Thursday, January 31, 2008

God's Blingdom

Not wanting to take up too much room on the Rev Gal Pals site, I thought I'd think on the question from there here.

I think the Matriarchs all touched on this, but I'd like to say it again, if for nothing else, for my own benefit.

I can understand the problem sometimes of only seeing the money and wanting the affluent to see and address the money issue I see. It doesn't do much good, though, to dwell only on the money, the need to give, the spiritual discipline of sharing, simplicity, etc. The messages we need most to hear, I think, don't come through well when they are the only message we hear. Does that make sense? Confronting a big issue in someone's life can't happen effectively in a longer term relationship (such as a pastoral one) unless there has been a lot of trust and love laid down first. People who come and go in our lives (special retreat leaders, guest preachers, random "angels" who can speak a confrontational and challenging truth) often have "special dispensations" to touch on those tender issues. Pastors, on the other hand, I think, can't just spring that on folks hard and often. We are going to be there after the "bomb" is dropped, so we need to have a relationship that will last before we address some of the sensitive issues. We all probably know of pastors who use EVERY sermon as a chance to preach for or against this issue or that one. Sometimes even though I don't disagree with their positions, I do disagree about their execution of the messages. The ears of the hearers became deaf to the message when it came at them every week and in every newsletter. It is ineffective, and, frankly, can be exclusive and alienating in a congregation where members have differing opinions. At that point worship can end up leaving some folks feeling as if they are shut out of the gospel because they disagree with the preacher. I have heard of pastors who stand behind their preaching decisions by saying they are preaching prophetically. They then tend to take the stance that the more people complain, the more they must need to hear the prophetic message.

This is a bit of a generalization and maybe not the most responsible use of Scripture, but I think the illustration of Jonah vs. Isaiah describes what I'm thinking. Jonah didn't know them, wasn't going to be there forever. He could come in and preach the shortest sermon ever and be done with it - - and effectively! Isaiah had a different task. It took a bit more than 3 chapters to get that task done. Again, a generalization, but the idea is there.

Also, sometimes our biggest issue with the congregation is our biggest issue. There's a little CPE stuff going on here. I have to ask myself, "Why is this issues of theirs an issue for me?" Is there some uncovered jealousy I need to deal with? Some insecurity of my own that is leading me to see this problem of "theirs"? That might need to be addressed and dealt with in my own life before I can follow God's leading in addressing it with the congregation.

That being said, we can't ignore the tender spots of our congregation. They need to be addressed, but they might not be the first thing to look at. In fact, I have found I need to try to bury them in my mind in order to look past the "problems" that need to be "fixed" and to the spiritual lives of the people in my congregation. The money stuff is most likely a symptom of a larger spiritual and discipleship issue that can be addressed without even talking about money at first.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More about the God Box, some repetition

I was so excited to post a link on RevGalBlogPals to the thoughts I had already begun yesterday (MONDAY - - so new for me), but the "starter" for today isn't up. I've lifted prayers for our leaders in hopes that all is well, and life has just gotten busy. I know how that works! I'm heading home soon, but hope to check in tonight from home to see if there's a place to post. I don't usually get my comments in early enough to get much feedback, so this is especially exciting for me.

I think we have a tendency to try to keep God in box, to build dwellings for God to live in and stay in, where faith is easy, comforting, and doesn’t threaten the lives we’ve built. We want to keep God in just a small place in our life – a beautiful room on Sunday morning, the quiet of the house before bed, the still morning with a cup of coffee in our favorite chair. It’s not that we aren’t faithful; it’s not that we don’t want to be close to Jesus. It’s that we want to limit where we go with Jesus, or where Jesus goes with us.

But faith doesn’t stay in one place. Christ doesn’t sit just on the mountaintops, and sometimes the places he takes us, or the places he goes with us are scary. Sometimes he takes us to dangerous places where our lives are threatened (the routines we built are disrupted). Sometimes he walks into something we don’t want him to see, things of which we are ashamed. Things we know he'll ask us to change, but we just don't want to!

change of thought -

Don't we also build that box not just to protect ourselves, but to protect Jesus? We think he needs our protection. We think we can help him avoid the suffering, the pain he will feel when the world gets a turn at him. They'll beat him up, tear at his ideas about life, doubt his existence, his power, his presence. They'll scoff at his idealism, and naivete in loving and forgiving everyone. No one likes to see someone they love be treated like that, so wouldn't it just be easier, nicer, safer to build this dwelling here? Stay here? Enjoy the dance a little longer? Maybe forever?

