Monday, April 13, 2015

Moving (for some reason)

I realize my timing is less than stellar.  There's a Woman in the Pulpit, a book project of the RevGalBlogPals in which I have an essay, has begun shipping, and the blog address I included in my bio is out of date already.  It's this address.  Oops.

I was considering starting over even as I was drafting that bio, but I didn't have a plan.  I didn't have a new web address.  I didn't have a blog title or anything.

But then after I sent it all in, when it started to sink in how excited I was that wrote something for a book, when I realized how my ministry, thinking, and writing was shifting, I knew I just needed to do it.  I also knew what the title of my new blog would have to be.  For some reason.  I explain a little about that title in my first post over there on March 21, 2015.  Minor spoiler alert: It's the title of my essay in the book, but there's more to it than that, so I hope you'll pop over there and read around a little.

I'll leave this blog here, if for no other reason, because it's the most organization I have for my old sermons.  I can't even begin to think about doing something different with those.

Other than that, I hope you'll join me over at my new blog, For Some Reason.

Grace and peace,
Stephanie

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Who Knew?

A sermon based on Matthew 14:13-21

Not quite two weeks ago I received an email from the Rev.Josh Heikkila, the Presbyterian Churchs regional liaison to our partner denominations in West Africa.  Josh was an associate pastor at the House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul when I began to serve here in Hudson, so we have had a friendship for several years.  Having served in a short term mission in Ghana almost [gulp] twenty years ago myself, I am always interested to hear what is going on in the life of the church in that area of the world. 

Josh was here at First Presbyterian Church last spring, leading one of our Lent Bible studies and sharing about the state of the church and the churchs ministries, particularly in Ghana, Nigeria, and Niger.  He ignited some interest among some of us who heard him about what we might do to partner with brothers and sisters in faith around the world.  He also shared with us some pictures of some of our churches banners that were now hanging in churches in West African churches - - worship banners like the one you see here now.

This is a banner that was made by members of First Presbyterian Church probably at least 30 years ago under the direction of Thelma Nagel.  We have a huge collection of these banners that served to enhance our worship space, particularly in the older building, but that just dont quite fit the needs of our current sanctuary for any number of reasons.  In 2012, Josh contacted churches of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area to see if any of us had banners like these that werent being used anymore.  If so, he wrote, the churches he worked with in Ghana, Nigeria, and Niger would love them.

In the mission field these days, most responsible leaders do not encourage blanket donations or handouts that can feel paternalistic or even do more harm than good.  Huge donations of used clothing and shoes, for example, can actually destroy local business people who are trying to make a living and build the economy.  However, when a specific request for something like a worship banner that can connect two worshiping communities on different continents comes in, something that can give new life and enhance the spirituality of two congregations at once, it isnt difficult to try to fulfill the request.  Knowing we had several banners that we werent likely to use as often as a church in West Africa would, the Spiritual Growth and Mission Outreach Ministry Teams worked together to pick some banners to send to Josh and pay to ship them to his home in Accra, Ghana.

Over the last several years, Josh has hand delivered our banners and banners from the Presbyterian church in Plymouth, Minnesota to congregations around West Africa.  Periodically he will send us pictures of our banners adorning the sanctuaries of partner churches.  We have shared those pictures with you in newsletters and announcement slides when they come back to us.

In his email last month, Josh related to me two stories about some of our banners.  Last year in a trip to Niger, a landlocked African nation directly to the north of Nigeria, Josh was able to deliver banners to congregations of the Evangelical Church in Niger, our partner denomination, in the capital city of Niamey.  Less than 1% of the population in predominantly Muslim Niger is Christian, with less than 0.1% of the total population identifying as Evangelical or Protestant Reformed Christian.  What seemed to us to be a relatively easy gift to give was to the church in Niger a connection to brothers and sisters in faith, a reminder that they are not alone, a witness to the broad love of God that binds us together across distance, race, and culture.

In the aftermath of a cartoon of the Islamic prophet Mohammed that was published by Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly magazine, there were protests in a number of Muslim communities around the world, particularly in Algeria, Niger, and Pakistan.  Niamey, Niger experienced some of these protests some of which grew violent and even deadly.  On January 17, almost a week after the publication of the cartoon, Josh posted this call to prayer on his Facebook page, Friends in Niger have had to leave their homes for safety, and many Christian churches, schools, homes have been burned ... because of what's happening in Paris. In this world of ours, foolish actions instigate foolish responses, and the innocent suffer.

