that is not all. They declare here, in this Psalm, that they will not only continue to live as God’s people, even in a strange land, they will flourish. And not only the young and virile among them, but even those whom everyone else has forgotten,. Listen to these words again:
The righteous flourish like a palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit, they are still green and full of sap, showing that the Lord is upright, he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Think again, Babylonians, if you think you can just throw the old Israelites away. Think again if you think there is nothing new we have to offer.

Children strong enough and wise enough to become kings. Older people still vigorous enough to sing praises and to produce fruit for God’s kingdom. Again and again, God’s word shows us how God turns our own expectations upside down. Again and again, God takes what the outside world considers too young and weak or too old and used up, and makes it into something new.

The passage from Ezekiel furthers this understanding of what God can do. We don’t get to read much from the prophet Ezekiel, except for that passage we read a couple of times a year about the dry bones in the desert coming to life. Ezekiel was a prophet during the terrible, tumultuous time in Israelite history when Jerusalem was attacked and many residents of the city, including Ezekiel himself, were deported to Babylon. Our passage for today comes in the middle of prophecies of Israel’s destruction – and yet, it is a word of hope. “From the lofty top of a cedar” the prophet says, God will take a sprig, a new shoot, and plant it in the ground.

Notice that God isn’t going to start all over again with a new tree, although, of course, God could do that if God wanted to. God is starting from something that is already there, a cedar, a strong and straight tree. And the sprig that God takes from this tree is going to grow.

I have been attending a few of the neighborhood meetings that WisePastor has been holding in some of your homes the past month or so. I love to hear what you have to say about the church – how Medium City First, the congregation of this church, has been there for you through good times and bad. How many of you have formed strong friendships in this church. And how many of you have been here for a very long time, and have raised your children here.

But I also hear some pain when you speak – because not all of your children have chosen to stay here. And you see churches around here, mostly non-denominational churches, where there seem to be a lot more cars in the parking lot on a Sunday morning. And so you ask yourselves, “do we have to be different to be God’s church today, in these times? Do we have to dress differently, act differently, have different kinds of music here in order to grow, in order for our grown children to want to come back here to worship?

I think what our scriptures are telling us today is that we still have something to offer. I think we are hearing that this old church, standing here in the center of Medium City, still has some sap running through it. Should we keep doing things exactly the same way we have been for the past 50 years? Well, first of all, we aren’t. We have changed some of the songs we sing. We have changed our liturgy – the outline of our services. And we can continue to try new things – new sprigs will keep coming up out of this strong cedar that is our church.

But God has plans for us here at Medium City First United Methodist Church. God has plans for us to continue growing strong – and to grow in new and surprising ways, ways that people might not expect from a church that has been around for so long. We have both history and potential.

So yes, we need to change. But we do not need to become anything else than what are already becoming. We can stand firm on our traditions, proud of what we have accomplished, and still be nimble, vigorously responding to new challenges and meeting the ever-changing needs of God’s people and the people of this community. We do not have to concern ourselves too much about what are not, because to be honest we are quite busy enough working on what we are becoming. And what we are, what we are becoming, and what we will be is the church, this church which serves God and brings God’s love to all of the world, right here, right now, one person at a time, all in the name of Jesus Christ.

So go out from this place to show the world that you are sprigs growing from an old cedar. Show the world that Medium City First, this strong church right here in the center of the city, is here to stay. Together, let us be the church God is calling us to be. Together, let us stand tall and straight, with the pure sap of God’s love running through us. Thanks be to God.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Five - vacation, all I ever wanted!

Mary Beth at RevGalBlogPals writes: I'm showing my age...this was an anthem of my high school years. Wanna hear it? Give this link a try.

Love this song from my h.s. years as well, Mary Beth! We must be close to the same age! I am writing this as we are on our way to our first family vacation in a while – three days at Starman’s aunt and uncle’s house, a beautiful and spacious home on the shores of a little lake in Michigan – we are all looking forward to some time away! I just got back from the Festival of Homiletics this afternoon, so for me it is nice to have a weekend without responsibilities, a weekend to play with my daughters and Starman, and to be with relatives who have become good friends.

While you're bopping along to that (or perhaps holding your ears...?), let's think about VACATIONS! I certainly am!

