Friday, December 30, 2011

RevGals Friday Five: Nearly New Year's Edition

Roxie, our 13 year old Lab-Red Heeler mix, on the deck, enjoying a wonderful early summer afternoon.

Sally, over at RevGals, offers this Friday Five Meme:

A simple Friday Five for a busy part of the year; indulge me by sharing two fives:

As you look back over 2011 share 5 blessings, they can be as grand or as simple as you like,if you year has been like mine they are probably a mixture!

As you look towards 2012 share 5 hopes- again, anything goes

Five blessings:

1. This new call. I feel very blessed to serve this community of very fine people, who are mindful of God's call to justice, compassion, and love.

2. Family stability. My family has had a rough time over the last couple of years. This year we each found stability. It's nice to enjoy my kids as young adults who are finding their way in the world.

3. Our dogs. Last spring our sweet dog, Roxie, at the age of 13 started to have seizure-like episodes, losing bodily function and the ability to walk. We took her to the vet who diagnosed her with arthritis in her hips and gave her pain meds and anti-inflamatory meds. Subsequently we moved and saw a new vet who confirmed the diagnosis. In the mean time, she has not had one of those episodes, seems to be relatively pain-free, and will even trot now and then like a dog half her age. We know that every day with her is a gift, and we are grateful she is able to enjoy life. We certainly enjoy her!

4. iPad. The church intended to buy the new rector a new computer. In conversation with the vestry we decided to get me, the new rector, an iPad. There are many benefits to my work like from this, but most importantly, for me, I appreciate being ablt to preach from it and not print off paper every Sunday, just for that. I also use it to store meeting notes, agendas, schedules, my calendar...and I love iCloud, the Apple feature that stores all my data.

5. UNCSW (United Nations Commission on the Status of Women) and AWE (Anglican Women's Empowerment). In February 2011 I attended the UNCSW in NYC, and a variety of parallel NGO events, sponsored by AWE. I learned so much about the status of women around the world, and the high degree of violence and abuse that women encounter....and our need, as a global community, to be proactive on the behalf of all people. I also appreciated the five-part series on PBS, "Women, War, and Peace." Again, I learned so much from this powerful, well made series.

Looking forward to in 2012:

1. The next UNCSW. This year I will be leading a couple of the workshops at this event on the WordsMatter Expansive Language Project. My work with that project continues, albeit slower and less involved than before I took this job.

2. General Convention of the Episcopal Church. This summer I will attend GenCon, and again, I may host a WordsMatter workshop at this event. It's being held in Indianapolis, so an easy commute for me. I look forward to this, it is a fabulous event.

3. Finding a spiritual director and a retreat center. I really need to find a new spiritual director and a place to go for rest and renewal. There are plenty of options in this area, I just need to spend some time organizing myself in this regard. So, this is one of my goals for 2012.

4. Getting back to yoga. I have not been good at exercise lately. (Ok, not good at all since about September). I really need to get myself back on track. I am wondering what this means for me as I age and find that I injure easier than I use to. (Usually my lower back). Joining a health club is out of the question, and taking class is not really affordable, so I am left to my own devices. I can do this, but of course it is much easier to maintain if I can have the support of classes. Anyway, one of my goals.

5. Gardening. We had a fabulous garden last summer and I look forward to gardening again this summer!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Story

A reflection on the readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

A friend of mine is fond of telling a story about her life and then concluding with, “That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!”

The other night my husband, son, and I were watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the version that came in 2000 with Jim Carry as the Grinch. Several times we remarked that they changed the story, a lot, in order to make a full length movie out of it. It is significantly different from the version I saw as a child. Then our son said, this is the only version of the story he remembers. Same story, two versions…

Tom Satre told the following story to the Sitka (Alaska) Gazette: he was out with a charter group on his 62 foot fishing vessel when four juvenile black-tailed deer swam directly toward his boat. “Once the deer reached the boat,’ he said, ‘ the four began to circle the boat, looking directly at us. We could tell right away that the young bucks were distressed.

I opened up my back gate and we helped the typically skittish and absolutely wild animals onto the boat. In all my years fishing, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Once on board, the deer collapsed with exhausting, shivering. We headed for Taku Harbour. Once we reached the dock the first buck we had pulled from the water hopped onto the dock, looked back as if to say, ‘Thank-you,’ and disappeared into the forest.

After some prodding and assistance, two more followed, but the smallest deer needed a bit more help. (for which he was put into a wheel barrow and transported from the boat to the dock).

Finally, with the help of three humans, the last buck got to its feet and ran off to join the others. …”

This true story appeared on Facebook last week with a link to some amazing photos that accompany the story.

In response, other people shared similar stories of animal and human interactions that break open our expectations of the normal way that humans and animals interact. The beauty of these stories is that they remind us that there is a thin line between creation, human beings, and the God who created all of us. And sometimes that line dissolves and we see the world as God might see it. A world called to live in harmony and peace, with grateful hearts for all the blessings and gifts of life.

On this most holy of nights/days we celebrate the reality that God is with us. In the mystery that is God, God has chosen to dwell in and within all creation, and most particularly in human life. This is our Christian story, of God active in the world through the birth of Jesus. It is story that reminds us that how we live our lives reveals the fullness of God in the world – particularly when we live with compassion, kindness, gentleness, and love toward all.

The Christmas story in our culture, of Santa, and presents under the tree, looks very different from the story we hear tonight. No doubt the culture Christmas is fun, and good for the economy, but we diminish the true Christmas story when we place too great an emphasis on Black Friday and record breaking holiday sales.

I have had Christmas’s when I could not afford to buy a single gift. I know what it feels like when the Christmas I am celebrating is not the Christmas our culture describes. Radio, television, newspapers, grocery stores and shopping malls try to tell us that our greatest joy is found through purchasing, wrapping, and opening presents. Truth be told, I like to shop as much as anyone, and I enjoy giving and receiving presents. So, the year we couldn’t buy gifts challenged me to explore the meaning of Christmas while overcoming depression and sorrow over the circumstances of life, and make my peace with it.

The true gift of Christmas cannot be placed into a box and wrapped with paper and ribbon and bows. In that regard, both versions of the Grinch, tell that part of the story. That Christmas is found in the heart.

And, as Christians, the true gift of Christmas is made manifest in the one whose life we celebrate, the one who comes as the fullness of God’s love, to walk with us through this journey of life. To be with us in our joys and our sorrows, to be ever present in our life story.

Even when life is at its most challenging, whether we are crazy busy, or feeling bleak and hopeless, or excited, or bored, or whatever life feels like - we can, with a little intentionality, recognize the gift of life and the presence of God’s abiding love for us in every aspect of the Christmas story. It’s true that often God’s abiding love for us is made manifest in a simple act of kindness that you extend to someone, or they extend to you.

Into the darkness of a winter’s night, God gave all creation God’s most precious gift of love, Emmanuel – God with us, the Incarnation, the birth of Christ. The mystery of the Christmas story, of that precious gift of love, is a paradox – for the dark night is the source and the place of new life, of love, of God manifesting the fullness of God’s self into the world, as a humble, vulnerable, human baby.

In this Christmas season, let the compassion of God fill you with hope. May you recognize, in your life’s story, the gift of how deeply God loves you, just the way you are.

That’s my Christmas story, and I’m sticking with it.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

Sometimes I just have let go. Last week, as if I couldn't get any busier, I did. By Saturday afternoon, when I sat down to write my sermon for Sunday morning, I was completely drained. I managed to write down a skeleton of a sermon and then let it go. Over night the sermon percolated in my thoughts and by morning I realized that I was going to preach without the text, filling out some of the pieces, and only using my iPad for the quote and conclusion. It worked fairly well. Particularly my idea to have all of us sit in silence for a minute or so. People seemed to appreciate that.

Yesterday included two worship services, including one where we blessed items for worship that were acquired from Memorial Gifts. This was followed by the "greening" of the church, a short break, writing my newsletter article, reviewing worship for Christmas Eve/Day, and officiating at a Lessons and Carols performance, led by a chorus from a local community college. It was a performance, not technically a worship service -so a bit odd to be the "Officiant", but filled with lovely music. Benjamin Britton, Kings College, Lessons and Carols. All told, another 13 hour day.

Today I am resting a bit. Soon I will clean and prepare for my son to arrive on Amtrak. He will be here for the week. Our daughter arrives next Sunday. I am looking forward to Christmas and then some time off.

If this week goes as planned it will be slightly slower than the previous 10 weeks. However, if there is one thing I have realized, life rarely goes as planned.

That's my week. What about yours?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tender Time

Goodness. Here we are, Advent Four, already!

I find that the season of Advent has flown by – from that first Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Sunday’s following when we celebrated the Rite 13 service and welcomed two young men into adulthood, and last Sunday with the flurry of celebration and activity that always accompanies a Bishop’s visit. Parish life has been full of celebration. It has also been a time of healing and tending to those who are ill. As it happens in life we have had a number of critically ill people this month, thankfully most of them are on the mend. We have E.P., who died yesterday after a long battle with leukemia and Alzheimer’s. All this busy-ness seems inevitable in Advent, a season in which we are called, paradoxically, to be still, to be quiet, to reflect on the various ways we come to know Christ in our lives.