In the end, the church where this banner was hanging was burned.  The cement walls still stand, but the pews inside, the appointments like the banner, and anything else that could burn, was burned.  A picture from the French Press Agency shows the outside of the church as it was still smoldering with some of the contents that were part of a bonfire in the foreground.  All that is left inside are the metal frames that held together the wooden slats of the pews.


Another church in Niamey that was attacked by what I have to be sure to point out was a small minority of very angry people who were Muslim they do not represent all Muslims in Niger or around the world any more than so-called Christian members of the KKK represent all American Christians or Christians around the world was also a recipient of one of the banners from our presbytery.  Josh had intended to return this spring to take a picture of it hanging in the sanctuary to identify whether it was from our congregation or the congregation in Plymouth, but that had not yet happened.  Either way, the story of what happened with that church and that banner from our presbytery is extraordinary.

When word that angry protesters were moving toward the church with intent to destroy it, some of the churchs Muslim neighbors went out to meet them, placing themselves between the church and the young men.  The Muslim neighbors negotiated a different resolution to the protest, bringing out the pews and the banner which were burned symbolically, in exchange for sparing the church building itself.  The banner was lots, but it in essence saved a church.  As Josh said in his email, I'm sure no one imagined this when they were being made!  God works in mysterious ways???

Who knew?  Who knew thirty years ago that a banner made to aid the worship of Presbyterians in Minnesota or Wisconsin would eventually be repurposed to aid the worship of Christians in Niger?  Who knew an act of loving creativity would adorn our sanctuary and then adorn theirs?  Who knew the work of our hands would be such and poignant sign of our unity in Christ across generations and across many miles? And most definitely who knew this small act of love that brought together a few women around a sewing table in the United States would eventually, through its sacrifice, would save a sanctuary for Christians in turmoil, distress, and danger?

In the story of the feeding of the 5,000 today what we heard about was an act of love.  Jesus had love for the crowds that were following him and were likely hungry as the day was growing late.  He knew they needed to eat to fill their bellies as they were waiting for their souls to be filled, too. The disciples knew of five loaves and two fish on hand, but that wasn't going to come close to feeding the crowd.  They could have held onto it because what difference would it have made any way.  How could such a small offering make any sort of dent in the need in front of them?

But it did.  Who knew?

So many times we have choices before us, choices to make about simple acts of love and compassion that may not seem like much at all - filling a backpack with food for elementary school families in need, increasing our giving to the church or special offerings for disaster relief or assistance programs, providing soup for a simple supper, serving dinner at Grace Place or networks. Youth ministry, teaching children in our Sunday School or leading them in a Camp in a Van.  So many times we have opportunities to be a part of simple loving acts, but so many times it is hard to see what difference they will make in the long run.  But they do, whether we see the results or not, our acts of compassion can change the world for individuals whose names we may never even know, for communities we may never even see.

A family receiving food will be fed and nourished for another day because of the food delivered in a backpack.  An otherwise unchurched child or youth in our community will hear the good news that he or she is a beloved child of God because of the ministry we provide.  A home will be rebuilt and shelter provided after a devastating storm on the opposite side of the globe. We can hardly begin to imagine what these simple acts will mean in the lives of others, and neither could the disciples when they handed over two fish and five loaves.

Who knew five loaves and two fish would feed a multitude?
Who knew a banner would save a church?
Who knows the long reach of simple acts of love, but God who reached far to love us first?

May our days be filled with simple acts of great love in the name of God, our creator, redeemer, and sustainer.  Amen.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Treasures in Heaven

A sermon based on Matthew 6:7-21


Two weeks ago the NPR news website reported on an announcement that was made by Christian publisher Tyndale House. Nearly five years after it hit best-seller lists, a book that purported to be a 6-year-old boy's story of visiting angels and heaven after being injured in a bad car crash is being pulled from shelves. The young man at the center of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, Alex Malarkey, said [the week of January 15] that the story was all made up.[1]  The book had been promoted as a supernatural encounter that would be sure to give new insights on Heaven, angels, and hearing the voice of God.  The Washington Post considered it one more addition to an emerging genre of books in the heavenly tourism category.

