Tuesday, December 25, 2007

safety and danger in Bethlehem

Since Sunday Dec 30 is the reading for the Holy Innocents, I'm sharing this recollection from an old sermon.

Probably the most moving event, for me, while I was in the Holy Land was my visit to the Church of the Nativity. We found out the night before I left that I was pregnant with The Entertainer. So as I stood in the place where they say Jesus was born and then laid in a manger, I was filled with awe and wonder. To be pregnant and stand in that holy and sacred place was incredible.

Like every other tourist that visits the Church of the Nativity with a tour group, a few brief moments at the church were followed by a visit to a souvenir shop. After a long time at the souvenir shop, we finally boarded the bus to return to Jerusalem. We noticed that the driver, a Palestinian, was quite agitated and as he talked to our tour guide. The Israeli tour guide also became agitated. Later, we discovered that the driver had heard on the radio the first report of the bombing of a major intersection in Jerusalem. It was March of 1996. Just days before we were scheduled to leave the United States, the bombings of the red city buses had begun. So as we left, we knew that there was some danger. What we didn't know was that we would travel through that intersection that was bombed just hours after we had passed through safely. We left Bethlehem on the way to Jerusalem not knowing why our driver and tour guide were upset because neither of them would tell us and none of us understood the radio. But the TVs in our rooms quickly filled us in on the details of the bombing that had happened only miles from us.

This year Bethlehem was on the news because there were more tourists and less violence. Someone said (and I had a similar experience), "When one is in Bethlehem, it is not hard to think "What a place for God to pick to be born in." What a place! The dust, the misery, the ugliness. Bethlehem."

But the glorious truth of the incarnation is just that. God comes to where we are; into the midst of evil; into the very spot where we are; into the struggles and the pain and the fear and the suffering. God comes to us where we are, in Bethlehem, or Boston, or Bangkok, or Brazil, or your home county. Emmanuel. God with us. God with us.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Light Bearers

Several years ago, I found this story on a preacher sermon email list in a sermon written by Jody Felton. I adapted it for my Christmas Even sermon that year. The Entertainer (at age 8) thought it was a perfect Christmas Eve story.

When we moved to another church, she told me I should preach the goat lady sermon on Christmas Eve. After I told her she would be gone to her dad's, she told me to wait and preach it the next year. So I've already told it at my current church and I share it, like it was shared with me, for anyone else who is looking for a great Christmas story.

"I am reminded of a true story I once read. It was written by a man who grew up in the woods of Minnesota during the Depression. His father was mentally ill, a shameful thing in those days, a thing to be hidden behind closed doors.

When his father was relatively well, life was not too bad for the family. But when "the darkness" as his father called it, descended, he became moody and violent. The father was terrified of "the darkness", both the darkness outside himself and the darkness within that tormented him so.

The only things that eased his torment were light and the potion brought by the Goat Lady. Some considered the Goat Lady a witch. She lived alone with her goats and had a knack for discerning when others were in pain. Somehow, the Goat Lady always knew when "the darkness"descended on the author's father. She would arrive at their doorstep with a pail of goat's milk sweetened with a little Karo syrup and laced with herbs known only to herself. Whatever was in the milk always calmed his father, eased his fears, and reduced his violent episodes.

The author especially remembers the Christmas Eve when he was nine years old. That year, it began snowing a few days before Christmas. As the days got shorter, the snow got deeper. The darkness grew both outside and within his father.

Because of the snow, the author's mother had been unable to go out to buy more kerosene for their lamps. By late afternoon on Christmas Eve, they only had one lamp left and the fuel in it was about gone. The father begged his wife to not let the lamp go out. She had to find more kerosene. If the lamp went out, the darkness would destroy him.

The family's only connection with the outside world in that fierce snowstorm was the party line they shared with 17 other families. By ringing the right number of longs and shorts, one could reach other members of the party line. Of course, you usually got the rest of the party line, too, as they listened in on the conversation.

Reluctantly, the mother finally gave in to her husband's pleading She called a neighbor and asked if he had any extra kerosene he could lend them. As it turned out, he had extra, but because of the ferocious snowstorm, he didn't know ow he could get it to them.

A little later, the author was sitting staring out the window into the darkness and the snowstorm. He dreaded the moment when kerosene would run out and his father would lose the battle with his own darkness.

Suddenly, he saw a light coming toward the house. He could just make out the Goat Lady carrying a pail of goat's milk in one hand and waving her other arm, as if to push back the storm.

Then the miracle happened. It was as if she really had pushed back the storm. The clouds parted, a full moon shone on the freshly fallen snow, and the stars twinkled like diamonds.

That was not all he saw. Coming through the woods from 17 different directions were more lights...the lanterns of their neighbors on the party line. The little house was soon filled with people and light. Not a single corner was left in the shadows.

Christmas cookies appeared out of nowhere accompanied by hot coffee. Fellowship and laughter rang out. Even his father's own personal darkness was dispelled by the light-bearers and the Goat Lady's pail of milk.

Before they left, someone brought in the family's kerosene barrel. Each one poured the kerosene from their lantern into the barrel, saving just enough to light their way home.

As the neighbors left, the boy once again sat at the window and watched as the lanterns went off in 17 different directions like the rays of a brilliant star. The light-bearers had done their work."

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Entertainer's favorite "Mom and nephew" story

The week before Thanksgiving, my brother in law had training at a location close to our house. So my sister decided that she would rather travel half a day to stay with us for 6 days instead of being home alone with a 3 1/2 yr old and a 5 week old. That was terrific even with the sleep deprivation that comes with a 5 week old in the house. I cleared my calendar as much as possible, went to the office occasionally, made hospital calls, but was mostly at the house. I told the secretary that I was holding a baby and to call if she needed me. When the Nephew whimpered, I held him and rocked him. I did everything but feed him. I stayed up late and stalled him when he thought he was hungry so my sister could get a few more minutes of sleep. We bonded. Then they went home.