Unexpectedly, I found myself, last night, sitting in silence. No television. No radio. No music playing. Sitting in the living room with the Christmas tree lights on, the gentle sound of the flames lapping in the fireplace, my dogs shifting on the area rug, the cat purring at my side. It was delightful to just sit and be still.

Where are you, at this point in the Advent season? Have you had more silence and solitude than you care for? Or are you, like me, overflowing with activity, yearning for a quiet moment to catch your breath? Take a moment, just to breathe…. Close your eyes, if you wish. Or pull out the piece of paper in the center of your bulletin and doodle, or write a note of gratitude on the abundance card in the pew rack. Just be still. After a moment of silence, I am going to share a short reflection by Caryll Houselander.

“When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defense. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of the self like a little tent around the child’s frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish, and some day to bring forth, the life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in its heart. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.
By his own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent: he was absolutely helpless; he could go nowhere but where she chose to take him; he could not speak; her breathing was his breath; his heart beat in the beating of her heart. Today Christ is dependent upon us.

This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. During this tender time of Advent we must carry him in our hearts to where he wants to go, and there are many places to which he may never go unless we take him to them.” (The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander)

Houselander, known as a Christian mystic, was born in the early 1900’s and became a prolific writer and artist. Most of her writing speaks of Christ within each of us –ordinary, broken, imperfect, challenged, human beings.
The season of Advent is a time to ponder how it is that Christ is in and within us. Our reading this morning from Luke reminds us that God made a home in the body of Mary. Her willingness to birth God into the world brought forth the means by which God comes to heal us, to love us, to be present in and through our lives. Houselander reminds us that just as God resided in Mary, so God chooses to reside in us, that we can be the means through which God’s love continues to be poured into the world. Let us be attentive to God’s love in our breath, in our words, and in our actions.

May it be a tender time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Five: The Making a List, edition

Jan, over at RevGals, offers this Friday Five meme:

Ever since I was little, I heard that Santa is making a list and checking it twice. I can see why he has to keep checking it, because there is so much to do before Christmas! Only nine days left, and I don't have church services to plan, but there is much left to be done. My daughter-in-law tells me that she feels behind, which is how I have been feeling.

No matter how organized you are, there must be some things you still need to do. For this Friday Five, tell us five things on your Christmas "To Do" List. Include anything you have decided to skip doing this year. As a bonus, give us something that helps you remember why this season even exists.

1. My shopping is almost complete. I have had a big list this year, although most of my gifts are little "Thank-You's" to people who have done so much for the church and our ministry. I am in the midst of baking, wrapping, and signing cards as part of the thanking process. Most of that will be finished by Sunday, and then I can move on to wrapping gifts for family.

2. I hoped to send out Christmas cards this year....but I did not shop for cards early enough and now I can't find a set of cards that I, I am still on the hunt for these.

3. Sermons and worship services - I have three sermons to write and several services to finish planning. Most of the services will be exactly what we have done before, but with a couple of small changes. Still, these require some focused attention, which I have not been able to give them.

4. Baking, cleaning, planning - for Christmas dinner with my kids. I'm looking forward to all of us sharing a meal. This year our meal will replicate Christmas with Busha and Papa. My father and mother in-law made a grand feast for Christmas. My FIL died about 14 years ago, and my mother-in-law died in August - so, even though we won't be with the entire family, our kids will be here and we'll celebrate life.

5. Resting. I have been very busy and it is on my list to rest....LOL

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

I'm recovering today from a lively, wonderful, intensely busy weekend due to the Bishop's visit and the nine people we confirmed. In the Episcopal Church the primary confirmation event takes place at baptism when the priest or bishop dips their thumb in holy oil, makes the sign of the cross on the forehead, and pronounces the person "marked" as Christ's own forever. This action of baptism and confirmation in one ritual recreates the rite from the ancient church. Then, taking into consideration that confirmation has already happened, the church offers an rite for young people and adults, to make a profession of faith reaffirming the statements made on their behalf at baptism.

Although it is not required, I offered a "confirmation preparation" retreat. At this retreat I used a "journal" with questions intending to help us unpack the Baptismal Covenant. So, for example, we reflected on the nature of sin, evil, dignity, justice, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We also made communion bread from scratch, with each person bringing an ingredient and all of us participating in mixing, stirring, kneading, rolling, cutting, baking, and freezing the bread. Then we used the communion bread in the worship service yesterday. We also have enough bread, in the freezer, for all of our services through Jan. 1.

This retreat was a mixed generation group - 7 young people between the ages of 15 and 17, and two adult men in their 60's (I'm guessing). I had a co-leader who is in his 30's, or 40's? And I am 54. In planning this retreat my co-leader and I thought it would be interesting to use a movie to spur our reflections - especially considering that some of the young people might not have real-life experience to draw on. So, we thought that using the movie "Crash" would get us there, with lots of examples that show sin, evil, dignity, integrity, loving our neighbor. It proved to be a good idea!

All of this was anchored in the Book of Common Prayer with a thorough review of what is in the BCP, and opportunities to use it to assist in our answers. We also went through the baptismal covenant and intentionally looked at the questions and response.

My hope through out the retreat was that those being confirmed would have an informed understanding of what they were really saying and confirming as their faith. I also hope that what we reflected on continues to shape and form and inform them every time we say the baptismal covenant.

It was delightful to host the bishop. He was really engaged with the people being confirmed - laid his hands upon their heads and looked them right in the eye as he said the prayer for confirmation. Following the service the bishop met with the vestry. We had lunch and a lively discussion. All in all, a good day.

Today I will enjoy a well earned day of rest. I intend to knit, walk the dogs, read, and do a little grocery shopping.How will you spend this day? Will you find time for rest this week and renewal? If so, what will you do?

Friday, December 09, 2011

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five: the Random edition....

RevKarla over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

I don't know about you, but my life seems to have a lot of random surprises lately. Just little things, like the doggy who was rescued by a Good Samaritan from running into traffic, who then brought him to the police, who brought him to my neighbor's house. I took the doggy, now named Scout, to the vet on Monday, and the woman behind the desk said, "This dog looks so familiar. Were you here last week?" I told her no, that this particular dog is a stray, and she looked at me, and said (use your best Boston accent here), "Oh my GAWD! I rescued that dog on Satuhday! I took him to the police!" and then she proceeded to tell me the story. She was Scout's angel.

Random, right?

So, for our Friday Five, I invite you share five random things about you, or five random thoughts, or five random surprises in your life.

Just be random...

1. Lately I enjoy drinking the Yogi brand teas. I am fond of their "Relaxed Mind" - which is a lavender and sage blend and their "Stress Relief" - which is a curious blend of herbs that are calming and their "Revitalize" which is a mint and black tea blend. I also enjoy a cup of mixed mint tea (chocolate mint, peppermint, spearmint...) from an herbalist in Nova Scotia.

2. I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. My ancestors were pioneers who travelled by wagon train to help settle the area. I moved away from SLC when I was nine and have visited occasionally in the years since. It is one of the most beautiful places to live.

3. My current home in Dearborn, Michigan is delightful. We really enjoy being here. The people are interesting, creative, intelligent, kind, invested in the world around them. There is plenty of culture and lots to do. Plus I can walk or ride my bike almost any where.

4. I have had several "careers" - I was a dance major in college and worked as a lighting designer for dance in the 1980's. I worked for a small non-profit theater in Chicago, but travelled once in awhile to NYC and Minneapolis. It was a tough time to work in the arts - regardless of what people think of President Regan, now - his economic decisions were not kind to the arts. Tired of long hours and little pay I left that position and went to work for an interior design firm. Our clients were some of the wealthiest in Chicago. That experience, in contrast to my work with the artists, put my values in perspective. After four years I left that job to became a stay-at-home mom. After our son was born (four years later) I became a massage therapist with a small private practice and a volunteer ministry in a local hospital offering massages to parents of sick children. That led me to discern a call to ministry. I never really imagined I would become a parish priest...but it is the best vocation for me! As a parish priest I am able to combine, in some capacity, all of my life work and experience into one...

5. For the first time, ever, I am knitting a sweater. As I do this I recognize how knitting socks has taught me a lot - and that learning how to knit this sweater is not so difficult! Of course I am only on the yoke - which is a very cute pattern of increases and decreases creating a puckered effect. We'll see how I feel about it when it's time to knit the already have the local knitting experts on stand-by for frantic calls of help.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

It's a chilly, rainy morning here. I am sitting by a fire, Bach Adagio Christmas music is playing, the Christmas tree is lit, and the coffee is warm and delicious. I am grateful.