The book and all related products are being pulled out of print after Alex Malarkey wrote an open letter to Christian bookstore, LifeWay, and other retailers who sell Christian books admitting,
I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.  I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.  Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.

A lot of Christians have a lot of curiosity about heaven.  What does it look like?  Who will be there?  How I can be sure I make it?  We have a lot of ideas about when and how we will get there, but as theologian N. T. Wright says in his book Simply Good News, The Bible says remarkably little about what happens to people, even to Gods people, after they dieat least, immediately after they die.[2]  In fact, it seems like the Bible says so little about what happens immediately that people feel compelled to write and publish spiritual memoirs that fill in the blanks.

And while the Bible says precious little about what happens in the moments after death, the Bible is not silent on heaven.   Theres a difference between the two, you see, especially in Matthews gospel.  Matthew uses the phrase kingdom of heaven thirty-two times in his gospel.  Including those he talks about heavens or heaven a total of eighty-two times.  We heard one of these two weeks ago in Jesus own first proclamation in ministry, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. (4:17). Heaven comes up three times in the Beatitudes and twice in the prayer we call the Lords Prayer.


Heaven is a central idea in this telling of the good news of Jesus, but its one of those words that may not mean what we think it means.  When Matthew talks about heaven he isnt talking about pearly gates, streets of gold, and choirs of angels singing at the throne of God.  Remember Jesus himself says that the kingdom of heaven has come near.  He didnt say this because precious metals replaced the dirt of the roadways in Galilee.  He said this because he came near.  He said this because in his birth, in his life, in his ministry, in his good news, and eventually even in his death and resurrection he ushered in the presence of God, the purpose of God.  He brought heaven to earth.

Heaven, when Jesus talks about it in Matthews gospel, isnt so much a location as it is a way of living.  Heaven isnt so much a place in the clouds far away where those who have gone before us reside.  Its the summation of what all of creation is and will be when things are going according to Gods will.   Well hear a lot about this when we move into the parables during the season of Lent later this month and next, but it has also come up today when we hear that we are taught to pray that Gods will be done on earth as it is in heaven, when we are taught to store up treasures in heaven.

What do these things possibly mean if heaven isnt a place up there, but a reality down here, right now?

A friend of mine, Matthew Miller, a pastor in Albuquerque, New Mexico said this:
I often tell people, "I'm not an afterlife Christian." Meaning, I don't believe this stuff to get in on cosmic dessert for eating a lifetime of vegetables. Jesus was pretty clear, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Often people spend a lot of faith time and energy trying to figure out exactly what needs to be done, what needs to be believed, in order to get to heaven.  Im with my friend, Matthew, the pastor, not the gospel writer, although I think hed agree, too, and think that this mindset is missing the boat.  A lot.  The life of faith as Jesus describes it and hands it down to his disciples is never about trying to craft a cosmic escape from life on earth for some cushy heavenly palace.  Likewise the life of the faithful on earth can never be about chasing and amassing earthly riches and pleasures. The life of faith as Jesus describes it is about making heaven on earth now.  The life of faith as Jesus describes it is about learning Gods intentions for all of creation and being a part of making those intentions a reality.

Remember the Beatitudes?
        Blessed are the peacemakers - - Gods will is for peace
        Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness - - Gods will is for justice-bringers
        Blessed are the meek - - Gods will is for humility
        Blessed are the merciful - - Gods will is for mercy
The life of faith is full of these kinds of treasures and working for them, for peace, for righteousness, for mercy, is storing up treasures in heaven. 

Often this passage about treasures in heaven is used for a good old fashioned stewardship sermon.  The idea goes that we can spend our money on things of earth toys and cars and houses and clothes and rich food or other luxuries or we can spend our money on things of heaven, namely the church.  Right?  Thats how weve all heard at least once or twice.