Two days later, on the last day of school before Thanksgiving, after piano lessons, we traveled to their house for Thanksgiving/Christmas with the family. The grandparents (my mom and step-dad) arrived on Saturday. My Sister had just fed the Nephew and handed him over to Grandma to be burped and held so Sister could "get stuff done." After less than five minutes, the Nephew starts to fuss. Grandma cannot settle him and says, "Do you need your momma? Are you getting hungry?" Less than patient sister responds, "NO! I just fed him! That's why I gave him to you!" So I jumped in, "Here, give him to me."

I was sitting in a rocking chair just in reach of the couch where Grandma was sitting. I leaned over, she put him in my hands, he stopped crying immediately. Sister says, "What did you do?" With arms still stretched out, I held him up and said, "This."

She said, "He loves his Auntie Vicar." Meanwhile, the Entertainer and the SportsQueen fell on the floor laughing because Grandma couldn't calm him and all I did was get him in my hands, not even "tucked in," and he stopped.

The Entertainer continues to relive the moment by telling the story complete with arms held out saying, "This." Yes, we were all there. She tells us the story anyway. "This." giggle, giggle, giggle...

opposing parallels

I bought "WinterSong: Christmas Readings" by Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw so I could participate in the RevGals book discussion. Well, then I didn't get it read in time to participate. I still haven't read all of it. I have read enough of it that the journal entry by Madeleine L'Engle titled "Opposing Parallels" caught my attention. With the sermon for Matthew 1:18-25 only partially formed, this will probably make the cut. Once again, Madeleine L'Engle gets quoted in a sermon

"A group of us from Regent and Vancouver School of Theology went to an excellent production of Much Ado about Nothing at Bard on the Beach. I've always loved the play because of Beatrice and Benedick, Beatrice being one of the best, funniest, and warmest of Shakespeare's women's roles.

Hero, Beatrice's cousin, and Claudio come off much less well. Hero is set up by the villain to look as though she is being unfaithful to her fiance on the eve of their wedding. Claudio believes the cruel hoax without question and then, with vicious cruelty, allows the wedding to take place as planned until the moment when the friar asks if anyone knows of any impediment, at which point he brutally and publicly denounces the innocent Hero.

It reminded me of another man whose fiancee seems to have betrayed him at the last minute. Instead of denouncing her, having her stoned -- the customary punishment for adultery -- he lovingly decides to send her away to some safe place.

And then he is willing to believe the angel who tells him not to be afraid to take the young girl for his wife, for the child within her is from God."

I wonder if Shakespeare was aware of the opposing parallels?"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the nephew

My nephew was born in October with hydrocephalus (old school version: water on the brain). He had surgery to have a shunt implanted. Other than the shock and emotional distress, all that went well. Shunt is working, incisions healed well, etc. At that point, the main task is to wait for him to grow and develop to know if there is any brain damage.

On Monday, he was diagnosed with Cortical Visual Impairment. That means, his eyes work but his brain doesn't know what to do with the information the eyes are sending it. In other words, he is blind.

This is the first evidence that there is brain damage. Our prayers are that this is the only thing and that his brain is able to develop enough that the impairment is not complete. We covet your prayers, too.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Five from RevGalBlogPal

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: Don't Call It a Comeback Edition

posted by Will Smamma

Parishioners pushing for carols before you digested your turkey?

Organist refusing to play Advent hymns because he/she already has them planned for Lessons & Carols?

Find yourself reading Luke and thinking of a variety of ways to tell Linus where to stick it? (Lights please.)

Then this quick and easy Friday Five is for you! And for those of you with a more positive attitude, have no fear. I am sure more sacred and reverent Friday Fives will follow.

Please tell us your least favorite/most annoying seasonal....
1) dessert/cookie/family food
divinity: It is NOT divine or heavenly. GAG.
2) beverage (seasonal beer, eggnog w/ way too much egg and not enough nog, etc...)
Eggnog of any variety, to me, it's just a big loogey.
3) tradition (church, family, other)
The church that has the nasty stew cooked over an open fire combined with decorating the sanctuary and calling it Hanging of the Greens with the appearance of Santa Claus. All parents were expected to provide the gifts to be distributed by Santa but no one told the new people (including the pastor who had two young children who still believed in Santa).
4) decoration
The huge Santa kneeling at the manger in the church lawn at the same church as #3.
5) gift (received or given)
The mass produced plaque with wonderful supportive words about "our pastor" with all male pronouns.
BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it.
Santa Claus Lane or any other song from "Last Christmas" by Hilary Duff

I know, I know.... pretty grumpy for November but why not get it out of our systems now so we are free to enjoy the rest of the festivities.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals

Friday 5- extravagant unbusyness....

posted by Sally

I am writing in my official capacity of grump!!! No seriously, with the shops and stores around us filling with Christmas gifts and decorations, the holiday season moving up on us quickly for many the time from Thanksgiving onwards will be spent in a headlong rush towards Christmas with hardly a time to breathe.... I am looking at the possibility of finding little gaps in the day or the week to spend in extravagant unbusyness ( a wonderful phrase coined by fellow revgal Michelle)...

So given those little gaps, name 5 things you would do to;

1.to care for your body
get a massage.

2. to care for your spirit
spend more time with friends or spend more time making more friends

3. to care for your mind
oh, this really is a busyness fuel, get a jump on reading for my last course for the PhD

4. to bring a sparkle to your eye
this would be the friends thing again

5. to place a spring in your step
go Geocaching

Enjoy the time to indulge and dream.... and then for a bonus which one on the list are you determined to put into action?