1) What did your family do for vacations when you were a child? Or did you have stay-cations at home?
When I was a very small girl, and in elementary school, my dad’s friends the Browns invited us up to their cabin in Maine every year, on Sebago Lake. We looked forward to this week all year. I never realized it was the only vacation my parents could afford, and they never talked about it that way.
The Browns had a canoe and a motorboat and three children in their teens who seemed impossibly grown up. The teen boys (on whom of course I had huge crushes) would take us out in the motorboat, and Patty, the girl, would play endless games of Sorry with us and have turtle races and tell us great ghost stories that centered on the path that went off into the woods behind the cabin, where there was an abandoned Model T Ford, filled with weeds and vines. Every night at supper, everyone would take turns saying the blessing – when I was about 7 I finally had to take my own turn. I was nervous and excited at the same time. After I was done, I remember Mr. Brown telling me I did a good job. Little did he know where that would lead! My parents are still in touch with the Browns – their oldest son is a Presbyterian pastor. They are a wonderful family.

2) Tell us about your favorite vacation ever:
That would have to be our honeymoon – 20 years ago this week! My husband spent the 12 weeks immediately before our marriage in Australia – in 1989 this meant email communication and a fax or two. We left the day after our wedding for two weeks at Disney World. OK, I realize this will lower my esteem in some peoples’ eyes – but we LOVED it. We had spent more money than we had to get a card that gave us three meals, a round of golf every day, a park hopper pass, and some perks like renting a little single person motorboat to zoom around the lake. We arrived late Sunday night and were greeted as we entered the hotel: “Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Starman, we have been expecting you!” And it was the same the whole week – we were treated with courtesy but not fawned over, we were comfortable – and we were alone together for two weeks – the longest we had ever spent together! We played golf, we swam, we enjoyed getting to know one another again after Starman’s long absence. Bliss!

Last year, we went back with our three girls and my parents, and again we had a wonderful time. There is something about WDW that allows me to relax, and to live in a moment, like I have trouble doing almost anywhere else.

3) What do you do for a one-day or afternoon there a place nearby that you escape to on a Saturday afternoon/other day off?
These don’t happen very often nowadays…our weekends are spent cleaning house, taking the girls to various activities, and of course, at church – but last Sunday night, before I went to the Festival of Homies, we walked down the street for dinner at the local Lebanese restaurant, followed by some gelato at the gelateria down the street (where we ran into some school friends of the girls). When we got home, I snuggled on the couch with the three and we got out the Little House on the Prairie TV show DVDs and watched an episode together.

During the summer, I try to have at least two days with the girls during the week, and we like to take road trips – to the zoo, which is huge and fun, to the Natural History Museum, to the botanical gardens, or to hike in our beautiful Metroparks…hopefully bringing friends along. These trips are becoming more fun and less work as they get older!

4) What's your best recommendation for a full-on vacation near you...what would you suggest to someone coming to your area? (Near - may be defined any way you wish!)
Um, well, as much as I like living here, vacationing in this area of the Midwest isn’t the most exciting thing I can imagine. I guess a week at Lakeside, a former Methodist campground that has turned into a wonderful little community on Lake Erie where you don’t lock your door or your bike, there are two ice cream stores, a beach, mini golf...and a Cokesbury store. For this time in our lives, with small children, it is a nice safe place to go, with beautiful views of the lake, and nice evenings in little cottages. Bonus – we have our annual conference of the UMC here! Much better than the last place we lived, where the AC was at a college in the middle of cornfields where the wind never stopped blowing and there was no place to take a walk.

5) What's your DREAM VACATION?
For right now, with the girls the ages they are, another Disney trip would be great! We camped there, which was just our style. For just Starman and me, two days at a little B&B we found in Maine, off the beaten path, with a good hike up Mt. Chocurua in between and visits to all the LL Bean outlets on the way. (we get to do this later this summer to celebrate our 20th!). We have managed one night at this B&B in Fryeburg. MEPeace With Inn for the past three years. It is wonderful!
Someday, I would love to go back to Africa and Europe and do missions work and really get to know the people...yes, it would feel like a vacation to me.