I think thats too limited.  This is about more than just to whom we write the check.  This is about investing our whole selves in things that are of God.  Think about how easy it is to waste away a day stuck in front of a TV too disinterested to do anything else.  I do it!  I may have done it yesterday!  When it happens I have no idea how much time has passed.  And when it happens, sometimes it ends up just feeling rotten, like being eaten at by moths or rusting away. 

But I can also lose sense of time when I am in the middle of a pastoral visit or working in our church garden or planning worship or in conversation with the Faith Quest confirmation students or talking to my friends from the kids school about this strange thing our family is a part of called church. I imagine the same happens for many of you when you are involved in serving a meal to the guests who are homeless at Grace Place, or teaching Sunday school, or leading in worship, or sewing for infants born in poverty, or shopping for food for families in need. But when this happens, when we lose ourselves in these activities, it doesn't have that same feeling of being chewed away at.  In a sense it makes our lives feel larger, stronger, fuller.  Theres a difference a palpable difference when the treasures of time and even mental energy are stored up in things that are of God than when they are stored up in things that are not of God - - when they are stored in heaven and not on earth.

What does it mean to store our treasures in heaven when we've just prayed 'thy kingdom come' and Jesus recently said "the kingdom of heaven has come near." The kingdom of heaven is indeed at hand, and storing up treasures in heaven isn't about banking stuff away for the great escape from this world. It is about investing in what God's doing here to make the kingdom come now.

We get no better reminder of this when we celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper as we do this morning.  At the Lord's Table we have the mixing of heaven and earth.  We have bread and juice made from the gifts of the earth.  We use our senses of taste, touch, and smell in the very earthly experience of eating and drinking.  But at the same time what we do is an experience of heaven on earth.  It is a preview, an appetizer of the great banquet that is described, that is promised to the world when God's reign is fully realized.

When we share this meal we are sharing an experience of heaven of God's holy intentions for all of creation -  where all are fed, the bread and the cup are plentiful, where no one goes hungry, where all are welcome.  When we share this meal we are practicing what is done on heaven while we are here on earth - we are practicing acceptance, we are practicing hospitality, we are practicing peace and justice.  When we share this meal we experience the blessings of God, we are given the gift of Jesus and his example of humility, of mercy, of grace.

It is a piece of heaven on earth and it sends us out from this place to be heaven on earth, to do the things that are of God, to store our time, our energy, our resources, all of our treasures in the purpose and mission of God.  For where are treasure is stored, our hearts will follow.




[1] Accessed 2/1/15 6:11 a.m.  http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/15/377589757/boy-says-he-didn-t-go-to-heaven-publisher-says-it-will-pull-book
[2] Quoted by Scot McKnight on http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/01/29/rethinking-heaven-nt-wright/ Accessed 2/1/15 7:45 a.m.

Cloud photo credit: _ \ ! / via photopin (license)

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Girl or the King?


It’s been about two hundred years in ancient Israel’s history since this royal experiment began with the anointing of Saul. Not long after the Israelites entered the Promised Land with Joshua as their leader they began begging for a king like all of their neighbors had. Yahweh, the God of Israel, was suspicious of the idea and put them off as long as possible – raising up judges to settle disputes and lead in times of crisis. But judges weren’t good enough for the people of Israel. They wanted a king.

God obliged and gave them King Saul. After Saul came David. After David came Solomon, and after that the names get harder and harder to recite, not just because of the phonetic gymnastics one has to do to differentiate between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, but because the details of their reigns are less and less exemplary the longer the monarchy continues. The quality of leadership in Israel goes downhill quickly, eventually even causing a split among the twelve tribes into two different kingdoms, with two different capitals and two different temples. The people are breaking the covenant God so graciously gave them left and right, up and down. Worship is happening at the wrong places and in wrong ways. The people are turning to idols and abandoning worship of Yahweh and Yahweh alone. Simply put, God’s people are falling apart at the seams.

Which is how a young girl ends up in service to the enemy’s wife.

Naaman is the commander of the army of the king of Aram, or Syria. It seems a little odd that a foreigner is recognized as having been given a victory by the Lord, as Naaman is, but not too odd in the book of 2 Kings. 2 Kings is all about how God tries to send warnings to Israel and Judah, how God tries to get their attention and bring them back to faithfulness. Often this happens by foreign armies over-powering God’s chosen people. The political nation is weak because of the weak spiritual condition of the people. The Arameans are just one in a string of foreign nations who are used by God to try to warn the Israelites their lack of faithfulness to the covenant is going to be their downfall.