Well, tomorrow, I probably will Geocache while spending time making friends

visitors and comments

I suppose, if you want someone to read your blog, all you have to do is put something in it that someone else will g**gle or otherwise want to search.

I used to have a blog that did not allow anonymous posters. I discovered, this morning, after someone used a search function that anonymous posters could post on my blog. But not anymore.

I hate it when changes are made and I find out the hard way.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I really do have a blog

I suppose if I'm going to have a blog, I should write something. I'm sure I've lost all the regular readers since I have not been a regular writer. Nonetheless, here is a blog that is not a Friday Five, a meme, or another variation on a personality quiz.

* I began watching ER when it first started. I then dropped it in the middle after the stabbing of Carter and death of Lucy but before Carter was gone. I started watching again when this seasaon began in order to see their version of a hospital chaplain. In the years of not watching ER, I've missed some things. But, like a soap opera, it has been pretty easy to catch up.

I wish John Stamos wasn't trying so hard to be George Clooney. I wish they had invested as much on the advisement regarding appropriate clergy behavior as they did on medical technicalities.

* I'm one of the officers for the local ministerial alliance. I'm not sure that I'm really that invested in the organization because most meetings I leave feeling like I've wasted my time. As a part of the nominations process, I met with two other clergy. One the same flavor that I am and one that is a different flavor. The same flavor one had to leave fairly quickly after the business was done. The different flavor one and I stood on the "porch" of the place we met and talked for an hour (maybe more). I could have easily talked to him longer. We talked about a variety of things but it started with Harry Potter. My investment in the ministerial thing may have gone up a smidge.

* My nephew was born on October 9 which was almost my favorite grandfather's birthday. He (the nephew) has hydrocephalus and has a shunt that appears to be working well. His first month checkup was today and went well. He is now 10lbs 5 oz. When born, he was 9 lbs 4 oz. Better my sister than me. My babies were little bitty -- thank God!

Speaking of my babies. My youngest, the Entertainer, was born on the anniversary of the same grandfather's death. She began playing violin when school started with a 1/2 size. She has now grown into the 3/4 size (or is it the other way around size wise?) violin that was originally purchased for that grandfather when he was about the Entertainer's age. She is not quite as good as he was yet. But I have every confidence that she will surpass him. And, if those in heaven, have any care about what happens here on earth, he will be her biggest fan even though he never met her on earth.

* Now that my church has managed to move on a better financial path, we need to find out how to help others discover our great little church.

* I am officially registered for the last course for my PhD. Then comes comps, then comes orals, then comes dissertation, so that last course is just the end of the beginning.

* I need to write a congregational stewardship letter. I'd rather copy someone else's well done letter. I hate writing stewardship letters, not because of the money part, but because I want the letter to be inspiring. I don't usually pull off "inspiring" in letters like this. Sermons? yes. Letters? not usually.

And the letters really need to be mailed tomorrow. But the secretary has a family medical thing in the morning, so that would be the finger pointing at me to do the job. I hope the mailing labels are already printed but I'm not counting on it. They are created by a program that is not user friendly. I wonder if the folding machine will cooperate? The copying should be easy. The stuffing, boring but easy. hmmm, do we have enough first class stamps? I bet not.

In that list, the first thing that has to be worried about is actually writing the letter. That is completely under my control. So I guess I will do that.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals

The Friday Five: Homage to the Top Chef!

posted by Revhrod

This Fall my family has been energetically watching Top Chef on the Bravo channel. My teenage daughter watches with the dream of some day being a chef. My husband watches because he loves reality shows and I mean, really loves them. Plus the whole competition thing really works for him. Me, I love cooking and good food. Every so often I get an idea from this group of talented young chefs who are competing for big money and honors galore.

The winner for this season was Hung. Not the fan favorite, but he won fair and square. In his bio, he says if he were a food "I would be spicy chili - it takes a while to get used to, but once you eat it you always come back for more!" With that in mind, here is this week’s Friday Five.

  1. If you were a food, what would you be?

  2. Devil's food cake with chocolate icing.
    The SportsQueen said I'm a ribeye 'cause I'm tender.

  3. What is one of the most memorable meals you ever had? And where?

  4. I was weeks pregnant when we came down the switchbacks from Nazareth. We stopped at a roadside place for falafels with chick peas. Morning sickness met motion sickness. You can imagine the rest. The word falafel still makes me nauseated.

  5. What is your favorite comfort food from childhood?

  6. Beef stroganoff made with strips of beef and lots of sour cream over egg noodles.

  7. When going to a church potluck, what one recipe from your kitchen is sure to be a hit?

  8. A potato casserole made with cheese, cream of mushroom soup, and sour cream that is cooked in the crock pot. The only way anything makes it to a church potluck from this single preacher mom.

  9. What’s the strangest thing you ever willingly ate?
Some Greek food in Athens that I still don't know what it was.

Bonus question: What’s your favorite drink to order when looking forward to a great meal?
That is completely context dependent but most of the time it is diet coke or tea. Mountain Dew used to be my drink of choice but now I'm in the diet drink crowd. Methotrexate means no alcohol for me but I used to like MangoPeach Margaritas.

Friday, October 12, 2007

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five

Friday Five: The B-I-B-L-E

Does everyone remember the old Sunday School song?

The B-I-B-L-E,
Oh, that's the book for me.
I take my stand on the Word of God,
The B-I-B-L-E

I have been working on an expansive language version of the Psalms and the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office/Breviary. (For you non-liturgical gals and pals, that's a set of prayers for morning, noon, evening, etc., mostly consisting of Psalms and other biblical texts).

So I have been thinking a lot about the Bible recently, and how we encounter it as God's Word--or don't--in our lives, prayer, and ministry. (Great minds think somewhat alike this week, as yesterday's Ask The Matriarch post dealt with ways to help as many people in a community as possible engage with a scriptural text in preparation for Sunday worship).

