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!