Bonus: Any particularly awful (edited to add: or hilarious) vacation stories that you just have to tell? ("We'll laugh about this later..." maybe that time is now!)
Well, we do laugh now, but – when Brown Eyes was 2 months old, Freckleface not yet three (and not potty trained) and Skye 5, I had the bright idea that I wanted to spend two full weeks camping in northern Michigan. It rained and was in the 50s all week, which was bad enough, but even worse was that we had some relatives who lived in a nice house nearby – and they didn’t even invite us in out of the rain! We had that little 1985 tent trailer – basically all that it held was our beds – we had to cook and eat outside, and of course, deal with pull ups and a little potty and a bathroom that was a five minute walk away…a long way for a three year old! Now I know we were a rambunctious bunch – but one day, we met these relatives for pizza at the local restaurant, and after lunch, it was pouring rain. They got up, and left us at the table, with no where at all to go, while they went back to spend the rest of the day in their nice, warm, dry house with two bathrooms and a washer and dryer. We drove to the local Wal-Mart and just walked around for two hours waiting for the rain to let up. I was pretty angry, and we didn’t go back there for about 3 more years!

Thanks Mary Beth!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tonight at the Festival of Homiletics....

...I went somewhere I never thought I would go. Tonight's session was a night of music and theology, with Beth Nielsen Chapman, Darrell Scott, and Adrienne Young singing, and Barbara Lundblad, Anna Carter Florence, and Craig Barnes offering theological responses to their songs. The first song played was this - I can't find it on YouTube which is really too bad, because hearing it was what did it to me:

Dancer to the Drum - words and music by Beth Nielsen Chapman
Fast asleep in the dawn of ages
The soul of every child
Has waited to be born a stranger
Underneath the drum of his mothers heart

Lying deep in a dream of darkness
Where fear has never gone
Each spark of a life is started
Blind and pure to the world we come
Blind and pure to the world we come

Each of us a dancer to the drum
Each of us a dancer to the drum
Blind and pure we come

One is born into a life of hunger
One will be a king or a rich man's son
One will kill out of greed or anger
One will give his life for another one

There are smiles in the lies of innocence
There are blooms in the walls of stone
And we will see ourselves
In the eyes of everyone we have ever known
Everyone we have ever known

And the heart, the heart will ever be a witness
And precious time, no treasure is worth
And the child, the child will carry our existence
Through the days that we have on earth

Each of us a dancer to the drum
Each of us a dancer to the drum
Blind and pure we come

Fast asleep in the dawn of ages
The soul of every child
Has waited to be born a stranger
Underneath the drum of his mothers heart

This song, this song...this song spoke to me the words I would imagine my sons speaking to me - the two sons who were born too soon to live outside my womb. This song - my little boys, underneath the drum of my heart, lying in the dream of the darkness of my womb, who knows what they would have become? Thank you, Beth, and Michael and Gabriel, you still live on in my heart.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Five- Friends!

It’s time for another Friday Five! Jan over at RGBP writes:
Ever since I found out I could be the hostess for the third Friday Five of each month, I have not been able to get the thought of friends out of my mind. Being an only child (all growed up) who moved around a lot in my lifetime, friends have always been very important to me. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "The way to have a friend is to be a friend."

So today let's write about the different kinds of friends we have, like childhood friends, lost friends, tennis friends, work friends, and the list goes on. List 5 different types of friends you have had in your life and what they were/are like.