No doubt I am working hard. So much going on at the church! Every weekend brings some significant activity. This Sunday the Bishop will visit, and so we have a confirmation retreat planned for Friday night and Saturday day. I am working on collecting some movie clips to show examples of the baptismal covenant being lived out. We'll make communion bread, with each person bringing some of the ingredients. We have a journal to guide us, some of the work will be quiet, reflective writing, some will be group discussion. We'll share a couple of meals. The following week we are hosting a local choir for Lessons and Carols, and then it's Christmas.

We also three people in the hospital, all in serious condition. Actually they are in different hospitals about 30 minutes apart. I've been to the hospital six times in less than two weeks. I'll go again tomorrow.

In the midst of all of this I am trying to re-establish a pattern of self care. It is always so much easier for me to exercise and take care of myself in the summer. I tend to slip in winter - less inclined to go outside in the cold...and not so inclined to adapt my exercise to the indoors. But I am trying to do some core work and yoga every day. I figure even a little bit will be better than nothing. And, then of course, walk the dogs as the weather allows.

That's my week - preparing for confirmation and a Bishop's visit, tending to people in the hospital, and trying to establish a better pattern of self care. But first, I think I will have another cup of coffee, and perhaps read some of the book I have on loan from the library....

What about you? What does your week hold in store?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Taking Comfort in Angry Birds and other things that call me to pay attention

One of my favorite games on my old cell phone was Bejeweled – a puzzle game played by matching three colored jewels in a row. I was sad to learn that there is not a version of Bejeweled that will play on my new cell phone, nor on my iPad. So I’ve been on the search for mind games, other than solitaire. Many people recommend the game, Angry Birds. I have resisted this game, mostly because I didn’t like the title – Angry Birds – not wanting to endorse violence, even cartoon violence. So, I refused to get this game. Refused that is until the other night when I found a free version of it, and became instantly hooked on the game – finding it endlessly amusing. Essentially the puzzle offers a tower built of various materials – glass, wood, concrete – and within the tower are pigs, often dressed like construction workers. To the side is a huge sling shot from which one propels birds into the tower. The sound effects include the birds squealing with delight as they fly through the air, a resounding clunk as they crash, and the sound of falling debris. The silly cartoon effects are amusing. Within 24 hours Dan and I had played through all the levels of the free version, and we are now faced with the dilemma of actually purchasing a version.

A recent discussion on the internet focused on the portrayal of violence in books, on television, and in movies – and the potential that being confronted with violence is desensitizing us to real pain and harm. On the other hand hearing the stories of human beings who have lived through tragedy, like the stories told in the Women, War, and Peace, series, has the potential to deepen our awareness and enhance our compassion.

Our reading this morning from Isaiah is just such a story - the people have survived a tragedy and are coming to a new place of hope and healing. The book of Isaiah is an ancient text written by three different authors over the course of several hundred years. It tells the story of the people of Israel subject to violent wars by the super powers of the day – first the Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BCE, then the Babylonian Empire that dominated the country and enslaved the residents, and lastly the Persian Empire, who under the leadership of Cyrus, enabled the people of Israel to establish their own nation, Judah. But within this story of three hundred years of war, slavery, and violence, is a story about the faithfulness of God. God never leaves, never abandons the people.

This morning’ s reading comes at the end of the rule of Babylon and the beginning of the Persian Empire – or, about a 160 year gap between the events described in chapter 39 and the events in chapter 40. All the while the people of Israel have been slaves in Babylon, but are now finding themselves freed. Comfort, O comfort my people, cries God in the opening verses. Speak tenderly; know that God is present in the midst of trauma, violence, and suffering. God lives through the bleakness with us, holding us in God’s embrace and love. God’s calls each of us to be present to the suffering of others, to show compassion and love. God calls us to be the gentle encourager – reminding others that sometimes all one can do is take the next breath, or walk the next step – but that that is enough. Each moment in time takes whatever it takes to live through, a breath, a step, a hand to hold, the quiet presence of another, just being there. Comfort, O comfort my people, cries God.

Thinking about love, compassion, and the enduring presence of God reminds me of a book by Anita Diamant called, "Day after Night." This is a fictionalized story about four women, refugees from World War II Nazi invasions. The four women of this story: Tedi, Zorah, Shayndel, and Leonie all come from different places in the war – bound by virtue of their survival. Zorah is the only one of the four to have spent time in a concentration camp, Tedi was hidden in the Dutch country side, Shayndel, a Polish Zionist fought with the partisans, and Leonie was forced into prostitution in Paris. Each wonders how they survived when others they love did not. The book tells the story of the hard work required to recover from a trauma so intense they cannot even speak of it, let alone comprehend it. It’s a story of the work it takes to remember the past while moving into the future. It’s a story of rediscovering kindness, of holding in tandem love and grief, of comforting one another, of friendship. It’s a beautiful story of an agonizing journey from despair and brokenness toward hope, and a new life. Comfort, O Comfort my people, cries God.

Today’s reading from Isaiah reminds us that God commands us to be present with others, to be a source of compassion, kindness, love, and support. And it gives us clues how to do this – because God is present and doing these very acts within human life and suffering. What God is doing, and what we are called to do is: be present with others in their suffering. We are not called to solve the problems of others as much as we are called to listen and to be present. God’s call to compassion invites us to sit with the person, to hold their hand, and to be present without judgment. We are to speak tenderly, without condemnation or placing any kind of value statement on the condition of a person’s life, why and how they got there.

Sometimes the condition of our lives and the source of our suffering is the direct result of our own actions – and at other times it is the result of the actions of other human beings. And, so we are also called to examine our own lives and consider how our actions may be contributing to the suffering of others. We are called to consider how we are acting in ways that serve the well-being of all humanity, as an act of participating in God’s justice.

Never is our suffering the result of God doling out punishment or inflicting pain, disease, or disaster.

We are to remind others that God is present, God is faithful, and even when all signs are to the contrary, God is with us. And lastly we are to remember that God is actively working to transform the suffering and the tragedy of our individual lives, and the world, into new life, into hope, through God’s mercy and grace.

In a few moments we will celebrate a Rite 13 service, welcoming into adulthood, two members of our congregation – George and John. Over the years, as these boys have grown in faith and in age, we have helped to shape them, form and inform them as young men of faith. Today we celebrate that formation and welcome them into the next stages of their faith development as they grow into young men. It is our hope that they will continue to take on leadership roles in the church and that they will continue to be examples of God’s compassion in the world around us through their words and actions. Let each of us remember that we are the living hands and heart of Christ in the world, and what we say and do matters.

And so, perhaps it is less an issue of what books we read, music we listen too, movies we watch, or computer games we play, rather it is a matter of how we allow them to shape us – will be become insensitive and callous? Or will we understand more deeply and become more compassionate? Comfort, O comfort my people, says our God. Let us go and do likewise.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

An apprentice to the ordinary

Looking out across the field and yard behind the church, what was once ripe with vegetables, leaves and flowers, the bare trees offer up an open sky and the land lays fallow. Even the ground is cleared of fallen leaves. The garden has been harvested, cleared out, and tilled, so it can rest until planting begins next spring. The grass, still green is heading into its dormant season. I find myself spending less time outside, more inclined to sit by the fire or read in doors than take a walk or ride my bike. Fall is heading straight into winter, and snow is in the forecast.

Personally I delight in the changing seasons. I love that the darkness of night comes early. I feel compelled to bake cookies, drink hot tea, and curl up with a book or a new knitting project. This time of year fills me with anticipation as I wonder what the winter will be like. How many heavy snow storms will we have? How cold will it get? How long will it last. This anticipation comes to me anew every winter with equal parts excitement for the first snow and dread, knowing that the cold and snow always over stay their welcome. Winter is a quiet season when the earth lies still, just waiting to burst forth again with new life.

And, like the seasons of the calendar year, we have seasons of the church, the liturgical year. Today marks the first Sunday of the church year and the season of Advent has begun. Advent is a season of waiting, of the deep darkness of night, a season that holds the promise of new life and hope. This is a season of candle light and the fragrant scent of pine. The color of Advent is sometimes purple, attaching it in a similar way to Lent, as if it were also a penitential season. But more often, it is blue season, blue for the dark night sky. Advent is a season that ushers in a time of waiting, expectantly, for the birth of Christ, for the Word made flesh, for God who comes as a human baby, it is a season of anticipation. A season of darkness like a womb anticipating new life. A season of darkness, like soil nurturing the roots of trees, digging deeper into the earth. Advent invites us to ponder how and where, in the year ahead, we might see signs of new life, signs of the Christ child in our lives and the world around us. Advent invites us to wait expectantly like a heavy with child, waits to give birth. Like Mary, the mother of God, anticipating new life.

Advent launches the new liturgical year for the church and brings with it a new Gospel which will focus our reflections on God in a particular way for the year ahead. Last year we heard the story of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. The Matthean community wrestled with the reality that Jesus, as the Messiah, is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. And, therefore what it means for a Christian to Love God, Love self, and Love others. The Gospel of Mark will point us in a similar direction – but with distinctive differences.