OK, enough for now. This morning I was thinking about how we can become idolatrous about our faith. I was thinking about how even worshiping the golden calf (built while Moses was up that mountain in Exodus) was an attempt to be faithful. I'm not excusing the worshiping of idols, but just talking about how our attempts to be faithful can be SO OFF THE MARK when try to follow our own leading instead of God's leading. Keeping Jesus cornered off in our lives so we can worship him better is idolatrous because it's not the kind of worship and relationship he desires. It's what we want to make us feel better instead of what he wants in the lives of the faithful.

OK. I'm really going now. Gotta pick up the kids before the temperature drops even farther below zero!

Monday, January 28, 2008

The God Box

Looking toward my Transfiguration Sunday sermon:

Of course Peter wanted to build a dwelling for Jesus, did you see what they just heard? Sometimes these special Sundays in the lectionary pull little bits of stories out of the flow of the larger story and we forget to read them in their own context. Jesus just told the disciples about how he was going to SUFFER and DIE. That's not good news for his closest followers. If they are completley selfless there is their friend and Lord to worry about, but if they're normal (ding ding ding) they're probably shaking in their sandals. If he's dangerous enough to get himself killed, he might be dangerous enough to get us in a heap of trouble, too.

So, now 6 days later, they find themselves up this mountain with him, and his entire appearance has changed. He's dazzling white and Moses and Elijah are there. Who would want to leave? I just read this GREAT little excerpt from a retelling of this story by John Aurelio. (It's in Imaging the Word vol. 2) It imagines Jesus at the mountaintop practically having a party up there with Elijah. He's dancing and laughing and calling out to be taken home. I'd want to stay, too.

I often want to stay. I want to stay in the place where faith is easy. I want to stay in the times when everything makes sense, when I remember how we're all connected, when I remember who Jesus is and how he loves me. I want to stay on the mountaintop dancing with God where I don't have to face the confrontation of God running into the rest of my life. I don't have to wrestle with the issue of my faith in Jesus whose convictions and very being gets into conflict with the establishment. I don't have to think about how faith fits in with the rest of my life, because the rest of my life wouldn't exist.

I want to build a little box for God to stay in so I can have the time of my life with God, and not have to worry about all the other places where it's not so easy to take God - - where it's might be dangerous to show my allegiance.

I think some churches are built to be God boxes. Not necessary the brick-and-mortar churches, but the people-churches. I mean, I think we sometimes organize ourselves to be communities that love God and worship God and think about God and pray to God all right here, for me, in order to help fix my life, enjoy God's grace, and keep me safe. When we keep God and ourselves up on the mountain it feels good. It can even be deceiving because it can feel like we're doing something VERY beneficial. We're building up knowledge; we're spending time with Jesus. We're being fed, and possibly even celebrating together. The God box is so tempting!

Other thoughts about the God box - - do we keep God in a box with sentimental attachments to ritual, traditions, holy things? I LOVE ritual and tradition, but can it, when used inappropriately keep God in a box instead of letting God lead us down a mountain into messier situations? Do rote prayers keep us from delving deeper in conversation with God? This idea came to me as I was starting to peruse the hymnal for Sunday. In the hymn "Let All Who Pray the Prayer Christ Taught" by Thomas Troeger the phrase "well-worn words" is used to describe the Lord's Prayer.

I don't know if this is where I'm going this week, but it sure seems to be stirring my thoughts and fingers! I really think I want to develop more how the church can be the God box, the place we try to build to contain Jesus for all the reasons that look good - - I love this image from John Aurelio. Dancing with Jesus seems like it supposed to be a good thing! It's just that our intentions aren't necessarily what God is planning for a faithful walk with Christ. A faithful walk probably means a challenging walk. Even if we aren't persecuted, the lives we want to construct are in danger because the plan God has for them is highly likely to be different from the safe secure plans we would choose for ourselves.