Let’s see, this is one of those that I have been thinking about all day…and here is what I have come up with:
1. Intergenerational friends - right now, these include my advisor from my youth group (who is now 79) and his wife, our daughter’s godparents who are near retirement and grandparents, my seminary advisor who recently retired….and a couple of my daughters’ babysitters, who are now in their early 20s. I love what I can learn from both younger and older friends, and, well, just the great time we have together.
2. Church friends – we have some of these from each of the four important churches in our lives thus far. I just spent an evening with the missions team from the church where my husband and children belong, here in our town. I laughed until I cried – these are really fun folks! We have spent a week each of the past five summers with this group and it is a blast. At each of the churches, we have become friends with the clergy, which is funny because I myself wasn’t in seminary in the first two places. I’ll include seminary friends here, mostly because I don’t have many I keep in touch with. I don’t feel good about not making lasting friendships in seminary, but it just didn’t happen. BUT I do have some great friendships with people I knew WHILE I was in seminary.
3. Colleagues – I’m thinking here of people with whom I’ve actually worked, both as an engineer and now as a pastor. Funny enough, two of the closest friends I have in this category are men – I guess that isn’t too odd, since I worked first as a civil engineer. And also funny enough, these two were/are my bosses. They are mentors as well as friends, but we have a lot of very good times together. I hope they would consider me a friend too. I also belong to the Order of St. Luke, and after retreating with them last year, am pleased to count some of my brothers and sisters in the order as friends. Also, through my various connections with the Episcopal Church, I am happy to have colleague-moms to share both parts of my life with.
4. Fraternity siblings – I lived in a co-ed fraternity during my four years as an undergraduate, and we took our pledge seriously (see the sermon post below if you want to know the pledge). And I am happy to say that through the miracle of Facebook, I have gotten back in touch with a bunch of them. But even before FB, there were two girlfriends here who have, through instant messaging and phone calls, remained close in the 20 years we have known each other. These are the friends who know me best, whom I can call at any time, day and night, who will always be there for me and I for them. My husband is also a member of the fraternity, so I count him here. Great, strong bonds.
5. Mom-friends. We moved to this town when I had a three year old and a newborn. And for the past 8 years I have developed some very strong friendships and networks here – book club, preschool moms, babysitting co-op, elementary school playground – these are the places I go daily and am renewed and rejuvenated. Here in this town I am mom first, pastor second (the church I pastor part-time is 40 miles away). I have walking buddies and soccer buddies to play with. I have people I can talk to about bad days and good ones. It is a great life in a great place. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
It is late, but I will as my bonus link my bosses blog – Electric Circuit Rider (you can get a sense of his humor from the title). I like what he writes. I like how he thinks. I don’t know if I will be able to spend 38 years in the ministry like he has, but I hope I still sound as fresh and enthusiastic after those years if I do.

Thanks Jan, what a great chance to reflect!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Abiding in God, Abiding in Love - Easter 5B

Back in the mid 1980s when my now husband and then boyfriend Starman had been dating for a couple of years, we went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant, the Bisuteki grill. The Bisuteki was one of those Japanese places like a Beni Hana, where you sit with a bunch of people at a table and a chef comes over and grills your food for you. We were kind of shy, so we didn’t usually strike up conversation with the people at our table, but on this occasion, we couldn’t help but overhear the dialogue between a couple sitting next to us…it went something like this:

“Well, here’s to us! And to our moving in together”
“Cheers! So, what did you say your mother did for a living?”
“She’s a teacher. How about your mom?”
“What did you say you liked to eat for breakfast?”
“How many sisters do you have?”

It became very clear to us that this couple were dating, were about to move in together, and yet had no idea who one another was! This was a concept that seemed particularly strange to Starman and me as a couple – you see, we lived together before we even dated one another! Let me explain…

At the University where Starman and I both attended school and met on the first day of my freshman and his senior year, a full 30% of the student population lived in off-campus housing of some sort – in the 1980s when we were there, there just weren’t enough dormitories to house all of the students. So, when freshmen arrived on campus, they immediately entered “Rush Week” – when they visited fraternities, sororities, and off-campus living groups to try to decide where to live. I ended up, rather by accident, joining one of two co-ed fraternities on campus, formerly the Zeta Zeta fraternity. Now, before you wonder about our living conditions, all 33 of the fraternity members slept in bunk beds in the third floor attic of the house, in one big room, women on one side and men on the other. But each of the “study rooms” on the second floor was co-ed. So Starman and I, along with two other members, lived together in a quad room when I first moved in.

Living in the same house with 30 other people, people from different cultures and backgrounds, people with different habits and musical tastes (this was college, remember) taught me a lot. In addition to learning Starman’s habits (he likes to go to bed late and sleep late, and he is clean but not very neat), I learned a lot about the difference between living with someone, and abiding with them.

Abiding isn’t a word you hear very often in American English these days. It seems almost quaint – I have a plaque we received as a wedding gift that says “Every house where love abides, and friendship is a guest, is surely home sweet home, for there the heart can rest.” Nice poetry on a pretty plaque, but what does it mean? In our scripture passages from the first letter of John, and from the gospel of John, this word appears no fewer than fourteen times. This word is a favorite with the Johannine community that most likely wrote these letters – all in all, in the gospel of John and the three letters of John, the word mano, the Greek word translated as “abide” here, appears 64 times!

It seems to me that what Jesus is saying, and what John is saying, in these two passages, has to do more with how we live together than the fact that we do live together. Does the word “abide” mean something different to you than the word “live”? It does to me…and I think it did to the writer of the Gospel and the epistle lessons as well.

