Saturday, July 28, 2007
For the next two weeks I'll be out of the blogosphere and away from any computer screen, which is a good and necessary thing for me right now. This coming week I'll be assisting two of my colleagues at Silver Lake Conference Center, a UCC camp in Sharon, CT. We're leading a confirmation camp for 63 eighth graders entitled "Confirmungo!". I'll be teaching Bible class, the whole enchilada divided up into five chunks: history, wisdom, prophets, Jesus and the early Church, and Paul's (and others') letters. Whew! I'll have three different groups each morning, teaching the same day's lesson plan three times. My goal is to have them connect their own story with the big Story and with the stories in the Bible in some meaningful way. Please, light a candle and say a prayer.
The second week I'll be on Cape Cod celebrating my birthday with family and I do mean family: my husband and two daughters, my mother and her husband, my father- and mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law and her husband. I'm going to try to relax and just be me, and not all those other me's that are coming along for the ride. Or, as Bette Davis said in All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts--it's going to be a bumpy night!". A therapist once told me that a vacation with family is a business trip. Yes, indeed. Yet I do intend to enjoy myself as much as possible, especially with my husband and the girls.
Hope all is well with those who visit here and that you are making time for rest and play.
Friday, July 27, 2007
- Treatment and prevention for more than 150 million cases of malaria in Africa
- Basic health insurance for 250,000 Americans
- More than 415 million school lunches for poor children in the U.S.
- Nearly 6,700 new, fully armored Humvees for U.S. troops
- Hurricane relief (foreign nations offered nearly this amount in aid after Hurricane Katrina)
--Parade (July 1)
Thursday, July 26, 2007
You scored as Albus Dumbledore, strong and powerful you admirably defend your world and your charges against those who would seek to harm them. However sometimes you can fail to do what you must because you care too much to cause suffering.
Thanks to PJ for this one.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
First Congregational Church of ******
Each of us has in our memory someone who was the one who made everyone feel at home. It could be a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, or a family friend. I say these are women because usually they are. But they could also be men or couples—people who make it their mission to fill their homes with yummy smells, home-cooked food, comfortable places to sit, and the aura of conviviality, that of in the act of joining together for a meal, life and spirit are increased. In short, they are gifted in the art of hospitality.
Giving hospitality and serving others can often put the host of the party on the outside. It is difficult to be fully invested in the conversation while thinking about what needs to be done next or what had been forgotten. We can be so focused on the preparations for the meal that we forget the reason why we were cooking so hard in the first place: to welcome guests and to create a space where something special can happen. I know I can get a little testy myself when dinner is about to be served on a weeknight. I have given the five-minute warning and have called three times for everyone to come to the table; still there are times I am (or my husband and I) the only one standing by the plates on the counter, ready to take them to the table. I get frustrated when here I’ve spent all this time making this delicious dinner and there’s no one coming to eat it when it’s hot. I’m more focused on my efforts rather than on my family’s enjoyment of them.
Martha seems to be in a similar frame of mind in this morning’s gospel lesson. Now we’ve all probably heard this story before. Those of us who are like Martha (Martha Stewart notwithstanding) feel rather singled out as being obsessive-compulsive. Those of us who are like Mary know that we really should get up and help, but God love him, we have Jesus on our side. This story is not intended to be a judgment tale but one of the nature of God in the person of Jesus and how he relates to us. In this story Jesus is pulling the focus off of us and onto him.
In a way Martha reminds us of the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son, or of the early workers in the vineyard who got paid the same amount as those hired at the end of the day. “Hey,” they say, “I’ve been here all day, I’ve been here all my life, I’ve been in the kitchen all day, I’ve done what I’ve supposed to, and this brother, this sister, this Johnny-come-lately gets all the goodies?! Why, God?” Those of us who are older brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, long-time employees or church members, we hear ourselves in those words of justifiable complaint and resentment.
Let us remember though what the “goodies” are: forgiveness, love, compassion, and in this Scripture lesson, Jesus and the gospel. It’s not Mary’s behavior that Jesus justifies; it is himself. In Eugene H. Peterson’s paraphrase The Message, Jesus says: “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”
Jesus isn’t only the better part but the main course, one part of an entire meal. The point here is balance rather than judgment or which way is better. We need to balance our Christian doing with Christian being. We need to learn again and again from Jesus and the gospel what it means to be loving, forgiving, and compassionate so that we are strengthened in our service to others.