I'm having some development issues here in the end, but I haven't put together a real focused statement yet. I'll keep pondering tonight.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Context, context, context

So I'm new here in the Upper Midwest, but I've been a pretty longtime listener to Garrison Keillor, so I'm well aware that as a Presbyterian I'm in the minority. I learned so much more about what that REALLY means this week.

There was an article in the local weeky paper recently about my arrival to the church and town. It was a nice article complete with a picture of me next to the new stained glass windows.

Most of the teachers at my children's daycare center know that we're new to town, and many of them know I am a pastor. One of them helped me learn a little more about my context when she asked, "So what does it mean that you're Presbyterian? Is that just another kind of Lutheran?" Oh my. I didn't quite know what to say. I knew that she was Lutheran (she and my secretary are acquaintances from their son's hockey team, so for some reason I knew her faith tradition. Makes sense, right?), but I had no idea how to begin to answer the question. I know we have all 3 Lutheran traditions in town, but didn't know where she fit. I said we're sort of like Lutherans, but closest to ELCA. She said, "EL-what?"

"Yeah, we're sort of like Lutherans." No need to go any further. Discussing the finer points of theology over dirty diapers and bottle of breastmilk didn't seem worth the effort at that point.

Lovely lady. Lovely town. I just know where I stand! :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Friday Five on Sunday

I guess I'm a little slow. Actually, Friday is my day off, so I don't get to the computer much. Saturday was full with funeral work. Now the sermon is preached, the baby and toddler are napping, so this is the best thing to do with my time!

What book have you read in the last six months that has really stayed with you? Why?
It's going back in time a little bit, but I read The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy this summer and it has remained with me. I'm not talking about a major work of theology or intentionally theological fiction, but really raised a lot of questions for me about closed systems, and the nature of community, and group mentality, and truth telling among other things. It was very interesting and very disturbing in some ways, too.

What is one of your favorite childhood books?

I was totally a Little House geek and lover. I still love the series. It was a dream come true when God called me to Nebraska so close to all the good Laura sites. Now I've moved to the Big Woods of Wisconsin and am looking forward to my first Little House Days in Pepin, WI next September. Love love love it all!

Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? Do tell!

I'll claim Esther as my favorite - - good plot, good characters, good theology!

What is one book you could read again and again?

I don't know. I think the only books I have read and re-read (other than my kids' favorites) are the Little House books. I don't re-read much because there are always new ones to read for the first time.

Is there a book you would suggest for Lenten reading? What is it and why?

Not that I can think of offhand, but I'll pose again if I think of one!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I'm so new at this!

I just figured out that comments had been left at my earlier posts. I'll clue in here eventually. Thanks, ladies, for the welcome and the thoughts. I am loving this community already, and I know I will continue to spend a great deal of time here. I hope that's a good thing! :)

Two down, a lifetime to go!

The kids are in bed; my husband is home (finally, he just joined us in our move from a month ago yesterday). The sermon is preached. I got some visits in this afternoon. I have a plan for next Sunday, and a funeral on Saturday.

I feel like a pastor. It's amazing to me how different I feel in my call now that I am serving a congregation as a solo pastor, in contrast to my previous call as an associate pastor. I truly believe that associate ministry is called ministry. I was called to it, and I served in it. There came to be a time, though, that I felt called to something new, and that began this month. What is strange to me is how different I feel as a pastor now than I did 7 or 8 months ago when I was finishing up in my last church. I don't think it's how the people treat me or even my duties (or maybe it is), but this call or this ministry is pulling me into greater commitment and faithfulness than I have felt before. I want to be a better Christian because of my service with these people and in this place.

OK, I don't like that phrase "better Christian", but I don't know a better one to use. I have a desire to live more faithfully and more open to God and others in a way I haven't been before. I want my preaching to change my life. I want my prayer to be more sincere. I want my life to witness to Jesus' life. I've never felt more "me" than ever before, I guess. I know that I followed God's call to my last call just as I have followed God's call to this one. I guess it feels like they have built on one another, not like climbing a corporate ladder, but like I have gathered more wisdom and moved a place where that wisdom will be useful and I will be called on to use it in new ways. I am only in the place I am now and serving God in the way that I am because of the foundation my last call laid. I'm not standing on its shoulders as much as it is carrying me in the air.