In another battle of another war this young girl, we don’t even have her name, is taken into captivity and enslaved in the commander’s household. She had to have been terrified, absolutely terrified - - taken from her home, her family, the only world she knew - - taken by these new people, to this new household, in this new city for who. knows. what. purposes. She ends up a gift to Naaman’s wife, another girl to wait on her, a token of his appreciation, a sign of his success and importance, another slaved added to his list of property.

A fictionalized novel of this story for young readers (Adara by Beatrice Gormley) imagines the young girl becomes her mistress’s story-teller, masterfully weaving tales about her beloved Israel for the double purpose of entertaining and keeping her memories alive. One day, having noticed Naaman’s increasing discomfort with a chronic skin condition, she spins in a tale about the prophet Elisha back in Israel, the successor to the great prophet Elijah, carrying his mantle and his reputation as he healed in the name of Yahweh and called the people away from the worship of Baal. Certain of his ability to heal, she plants the seed of an idea in her mistress’s mind. “Take Naaman to Elisha, and he will be healed.”

She would be an easy player to overlook in this story, as she likely was in Naaman’s household. She’s a child. She’s a girl-child. She has no name, no family. She is an Israelite; the Arameans just showed how insignificant Israelites are by defeating them in battle. She is very literally a nobody in the middle of a whole story of power players, and still she speaks up. Still she finds a way, she finds the courage to tell what she knows to be true, what she has either experienced herself or what she has heard about others experiencing at the hand of Elisha. This young girl, putting her fear aside, looking with compassion on her enemy, desiring wholeness for one who is broken, points with confidence to the one who can heal, and it is because of her word, her courage, her testimony that healing eventually comes.

She stands in stark contrast to the king of Israel to whom Naaman, his entourage, and his riches go with a letter from the king of Aram. Remember, the girl told Naaman to seek a prophet, but Naaman’s boss, the king of Aram, seems a bit skeptical. Some little known prophet seems an unlikely source of healing, so the king tells Naaman to go instead to the king of Israel. Certainly another king must have the power, the resources, the influence to find the right source of healing.

Society tells us a lot about what power and greatness are and who has it. A friend of mine was telling me this week about a book she has been reading during the election season, The Power Broker by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Caro. In the book, Caro tells stories about how power hungry the United States Senators were in the mid-twentieth century. Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona was known to enter the Senate cafeteria and lay his cane on whatever table he chose to sit at for lunch. Often that chosen table would already have a group of secretaries or Senate staffers sitting there eating, but everyone knew that if Hayden laid his cane on your table, you had all better be gone by the time he returned with his lunch a few minutes later.
  
Most Senators also insisted that when they wanted the elevator in the Senate Office Building, they wanted that elevator immediately! To let elevator operators know that it was a Senator waiting, the Senator would buzz the elevator's call button three times. When that signal was heard, the operator was to skip all other stops (even if others already in the elevator needed a certain floor) and pick up the waiting Senator without delay. Once when Senator McCarran of Nevada heard the car pass him by after he had rung three times, he turned on his heel, stomped back to his office, called the Sergeant-at-Arms, and ordered the poor young elevator operator fired on the spot (which he was).

Kings were supposed to have THIS kind of power and influence in the ancient world, but the king of Israel shows instead how irrelevant he has become. “I’m supposed to heal someone?” he asks incredulously, tearing at his clothes in fear and anger and grief. “You’ve just destroyed my army and taken my people into captivity and now you’re going to taunt me by asking for my help in healing? I don’t know anything about healing!” And he doesn’t! He can’t heal Naaman himself! He doesn’t even know to whom he should send Naaman to find healing in his own nation! Used to his power and privilege, used to being the center of the world around him, he displays instead how disengaged, how out of touch he is with the world around him, with the places where life is really being lived and healing is really taking place right in his own nation.

A young girl points to the place of healing, but the very king of Israel is downright useless at leading others to new life.