In Giuseppe Belli’s 19th century sonnet about Martha and Mary, Martha snaps back at Jesus after he tells her that Mary’s choice is more important: “So says you, but I know better. Listen, if I sat around on my salvation the way she does, who’d keep this house together?” Those of us who are like Martha might be chuckling to ourselves at the sound of this. She’s right; we can’t just sit on our salvation. We have to get up at some point and do what is necessary.
In our society, though, get up and do is more than it used to be. We are overwhelmed with choices as to what we can do in a brief 24-hr. period. Work (including commute time), pick up dry cleaning, drive children to and fro, take the dog to the vet, take an exercise class, go grocery shopping, cook dinner, weed the garden, mow the lawn, fix that hanging gutter, read the paper, check e-mail, open the snail mail, call the doctor to make an appointment, call the pharmacy to renew a prescription, volunteer at church, at the hospital, at the local food pantry, at the senior center, and on and on. Oh, and eat three meals and sleep. In recent years it has been suggested that married couples schedule a night for sex because otherwise it might get forgotten in the midst of all this doing. We even have to schedule church because of Sunday morning sports and the need to have just one day to sleep in and spend the day with family. While resting and being with family is in keeping with the biblical understanding of Sabbath, when we miss worship, we miss the opportunity to rest at the feet of Jesus in the company of our sisters and brothers in Christ.
A few years back my home church had its very first adult mission trip. Six of us traveled to Pipestem, West Virginia to work for a week at the Appalachian South Folk Life Center. We were sent to Miss Margaret’s house that needed scraping and painting, a new set of stairs and stoop at her back door, and a new tarpaper roof on her garage. The first day we started it was about 85 degrees. The air was also a bit thinner at about 3000 feet above sea level, and I had forgotten that I need time to adjust to it. I wound up on the ground under a tree trying to slow my breathing. After resting for a while I was feeling rather useless and somewhat guilty because of it. I should be up and doing. But we weren’t there just to slap on some paint and then go home. So I went over to where Miss Margaret was sitting and sat with her and listened to her tell stories about her family and the places where she lived.
I could have just stayed under that tree. But then I would have missed out on the main course: what Jesus had to teach me through Miss Margaret. In the story about Abraham, Sarah, and the visitors, Abraham could have served his guests the best that he had and then left them alone, but he stayed while they ate and heard the better part, that he and Sarah would have a son. With God’s commandments, as in “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”, there comes a promise. Obey the Sabbath, worship the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you shall be rooted in Christ and thus be more able to serve, to love, to forgive, to be compassionate, to serve your neighbor and the stranger.
I once saw a poster in an elementary school that read, “The more you read, the more you know; the more you know, the smarter you grow; the smarter you grow, the stronger your voice when speaking your mind or making your choice.” The more we spend time with Jesus in the company of one another, the more we know about love, forgiveness, compassion. The more we know of these things, the more we will become these things. The more we become these things, the stronger our voices will become when speaking our minds or making our choices, especially the choices about how we spend our time and what kind of people we will be, what kind of church we will be. Jesus is the main course of our lives and won’t be taken from us if we would but choose it above all else.
Not only can we choose to sit with Jesus but the wonderful thing is that Jesus chooses to sit with us. Jesus chooses to sit and listen to what we have to say or not. When we have suffered long enough under the oppressor’s voice of perfectionism, of having to do in order to be worthy, Jesus grants us permission to just sit and be with him, to unload our guilty burdens, and leave the chaos alone for a little while. It isn’t going anywhere. But for the time being, neither is Jesus. He stays with us until we have what we need from him.
So, First Congregational Church of ******, who are the people ‘behind-the-scenes’ in this church, who make much of its ministry, including hospitality, possible? What are some ways of being hospitable as a church that you would like to see develop here at 1st Church? What kinds of hands-on mission would spark your interest and your participation? What do you feel you would need, both as a church and as faithful persons, to be able to engage in mission activity? When was the last time you spent some time in quiet with your Bible, learning at the feet of Jesus? In what ways do you as church and as Christians need to have the focus pulled off you and put onto Jesus? What helps you to feel peaceful, open, and loving? What makes it difficult to slow down? And if you are slowing down, whether by choice or not, how does that feel to you? How could your relationship with God and with each other help you?