Praise God for signs of Christ's presence and the Spirit's blessing. Praise God for the heavens that open and doves the alight!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Five

1. When is your birthday? Does anyone else (famous and/or in your own life) share it?
Mine is coming up shortly - Jan. 25. These questions inspired me to find if others share it. No one that I know of in my own life, but these "persons of note": Alicia Keys, Robert Burns, and Virginia Woolf.

2. Do you prefer a big party or an intimate celebration for the chosen few?
If someone else were planning and hosting a big party, I'd be just fine with it. However, I can live without the stress of planning and cleaning up! A chosen few is good with me.

3. Describe your most memorable birthday(s)--good, bad, or both.
When I was in the 5th grade my dad had a heart attack just a week or so before my birthday. That sort of nixed any thoughts about a party for me. I wasn't too excited about that, but it was what it was. I also only got an angel food cake for our family celebration since it was all he could eat in the dessert arena. That stunk, in my opinion. I never had a birthday party after that. I sort of grew awkward in my peer social group, so parties weren't really my thing. I was OK with that.

4. What is your favorite cake and ice cream? (Bonus points if you share the cake recipe). Or would you rather have a different treat altogether?
For ice cream I'd say Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip. Cake? I'm working my way through a FANTASTIC chocolate Bundt cake right now that a church member brought me when I moved here to the new call. I can't even describe this as anything, but the best cake I've ever eaten. It's awesome. I wish I could remember who brought it!

5. Surprise parties: love 'em or hate 'em?
Never had one, but I don't think I'd mind it. I don't always like be the total center of attention like that, but with the right vibe - - lots of good friends and some yummy wine flowing (responsibly!) - - I could definitely get into it!

Monday, January 7, 2008

A First Time for Everything

I guess I'm stepping into the 21st century. I'm not really that un-techie, but the blogging thing is new to me. I'm an avid journal-er with pen and paper, but sometimes that just moves too slow. I can't get the pen moving fast enough to capture my thoughts before they are gone. I will keep it up because it is my daily discipline, but I think this medium will be different for me and I'm looking forward to it.

I'm also beginning a new call in my life right now. I'm a pastor and just yesterday I spent my first Sunday leading worship in my new congregation. It's my second call in "professional" ministry, my first lasting 5 years. I was previously an associate pastor, but in this church I am flying solo. Well, I'm certainly not solo physically or spiritually. I do get to have a more holistic ministry, though, and for that I am thankful and joyful.

My first Sunday went pretty well. It might have been neat to start a whole new liturgical year with the congregation, coming in at Advent, but starting with Epiphany worked wonderfully. The congregation surprised me with an added musical piece that brought tears to my eyes. When I was here in the fall preaching for the congregation before the elected me as their pastor I actually sang in the middle of my sermon. I am NOT a singer! It's just that I was using as an illustration in my sermon the words of a particular African-American spiritual, "The Welcome Table". It just didn't seem right to simply read the words, so I sang the piece instead. I was so nervous, but my heart was warmed when, by the second verse, the congregation started to join in with me.

Well, this Sunday after the Gathering Music the organist/keyboardist/pianist moved to the piano from the keyboard, bringing two teen girls with her. They began to sing "The Welcome Table." Soon the words were posted and everyone joined in. It was awesome. This part of the body of Christ has been so welcoming of me and my family as we have moved here and joined in their life. It feels like a piece of the welcome table fior sure.

On to another, first...Since it was the first Sunday of the month, we celebrated the Lord's Supper, my first with this congregation, but not my first time presiding at the table. It was however the first time I have ever presided when we ran out of "shot glasses" of grape juice. I saw the servers scrambling at the back of the church and tried to tell them telepathically to run to the kitchen to fill more, but they just didn't hear my brainwaves. About 10 folks didn't get served. When the servers came forward I made some announcement about the blessing of numbers and promised that we would serve those who were missed immediately following the benediction. I don't know if it was the best thing to do, but it was the only thing I could come up with. They all politely declined after the service, but we did bring them their juice.

Well, I guess I should work to get a little more organized here in my office and start looking forward to next Sunday's worship. This weekly worship leadership piece is going to be a new discipline for me. I hope to find a rhythm and flow soon!