So, in that spirit, I offer my first Friday Five. I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's experience and reflection on these B-I-B-L-E questions:

1. What is your earliest memory of encountering a biblical text?

I think it probably was Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

2. What is your favorite biblical translation, and why? (You might have a few for different purposes).

I use NRSV all the time. I like NIV except for the places where male language is used "generically." I also like the NASB and The Message.

3. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Your favorite verse/passage?

My favorite is probably John because of the rich imagery. However, it drives me nuts when people choose to understand the literary devices in literal ways. Favorite verses/passages: Micah 6:8, Matthew 25, Gen 21:6.

4. Which book of the Bible do you consider, in Luther's famous words about James, to be "an epistle of straw?" Which verse(s) make you want to scream?

The books that are "questionable" Paul with all kinds of rules and restrictions that are probably culturally based. If new converts to Christianity do not have to become Jewish first, then the household shouldn't have to live by the culturally based household codes found in the writings of Greek philosophers in order live as a Christian household.

5. Inclusive language in biblical translation and liturgical proclamation: for, against, or neutral?

For inclusive language regarding humans without reservation. For language that is not limited to gender specific pronouns for God.

Bonus: Back to the Psalms--which one best speaks the prayer of your heart? More than once Psalm 139 has spoken to me in significant ways.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I got TAGGED! Fab Four Meme

Fab Four Meme

I've been tagged by Mid-Life Rookie This one is all about fours.

Four jobs I've held:
Post office "causal" (I got to met the mail truck at 4:00 am)
sales person for chain video store
lifeguard for Christian camp on a lake

Four films I could watch over and over:
Secondhand Lions
The Bells of Saint Mary's
Any Indiana Jones movie
True Lies

Four TV shows I watch:
Battlestar Galatica

Four places I've lived:
Harry Truman's hometown (not the birthplace)
Amelia Earhart's hometown (the birthplace)
Small town named for Liberator of Spanish South American
University town in middle of state off of I-70

Four favorite colors (added later)
Kelly Green

Four favorite foods:
beef stroganoff
Ritzy chicken
devil's food cake with milk chocolate icing

Four websites I visit everyday: (or almost daily)

Four places I would love to be right now:
(for me all of these imply people who are fun to be with)

On a cruise
In Ireland
with my sister (who could have a baby at any moment)
playing cards

Four names I love but would/could not use for my children:

Friday, September 28, 2007

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five

Friday Five: Reverendmother's Swan Song

(as posted by Reverendmother)

Well friends, as I prepare for the birth of Bonus Baby, it's time to simplify life, step back from the Friday Five, and let one of the other capable and creative RevGals take the helm. It's been a great almost 17 months of co-hosting the F5, but it's time to say goodbye... so here's my swan song.

On Endings and Goodbyes:

1. Best ending of a movie/book/TV show

I love the end of Secondhand Lions. There is a sense of fitting completeness.

2. Worst ending of a movie/book/TV show

Hamlet (specifically, the movie version with Mel Gibson). Truthfully, I had never read Hamlet. I had never seen any version of Hamlet prior to seeing the movie version with Mel Gibson. I did not know what was coming for any of it. I was completely surprised and could not believe the story unfolded that way.

3. Tell about a memorable goodbye you've experienced.

We had some treasured church members who were vegetarian move away due to a new job opportunity. Our meat loving congregation sent them off with a vegetarian potluck goodbye luncheon.

4. Is it true that "all good things must come to an end"?

No. God doesn't.

5. "Everything I ever let go of has claw marks on it." --Anne Lamott

This does not hold true for me with "stuff." For my marriage, it was very true. I hung on well past the point when it was clear that the children and I were not the benefactors of the primary time commitment and that the behavior that took the time, energy, money, and other resources would not change.

Bonus: "It isn't over until the fat lady sings." I've never loved this expression. So propose an alternative: "It isn't over until ____________________"

It isn't over until the last Amen.
It isn't over until the offering is counted.
It isn't over until the parking lot is empty.
It isn't over until the paper work is done.
It isn't over until the kitchen is clean.
It isn't over until the last kid is picked up.
It isn't over until the lights are off, the alarm is set, and the doors are locked.
It isn't over until the last episode has aired.
It isn't over until the last piece of chocolate is gone.
It isn't over until the last box is on the truck.
It isn't over until you run out of gas.
It isn't over until you fall asleep trying to think of ...

Monday, September 24, 2007

RevGalBlogPals Book of the Month- Good Fences

Let me say that overall, I found myself wanting more. I kept waiting for more to develop but it didn't. I liked the stories and followed her premise but felt that something was missing.

The questions as posted by Songbird with my answers follow.

1. My own church is currently seeking ways to live into four areas identified in a visioning process. The first two happened to be Identity and Hospitality. When church members asked for help with Hospitality, I suggested that they needed to be clear about Identity first, and this is Westerhoff's supposition. What is your response to the Boundaries First/Hospitality Second paradigm? Is there more to Identity than Boundaries? Or is there another metaphor that might feel more helpful?

The metaphor is helpful to begin the conversation. I don’t think I have a better one.

I think it is important to know your identity but I'm not sure that knowing your boundaries necessarily leads to the extension of hospitality. It seems to me that most of us (individually and collectively) like to think of ourselves as more open, tolerant, accepting, etc. than we are when it comes to actually interacting with people who test our stated boundaries. Perhaps, that interaction is a refining of our boundaries but I'm not sure how well defined we can be about our communal boundaries when the community is often in flux according to the participants in the community and the context in which that community is located.

2. How important is the distinction between essentials and non-essentials in your understanding of boundaries?

If boundaries are the first step, then understanding the distinction between essentials and non-essentials is necessary. If there is not clarification between essentials and non-essentials within the community, the risk is that the non-essentials become barriers to hospitality or defuse the boundaries by including those who do not value the community's essentials.