In the Greek, the word mano actually has several meanings. I went to my Strong’s Ehanced Lexicon, a dictionary of Biblical Greek, and found that the word had several different meanings. I hope you don’t mind a little Greek lesson here…in the Greek, mano means to remain, or abide in three different contexts. With respect to place, it means to sojourn, or to tarry in a location, not to depart, to continue or to be present. Tarry is another great old word – when is the last time you “tarried” a while with someone? I picture a pot of tea shared between old friends, as they sit with one another and enjoy one another’s company. Or even, as one of my blogging friends pointed out, Philip abiding for a while with the Ethiopian in our Acts lesson for today.

With respect to time, the word means “to continue to be, to last, to endure, not to perish.” To abide, then, means to have staying power. For me, a great example of that is most of you here – you who have been coming to this service for years, or who have been members of this church or another church for years, through thick times and thin, good times and bad. You abide. This church abides, here on this corner after over 175 years.

Finally, with respect to a state or condition, the word “abide” means to remain as one, not to become another or different. I like to think of this usage of the word as the way a family can abide, or a church can abide, or a relationship can abide – where the people in the relationship vow to remain as one, no matter what happens around them.

In our lesson from the first letter of John, we read in verse 16, “God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them.” and later in verses 20 and 21 “Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from God is this: Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

So we have two things to do here – to abide in God, and to love our brothers and sisters.

Think back to all the people you have lived with in your life. Maybe for you that isn’t very many people, maybe for you it is a lot. Who are those people you truly “abided” with, and who did you simply live in the same place as? How do we really get to a place of abiding with the people we live with? Can you abide with someone you don’t even always like?

Living with 30 people in the fraternity house was a lesson in what it means to abide. We took a pledge when we joined the fraternity, a pledge to commit ourselves to “the fraternity as an institution, the group of people in it, the individuals in that group, and the development of ourselves”. You can imagine, with thirty people in the same house, there are some people I got along with more than others. But as a group we were committed to being together, and I tried to uphold that pledge.

One night, I came into the living room, where, as usual, there were about 10 of us studying, or reading. “Does anyone want to go out for ice cream?” I asked. Going out for ice cream in college in Boston was something everyone did, no matter what the weather – I think this was a pretty cold winter night. Of all the people in the room, only George wanted to come with me.

Now, George was not my favorite person in the fraternity. We got along ok, but he was very talkative and not a great listener. In fact, I had done pretty well at avoiding being with him alone for most of that year. But, I had asked, and so off we went.

As we walked to the ice cream store, George kept up a pretty steady monologue. And at first, I found myself getting annoyed. But then, something happened. I don’t think I consciously reminded myself of my pledge to support the individuals in the group of people I lived with. But I did decide I might try to enjoy this trip out for ice cream, and actually listen carefully to what George had to say. And as we walked, I began to see George differently. I began to abide with George, rather than just hanging out with him. George hadn’t changed on that walk, but I had changed, and it was a good change.

Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever found yourself suddenly, or even not so suddenly, able to see someone in a different light, to really abide with them in a way you couldn’t before?

With three little and growing girls in our house, I think a lot about the commandment given at the end of our first John passage. Loving your sister all the time is a tough thing to do, I can tell you. Perhaps it wasn’t for you when you were growing up, but it sure was for me – I have one older sister, and we seemed to be in competition over just about everything. And my three, some days, seem to spend more time fighting together than playing together, no matter what I do to intervene.

It’s not always easy, is it, to love the ones with whom you live? Those who know your good habits and your bad ones, those who see you in all your moods. But this is exactly why Jesus calls us to do it. For if we can’t love those with whom we live, how can we love those who live across the world from us? If we cannot love those right in front of us, how can we claim to love God?

Abiding in love means doing just that – abiding in the fullest sense of the word. Taking time to tarry, to be with those around you, fully present to them. Working to be one with them, to connect with them.

And, in that abiding, we gain another abiding as well – God’s love, God’s spirit, abiding in us. How many of you remember that old hymn, Abide with Me? The first stanza goes like this:
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Abide with me, God. Stay with me through the darkness and trouble. Sojourn with me as I travel through life. If we can trust that God will and does, indeed, abide in us, then we are free to abide with one another. We are free to bring our whole selves to our relationships. We are called to find ways to tarry with our brothers and sisters – both our blood relatives and our relatives in Christ.