We who have been tempted to think we must do in order to secure our salvation and that of the world have been reminded by Jesus that he is the One who saves. We join in his work and ministry as his Body but the Body needs nourishment in order to serve. Jesus is the host of this holy banquet who has become the main course. In the words of the theologian Gerhard Forde to his students, “What are you going to do, now that you don’t have to do anything?” Now that we do not have to serve and work in order to be considered good and worthy, we are free; free to not be frantic, frustrated, or resentful. We are free to worship, to praise, to give thanks, to receive what we need in order to serve what is needful. And what is needful? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Amen.
Friday, July 20, 2007
The first man prayed, "God, please give me the strength to cross the river."
God gave him big arms and strong legs, and he managed to swim across, although it took an hour and he almost drowned twice.
After witnessing this, the second man prayed, "God, please give me strength and the tools to cross the river."
God gave him a rowboat and strong arms and legs. He was able to row across in only half an hour, after capsizing once.
Seeing what happened to the first two men, the third man prayed, "God, please give me the strength, the tools and the intelligence to cross the river."
He was turned into a woman.
She checked the map, hiked two hundred yards upstream and walked across the bridge.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
These were taken from his kayak while on the Charles River in South Natick, MA.
You can see more of David's photography at his website.
(This isn't an advertisement, just a desire to share some beauty.)
Friday, July 13, 2007
Today as I drove past your church I noticed your sign out front: “If you think it’s hot here…”. It got me thinking about other places on this earth that are indeed hotter than southwestern Connecticut.
I thought of those who die in the slums of Mumbai and Calcutta, India; the soldiers and civilians who die in the deserts of Iraq and Darfur, Africa. I was reminded of migrant workers in their fields from sunrise to sunset, of resident families of the Oaxaca City dump in Mexico who pick through garbage for plastic bottles to recycle. I remembered that there are hundreds of elderly folks in apartments who die in hot summers. I wondered about the relative heat of Antarctica that is destroying the habitat of polar bears and penguins. I pictured dying coral reefs caused by rising sea temperatures. I called to mind the forest fires being fought by brave men and women out West and the families and wildlife displaced by those fires. I thought of my brother who lives in Tucson, AZ where there is a serious drought.
There are some things worse than the perils of hell: allowing our sisters and brothers around the world and in our own country to suffer in an earthly hell; to abuse the environment to the point that the earth we leave our grandchildren will not be the one we cherished in our childhood. Jesus said that when we minister even unto the least of these, we have ministered unto him.
Perhaps your intent was to get people thinking, but thinking about what? Their own souls or about the eternal life of all people, eternal life that begins right now with the way we live our lives in relationship to God, each other, and the whole creation.
You’re right—it’s not hot here. Perhaps it’s time we got into the kitchen of the Lord.
Peace be with you.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The second piece of wisdom comes toward the end of the movie. It turns out that an author is writing a book in which Harold is the main character. After having found this author, he tries to convince her not to kill him in the book. But when Harold reads the ending, he realizes that this is the way the book needs to end, that it is a lovely ending, and that he wouldn't change a thing.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
The commute is not bad: 45 minutes shared by backroads and the parkway. And the drive alone gives me time to think, reflect, sing loudly with my CDs, or listen to NPR sans interruption or complaint. This morning, as I headed to church, I saw a doe while paused at a stop sign. My hybrid's engine shut off, leaving me to enjoy the moment in total silence. When she walked toward the woods and into the dense growth, I said "thank you" to God for a gift unbidden.
But then I thought, how dare I connect something so personal, dare to call the One who created the cosmos, something so personal as "God". To me, it seems more appropriate (and more bold) to think that the One who created the cosmos can be so intimate with the creation; not by gifting us mere mortals with "Taster's Choice" moments with animals, but by simply inviting us into a relationship. But for me, naming this reality as "God" carries with it the baggage of theism, of a God intimately involved in personal lives who is removed from the natural order of things. When praying with children I will use the words "Dear God" but in moments for which words of gratitude seem necessary, "God" seems to trivialize the gift and the giver.