3. On page 87 of the paperback edition, Westerhoff describes the participation of a group of visiting Buddhist monks who came to the rail for Communion at her church. What was your response to this story and the discussion that took place after? Do we control the eucharist? Are there "levels" of hospitality?

I find this an interesting question. John Wesley (Anglican priest, founder of Methodism), at one point, required communion cards for those in the societies (spiritual formation groups) and, yet, at the same time, argued that communion was a means of grace in which a person could meet Christ for the first time. So, even while intentionality and baptism were vitally important, he would not refuse someone communion because he did not want to keep them from the experience of Christ that could bring salvation.

With that in mind, I carefully considered what I would do regarding communion when I was in a position to preside. I will serve those who present themselves for communion, trusting in the grace of God when I serve those that might be considered "undeserving."

4. If you have had a chance to do a unit or more of Clinical Pastoral Education, you have heard a story like the one of page 98. A student feels distressed after baptizing a baby who had already died, conflicted about what baptism means and whether it was appropriate in this case, but also certain that the parents needed pastoral care in this form. How do you respond to this case study? What might you have done in the student's position?

Sometimes the best theological understanding is not helpful in communicating the everpresent grace of God. I have a high regard for solid theology. I have little tolerance for mindless following without question. That being the case, I will set my well formed, deeply considered theological understanding aside, in the service of re-presenting God to the best of my ability. For me, pastoral care always has the potential to trump theology. That decision is based on my understanding of Jesus healing on the Sabbath and the grace imparted to folks who were in need when the logic of the Law might have led to a perfectly reasonable conclusion that one should not heal on the Sabbath.

5. The epilogue of the book contains a lengthy story about a church's process in choosing to fence in its property. Please share your reactions.

I think the story furthers the metaphor of the book and makes a good ending story. However, it seems to me that the issue of the actual fence became a focus on non-essentials for a community that supposedly had a clear identity in relation to their context as a church that was a sanctuary for hundreds of homeless. In the end of the story, it is clear that the fence enables the community to continue living their identity providing a boundary that also creates the space for hospitality.

6. Westerhoff calls on Jesus' self-description as a "narrow gate" in support of her thesis that our boundaries must be clear. Where do you think Jesus would draw his lines?

I think Jesus' boundaries are probably wider than most of ours. I do not think most of us are comfortable with the extravagant hospitality of God's grace. I'm not sure how to put that up against the metaphor of the narrow gate. I have heard the "narrow gate" used in ways that mean "you have to believe like we do in order to get in" but that doesn't match Jesus healing on the Sabbath.

7. In Chapter 5, Westerhoff refers us to the baptismal covenant as a means to test our boundaries. Does this feel like a helpful tool?

I appreciated the way she used the liturgy of baptism to frame the issue of boundaries. But I see as it helpful only for those with liturgical foundations. I grew up in a church that did not use set liturgy. The questions she addresses would have been considered irrelevant in that tradition.

8. Westerhoff admits that others are better-suited than she to certain practices of hospitality. How do you strive to *be* a neighbor in your own neighborhood? What are the challenges of being a neighbor?

I pastor an urban church. We struggle with the boundaries of being a good neighbor. Sometimes we are more motivated by fear and self-preservation than by hospitality in the name of Christ. I think this book could be a helpful entry point for some of my church members in considering what hospitality and welcoming the stranger could be.

a chaplain?

I'm am so with it concerning entertainment news that I learned from Songbird about the new season of ER having a chaplain. I think I'll set ER up for recording now.

I quit watching ER when my kids quit going to their dad's on Thursday night. I would have them in bed, turn on ER, and they would wander out of bed. Of course, that only happened on Thursday nights when I wanted to watch ER and had not prepared any means for recording the show. ER also seemed to get more and more incredible stretching my willing suspension of disbelief past the breaking point. So, at some point after the knife attacker got Lucy and Carter, my faithful watching turned into "Oh, is it ER night?"

I started watching ER when it first premiered with the Sportsqueen, only months old, in my arms as I waited for then husband to come home after his weekly late night of work. I was captured by ER. I loved how Greene talked to Carter about when one of the cases "gets to you" and how if you really cared you took the chance that someone would "get to you" or how you could detach and no one would ever "get to you." I loved the nurse Haleh.
One of my favorite sermons (submitted for ordination requirements, no less) included the scene from "Blizzard" where Haleh stands in the midst of the chaotic ER holding a child as tenderly as if she were her own singing "His Eye is On the Sparrow." I cry just thinking about it.

I pray that if (God forbid) my child experiences trauma there is someone who will stand in the chaos, hold them as tenderly as if she were hers, and sing with quite assurance about God's love and presence with the calm, soothing sounds of a lullaby.

That, to me, is the Kingdom of God at hand.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals

Friday 5- de-cluttering edition.

Posted by Sally

With Jo, Jon and Chris all moving to college and University accommodation there has been a big clear up going on in the Coleman household. We have been sorting and trying hard not just to junk stuff, but actually to get it to where it can be useful. On a brighter note we have used Freecycle ( check it out) to provide the twins with pots and pans etc that other folk were clearing out.

Making the most of our resources is important, I have been challenged this week by the amount of stuff we accumulate, I'd love to live a simpler lifestyle, it would be good for me, and for the environment I think...

With that in mind I bring you this Friday 5;

1. Are you a hoarder or a minimalist? I have to admit I qualify as a hoarder with occasional showers of minimalist that dissipate fairly quickly.

2. Name one important object ( could be an heirloom) that you will never part with. How is an admitted hoarder supposed to pick ONE item??? My autographed copy of "The Bunnies and Beagles shall lie down together" by Charles Schultz (because I can't replace it).