Sometimes it feels like the church in the 21st century is a lot more like the king of Israel than the young girl. Sometimes it feels like the church in the 21st century is still relying on some false sense of societal importance and prestige that just isn’t really here. Sometimes it feels like the church in the 21st century is perfectly happy to keep the world at arm’s length, continuing to deal only with people of the right status, right the position, the right honor – exchanging regal letters while hurting and broken people are standing right outside our gates begging for something that will relieve their pain and bring them wholeness. We complain that after school activities are held on Wednesday evenings, sporting tournaments on Sunday morning. We worry that changes in our understanding of tradition might threaten our integrity. We fear that our generosity may be taken advantage of if we give of ourselves and our resources too freely.

But all the while, people who are seeking God’s blessing, seeking God’s healing, seeking a place to belong, to be welcomed, to grow in faith, and to serve others are standing right outside our doors not finding themselves anywhere closer to wholeness and life because we’re too busy clinging to what we once were.

Sometimes it feels like the church in the 21st century is a lot more like the king of Israel than the young girl - - the young girl whose witness leads to healing.

What would it look like if we took on her courage? Speaking not angrily, not in a bullying way, but simply and compassionately. Telling what we know to be true, what we have experienced. We know of a prophet. We have seen a healer. We have heard the good news of God's gift in Jesus our Lord. We have experienced his grace and his truth and his welcome.

What would it look like if we took on her blindness to differences? Inviting not just those who are exactly like us, but those who we would otherwise hold at a distance, even those we might call enemies.

What would it look like if we had her willingness to put her reputation on the line by risking everything she had - - her word and her honor - - to do the right thing? Speaking up for what we believe to be true even if it makes us unpopular, even if it could invite ridicule.

What would it look like to be the church pointing to Jesus for all who come seeking, for all who need healing, for all who desire wholeness and acceptance and peace?

It would look a lot less like a church that waits for newcomers to walk through the door than a church that goes out to serve others in the name of Christ.

As Pope Francis recently said, it would look a lot less like a church that is moralizing and a lot more like a church that is merciful.

It would look a lot less like a church that worries it’s actions will offend and a lot more like the prophets who demand justice and inclusion.

It would look a lot less like a church that hides itself away in four beautiful walls serving itself and a lot more like a the body of Christ entering into the world that is suffering and pointing to the one who can bring peace.


The church of the 21st century, First Presbyterian Church of Hudson, WI has a choice to make. Will we be the girl or the king? May our choice bring glory and honor to God and healing in the world. Amen.


cane photo credit: practicalowl via photopin cc
courage photo credit: Laurensea via photopin cc

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Preaching this week

What started as a post on the Narrative Lectionary Facebook group has just gotten too long to put there.  I'm trying to figure out what to do with the text this week - - Acts 16:16-34

Still not totally sure how I'm going to go this week, but more and more I'm being pulled (that's not even a strong enough word) by the Spirit to lift up the horror of these Nigerian kidnappings.  I don't know exactly how to relate it to the text; there are some connections that seem to work, others that are stretches, many that are in the middle (work to a point, but then fall apart).  I've decided to give myself some grace on this.  I am an extremely textual preacher.  If this one deviates a little in order to say what needs to be said, I'm going to be OK with that. Some ideas and (possible) directions are below.

|1.  We have the ability to project on our walls during worship (or order of worship goes there).  During the sermon I'm going to make a slideshow displaying each of the known names one at a time, 4 seconds each.  Unknown names will be listed as "Daughter of God #1, etc)  I understand 30+ more girls may have been taken from another village.  I need to try to find that info again.

2.  I am drawn to the idea of the slave girl having no name and the drive to make sure these girls' names are known (with all the complexity that comes with that in terms of confidentiality).  It's not as easy to forget someone whose name is known. This works a little better if the texts that are read are the Lydia and slave girls stories, not so much if it's slave girl and jailer, since his name isn't known either.

3.  There seems to be something important here about follow-through in ministry/mission.  We don't really know if Paul's "exorcism" in the end was a good thing.  He certainly did it more out of annoyance than concern anyway.  We don't know if making this slave-girl less useful to her masters freed her from much.  It may have made her more disposable, and without any kind of lasting relationship with her, Paul may have done more harm than good.  There's a real good warning in this to what happens after (God willing) these girls are released.  The outrage better turn into some real support in a responsible way for these girls and change in the larger system that allows stuff like this to happen.  (Education, education, education - - not seeing people as property or a means to an end like in the story of the slave-girl in the first place)

4.  I only slip in Mother's Day stuff when it actually makes sense with the sermon.  This time it might.  We have mothers, fathers, families, communities weeping over what is going on.  The tag line might "#BringOurGirlsBack" pull the baptismal connection.  Although, since this is a school with girls of mixed religious backgrounds, "our" might go all the way back to our shared heritage in Abraham or even just simply our shared humanity.  Side note: The "our" has been a little disturbing to me personally.  It sounds too possessive for me instead of uniting like it's intended to me.  Were they our girls when they were studying?  It works great for the actual families and villages.  Feels colonialist coming from Americans.

5.  The other Mother's Day connection I fear, but don't think I can speak out loud is the idea that some of these girls are likely being made mothers against their will as we speak.  It makes me sick.

I don't think I'm much closer in figuring out how I'm going to preach this Sunday.  In fact, somehow I'm just ending up more pissed at Paul and his selective use of influence.  There might be a sermon in there somewhere, but I'm not convinced the text is saying that.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What's next?

The Enneagram work I did on the RevGals Big Event 7.0 (whew - - there were a lot of links there!) has been more and more amazing for me as time goes by.  I'm always kind of interested in these personality things, from Myers Briggs Personality Type to "Which Downton character are you?" (Mr. Bates, in case you care.)  I had heard about the Enneagram, but I didn't really get it the first time around.  More and more, though, in the time leading up to the trip, and I mean even in the 12-18 months before the trip, I have been trying to figure out what makes me tick.  Why do I act the way I do?  Why are some things easy for me that seem like they should be hard, but other things are practically deadening to my soul that seem like they should be easy?  And a LOT of the latter things are things that are pretty important for my vocation as a pastor - you know, like talking to people that I don't really know well or have a purposeful working relationship with or being able to follow through with an idea I dreamed up.  I was getting frustrated with myself (and sensing frustration from some in my congregation) about things that are related to my personality.  The enneagram came at just the right intersection of rising frustrations and my desire for things to be different.  And hey --  A new thing to learn about? "Sounds cool.  I'll try anything once," said your resident 7.

About the 7 - - So, some of the things I learned about myself as a 7 are that I have a hard time following through with things usually because my brain is looking forward to the next thing I can try that might bring enjoyment or excitement.  I am pretty easily distracted.  I love learning about new things and can be legitimately researching for something I need and get pulled into 542 other things that catch my attention and inquisitiveness on the way.  My "sin" is my desire to acquire - experiences, things, knowledge.  Some of those sound worse than others, but ultimately it can be problematic because I use this acquisition to try avoid feeling and dealing with pain.  It is all fascinating.

Somehow knowing that this tendency to be distracted and scattered is part of what makes me me makes it something easier to deal with.  It had been driving me crazy more and more lately, and somehow finding the source of it has given me new energy to try to curb it a little.  I don't want to get rid of it all together, because it's part of who I am, but I do need to put some reins on it in order to live more fully into my calling and family.

So, with that background last night I wrote out a plan for "productivity" that I'm going to try.  I know there are all sorts of systems to read up on or buy into.  They sound great.  But let's be honest, there's no way I'm going to be able to keep my attention on a book telling me how to pay attention.  It's laughable.  So, I'm writing my own and I'm trying it this week.  I have done VERY minimal reading about Pomodoro that I liked, so that certainly has bled into my thoughts and plan somewhat, but otherwise I'm sort of piecing this together on my own.

Here are my "Productivity Principles" I'm trying this week in no particular order:
1.  Only sign into email twice a day (likely 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.) and answer or compose emails for only an hour each time AT MOST.  This might mean making more phone calls to try to cut down on stupid email time.
2.  9:00-9:30 is for making my daily to-do list and making sure it includes the reminders that are already programmed on my phone.  Part of making the to-do list is prioritizing the order of the events.
3.  Set non-negotiable times for things that need to happen away from the church building (hospital visits, other errands).
4.  Use Pomodoro 25 minute work periods and 5 minutes "rest" periods to work through the list.  This even applies to the 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. email hours.
5.  Facebook and internet use are only OK during the 5 minute rests, except for when it comes to sermon prep days when I hit the preaching blogs and FB groups. This is going to be hard to navigate, but I'll try it out more tomorrow.
6.  This is sort of based on a Pomodoro thing - - When an interruption has to occur, I will need to decide immediately if it's time sensitive enough to deal with on the spot or if it can just be added to the list in an appropriate spot.  If it needs to be dealt with, I've got to not let myself get derailed by it entirely so I can come back to the plan.
7.  I've got to try to keep a clean office.
8.  One thing at a time.  If I think of another thing that also needs to be done, write it down, and prioritize it a the next break.  One thing at a time.

So that's the plan for a little while.  I'm going to try to work it and tweak it and see how it goes.  Some of it seems ridiculously normal for the rest of the world, but for me it's going to be new.

A question I have for which I am seeking input, particularly for minister-types, but maybe there's more overlap with other vocations than I'm imagining - - How do you decide "what's next"?  What helps set your priorities for the day or week?  A couple criteria I'm sort of bouncing around right now that relate to my 7-ness and some growing edges I need to work on:
1.  Is someone else waiting for me to finish my piece so they can do their piece?
2.  What tasks will help me make and nurture personal connections with other people?

Enneagram photo credit: Grace Commons (Wicker Park Grace) via photopin cc

Clocks photo credit: FJTUrban (sommelier d mojitos) via photopin cc

Friday, February 14, 2014

Me? Praying?

Lately, I've been doing something really out of character for me.  I've been praying.  Prayer in any sort of traditional, identifiable mode has never really been the center of my spirituality or faith.  At times I've felt the need to try to identify some of the things I do as prayer, journaling, talking to myself, just watching and paying attention and wondering in order to feel like I was doing faith right.  Maybe those things were prayer for me, maybe they weren't.  I don't know.  My intent has really been to pray through them, to talk and listen to God, if that has anything to do with it.  I just don't consider myself much of a pray-er.

So, what's even more strange strange about this desire lately to mull things over with God, is that it has come at a time when I've been feeling myself grow in some ways very much away from traditional or mainstream Christian thought about things like the nature and person of Jesus (let's just throw a big one out there), God's activity and intervention in daily life, and even prayer.  I'm believing less about the effectiveness of prayer while being drawn more into it, and MY GOD it feels good.

I'm not really satisfied yet with any particular prayer practice.  I haven't been able to fall asleep in the evenings without spending time holding things and people and situations and feelings from my day in the light of God.  I just do this with my thoughts while I curl up on my side and begin to drift off.  I'm way over my 15 year old-me anxiety about falling asleep while praying.  (I used to make myself do an old school kneel beside my bed to try to stay awake in those days, but I finally quit when I woke up one night 3 hours later flopped at the side my bed with really sore knees.)  I'm OK with just holding up those things that need to be held until I am relaxed enough to rest.

On the RevGals Big Event I brought a journal I started (read: used twice) 4 years ago for Praying in Color, along with my box of fancy colored pencils. I am NOT an artist.  I'm not even one of those artists who says she's not an artist who really is.  I really do have no ability to takes ideas in my mind and visual represent them on paper.  I'm OK with that.   I'm not an artist, but I love my fancy colored pencils.  Anyway, I played in that journal one day in a way that was new to me - - not writing down things in my mind and doodling around them as I prayed them, but sort of drawing and praying my way through a Scripture passage, a psalm - answering the questions the text asked explicity, listening for questions I heard it asking that weren't right there.  It was a really cool experience I didn't try to create, but just sort of happened.  I wonder if I can do it again.

I'm not sure where all this goes.  I'm afraid I might end up to forcing it somewhere to try to fit it in some sort of official prayer "box." That would suck because I know it would kill it for me, but I also would love to nurture it and grow it because it has been so good.  I'm afraid if I carve out time, like make appointments for myself, something of the blessing of the spontaneity will be lost and it wiil just die.

 (Oh my GOODNESS, my enneagram 7 is SHOWING!!!)

I guess I'll just have to see.  It's time to go to bed now, so maybe this is something I can pray on.