The Gospel of Mark is believed to be the oldest of the four gospels. Scholars think it was written in Rome, in a Jewish community addressing a mostly Gentile region, sometime around the late ‘60’s – or about 30 years after the death of Jesus. Given the content in this Gospel, scholars believe this text was written before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem but during a time of mounting persecution of Jews by the Roman government.

Reflecting the experience of persecution today’s reading has a tone of terror and fear. It comes toward the end of the Gospel, chapter 13 out of 16 chapters. It points the reader toward the crucifixion, toward the end, and is apocalyptic in tone. This reading like the gospel itself intend for us to understand how , like winter leads to spring, dying leads to new life/ Suffering is a birth process that enables that new life to come forth.

As the earliest gospel put into written text the Gospel according to Mark may have been created simply to have a record of the oral tradition in order that the stories would not be lost. The Markan gospel may have been written to counter a number of heresies – false teachings – that were cropping up about Jesus and his life and ministry. It very well may have been written to counter the tragedy of the crucifixion and argue for a theology that reconciles that violent death with the intentions of God – how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a success story not a tragedy ending in a violent crucified death. But most likely it was written in order to show how God is active, for our sake, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. (From Westminster Bible S Companion, Douglas A, Hare) (and, from Karoline Lewis at working preacher) Mark's theology, is a theology that first and foremost asks, “Where do we find God?”

The primary point of this Gospel, in asking us, “Where do we find God,” is to then ask us to consider the question of discipleship and ask ourselves, as followers of Jesus, “What must I do?”
Our theme this year, the theme that has focused our conversations on Stewardship and prodded me in my reflections in the newsletter, is, “Discipleship, What does that mean?” This theme comes in part from the reality that all of the Gospels are calling us to be followers of Jesus, and that through Jesus we will come to know God in a particular way, and are therefore called to act. Pondering discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew pointed us to consider how we were living the greatest commandment to love God, self, and others. Discipleship in the Gospel according Mark uses a particular word that means discipleship but also means “learner” or an “apprentice.” This year, as we ponder this Gospel we will consider what it means to be a learner, an apprentice of Jesus.

The gospel will call us to reflect on how - following Jesus, as a disciple, a learner, an apprentice, means – feeding, healing, praying, and, caring for others. How discipleship is ordinary work, framed through the lens of understanding that this is what God is doing in and through the life of Jesus. It’s the ordinary work of compassion, which God asks of us, as well.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Five: Free Gifts, edition

Sally over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

Following on from Thanksgiving, and picking up the "Black Friday" theme of boycotting the Christmas rush for bargains I thought it would be good to set a simple Friday Five yet one to get you thinking. I am sure that you'll agree that some of the best gifts we receive do not come in fancy wrapping paper but might be the gift of an unexpected afternoon with a friend or coming across a long forgotten photograph, or- well the list is endless...

So take a bit of time to think back over the last year and ponder the gifts it has offered to you, then list five of those gifts, in no particular order- there is only one rule- all of these gifts must have been free, neither you nor anyone else should have spent money on them!

1. A job: not exactly a "no money spent" gift, but the best gift I received this year is a new job, a new call. I have been blessed with a fabulous community to work with - creative, intelligent, energetic, kind, and thoughtful. I really appreciate this community and have come to love them all.

2. Dog walking: and, the young woman, a parishioner, who helped me walk my dogs over the summer. I enjoyed our walks and conversations, and I miss her now that she has gone off to college. We also have a delightful neighborhood to walk in.

3. Music: I am enjoying music in worship, on my iPod, and, once again on our stereo system (which was in storage for two years). We have a lot of musicians in the church - a recorder ensemble, some fabulous soloists, pianists, guitarists, dulcimer, flute,'s great fun!

4. Fireplace: the house we live in (a rectory) has a fireplace. I enjoy sitting near it, knitting, enjoying a cup of tea or coffee. It affords me one of the primary places I can rest and relax.

5. Garden and yard: we were able to participate in the community garden hosted by the church. It did cost a little bit of money for the starter plants - but in comparison to the produce I received it was practically free! I thoroughly enjoyed spending time planting, weeding, and harvesting the garden, and all the conversations that took place between me and others who had lots in the garden.

I am always grateful for the gift of my family - my husband and children, our dogs and cats. We have reached a very comfortable place in family life, with children mostly grown and can appreciate the fruits of the labor that went into birthing and raising children. Our dogs, too, are mostly grown and established in good mannered behavior. It's a gift to just be with my family.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

Today is the day after. The day after we hosted the Michigan Holiday Alternative Market at the church. Our idea was to invite local vendors from the farmers market, local artists, and craft makers to come to the church and sell their wares.

We began the evening with an Evensong, which is Evening Prayer put to song.

We had 27 vendors come - selling things from handmade dishcloths, handmade gift cards, handmade soaps and candles, hand made sterling silver bracelets and jewelry, hand blown glass jewelry, vases, sculpture, hand made soft sculture (dolls), cheeses, Christmas greens, free range organic turkeys. We also had Creating Hope International (who uses space in our building) sell hand made fabric, lace, ties, purses, bags, made by women in Afghanistan - all the proceeds from those go back to the women, assisting in the education of women and girls.

A local hot dog vendor brought his steam table and served meat, turkey and veggie dogs, with all the fixings including chili. He also brought water and soft drinks. He was very busy all night long. A couple in the parish offered a wine/beer tasting of local Michigan produced wines and beer - some pretty good stuff, too!

And, some of the muscians of the parish played music through out the night - dulcimer, guitar, drums, bass guitar, and the baby grand piano. It was delightful!

I did a fair amount of my Christmas shopping!

So much fun! I am however, exhausted from being at the church from 6:45am until 9:30pm. Worth it, though.

Today I get to rest. Our son arrives tonight so all I have to do is make his bed and clean the house. I may do a little decorating too, in preparation for our Open House next Sunday - which will be a simple coffee, tea, cider, and cookie gathering. But we hope to have our Christmas tree up and the house decorated. So, its good our son is coming - he can help! Our plan is to cut a Christmas tree on Wednesday and spend Thanksgiving decorating it.

Anyway, a fun time was had, with more fun to come. I do have much to be thankful for!

That's my week. What about yours?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Eyes, Hands, and Heart, or What it means to have faith with feet...

A reflection on Matthew 25:31-46

Many years ago, on the exit ramp of I-90/94 in Chicago, I encountered a woman with a sign saying something like, “Unemployed homeless mother with three kids. Need food and money.” A car or two stopped and offered money, but many cars drove by without stopping. With my two young children in the car I felt compelled to give her all the cash I had on me, it wasn’t much. I don’t know why I was so moved by this woman, maybe it was the first time I had seen a young mother asking for a handout? I thought of her many times over the years, and wondered how she was, although I didn't see her again for a very long time.

Some ten years after I first saw that woman on the exit ramp of the highway, I saw her again, with the same sign, asking for money. Ten years later and her life remained unchanged. Or so it seemed. I was startled and a bit dismayed.

A few years later a wild woman appeared at the church I was serving. It was during some event and the place was crowded. This woman, intense and a little abrupt, did not respond well when I told her we had nothing, no gift cards left. She stormed out making a bit of a scene. I was left feeling badly, as if Jesus had come to me and I had not cared for him.

I remember a sermon a friend of mine preached in seminary. She used two illustrations of people she had encountered in AA. One was a man who told a story about his homelessness and addiction, and how – because of the assistance of others giving him money and help – he was able to go into recovery and rebuild his life.

The other was a story of a man who, when homeless and actively alcoholic, no one gave him money or assistance. He hit rock bottom, and in his words, “no one enabled him to continue in his destructive behavior.” His realized life had to change, and from that desperate place he went into recovery and began to rebuild his life.
And so I ask myself this question, “Lord, what does it mean to see you? What does it mean to help?”

You remember this joke: There was a terrible flood and the people in the town were leaving in droves. One man stood in the doorway of his house watching the water rise. A women came by and offered him a pair of boots so he could walk with her through the flooded street to safety. “Oh, no,” he said,” God is going to rescue me.”

The waters rose and the man had to move up to the top of his stairs. A man in a row boat came by and offered him a ride in the boat to escape the waters. “Oh no” said the man, “God will rescue me.”

Soon the waters rose more and the man stood on the roof of his. A helicopter flew over and the crew called out to grab the rope ladder and climb up! But the man once again said that he was waiting for God to rescue him.

Unfortunately the man drowned in the flood. When he arrived at the pearly gates he said to God, “I thought you were going to save me!” And God said, “First I sent you a woman with boots, then a row boat, then a helicopter….”

Not only are we considering what it means to help, but also, what it means to see God. To see the face of Christ in one another and in the people we meet. And, what it means to know that at times we will fail to do this well, even when we are trying.

Jan Richardson, in her blog The Painted Prayerbook, offers this thought:

“….. I think of how my deepest regrets—what few I allow myself—are most often attached to occasions when I didn’t see. Didn’t know how to see, didn’t yet have the eyes for seeing. The realization of it—the dawning knowledge of where my vision was lacking—is itself a kind of punishment. But an invitation, too. To learn to look more closely. To take in what I have rushed past.
When was it that we saw you?”
(The Painted Prayerbook)

Today we celebrate the last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, the Reign of Christ, and – as Christ Church – our “Feast of Title” day . It is the day we celebrate who we are and whose we are – We are Christ Church – shaped and formed by Christ, through baptism, through prayer and the Eucharist, through our relationships with others, through coming to this place, through a relationship with God and Christ, which gives us our identity as a people of faith. On this day we are invited to look carefully at who we are, and how we are living out our faith. It’s a call to do three things – to seek to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world, recognize how it is that Christ comes to us, and how we can be more attentive to being, doing, and seeing Christ.

As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ in the world through all this food we are generously giving to Crossroads , not just today, but every week, so that others may have food on their table. As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ when we participate in the soup kitchen at Spirit of Hope in Detroit. We are the hands and heart of Christ when we give of our treasure so that I can purchase gift cards to Kroger and offer those who come looking for assistance, a chance for some food or gas. As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ when we open our doors and welcome the many groups who use our building. As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ when we host the Alternative Market today – inviting in thirty artists and local vendors to sell their merchandise. We are not taking a penny in commission – we are offering people a free place to advertise and sell their art, food, and merchandise. (I hope a lot of people come and do their Christmas shopping! And that the artists and vendors have a good time here!). As Christ Church we are hosting this event, greeting people and working to ensure that everyone has a good time. Much work has gone into this event, from many different people. It seems appropriate that we have this event on this day, Christ the King, the Reign of Christ.

There are many ways that we see Christ in others and offer love, compassion, and a helping hand. There are many ways that Christ comes to us and invites us into a deeper relationship – whether it is through the people we know and meet here, or the music and worship we participate in, or some other experience we have.
Regardless of who attentive we are, there are always ways that we can deepen this experience. The liturgical seasons of the church year offer an opportunity to be mindful, attentive. Next Sunday we begin the season of Advent, a season that asks us to ponder how Christ is coming to us anew this year, and how we can be Christ to the world around us.

As we journey through Advent let’s be attentive, wondering -
Lord, when did we see you – and - when did we miss you?

Friday, November 18, 2011

RevGals Friday Five: A Thanksgiving Edition

Jan, over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

I've been home from Russia for less than a week, and in less than a week it is Thanksgiving Day in the USA (Nov. 24). So for this Friday Five, answer these questions (and if they don't apply to you, list five things you are grateful for):

1. Where will you be on Thanksgiving Day? With whom? I will be home on Thanksgiving with my husband and our son. We plan to grill steaks and twice baked potatoes, watch the Lions-Packers game, and relax. Then, on Sunday our daughter and her boyfriend will join us and we will have a regular Thanksgiving meal and celebration of my husband's birthday.

2. Are there any family traditions or memories associated with Thanksgiving? Watching the parade, going to a movie the next day, putting up the Christmas tree and beginning our decorations. This year we are hosting an open house at the rectory on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, for members of the parish - just coffee, tea, cider, and cookies. But that means the push is on to decorate! Which, we are looking forward too!

3. What will be on your Thanksgiving menu? See above - something very unusual. But then for our traditional dinner on Sunday evening, the usual - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad, rolls, pie. I will probably make the apple/pear/cranberry pie that I made a few years ago - its really good!

4. Are you trying anything new this Thanksgiving? Yes, we are going to host the parish open house on the Sunday after, just a 2-4pm gathering with Christmas ornament making for the kids (and adults).

5. What is the weather forecast for this day (next Thursday)? I have no idea.

Bonus: Prayer, poem, song, or whatever you choose to exemplify your image of Thanksgiving (giving thanks).

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

I am taking some time this morning to just rest. I have enjoyed a cup of coffee, listening to Bach Adagios, and reading various Facebook and Blogs.

Now it's time to get going. On the agenda" house cleaning, laundry, exercise, and sanding some furniture I am going to paint.

The rest of this week will be spent preparing for Evensong and Alternative Market the church is hosting. Evensong at 4pm, Market begins at 5. We will have live music, food, and over twenty artists and vendors offering their creations. I hope a lot of people come and do their Christmas shopping before Advent begins, and also shop local!

That's my week. What about yours?

Monday Morning Musings: Sometimes One Just Has to Trust Their Gut

I took a different approach to the Gospel reading in my sermon on Sunday. I was inspired by two other people who are named and linked in my previous posting of that sermon. One of my friends commented on the blog posting that she could not hear the third servant as someone who was courageous. I know what she means. And yet, every time I read the passage I could hear the courage it took for that third person in the parable tell the manager that he was corrupt. I heard the courage in light of my own efforts to be a truth teller, and the subsequent reactions of people who made me the problem instead of the problem being the problem. And then, when I preached this sermon, I heard the third servant, or slave, as the text had it, in light of the people in congregation who are of color - some born and raised here, some from other parts of the world. I found myself adding more, speaking about how problematic the word "Slave" is and how even the text itself is a source of pain for some who hear it.

I found myself thinking about someone who recently shared with me their pain over being called the "N" word. And the people I am aware of who are victims of child sexual abuse, or domestic violence, those who have been caught up in the violence of war and tortured....and those who have suffered other forms of abuse I don't yet know of.

People of all ages who heard this sermon yesterday told me how much it spoke to them, and how much they appreciated hearing it. The notion that one can be both fearful, fear-filled, and try to hide, while at the same time summoning up just enough courage to speak the truth, is clearly something the people in my congregation understand.

It was a reminder to me that we have to trust our gut when preparing a sermon. Trust where the Spirit is leading us, even when She is taking us down an uncertain path and a new understanding of the text. I am grateful for others who wrestled with the text and pushed the envelope and helped me see it in light of the events in the world today as well those in the lives of the people who come to this church.

Today is a day off. I am listening to Bach Adagios, drinking coffee, and thinking about the chores I want to accomplish today. Little things, sweeping and vacuuming, laundry, and sanding some furniture so I can paint it.

But mostly I am just trying to rest. We have a busy week ahead as we prepare for our Evensong and Michigan Alternative Holiday Market - we have over twenty vendors coming next Sunday night - to sell their arts and crafts, cheese, and vegetables, and gift baskets. We are encouraging everyone to come and do their Christmas shopping before Advent begins, to support local people, and some international efforts like, Creating Hope International, who assists women and girls acquire an education in places like Afghanistan. We will have the opportunity to buy some handmade work by Afghan women. Included in this event will be musical offerings by the various musicians affiliated with the parish, and food. I hope it proves to be a great venture!

Taking risks for the Gospel. Speaking up, stepping out, trying new things, seeking to live life fully. That's what I'm thinking about this week. And ever so grateful to be exactly where I am. God is good.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

No Country for the Status Quo in God's Reign

A number of years ago the film, “No Country for Old Men” came up in the queue of my Netflicks orders and Dan and I set aside an evening to watch this film. It had already won two Golden Globes and four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best supporting actor. Directed by the Joel and Ethan Coen and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Javier Bardem, and Kelly MacDonald, I anticipated an engaging, thought provoking film.

It’s the story about an ordinary person who discovers two million dollars in the middle of the desert of western Texas. Out for a ride on his horse the man inadvertently wanders into the aftermath of a drug deal gone horribly awry. When he decides to abscond with the cash a violent chain reaction is set in motion. The violence plays out through the hit man, who comes to retrieve the money, and decides the fate of his victims through a coin toss, heads or tails. Critics describe this movie as an examination of fate and circumstances.

Regardless of the numerous awards this film won, I did not like this bleak, violent, and depressing movie. Most of all I dislike it because the violence and corruption prevailed without an ounce of hope.

I am left feeling much same from the news this week. Abuse of young boys, abuse of women, the abuse of one doctor and his patient, and the tragic abuse of a music icon from his own addicted behavior, to occupy Wall Street, and the protests, justified or not, against greed and corruption - all of these stories, in one way or another, are examples of the perpetuation of denial, ignorance, and a blame the victim mentality. Add to these the stories of war and the efforts toward peace that we are learning about in the Women, War and Peace series on PBS, and all told, these unfolding events paint a dismal picture of our world today.

This dismal picture of the world today fits right in with the perspective portrayed in our readings from scripture.

In the Gospel of Matthew we have come to the third in a series of three parables. First, from Matthew 24:45, the story about a wicked slave who mistreats other slaves, then in Matthew 25, the story about the ten maidens, some of whom are prepared because they have oil for their lamps, and some who are not prepared and are left out, and then the story today about the slaves who invest the money given them. One slave turns his five “talents” into ten, the other turns his two talents into four, and the third who buried his one talent and returns only the one, saying; “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” And, as a result, this slave receives a thorough reprimand for being lazy. His one talent is given to the man who now has ten, with the master offering this rationale: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The parable ends with the master’s command to throw this “worthless slave…into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

That’s harsh!

So, let’s take another look at the third servant. He knows his boss is wicked, evil, and greedy, and he calls him on it. Whereas the first two did exactly what was expected of them without question, the third person calls it like it is, has the courage to speak up against the corruption. This third person shows courage, integrity, and perhaps a reasonable sense of fear because he knows that he will be ostracized for speaking up and telling the truth.

Then, as now, human beings have a tendency to dislike truth tellers. It often seems easier to just hide or do what one is told to do, do the expected thing and keep quiet. Even if that means perpetuating acts of injustice.

Jan Richardson, on her blog, The Painted Prayerbook writes,

“I find myself wondering, why is it that we most often read this passage as a judgment against the third servant and not against the man who has perpetuated an unjust system? Do we really think that the harsh and reportedly corrupt master of this parable represents God, who, after a period of absence, comes back prepared to throw out those who have not performed as expected? Do I really want to be like the first two servants, willing to participate in and perpetuate injustice?

Much like the wise bridesmaids, the two multi-talented men serve as the foil for the one who proves inept and unprepared. One could say they are the suck-ups who provide a contrast to the screwup. We might wonder at a parable that presents a narrative ecosystem in which the only available choices seem to lie either in perpetuating the master’s corrupt business plan or hiding his loot in the ground.”

Of course we may wonder, are these two choices the only options – perpetuate the corruption or hide? In each of these stories there is a character who chooses to be passive, unwilling to take responsibility, foolish. Which reminds me, again, of the news stories this week. People unwilling to take action, or look for other options, that will enable justice to come forth.

When we hoard, hide, and cling to what feels safe and comfortable we contain God and ultimately limit the fullness of our own lives. When live passively we limit the fullness of our lives and contain God. We can see examples of how these limitations play out in the tragedies of the world around us. People who, for lack of taking risks and acting for justice, have had their lives ruined, not to mention the lives of others who would have benefited from someone speaking up and taking action on their behalf.
This parable calls us to examine and then remove the barriers to our lives. To take seriously God’s call to us. Last week when we renewed our baptismal covenant we were reminded what God’s call to us is:

Will you continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

To each of these questions we answered, “I will with God’s help.” Even in our context, in the interfaith culture of Dearborn and this church, where we strive to live with integrity for self and others, where we actively work at hospitality and kindness, and what it really means to love our neighbor, even for us, there are ways we could live with a more expansive awareness of justice and respect for the dignity of everyone.

My friend, Janine in a reflection she wrote on our readings today, ask this:

“Have we acted justly toward God and others? Have we used everything God has given us, not just our money, but our whole selves, wisely and well?”

Because ultimately living that way, completely spent in acts of compassion and justice, having used everything God has given us, is the only hope we have.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

Life has been full, rich, complicated, and busy. Ten weeks have flown by since the middle of August when I returned from a short vacation. I have had meetings, worked with creative, high energy, good ideas people as we make plans for some fun parish activities. Being on the upswing of the "life cycle" - a time of new life and creativity, is fun. Going with that energy is exciting, even as we recognize the need to channel and focus it, a bit.

So, this morning I am enjoying some peace and quite. It comes after a delightful weekend reflecting on and celebrating our stewardship, the ways we give of our time, talent, and treasure - and the way we hope to give in the future. I am enjoying a cool, cloudy fall morning, a cup of coffee, and a day without a whole lot to do. I have some plans for this day "off." I plan to do some laundry, exercise, walk the dogs, and do some light house cleaning. I may read some of Richard Rohr's book, "Falling Upward."

The rest of the week will include a few meetings, and a fair amount of preparation for our December worship. In particular we will have a Bishops visit and confirmation. But for now, I'll rest.

What about you? Are you able to find some time to rest? Or are you busy with plans and work?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sunday Prayer:All Saints' Day

Holy One, Creator of all
To You, we give thanks
For every blessing, for You
Are generous, O lover of souls.

Form within us,
Sustained and nurtured by your
Holy Spirit
That we might,
have the grace to listen
and respond with compassion

May we be filled with gratitude
For every gift of life,
For family, friends,
And the Saints who have gone before us.

From those who are peacemakers,
May we learn, and follow their example
From those who are pure in heart
May we become likewise, Christ-like.

Holy One, Creator of all
To You, we give thanks
For every blessing, for You
Are generous, O lover of souls.

For those who suffer, we ask for comfort
For those who are ill, we ask for healing
For those who struggle, we ask for peace
For those who worry, we ask for guidance
For those who are anxious, we ask for solace
For those who are hungry, may we give food
For those who are homeless, may we provide shelter
For those who are poor, may we bring sustenance
For all the worries and cares of this earth,
May we be your heart and hands
May we be generous as You.

Holy One, Creator of all
To You we give thanks for every blessing,
for You are generous, O lover of all.
God of every nation, tribe, people, and language,
God of all creation, this great multitude of life
We give you thanks.

Bless us, that we may be a blessing in return.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday Prayer: All Saints' Day

Holy One, Creator of all
To You, we give thanks
For every blessing, for You
Are generous, O lover of souls.

Form within us,
Sustained and nurtured by your
Holy Spirit
That we might,
have the grace to listen
and respond with compassion

May we be filled with gratitude
For every gift of life,
For family, friends,
And the Saints who have gone before us.

From those who are peacemakers,
May we learn, and follow their example
From those who are pure in heart
May we become likewise, Christ-like.

Holy One, Creator of all
To You, we give thanks
For every blessing, for You
Are generous, O lover of souls.

For those who suffer, we ask for comfort
For those who are ill, we ask for healing
For those who struggle, we ask for peace
For those who worry, we ask for guidance
For those who are anxious, we ask for solace
For those who are hungry, may we give food
For those who are homeless, may we provide shelter
For those who are poor, may we bring sustenance
For all the worries and cares of this earth,
May we be your heart and hands
May we be generous as You.

Holy One, Creator of all
To You we give thanks for every blessing,
for You are generous, O lover of all.
God of every nation, tribe, people, and language,
God of all creation, this great multitude of life
We give you thanks.

Bless us, that we may be a blessing in return.

crossposted on RevGalBlogPals, A Place for Prayer, and WordsMatter.Episcopal

Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday Five: Time with Friends

kathrynzj over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

For today's Friday Five please tell us 5 things you like to do with friends. Are they local - do you hit a favorite coffee shop or nail salon? What about the friends who come in from out of town? Do you have a restaurant or museum you like to show off?

1. Yesterday I had lunch with two women clergy colleagues. All three of us are new to this town, new pastors in the churches we serve. We are each from a different denomination. It was our second lunch, but we are planning to meet monthly, to share a meal, pray, share stories, be present for each other. We are also going to read a book together, "Falling Upward" by Richard Rohr.

2. I have a lot of friends that I only speak with via Facebook, blogging, email, or a phone call. We live in different states and time zones. So, we talk as, and when, we can. But that does not diminish the reality that we are friends, here for each other.

3. When friends or family come in from out of town we visit the local museums. In particular we like to visit the Henry Ford. This is a fun museum, with an IMAX and an outdoor exhibit called, Greenfield Village, an entire town filled with houses and business from the past. When our son was here we went to Greenfield Village for the Old Car exhibit and saw a car built in the 1700's in France. It was a great day.

4. I am always content to just relax over a cup of coffee with friends. We can meet at a home or at a local coffee shop.

5. It's also fun to go for a walk and talk. In a previous diocese, at our clergy conference, I use to take a long walk every morning around the lake. Me and another friend, or a group of friends. It was a long walk, close to an hour. But it was beautiful. I have many fond memories of those walks and friendships.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Too Small for Anything But Love

A reflection on the readings for Proper 26A: Joshua 3:7-14

There is a point in time, in the late afternoon, when the light in the church is particularly beautiful. This time of year the sun, moving south on the horizon, pours in through the stained glass windows. Colored beams of light reflect off the walls with a vibrancy that takes my breath away. This sacred space of prayer, embraced in a mosaic of light.

The first mosaics were made in Mesopotamia, twenty five hundred years before Christ. They were decorative embellishments of terra cotta or mother of pearl. The art died out but reappeared in ninth century Greece as floor decoration. Geometric designs of pebbles were cheaper than rugs. Floor mosaics told stories. Before long the pebbles gave way to cut stone, enabling greater detail in the design. Over time this art form spread from Greece to Turkey and Egypt. Some of the finest examples of mosaics were unearthed from the ruins of Pompeii, buried under the destruction of the volcano Vesuvius in the year 79. In the fourth century the Christian emperor Constantine lifted mosaics from the floor to the ceiling, with colored glass replacing the stone.

In churches, mosaics became the Bible for everyday human beings. One did not need to know how to read nor did one need to rely on words, instead the story was told in images of colored glass.

Terry Tempest Williams, in her book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, begins with a reflection on mosaic. She is in Italy learning the art of creating mosaics – of carefully placing stone next to stone until it tells a story in picture. From creating mosaics in Italy Williams takes us to Bryce Canyon Utah, where she is studying prairie dogs, and then she takes us to Rwanda, where she is helping a group of artists work with a small village to rebuild after the genocide of 1994. Williams weaves together these three disparate stories into one compelling reflection on life, violence, and hope.

As an author, Williams is an advocate for justice, for healthy relationships between the environment and humankind. Finding Beauty in a Broken World is written in short paragraphs, like meditations in a journal. She reflects on how the natural world and the human world collide and connect in violence and in beauty. From the violence of broken glass and stone, a mosaic, beauty, is created. She writes with gentle emotion, about the intersection between arrogance and empathy, tumult and peace, constructing a narrative of hope.

She says:

“Mosaic celebrates brokenness and beauty being brought together…..A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken. “

Over the last five weeks we have celebrated the Season of Creation, a liturgical invitation to reflect on the world around us and our role as God’s partners in creation. Now we return to the season after Pentecost, also known as Ordinary Time, and to the scripture readings assigned for Sunday mornings. As we reflected on Genesis and stories of land and water, the readings from the Ordinary Time lectionary moved through the story of Exodus. When we left it, six weeks ago, the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, finding new life as a people freed from slavery. The story continued, revealing their struggle as they wandered for forty years in the wilderness. There were stories of hunger and complaining, of Moses going up the mountain to receive the ten commandments, and then last week, with the promised land in sight, Moses dies, never stepping foot on the land he worked so hard to get too. Now, in this reading today from Joshua, we hear of the people preparing to enter the promised land. It’s a story, on the one hand, of a people preparing for war – to conquer the Canaanites who live in this land. And on the other hand it’s a story of God’s presence. Leaving us to wonder what this means to us. Where is God in the midst of war, violence, and brokenness?

A group of us in the parish gather every Monday or Tuesday night to watch video recordings of the PBS series, Women, War, and Peace. This five part series tells stories about the violence of war, in particular the violence waged against women. It is often painful to watch. But these are also stories of women taking control of an egregious situation and transforming it into hope. One story portrayed the women who testified at The Hague in 2001, the first time rape was condemned as a war crime, and the perpetrators were convicted of this crime. Another story showed women, both Christian and Muslim, uniting in a stance of peaceful prayer, to end the violence of war in their country. A powerful story of non-violent action, led by mothers, grandmothers, and daughters, insisting that the violence end, using only the power of their presence and the power of prayer. This week we will hear the story of women in Afghanistan.

These true stories are like mosaics, out of brokenness comes hope, and the possibility of healing, transformation, and sometimes, forgiveness. They are powerful, beautiful stories.

Sometimes, in the midst of war, people will claim that God is on their side. Certainly that is the lens through which this story in Joshua is told – God, it seems, stands with the Israelites and supports their battle against the Canaanites. But maybe it’s really a story of how we humans want to believe that God is behind our actions. Early Europeans, arriving in this country used the same argument against those who lived here first – claiming that the they were bringing civilization and a just society and a proper religion to the “natives” – a claim that justified violence to oppress people and force them into submission…not to mention the countless other examples we could site where humans claim God endorses their acts of violence.

A social justice perspective of God offers us another perspective, reminding us that God has given us free will. With the gift of free will we humans are free to decide how we will behave. The gift of free-will reframes for us a common biblical phrase, the one where God says, “I am with you.” Free will, considered from this perspective, tells us that God is with us, but that does not mean that God endorses everything we do. In this perspective, a just God journeys with us, hoping that we will align our lives and all we do with what God desires.

Over the last five weeks the Gospel of Matthew has told stories of Jesus being tested by the Pharisees, who want to catch him in an act of treason so he can be arrested. The Pharisees are challenged by Jesus, to change their selfish ways. Last week, had we been following the regular lectionary readings, we would have heard the Pharisees asking Jesus a crucial question: “Lord, which commandment is the greatest?”

This is trick question. In the Bible there are 613 commandments. Regardless of which commandment Jesus claims as the greatest the Pharisees are prepared to argue against him.
Jesus deftly side steps the trap – he responds: “You shall love the Lord your God. This is the greatest commandment, and the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as your self. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

In other words, Jesus summarizes the intent and content of all 613 commandments into these two. What God desires is that we, love God, love self, and love others!

Toward the end of the book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, the author quotes the famous William Sloane Coffin, a Presbyterian minister and peace activist. Perhaps his words are words to live by, he said: “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

What Lifts You?....a RevGals Friday Five

Sally, over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

Over the last few weeks I have been struggling with depression, I know that from reading other folks blogs that I am not alone in this, and from time to time if not suffering from depression that everyone feels down. With that in mind I wonder what lifts you? So I'd like you to share 5 things:

1. A Scripture- it might be a verse or a whole book! When I am struggling I often go to this verse:Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:26-27)

2. A piece of music. Cello, specifically, YoYo Ma

3. A place A walk usually helps

4. A person/ group of people Sometimes it helps to meet a friend for coffee...

5. Something you do... Yoga

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Listen and You Just Might Hear...

A reflection the readings for Season Of Creation 5A:

The 1992 film, “A River Runs Through It”, directed by Robert Redford, and starring Tom Skillet, Brad Pitt, and Craig Sheffer, tells the story of two fly-fishermen brothers. They are sons of a Presbyterian minister living in rural Montana. The film opens with this:

My father was a Presbyterian minister...and a fly-fisherman. Though it is true that one day a week was given over wholly to religion...even then he told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen. And we were left to assume, as my younger brother Paul and I did...that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly-fishermen...and that John, the favorite, was a dry fly-fisherman.

In the afternoon, we would walk with him...while he unwound between services. He almost always chose a path along the Big Blackfoot...which we considered our family river. It was there he felt his soul restored and his imagination stirred.

Long ago rain fell on mud and became rock. Halt a billion years ago. But even before that,
beneath the rocks...are the words of God.


And if Paul and I listened very carefully all our lives...we might hear those words.

Listen. The word of God running like a river beneath and through all creation. The word of God, a river of life. The word of God, like water that brings forth life, birthing all creation into being.

The Book of Genesis offers us two stories of creation. In the first story water existed before light. In the second story the garden of Eden rose from a stream of water. In Exodus the Israelites are born anew through the Red Sea waters – reminding us that life often calls us to navigate through challenging waters into new life. Many Bible stories take place at a well including the longest conversation Jesus has in his meeting of the Samaritan Woman at the well – all of these reinforce our sense that from water comes life.

Human life begins in water.

However, not only does life come from water, but water can also take life. Many ancient cultures have stories of a great flood, like this story of Noah in today’s reading from Genesis.

And, water renews life. People travel to bodies of water for rest, renewal, vacation, family and community. Whether lakes, rives, swimming pools, or bubbling fountains in local parks, humans are drawn to the soothing quality of water. When I lived in the desert, the swimming pool in our backyard afford relief – soothing my eye from the stark landscape of sand and prickly cactus, soothing my spirit and body from the 100+ temperatures. And in the movie, A River Runs Through It, water and fly-fishing are the source of inspiration for the spiritual and faith life of this minister and his family.

Water is used to clean our bodies and our environment. In the Eucharist the priest washes her hands before praying over our offering of bread, water, and money – washing as a sacred act, preparing for the coming forth of the Holy Spirit through the words and actions of the Eucharistic prayer.

Christianity uses water in four different sacramental ways: to recall birth, to evoke death, to typify renewal, and to suggest washing.

Baptismal waters are all of these, a sign and symbol of an old life passing away, a new life being birthed, life purified in an encounter with God, an invitation to model our lives on Christ, and an invitation to renewal our commitment to live a life of faith – to love God, love others, love self – to respect the dignity of every human being….

And on this fifth and final week in our celebration of the Season of Creation, we can work for and pray for clean water through out the world. But most importantly today we celebrate the sacrament of baptism - for two little boys: Mason and Maximus.

So, what is a Sacrament? The purpose of a sacrament is to make us aware of a truth that is not readily apparent so that we might benefit from it. Sacraments are ritual acts that reveal to us something about the nature of God.

Sacraments, enable the love of God, that is already present and available, real for us. God’s love becomes real for us in such a way that we are able to fully benefit from it.

Holy Baptism reveals God’s love for us and invites into a particular relationship with God. Baptism makes us aware that God loves each and everyone of us with a love that is merited by virtue of the reality that we are made in God’s image – made good to do good. God’s love is also unconditional and never ending. There is nothing we humans can do or need to do to make that love available to ourselves or anyone else. Baptism is not necessary for a child or adult to receive God’s love. But baptism is the means by which we become aware of a love that we might not otherwise be able to appreciate or benefit from. Baptism gives us our Christian identity, marked with water and sealed with a sign of the cross in holy oil. As Christians we know the love of God as it is made manifest in and through the life of Jesus.

The baptismal rite invites us to celebrate the grace and love God has for our children. It reminds us that our children are in God’s hands and that we are not alone in our love for them. We need to renew our baptismal covenant so that we are reminded that, with God’s help, we are called to reveal God’s love in and through our lives. That we may mirror back to our children, and to all we meet, the nature and character of God’s love.
That we, through baptism, are called to mirror back to the world the love of God, reminds me of a story from “Mary’s Way” by Peggy Tabor Millin. She writes:

I was on a train on a rainy day. The train was slowing down to pull into a station. For some reason I became intent on watching the raindrops on the window. Two separate drops, pushed by the wind, merge into one for a moment and then divide again – each carrying with it a part of the other. Simply by that momentary touching, neither was what it had been before. And as each one went on to touch other raindrops, it shared not only itself, but what it had gleaned from the other….

Let us remember that our lives impact other lives, in ways known and unknown. May we strive, with God’s help, to listen. May we hear the word of God that courses through the river of life, the waters of creation. And, may we live our baptismal covenant in such a way that all that we do and all that are, reveals God’s unending love and compassion.

Friday, October 21, 2011

RevGals Friday Five

Jan, over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

Since it is almost my birthday and because my spiritual direction peer group is reading Living Fully, Dying Well by Edward W. Bastian and Tina L. Staley, I am thinking of my life in stages. For the latter group, we filled out a form dividing our life into 7-year increments, documenting "significant moments," then "people who guided and influenced me," and ending with the question, "What did this phase contribute to the continuum of my life?" This was a life Review Exercise devised by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

For today's Friday Five, I am suggesting that we each divide our age into 5 sections. You don't have to say your age or ages for the different parts, unless you want to. In each of the 5 points, please describe a memorable and/or significant event, either good or unpleasant

Well, I think I can divide my life into groups based on the states I lived in.

1. Utah - I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. My father's parents lived in a well to do middle class section of town up on the mountains. My mother's parents had a lot less money, lived down in the valley not far from the Miller Life brewery. I remember seeing the red lights from the sign whenever I spent the night at my maternal grandparents. I have many fond memories of spending time with that set of grandparents, and of that neighborhood. Following my parents divorce, I did live for a year or so with my paternal grandparents. I remember hearing about the assassination of JFK on the school bus radio, the solemn afternoon at school, and then watching the funeral on television. I also remember dancing in grandparents basement to "Puff the Magic Dragon"....I was five and thought it was a sad song about a dragon. Utah still holds my heart - particularly the mountains, the beauty of which is deeply ingrained in my spirituality.

2. Idaho, Wisconsin, and Texas: when I was nine my family moved away from Utah. My mom remarried, our step-father adopted my brothers and me, and then following his career, we moved a lot. Our first move took us to Nampa, Idaho. I remember being struck by the flat tops of the mountains and missed the soaring mountains of Salt Lake. We lived in the country and I loved playing outside, running through hay fields, watching the birth of a foal. But after a year we were transferred to a small town in Wisconsin.

We lived in Waupun, Wisc. for four years - from fifth through eighth grades. These were formative years, living in a small town divided between the natives and those who worked for Carnation - as my dad did. The company did a lot to build community among the employees and most of my friends were kids whose parents worked for Carnation. My dad got a job with another company and we were transferred to Ft. Worth, Texas just as I was entering high school.

Living in Ft. Worth was a cultural shock. The year I was there the high school got its first African-American students. I remember a long preparation process. I remember teachers who told jungle-bunny jokes and made racial slurs. The two African-American students were a brother and sister. The sister sat next to me in band - and the band teacher was the worst offender of racial slurs. I wrote a letter to the principle complaining about the teacher and dropped out of band. It was a big deal, at least for me, the first time I stood up for something I believed in. But, after only a year in Ft. Worth my dad was transferred to Illinois.

3. I lived in Illinois for the next 35 years. I graduated high school, went to college, got married, had my kids, bought and sold homes, went to seminary and was ordained in Illinois. I lived all over the Chicago-land area and know the town and the people really well. It's a great place to live.

4. But after awhile I yearned to return to the west and found a position in southern Arizona. It was a beautiful place, but also a hostile place. I left after two years and returned to Illinois.

5. Now I am in a new phase of life, living in Michigan. I have found a position I really love in a town that is beautiful, interesting, diverse, complex. I've only been here since May, but I already feel like I am home.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Be Wilderness

Season of Creation 4A: Joel 1:8-10, 17-20; Romans 8:18-27

A couple of years ago I attended a clergy conference that included an opportunity to travel into Mexico to visit some of the ministries that were taking place on the border. We were loaded on a school bus in Douglas, Arizona and transported through the border patrol station into Agua Prieta, Mexico. There we visited the office of a coffee co-op and toured a local addiction rehab facility called CREDO - which has a profound ministry. This humble facility houses 92 people including women and their children, in crowded rooms with bunk beds. It also has rooms for men, similar to the women’s rooms. There are several meeting rooms and a dining area. Most of the structures are concrete walls and floors. In some instances the rooms have dirt floors. Every person in the facility works to keep the place clean, prepare food, support one another, learn about and engage in healthy behavior to support a life of sobriety. No one is turned away, and everyone in the facility has a place to live until they are sober for one year and can prove that they can earn a living and support themselves in an apartment. The quality of support is impressive. But what really amazed me is a story the director shared about a resident who lived in the enclosed section for the mentally ill patients.

One day, about eight years ago, the director received a phone call about a man found wandering in the desert. The Director offered to get the man and bring him to CREDO. The man had no memory of his name or his identity. Barely able to speak, he did not know where he was from or how he ended up lost in the desert of Mexico. Diagnosed as psychotic this addiction facility housed the man, gave him medication, and tended to him for four years. Then, one day, out of the blue, the man told the director that he remembered who he was. He told him his name, the names of his parents in California, their address, and their phone number. The director called his parents who were both astonished and delighted that their long lost son had been found, safe and sound. They too had no idea how their son had wound up in Mexico. Within a few days the parents arrived in Mexico to collect their son and take him home. To this day that family still sends money to assist CREDO in their ministry to those lost to addiction or mental illness. And, as far as I know, their son remains healthy and well.

Today we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Season of Creation, and the theme is, the wilderness. There are a number of ways that we can think about wilderness: wilderness of land, wilderness of spirit, and wilderness of mind.

The wilderness of land is of remote places like the desert areas, mountainous areas, the Alaskan tundra. Places where few humans live, let alone plants, vegetation, or animals.

Not only is there the reality of a wilderness of land, but there is also the concept of wilderness as a metaphor of reality. The man found wandering in the desert, who had no memory of his identity, was lost to reality of time and place. He was in the wilderness of mental illness, a wilderness of the mind.

There is also the notion of the wilderness as spiritual metaphor. When used this way we can think of ourselves as in a spiritual wilderness when life is overwhelming and we do not know where God is in the midst of our despair. This is the wilderness that our reading from Joel expresses – lamenting because all seems lost – the cattle wander about because there is no pasture for them, people mourning in sackcloth, and all around is devastation.

The Book of Joel is found in the section of the Bible known as the minor prophets. There are twelve minor prophets, so called because the books credited to these prophets are shorter than those credited to the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. In addition to Joel, the minor prophets include Hosea, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Joel is believed to have been written sometime in the 4th century, BCE – before the common era, or some 2400 years ago. Joel is lamenting the devastation of the land from a plague of locusts. The book is filled with a sense of grief that God has abandoned the people. But because it is a prophetic book it also looks to the future when God will return and restore the land and the people to the fullness of God’s desire. The prophets use imagery and language that references wilderness experiences – land that has become a wilderness, and the spiritual life of the people lost in a wilderness with out a sense of God’s presence.

When my daughter was little we read a trilogy of books called Julie and the Wolves. It’s the story of a young Eskimo girl, orphaned at the tragic death of her parents and married off to an older abusive man. She escapes the marriage by running away, hoping to make it to San Francisco. Instead she ends up lost in the tundra of Alaska and is forced to learn how to survive on the raw elements of the land: ice and snow, plants and animals. It’s a fabulous series filled with the rich spirituality of a people who have learned to live in the wilderness of snow and ice. Of a people with a deep respect for the land and for all the creatures of the land, and of a young girl who loses her self in the wilderness only to find her true identity in the process.

The Christian story, filled as it is with wilderness experiences is ultimately a story of hope. We believe that in and within every wilderness experience is the profound reality of God’s presence. While there are times when we are unable to recognize exactly how it is that God is with us, our faith reminds us that God never leaves us, is always present, and journeys with us through our grief and despair. God yearns for us to live in peace, to be satisfied with life, whatever it brings our way, and to love others as God loves us.

The wilderness is not only a place of lament and despair, but as our reading from Romans reminds us, it is also the place of hope, for it is hope that rescues us. Hope - where new life begins and through which God’s creative self pours through, awakening us to our true identity, called to be the hands and heart of Christ – to be beacons of hope in the wilderness of life.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

God is IN the Darkness

Although I am preaching without a manuscript here is the gist of what I intended to say for Easter 2B, commenting on the readings appointed ...