So, take the time to abide. Abide with those you love, with whom you live – take the time to simply be in one another’s presence, to listen carefully to one another. Abide with those you encounter – at work, in your daily life, here in this community – and understand how much richer your life can be for abiding. And above all, abide in God – for it is in this primary relationship, with the one who formed and made us, that we find strength, and solace, and understanding.

Thanks be to God.

“Abide With Me” words by Henry F. Lyte and music by W. H. Monk, United Methodist Hymnal #700 (1989, United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, Tennessee).

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Five: BUGS!

Sophia over at RevGalBlogPals writes: As I was walking the beach today, I was surprised and delighted to find it swarming with ladybugs. The sweet little red beetles are one of my favorite insects and also my daughter's blogname--though as of this morning she was thinking of changing it to Butterfly. I'll keep you posted.

This got me thinking about spiritual insect trivia: Did you know that medieval mystics and theologians esteemed the bee for its dedicated work and transformation of ordinary ingredients into sweetness? That Spider Woman is an important creator Goddess to many Native American tribes? Or that Francis of Assisi was reminded of Jesus not only by lambs being led to slaughter, but also by worms (think "I am a worm and no man" from the Psalms)-- so he picked them up and took them out of stomping-vulnerable spots?!
In that spirit, this week's Friday Five is a magical mystery tour through God's garden of creepy crawlies!
1. Ladybugs or ladybirds? Pillbugs or roly-polys? Jesus bugs or water skeeters? Any other interesting regional or familial name variations?
Ladybugs, roly-polys, water bugs, yes. Also wooly bears - those caterpillars that are orange and black and tell you (by the width of the orange stripe) how long winter is going to be in New England...
2. Stomp on spiders, carry them outside, or peacefully co-exist? Oh, always bring them carefully outside - I can remember my grandfather doing this, and my mom, and I persist, although they do freak me out!

3. Favorite insect? Butterflies, and moths, just love them. Also lightning bugs, so much fun to catch and release on a summer night.

4. Least favorite? June Bugs! When I was about 8, I had a bad dream that involved thousands of June bugs crawling all over me. They were crawling on my face, and I couldn't open my mouth to scream. Ever since, I can't stand them. When they come out in summer, I hide.

5. Got any good bug stories to share?
When my husband and I had our first apartment in Chicago, our landlord brought (by mistake) with her from Texas palmetto bugs - big huge flyig cockroaches. I had never seen such things. My husband out of town, I called my upstairs neighbor down to deal with one in the bathroom. In he went with a broom. The next thing I know, I hear him scream: IT FLIES! And lots of banging. My friend and I were in hysterics outside the door. He did kill it. We called the exterminator the next day.
Bonus question: share a poem, song, quotation, etc. about insects. Ogden Nash has a few, including:
Gnats are numerous, but small
You hardly notice them
At all.

(of course this isn't true)

Thanks Sophia!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Five - Celbrating the Seasons of Life

Sally over at RGBP writes:

It is the first of May, or as I have been concentrating on dialogue with folk interested in the new spirituality movement this last week, it is Beltane, a time to celebrate the beginning of summer. The BBC web-site tells us that:

Beltane is a Celtic word which means 'fires of Bel' (Bel was a Celtic deity). It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year.
Celtic festivals often tied in with the needs of the community. In spring time, at the beginning of the farming calendar, everybody would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and fields.
Beltane rituals would often include courting: for example, young men and women collecting blossoms in the woods and lighting fires in the evening. These rituals would often lead to matches and marriages, either immediately in the coming summer or autumn.

Another advert for a TV programme that has caught my eye on the UK's Channel 4 this weekend is called Love, Life and leaving; and is a look at the importance of celebrating the seasons of life through ritual and in the public eye, hence marriages, baptisms and funerals.

I believe that we live in a ritually impoverished culture, where we have few reasons for real celebration, and marking the passages of life;


1. Are ritual markings of birth marriage and death important to you?
I love rituals. I belong to the Order of St. Luke, which is a group of mostly United Methodists, a dispersed religious order dedicated to sacramental and liturgical scholarship, teaching, and practice. So, good liturgy is very important to me, and I like to celebrate these life passages with it. I echo Auntie Knickers in that I do wish there were ways to recognize birth other than baptism, especially since several of my children died before birth and were not able to be baptized.

2. Share a favourite liturgy/ practice.
I celebrated my first infant baptism last weekend, and it was a high point of my ministry to date. The little boy sat calmly and wonderingly in my arms as I scooped the water over his head with my hand. It was beautiful.