I have read of an Aboriginal tribe's use of the words "Divine Oneness", which to me implies an intimacy yet also an appropriate respect for the One whom we are addressing. This is not a great uncle or aunt who sends the best birthday and Christmas presents every year, or the dear friend who calls just when we need them the most, or the Great Genie of Parking Spaces & Wish Fulfillment. This is the "Eternal Spirit, God of our savior Jesus Christ and our God... [who calls] the worlds into being, creates persons in [the Image] and [sets] before each one the ways of life and death".
The divine Presence (Barbara Brown Taylor has a fondness for this one) makes itself known in a myriad number of ways but never reveals a name. The closest we get is "I Am Who I Am" or "I Will Be What I Will Be". From that we derived YHWH--Yahweh, then Jehovah. Then Jesus gave his disciples the invitation to call this god "Father": Abba or our English equivalent of "Daddy", which implies relationship, conversation, compassion, care, instruction, admonishment, and most of all, love. But we have abused this intimacy into a reversal, thinking we can understand the mind of the One who created all that we observe. We think if we can know the cosmos, discover its secrets, we can know this God, this poetry of our souls and of the universe. Ha!
A name is intensely personal to one's identity, yet being named, being called by one's name does not imply that one is truly known. It takes a lifetime, perhaps even more, to truly know someone, to know the person behind the name. What makes us think that by addressing the holy as "God" that we know anything about this ineffable Presence that instills both wonder and confusion in the hearts of humankind?
So here is an incomplete list of my favorite images/names for the Holy One in our midst:
Womb of Compassion
Breath of Fire
Persistent Friend, Insistent Enemy (Ted Loder)
Life for Others (in reference to Christ)
Way of Anguish
Word Made Flesh
Ground of All Being (Paul Tillich)
I'm always hungry for fresh images to spark inspiration and creativity. Give me some of your most daring or cherished classical images of the divine.
Friday, July 06, 2007
on the dresser (it had stopped
a long time ago anyway)
took his paints and canvas
and went to his favorite
place to just be
He sat on the guardrail
facing the wide
expanse of the reservoir
a straw Stetson atop his head
his easel straddling
the road’s and the pond’s edge
his denim longsleeve
clothing its wooden arms
releasing his shoulder
so he could give it
to the desires of his brushes
He had returned
to finish what he
had already begun
A canvas muddied
with dull greens
and pale blue
waiting for the deeper
watery blue and black
rippled with white sunshine
Shadows of geese
and ducks at midmorning
Bright lime dappling
leaves, thick with June rain
Brief clouds scudding slowly
across a day eternal
He’s never been satisfied
to finish a painting
At most he can only
allow the paint to dry
(I borrowed this poem style from Cynthia Rylant, in her book God Went to Beauty School.)
Thursday, July 05, 2007
(Reads the Bible while you have been elsewhere.)
One point I want to object to: throwing out the Old Testament (otherwise known as the Hebrew Scriptures) because Jesus said to. I don't believe he actually said that. He said that he had come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Genesis through Malachi is not just a backdrop to Jesus and the early Church. On its own it is still the bible of the Jewish faith (it is also part of the Muslim faith) and as such, we Christians cannot refer to it as just backdrop. Nor can we consider it unnecessary, because it tells us from where and from whom this Christ came, which is important knowledge.
We need the family stories of Genesis and Exodus to inform us that this is a very imperfect people that God has chosen and that God does not exactly expect that to change. What God expects is a relationship with humanity and that human beings will respond authentically, with God, one another and the created order/chaos.
We need to read those $%&*# laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy to know that purity was a major concern and requirement when it comes to being in right relationship with God, one another and the created order/chaos. As creatures with hearts and brains we know, for the most part, that the specifics of these laws are irrelevant but the intention of these laws is highly relevant. When was the last time we concerned ourselves with the purity of our actions, our intentions, our attitudes in any of our relationships, including the divine Presence? This is what Jesus was after in the Sermon on the Mount.
We need to read all that history on how a nomadic people became a nation with a monarchy and all their bloody wars and corrupt rulers and occupations and exile and rebuilding, believing God to be on their side. We certainly haven't learned those lessons as yet.
Wisdom literature we need all the time--to remind us that the entire scope of human experience is a doorway to God, from our most poignant moments to the ecstatic joys to the rage of betrayal and hurt to the humdrum tedium that threads many of our days. All of these books, especially the Psalms, remind us that all of this is appropriate to bring before God in worship, that God wants us to do this.