3. What is the oldest item in your closet? Does it still fit??? Ironically, I took several suits, pants, and jeans to the resale store that supports a local ministry yesterday! However, I still have two t-shirts from the basketball camp I attended the summer after eighth grade. One of them was huge on me when I got it but was the only size of that shirt they had. I can still wear it. I also have the shirt with the name of the camp. I wore it a lot. I had it on when I found out my dad had died. So even though I can't wear it, it stays in the bottom of a dresser drawer. I also have two pairs of Wigwam tube socks that I wore for basketball. Amazingly, they have not worn out and while the elastic tops are loose enough to fall down when I walk, they are perfect for sleeping in when my feet are cold.

4.Yard sales- love 'em or hate 'em ? I hate going to them and I hate having them. Two years ago, it was apparent that a yard sale was a necessary evil. We made about $380 but more importantly did not pack or move the stuff that sold.

5. Name a recycling habit you really want to get into. We live in an area where recycling is a fairly easy curbside version. When we lived in the country, recycling was very hard so we didn't do it. One thing we don't do that we could do is use our own cloth bags for groceries instead of whatever the store uses.

And for a bonus- well anything you want to add.... I wish it was easier to recycle computer parts around here. And, I tried to join freecycle but they turned me down. I never got a response about why.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

O Christmas tree by The Entertainer

Two years ago, a boy in The Entertainer's homeroom told about the Christmas Tree at his house falling over on top of him. He wrote new words for the chorus of "O Christmas Tree" and proceeded to teach it to his class.

He finally sang it one too many times and ended up in the hall.

Two days later, on a field trip to see the Nutcracker, a Christmas tree fell over in front of the whole class as they waited for the bus to pick them up. The best 3rd grade teacher ever had the whole class sing the song on the spot.

After The Entertainer's piano lesson on Tuesday, we were looking at our collection of music for Christmas music at the level she needs. We came to "O Christmas Tree" and she sang the 3rd grade version of the chorus. She then made up verses on the fly.

Tonight, as she is not practicing her assignments but is being musical, she has sung her way through two collections of Christmas carols.

I now have stuck in my head "O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, you stupid thing, you fell on me."

that's entertainment

With the beginning of school, The Entertainer started playing violin for orchestra and also has a new piano teacher.
The plucked violin can produce recognizable tunes. The Entertainer has started having sore fingers leading toward the necessary calluses. That's good.

The new piano teacher seems to be a good match. That's good, too.

The Entertainer is currently sitting on the piano bench belting out Christmas Carols instead of actually playing any instrument. She has a nice voice and sings on pitch. That's good.

But CHRISTMAS, geez, we haven't even made it to October yet. The air conditioner is still on 'cause we're still in the nineties during the day. Shoot at 8:00 pm tonight the temp: 89 degrees.

Maybe I could hire her out for the Always Christmas store ...

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Billy was five years old and was so excited when his mother came home from the hospital with Billy's new brother. Billy had wanted a brother for a long time. Nothing could have been more wonderful. But things weren't working out quite like Billy had imagined. Everyone was fascinated with the new baby. This new arrival got all the attention, all the love, of the family. It seemed to Billy there was none left for him. The walls of his little world were beginning to crumble.

Billy couldn't do anything right. If he left the door open, it was, "Billy close the door, the draft will give the baby a cold." When he closed the door, it was "Billy, don't slam the door - you will wake the baby." So, he did the only thing a five year old can do when no one loves him, when there was no room left for him at home. He ran away. Not far, of course, just into the pine trees behind his house. In the cold and dark he began to cry at how alone he was, not unlike the bleating of a lost sheep.

After a while he heard noises moving in the brush. An animal! Must be a bear or a lion or worse, heaven knows! Scared to death, he tried to hide himself under the branches, but the noisy footsteps got closer and closer. And then there was the voice. "Billy...Billy." The voice was familiar - it belonged to his grandmother. She had missed him and realized he was gone. She alone knew exactly where he had gone. Drawing back the branches, she pulled him into her embrace and held him. Finally she spoke: "Billy, it's time for dinner. It's time to come home."

According to Jesus, this is the good news, that God is like that. God searches for us in all our hiding places whether we have just wandered off or are intentionally trying to hide. God's search is risky and relentless, well, because supper can't be served until all the family is there, until everyone the child at the zoo or the one named Billy has been found and brought home. And there is joy before the angels of God.

I have no idea where this came from originally. Even so, it will end my sermon tomorrow.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals

Friday Five: Meetings, Meetings

posted by Reverendmother

In honor of a couple of marathon meetings I attended this week:

1. What's your view of meetings? Choose one or more, or make up your own:
a) When they're good, they're good. I love the feeling of people working well together on a common goal.
b) I don't seek them out, but I recognize them as a necessary part of life.
c) The only good meeting is a canceled meeting.

The only part of a meeting I really like is the part where I get to talk to people I haven't seen in awhile or getting to know them better. The best meeting is the one that gets canceled after several people are already there and we go out for lunch instead.

2. Do you like some amount of community building or conversation, or are you all business?
Most of the time, I like the community building and/or conversation part. However, I don't want to be in a meeting that needs to accomplish something and nothing happens because there's too much visiting.

3. How do you feel about leading meetings? Share any particular strengths or weaknesses you have in this area. I would rather lead than attend a meeting. I'm pretty good with using an agenda to accomplish what needs to be done while having conversation along the way.

4. Have you ever participated in a virtual meeting? (conference call, IM, chat, etc.) What do you think of this format? I have participated in many virtual meetings. I am very comfortable with virtual meetings. Each medium for group communication has pluses and minuses. I especially like the part where I don't have to drive 2 hours for a 30 minute meeting.

5. Share a story of a memorable meeting you attended. I think I'll skip this one because other than this question my answers are so positive. Every meeting that comes readily to mind is ugly.

Bonus: Do you know what a camel is? A horse put together by committee

Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

One of my favorite authors, Madeleine L'Engle, died yesterday. I just found out. It makes me sad.

The New York Times article ends:

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

With a free subscription, you can read the article here.

An article published by Episcopal Life has a quote from her about suffering and grief. You can read it here.

Several years ago, I was one of the adults on a youth camping trip. Most of the group were out on a hike. I was at the campsite reading "Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art." Another adult who came back just ahead of the group saw the title and said, "Oh, that's how you do it-- a how to book -- walking on water."

Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals

Friday 5 - on overcoming

posted by Sallay

I am preparing this Friday 5 just before I take Chris into hospital for a cardioversion, right now we are all a little apprehensive. But this whole thing has got me thinking, so many of us are overcomers in one way or anoither, so many have amazing stories to tell of God's faithfulness in adversity. And so I bring you this Friday 5;

1.Have you experienced God's faithfulness at a difficult time? Tell as much or as little as you like...
I experienced God's faithfulness several times in helping me deal with situations where I was not allowed to be "the minister" by the church I served.

2. Have you experienced a dark night of the soul, if so what brought you through?
There have been more than one dark nights and it was the community of faith sometimes as individuals and sometimes as a group that brought me through. There were "God with skin on" for me.

3. Share a Bible verse, song, poem that has brought you comfort?

When there were problems with my pregnancies, it was Psalm 139. When it was the church limiting my ministry, it was "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." Isaiah 43:1-3

And Ginny Owens song "If you want me to." The version on "A Night in Rocketown " is the best. You can hear the first minute here Here's all of the lyrics:

The pathway is broken
And the signs are unclear
And I don't know the reason why You brought me here
But just because You love me the way that You do

I'm gonna walk through the valley
If You want me to

No I'm not who I was
When I took my first step
And I'm clinging to the promise You're not through with me yet
So if all of these trials bring me closer to You
Then I will go through the fire
If You want me to

It may not be the way I would have chosen
When You lead me through a world that's not my home
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I'll never go alone

So when the whole world turns against me
And I'm all by myself
And I can't hear You answer my cries for help
I'll remember the suffering Your love put You through
And I will go through the darkness
If You want me to

When I cross over Jordan, I'm gonna sing, gonna shout
Gonna look into your eyes and see you never let me down
So take me on the pathway that leads me home to you
And I will walk through the valley if you want me to

Yes, I will walk through the valley if you want me to

4. Is "why suffering" a valid question?
Absolutely. God can handle it. And we can have a deeper relationship with God when we are free to express everything. If we can't tell God or if there are certain "forbidden" questions, we lose out on the richness of having a God who loves every part of us -- even (maybe particularly) the parts we think aren't good enough for God.

5. And on a lighter note- you have reached the end of a dark and difficult time- how are you going to celebrate?
This is probably the hardest question for me. All too often the end of hard times is such a relief that, even though I love people and I love to celebrate, I don't have the energy to celebrate until much later. It usually becomes a celebration after there is enough distance from it for there to be scars instead of scabs. As I'm thinking about this, the celebration is probably in a better ability to "be there" with others.

Bonus- anything you wish to add....
The God who brings you to it will bring you through it.

"Coming to the End" a sermon on Psalm 139

I asked and received permission from Frank to post this sermon. I read it after I had read the Friday Five for today and I thought it was fitting.

The title is "Coming to the End"

Frank Fisher
Interim Pastor
First Presbyterian of Bushnell, IL


Brother Oscar Romero
Oblate of St. Benedict's Abbey
Bartonville, IL

Lowell Striker tells a story
about a monastery in Europe
It was located in splendid isolation,
perched high on a cliff
several hundred feet in the air.
The only way to reach the monastery
was to be suspended in a basket
which was pulled to the top by several monks
who pulled and tugged
with all their strength.

the ride up the steep cliff in that basket
was terrifying.
One tourist
got exceedingly nervous about half-way up
as he noticed that the rope
by which he was suspended
was old and frayed.
With a trembling voice he asked the monk
who was riding with him in the basket
how often they changed the rope.
The monk thought for a moment
and answered brusquely,
"Whenever it breaks."

Each of us experiences times
when we feel
our rope is about to break.
They're times
when the various parts of our lives
pull at us
until we feel stretched to the snapping point.
There are also times,
of course,
when we feel we actually have snapped.
In those times
we feel overwhelmed and abandoned.
At those times
we may especially feel
we've been abandoned by God.

For me,
this last week
was one of those times
when I felt stretched;
stretched to way beyond
the snapping point.
I arrived back home on Sunday evening
to find Joan busily cleaning in the basement.
Now cleaning
is not one of our favorite things.
So I was a bit perplexed
by the idea of spending a three day weekend
in such a task.
the reason became all too apparent
when Joan showed me
the marks on our basement walls;
marks which showed how the Chicago sewers
had backed up
and filled our basement
with over a half foot of rain water
mixed with sewage.

That Labor Day
Joan and I spent laboring in the basement
was the high point of the week.
>From there on
it was all downhill.
Our washing machine went out.
We learned our ten year old Dodge
needed a new transmission
that would cost
approximately twice as much
as the car itself was worth.
My blood sugar
began an unexplained roller coaster ride
which left me feeling sick and exhausted.
And to top off the week
I had to suspend
one of my fire department subordinates
for two weeks.
This action
was followed by another of my subordinates
loudly declaring
that she shouldn't have to do the work
I'd assigned her.
By Wednesday evening
I was coming to the end of my rope.
I was depressed and exhausted.
it seemed,
that could possibly go wrong
was doing just that!
And despite the loving presence
of my family.
I was feeling completely alone
and abandoned.
On Wednesday evening
I retreated to our bedroom
to read the mail.
Among the normal piles
of bills and junk mail,
I found the latest issue
of Weavings magazine.
Weavings is a journal
of Christian spirituality.
Each issue
is built around a particular theme.
The latest theme
was entitled,
"The Mountain."

"Now this was really wonderful,"
I thought.
"In the midst feeling abandoned and alone
I've just received an account
of the high points
in the lives of other Christians!"
Quite honestly,
I wasn't too interested
in others high points at that moment.
And the magazine quickly found its way
to the bottom of the pile.

But for some reason,
it kept finding its way to the top.
or perhaps Someone
seemed to be pulling me
toward opening its covers.
After a short time of resistance
I found myself
sitting back,
and opening the magazine
only to find that the accounts of spiritual mountain tops
was accompanied by a single article
"Seeing God
in the Valley."

The article was the story of a pastor's encounter
with the story of Jeanne Guyon.
Madame Guyon
was a pre-reformation mystic
whose life
made my bad week
seem a delight by comparison.
At fifteen
she was forcibly married
to an invalid more than twice her age.
Her new husband
and her new mother-in-law,
made plain the fact
that they despised her.
They also hired a maid
who routinely beat her young mistress
with a hair brush.
The church
to which she turned for the faith to endure
eventually declared her a heretic
and imprisoned her
for twenty years.
Her brother
who was a priest,
tried to extort money from her.

In the face of all this
and more
Jeanne Guyon simply
and constantly,
opened her life to God.
She advised others to do what she did,
"abandon your whole existence,
giving it to God."
she declared,
was the way to connect to God.
She decided that everything
that happened to her
was from God,
and since it was from God,
it was exactly what she needed.
The pastor who wrote the article
she at first believed
Madame Guyon
to be
"a religious crackpot
who should have put her hands on her hips
and demanded justice."
But despite this,
she felt drawn to Guyon's works.
She decided to play
a game with herself.
In every situation,
she would pretend
that Guyon was right
and that even in the worst of things,
God was there.

I found myself more than a bit appalled
at Madame Guyon's calm acceptance of victim hood.
But I too
was intrigued
and I decided to play
the same game as the article's author.
In a matter of minutes
my entire attitude was transformed
and I became once again
fully aware of God's presence.
The place were I was at
still really smelled.
In the case of the basement
it even literally smelled.
But God was there
in the midst of the bad.
And I realized Madame Guyon's point.
If God is there
in the midst of the worst
then I would be ok.
For where God is,
life is;
even if one was at the point in life
that resembled a cross.

I was also drawn back once again
to today's psalter.
"Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven,
you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol,
you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,"
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you."

The psalmist knew
that no matter
where we are in our lives
God relentlessly pursues us.
Even if we feel separated
from God
and lost and alone,
God is there.
And perhaps
in the times we are most alone,
all we have to do
is to listen to the advice
Madame Guyon received from her first spiritual director
as he addressed her frantic search
for God's presence in her life.
he told her,
"you seek without
what you have within.
Accustom yourself
to seek God in your heart.
There you will find Him."

Another issue of Weavings
contains a story by David Griebner.
It's a story,
I think,
best describes how our God is there
even in the times of greatest pain,
simply waiting for us to recognize Her presence.
It's a story
"Between the Nails."

"He could hardly remember a day
when there wasn't at least some pain;
and this should come as no surprise.
For you see,
this man
and all his people
lived on a bed of nails.
As you might guess,
it was a rather prickly existence.
they had all gotten used to
the particular limitations of their world.
They accepted a certain amount of pain
and discomfort
as normal,
and they had developed clothing and footwear
that insulated them from largely the effect of the nails -
although some were better at ignoring the pain
than others.

Now for a long time our friend
accepted things as they were.
But then something in him began to grow restless,
and he became convinced that life
had to be more than just managed discomfort.
One day he decided something had to change
or he was going to take all his clothes off,
jump into the air,
and end it all.
As he pondered this choice,
he thought he heard something.

"Get small"
"What?" he said.
The words were out his mouth
before he had time to remember
he was alone.

"Get small."
There it was again.
A voice.
He was sure of it.
Sort of.
Something or someone
was talking to him.
And since he was out of other options at the moment
he decided to talk back.
"Who are you?"
"Get small."
"What do you want?"
"Get small."

Obviously he wasn't asking the right question.
He decided to address the advice directly.
"What do you mean,
'Get small'?"

"Get small."
Apparently this was all he was going to get,
and his next response
came mostly out of a sense of frustration.
"I can't get small," he said
through clenched teeth
used to gritting it out.
"I can make you small,"
the Voice said.

Well there it was then.
If he accepted that the Voice was real,
the only thing left to do
was to trust what the Voice had to say.
"All right," he said, "Make me small."

The first thing he noticed
was that his clothes got big.
Then the nails got big.
Then the space between the nails got big
and he found himself between the nails.
Then the space between the nails
got so big
that there was more space than nails.
Then there was so much space
that it seemed as if there were no nails at all.
Then he was surrounded by people.
They brought him clothes to wear
that were light and airy,
and wonderful food
that was as rich as the ground was smooth.
It was a strange feeling,
but it seemed like he had finally
come home.

Once a week
he and all the people between the nails
gathered together to sing.
They lifted their voices to the heavens
and sang with all their heart
the two words the Voice had taught them all.
"Get small,"
they sang."

"How weighty to me are your thoughts,
O God,"
the Psalmist wrote.
"How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them
--they are more than the sand;

I come to the end
--I am still with you."

At the very worst of times,
when we've come the end of our rope,
God is there.
God is there
in the very midst of our pain.
God is there
even when we can't feel God's presence.
God is there
screaming with us
when the nails of our life
become too much to bear.
And in the understanding of God's presence,
we find God is offering us
a life line.

To God alone be glory.
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