3. If you could invent ( or have invented) a ritual what is it for?
I also agree with Sally here - I would love to develop a ritual for "coming of age" that would recognize the journey an adolescent has made to date, and the importance of their own decision to follow their faith. Jews have the bar/bat mitzvah, but our confirmation services pale in comparison, especially in the United Methodist church. My Episcopalian friend celebrated something called "Rite 13" with her son last week, I would like to find out more about that!

4. What do you think of making connections with neo-pagan / ancient festivals? Have you done this and how?
I have really not done much with ancient cultures at all. I have been in a church that has a large African-American population for about 6 years now, and I enjoy the ways we introduce some of that culture into our worship, especially through music and altar art. I think we need to be aware of and inclusive of non-Euro culture as we create worship. I am enjoying reading about your experiences, though, Sally!

5. Celebrating is important, what and where would your ideal celebration be?
Wow - I love parties, and with our 20th Wedding Anniversary coming up, I can envision a celebration like this:
Early morning outside worship and walking the labyrinth, followed by worship with Eucharist and renewal of vows, followed by a big dance party to 80s music!

Thanks Sally, this was fun, but it is way too late! WIsh I had come in earlier!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Five - Signs of Hope

Today's Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals is from Songbird, who lives in Maine and is one of my favorite bloggers. She writes:

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Song of Solomon 2:10-13

In the late, late winter, as the snow begins to recede here in Maine, we begin to look almost desperately for signs of spring, signs of hope that the weather has turned and a new day is on the horizon. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Easter and Spring twine inextricably, the crocuses and daffodils peeking through the Earth as we await the risen Christ.

Share with us five signs of hope that you can see today or have experienced in the past.

Well, if someone living in Maine can be hopeful about spring, I here in Ohio should be able to be too! So here goes:

1. Sun! We had a very gray fall and early winter, but for the past couple of weeks, we have seen more of the sun - and even today, that deep blue sky that I used to see in New England. No matter how cold it is (it is in the 20s today!) the sun reminds me that spring is coming.

2. This morning on our walk, my friend and I saw the first Great Blue Heron who returned to the lake near our house. I have in the past counted up to 14 here, and it is always a treat to see them, so majestic, walking in the shallows. We live in the city, so it is even more of a treat that they come visit us here.

3. Spring Break! This afternoon begins a week of spring break for Skye and Freckleface, and Brown Eyes gets two weeks beginning today as well. We aren't going anywhere, but we will watch movies, sleep in, and just enjoy each other, I hope!

4. Soccer! I started playing soccer with a group of moms about 1.5 years ago, and next weekend we will try to begin our outdoor season. I am amazed at how much I enjoy this hour on Saturday mornings, running around and playing a game I have never played before. We are supportive of one another, play for fun, play hard, and have a great time. Two weeks ago, the coach of our high school boys team found out about us and offered free footskills clinics for us, so we have been in the gym the last two Tuesday nights - what a great opportunity!

5. M - the little boy I have been tutoring on Friday mornings - was very excited to read a book well above his level today. He worked hard to read every word, repeated the ones he couldn't get at first, and went back to the classroom literally hugging the book. As I went to leave - he showed me a butterfly he had cut out and colored. With a grin he said "I did this for you!"...I will keep that butterfly above my desk this spring as a sure sign of hope.

Thanks Songbird!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A guest blog from Starman

Hi folks, I wanted to post this Lenten reflection from Starman, well, just because I really like it! It talks about things I have been thinking about a lot, especially after reading a recent post written by my friend WisePastor which you can find at his blog Electric Circuit Rider. Let me know what you think:

On occasion I am asked "What does a scientist see in religion?" For
years my response to this has been to wonder aloud why anyone should
care what a scientist thinks on this subject? Why should it matter
more than, say, a lawyer or a doctor or a factory worker or a letter
carrier? Why should my opinion on this subject matter to anyone in
particular? You should go ask an expert.

Lately, however, in the popular culture we see articles and books by
people who seem "speak for science" on these issues. So it is worth
remarking simply that there is no consensus among scientist on any of
these issues despite what you may be reading.

Science is an amazing and wonderful thing, and if you ask me about it
sometime, I will happily give you an earful. As a species and as a
culture, we literally owe every major aspect of our modern lives to
the impact of science and associated technology, and this has been a
huge benefit to humanity. (Yes, the modern world has its multifold
dangers and problems, but we really do not want to go back to living
in a world where life expectancy is less than 40 years and most
children die of hunger or disease before reaching adolescence.)

Science as we now know it depends on two things (1) the historical
discovery and codification of the "scientific method" a few hundred
years ago, and (2) the happy fact that our universe seems to be
governed by a relatively small number of mathematical rules -- rules
that can be inferred and verified by careful observation and

Science is a powerful tool for finding detailed answers to all kinds
of important well-structured problems. But science does not help that
much to help us solve a wide range of ill-structured problems. We can
use science to predict to six decimal places where a given electron is
likely to appear. But we cannot use science to help us much in
deciding what career to choose, how to spend our time, who to marry,
who to vote for, and what the right and just thing to do is in any
given situation. For all kinds of important and challenging problems
that we face every day, science comes up short.

By the way I am not comfortable with some idea of "God of the gaps",
and I find very uncompelling this idea that there are some things that
can be explained by science while other things cannot. In fact, it
seems to me that science is extremely comprehensive when it comes to
"explaining" pretty much every aspect of our existence. Science tells
us that all of our thoughts and feelings result from a series of
complicated interactions between the neuron cells in our brains.
Science further tells us that the human animal, like all other
animals, has evolved from earlier species, and that all life is
governed by the genetic information encoded by the DNA in our cells
which follows rigorously the rules of chemistry that in turn result
from the fundamental properties of sub atomic matter and energy. This
"story of science" is supported by a vast structure of interlocking
observational evidence. This story that tells us that who we as human
creatures, and what we are made of are governed from top to bottom by
the fundamental mathematical laws. I feel strongly that this "story
of science" is important for every person to know about, even those
people who have no direct connection to science. For example, if
tomorrow morning the physicists at CERN make a discovert that allows
for a new theory to accounts for every particle ever observed -- a new
Theory of Everything -- then such a discovery will almost certainly
have huge practical impact, leading to great new technical innovations
and new discoveries that can be used to make the world a better place.

But we need more than an explanation. Even a Theory of Everything
will not help anyone understand how to live a compassionate and
fulfilling life. If I am wracked by guilt, unable to forgive the
person who hurt me, or paralyzed by an ethical dilemma, then any
"explanation" -- that all of these experiences are a by-product of
certain patterns of firing synapses in my brain -- is not actually
going to help me cope with what I am experiencing. It's not that
science fails to explain, it's just that explanations by themselves do
not actually solve our problems.

During the season of Lent, we are asked to turn inward and to reflect
on our faith. We are all on a journey of life, and the real questions
about God are not primarily concerned with whether or not there is any
scientific evidence to support or deny God's existence (there isn't).
And despite what you may have heard from Intelligent Design advocates,
it's not about finding unsolved scientific mysteries or documenting
miracles or anything else that seems to demonstrate how faith in God
trumps the laws of science. In my view none of these things gets at
the heart of the matter which is this: What is your relationship with
God and what does this mean in terms of how you will live your life?
This is what we are asked to reflect on during Lent, and indeed for
all our lives.

What is your relationship with God and what does this mean in terms of
how you will live your life? How will you answer this ill-structured,
knotty and sometimes messy and difficult question? As Christians we
look to Jesus, what he said and what he taught us to help us answer
this question. The life of Jesus, the value of the church community,
and the message we share with the world by our love.

To me it is an amazing and wonderful paradox that even though we all
journey through life alone, we also journey together. What is your
relationship with God and what does this mean in terms of how you will
live your life? Each of us must answer this for ourselves. Each of
us will have a unique answer. And yet, we come together to share in
our journeys. We find common ground even through our differences, and
this common ground is what it is all about. When we come to worship
and prayer, when we turn to God, and we turn to each other, we do so
not because we are seeking explanations, scientific or otherwise, for
it all. (Indeed, I am very suspicious of anyone using a religious
argument to "explain" something). Instead, we come to God for meaning.
We come to God to understand who we are and why we are here. We come
to God to help us cope with the pain and injustice of our world, to
cope with broken relationship and broken dreams, to help us face our
own too-obvious flaws. We come to God with gratitude, the joy of
life, the support of family and loved ones. We come to God to learn
what we must do to work together to make the world a better place, how
we must share with others, and what it means to love your neighbor.

Feed my sheep, said Jesus.

My two cents.

Can I just say, I love this man?