Prophets! Lord, do we need our share of prophets today! Mystical Seeker has written a wonderful post on the subject of prophecy. In fact, I think preachers need to be linking the gospel message with the voice of the OT prophets more than ever, especially where the prophets speak out against empire and all its trappings. Prophets insist that God is the center of the universe--and not some God we dreamed up in our imagination, but God as God reveals himself or herself.
And I do think we need to be biblically literate, especially when we have an ever-growing subculture in this nation that reads it literally, incorrectly, and bases a lot of its politics on that reading. Perhaps we need to be Zen in our Bible reading: to read it well but to also not read it. We need to read it so well that it becomes a part of us, like breathing, the heartbeat, the muscles that carry us forward; that we then don't have to read it because it's in the rhythm of our blood, in the dirt on our hands, in the ways we have been stripped of our illusions and our fears that we then allow ourselves to lean on others, have others lean on us, all of us knowing God, learning how to live without God, like an adult.
Until we are adults (we're still in adolescence as a species), I think we still need this whole Bible, with all its faults and imperfections, with all its poetry and beauty, with all its horror and pain, with all its challenges and stories, with all its love and comfort and power to transform. It has not yet become a part of who we are to the point that we no longer need to read it.
So read, read, read....read any book that opens your worldview, challenges your way of life, engages your mind, teaches you something you didn't know before, and include the Bible--all of it--on your list. If you don't want to be scholarly about it and want to read it as a book of literature, I recommend The Message by Eugene Peterson--a modern paraphrase with no messy verse numbers. Also recommended is Marcus Borg's Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, particularly what it has to say about the OT, Revelation, and empire.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Today is one of those days when we sing our most patriotic songs, hands over our hearts, hats removed from our brows. This is one of my favorites because of its not-often-sung second verse. It is one we citizens need to commit to memory and to heart, that if we are a nation under God, we ought to be so humbly and with contrition as much as we are with pride and faith.
America the Beautiful
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
The Universal Life Church is the only denomination in the world that opens its doors to all, welcomes all who ask to Become an Ordained Minister and grants it without question. We are a non-denominational ULC church. We support a full spectrum interfaith ministry. Over 20 million Universal Life Church (ULC) ministers have been ordained online throughout the world. We make no religious hurdles, no hoops to jump through, no tests of loyalty, no rings to kiss and no fees to pay. Why? The ULC Monastery represents freedom, and to have freedom you can not make demands upon individuals (emphasis mine). In the Universal Life Church (ULC) Monastery everyone is equal - the same level of greatness is enjoyed by all. We will be your personal minister/consulate and advisor, with your consent at no charge to you. We are here for you each day. There is a scripture which says "there is a friend, which sticketh closer than a brother." We wish to be that friend for you. We ordain all who ask and welcome you to the Universal Life Church Monastery Ministries.
In order to test this church's extravagant welcome, a clergy friend of mine decided to submit his dog for ordination. Yes, his dog. All you dyslexics out there will get the joke. So now we have Rev. Stanley, ordained to the Universal Life Church (complete with a framed certificate of ordination), raising a leg to injustice and chewing the pants off the powers that be. Perhaps not a ring but a studded collar to kiss would be in order.
Bush decision on Libby draws fire
I guess if he's lame duck, he might as well lay an egg.
The man can do no right.
UPDATE: Scooter Libby once represented tax-evading financier Mark Rich, whose pardon by Bill Clinton at the end of his presidency was met with controversy. What an incestuous lot...makes my flesh crawl.
Monday, July 02, 2007
So the doctor refers him to an American Indian medicine man. The medicine man says, "I can cure this." That said, he throws a white powder in a flame, and there is a flash with billowing blue smoke.
Then he says, "This is powerful medicine. You can only use it once a year. All you have to do is say '123' and it shall rise for as long as you wish!"
Harry then asks, "What happens when it's over, and I don't want to continue?"
The medicine man replies: "All you or your partner has to say is '1234', and it will go down. But be warned -- it will not work again for another year!"
Harry rushes home, eager to try out his new powers and prowess. That night he is ready to surprise his wife Joyce. He showers, shaves, and puts on his most exotic shaving lotion. He gets into bed, and lying next to her says, "123." He suddenly becomes more aroused than anytime in his life...just as the medicine man had promised.
Joyce, who had been facing away, turns over and asks, "What did you say 123 for?"
And that, my friends, is why you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition.