Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vacation check-in

It's later than I wish it were, but the kids would not go down tonight. I don't know what the story was. Even by our timezone it was a late night. I hate when they do that because it extends my night so much. I like to have at least a LITTLE time awake without kids each night, but when they don't fall asleep until 10:00 p.m. and I'm sharing a room with LadyPrincess that makes it hard to get my time without being wiped out the next day. Godzilla just has to be working on this second tooth. He is usually so mild mannered, and while he's been pretty good, parts of his days he has spent a BEAR. I drugged him for bed tonight so hopefully he'll sleep well.

It turns out there's a Cokesbury not even 5 miles from my mom's house. I went and spent at least an hour there during naptime today. I rocked my world. It wasn't a huge one or anything, but I was able to arm myself with a stack of Matthew commentaries to help me through my summer preaching plan. I'm taking the gospel lesson each week through the middle of August (except for one week), so it will be nice to have some back-up help on a few weeks that will be tough. I don't want to do the same-old, same-old with the parables in particular, so I needed some extra help with those newer ideas. I've got some initial thoughts, but my intense New Testament knowledge isn't up to speed in terms of literary forms and parable studies. Hopefully these commentaries will give me a little boost when I'm stuck.

Guess I should go. I'm guiltily thrilled to be sharing a room/bed with Karoline. She's getting to be a big girl (just turned 3) and our extended cuddle moments are slowly getting further and further between. It was nice last night to roll over in the night and have her so close. When she woke up this morning she snuggled in to me for a little while. I loved it! It helps that she hates covers. No worries about a covers-hog!!!!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ice Cream!

Karoline and I went for a girls' walk tonight. This candy/ice cream shop just 3 1/2 blocks from the new house is going to be DANGEROUS this summer. It was cool to just be able to pick up my wallet and take a walk with her. She's been out of diapers for a couple of months now which is part of it, but also the ability to walk longer distances is newer. It was cool. I enjoyed my 3 year old tonight! I loved the things we talked about - the flowers, the cars, the barking dogs, the things she did at "school" today, what we might do tomorrow. It was just cool. I was very nervous when she was born and I discovered I was now the mother of a daughter. My fears have not all be relieved or anything, but there are definitely glimpses of grace that tell me I may actually be able to raise a girl halfway decently. Tonight was a grace-filled night.

Friday Five - - Vacation thoughts!

Sally writes:
It is a holiday weekend here in the UK, and the weather forecast for much of the country is not good!!! But we can still dream and so with that in mind I bring you this Friday Five.

1. Getting ready for summer, do you use the gradual tanning moisturisers ( yes gentlemen you too can answer this!!!), or are you happy to show your winter skin to the world?
I just show the winter skin, but that might change this year. I'd love to find a fool-proof tanning product, but I haven't gone searching for any yet. I'm WHITE-WHITE!

2.Beach, mountains or chilling by the pool, what/where is your favourite getaway?
I'm growing into beach or pool chilling vacations, but I really like to DO things on vacation or explore places and people, so my favorite choice would really be a cool city option or visiting a country in the places where real people live, not just the tourist desinations.

3.Are you a summer lover or does the long break become wearing?
Break? When's the break? I like summer as a season, OK, but I REALLY LOVE fall!

4.Active holidays; hiking swimming sailing, or lazy days?
More active with some nice lazy meals!!! I can eat my way through vacation!

5.Now to the important subject of food, if you are abroad do you try the local cuisine, or do you prefer to play it safe?
We think alike. FOOD! I definitely like to try the local cuisine. No questions about it!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Festival Fun

I met a bunch of the RevGals tonight. I was SO fired up about this that I know I talked people's ears off. Sorry! It's not too much of a secret that I'm a little wordy. I don't have that kind of clergy/colleague/female support and friendship where I am right now so I was pretty excited to meet some of the ladies in person. It also helps me remember who's who a little better. I haven't been good at that.

I'm also hoping that this renewed energy for blogging will stick coming from the meet-up. I guess renewed energy isn't the right word, but permission is what I'm talking about. Permission to NOT right a 3 volume post every time. Little short snipets are OK. I like reading those from others, and I think I can do more short reflections and updates so that I don't feel like I'm way behind when I sit down to do deeper reflections.

The Festival is going well. It's my first time really thinking hard about preaching. I basically just got through my one intro class in seminary because I never thought I'd be a parish minister. Don't ever say that to God. Now I'm preaching full time and loving it, but wish I could go back and take preaching 101 again so I can hear what it is that they said. I'm feeling commissioned for the task again here at the Festival. I hope I'm absorbing as much as I'm enjoying it in the moment. I think I'll buy some of the CDs so I can remember them and revisit them later!

Missing the kiddos. It was like this a lot more when Karoline was an infant. In that call I worked almost every night so Phil was essentially the primary caregiver. I haven't had that as the case for about a year, and I forgot what it was like to just see her (and now her and William) just for 20 minutes in the morning - - some of the most stressful 20 minutes of the day.

I'll get them back next week, though, when I take them to Florida to see Mimi. 3 hours on a plane with 2 kids by myself. Fun fun fun!!!!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

God-confidence, God-esteem

My prayer written on Monday was within an hour of getting the news that S had died. S was a member of the PNC that called me here just a few months ago. A few days after I had moved in and two weeks before I started she was diagnosed with leukemia. It was Dec. 23. On the 26th she began chemotherapy. She spent the next 13 weeks in the hospital with complication after complication include at least one resuscitation after cardiac arrest. The good news was that she went directly into remission after the first round of chemo. The bad news was that she had so many complications it took quite a while to get her off of a ventilator and ready to go home.

She opted for agressive treatment including at least 2 more rounds of chemo even though she was in remission. The next couple of months were pretty good. She was able to come home with only a few stays in the hospital for her actually chemo treatments. She came to worship a few times after Easter - - the first times she was able to see me leading worship as the installed pastor. She was even able to go to her home in Florida for a couple of weeks.

A week and a half ago she came home after the third round of chemo and was doing very well. She was making appointments, setting up lunches (mine was supposed to be today), planning counseling sessions (she does pro bono family counseling in the community). It was MORE than a shock to get a phone call exactly a week later that she had died.

Apparently while her immune system was down two random, rarely seen bacteria got into her blood stream. She woke up Sunday with a sore arm. By noon her husband took her to the hospital. The infection was too agressive for any successful treatment. The bacteria were destroying her muscles and she died with 24 hours. Again, everyone is in shock.

So, now we're planning the funeral. Our sanctuary only seats 200, and some overflow seating in the narthex would hold 250, but folks tell me they're expecting even up to 500-600 people. Holy cow. We're going to hold it at the Catholic Church across the street. Thank goodness for an ecumenically minded Catholic Church! That would not have been the case in my last call. The diocese was WAY TOO conservative for that.

People keep asking me if I'm nervous, but for the most part I'm not. If there are 5 people or 500 people the gospel is still the same. S's family is going to put together some words about her to share during the service, which doesn't bother me, and I appreciate that they are arranging for their "spokesperson." I do get nervous a little bit when it is up to me to speak about the deceased when I have not known him or her intimately. I fear I'll say something completely off-base and just get in the way of the worship. This will be perfect.

S's family really gave me free-reign in planning this service, and that has been a joy! We talked a lot about the feel of the service and our goals of the service (worshiping God, comforting those who mourn, and sending all out renewed for service and discipleship like S lived in her life), but then they let me run with picking music, working with some suggested Scriptures and everything. They didn't pick any of the "moldy oldies", but put some thought into the things they wanted, and have given me something fun to work with that will truly honor God and S. It should be wonderful.

The size piece is interesting because there are some in our congregation who are worried about "embarrassing" (their word) S's husband with what we offer. We are a smaller congregation, and S's husband is a very BIG WIG in a multinational corporation, lobbyist in DC, and lots of other things. Some members of the church are worried that we can't offer something up to their standard.

That saddens me. I'm not saddened because I fear the same, but I am saddened that it's a concern of our members. We are a faithful congregation. We are small by some standards, but, shoot, we're larger than the average Presbyterian church. We don't offer the large, ornate, Gothic buildings that some have, but we are doing what God is calling us to do in this place, as we are. I am saddened that some in the congregation seem to lack the congregational self-confidence or confidence in God to trust that we are a worthy congregation no matter what our size or projected image is. We're good and faithful and imperfect and discerning disciples, and I for one I don't think anyone would look down on us, but even if they did I pray that our folks have the confidence to ignore that and keep looking to God for our worth and esteem.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Prayer

Dear God,

Please help me resist making this about me. Let this be all about you. Help me when I'm speechless to either say your words or stay speechless. Help me when I'm mourning to be true to you, true to my feelings, and true to my calling to minister to others. Help me to be agent and instrument of your peace. Help me to be your presence with others. Help me to hear your voice and follow your lead.

Holy Spirit, breathe on S's family, her friends, her co-workers, her brothers and sisters in Christ. Give us your power and your grace. Comfort us as we mourn her loss, celebrate her life, share her spirit, and live her faith. Dance with us as we remember the healing she brought to this church and to the families in this community. Laugh with us as we remember the love she shared with her family and and friends. Pray with us as we strive to be disciples as she was a disciple of Christ, reaching out to others, healing relationships, sharing her life and experiences and gifts wherever she heard the call.

Thank you, God, for the gift S was in my life even just for a few months. Thank you for the role she played on the PNC and in this congregation, preparing it for renewed ministry in this town. Thank you for all good gifts you gave to her that she unselfishly shared with this congregation that they have been able to find healing and wholeness and be ready for our ministry together. Thank you, God, for her smile, her dedication, her commitment, her laughter, her compassion, her perseverance, her mentoring, her selflessness, her inspiration. Thank you, God, for your servant, your friend, your daughter, S.

So many people are touched by this death. Lord Jesus, help us to turn to you as we wonder and question and struggle through the coming days. Help us not to hide from you in anger or dismay or bewilderment, but help us to turn to you in faith and in doubt. Help us to seek one another out when we need comfort. Help us to seek you most of all.

O Lord, hear my prayer. Amen.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Whole New World

I'm posting this now before I have to cut anymore of my favorite parts to fit within the service with communion and a lot of music. Many thanks to kathryn for the Abba Sayah story!

Luke 24:44-53
Acts 1:1-11

Thanks to my mother, sister, and nieces who live in Orlando, Lady Princess is much more into princesses than I had ever hoped right now. It’s not really the choice of toys or interests that I would choose, but I’m reluctantly willing to agree to the only princess movie we have occasionally for our Sunday night movie tradition. It’s Aladdin. This is one I actually have on VHS still. It came out when I was in high school, and I bought it then.

The obligatory hope-filled love song is duet in this movie called “A Whole New World”. Aladdin, the “street rat” turned faux prince, takes Princess Jasmine on a magic carpet ride showing her all the wonderful places he can take her, places she has never had a chance to see due to her over-protective father who keeps her locked away in safety behind the palace walls. In the reading from Acts I hear that same song being sung to us this day. “A Whole New World” the disciples then and now are offered as Jesus makes his way back to the Father. “A Whole NEW World” even when it isn’t what they are looking for.

The disciples have been on an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. Up and down, up and down they have traveled not only just over the last 47 days or so since Palm Sunday, but over the last 3 years or so since they were first called by Jesus. Follow me, he said, but watch out, I’m asking you to take up your cross. Through my power you can heal, but people will persecute you in my name. Into Jerusalem we will come with a parade, but once there I’ll be mocked, arrested, beaten, and put on a cross to die. Dead in a tomb for three days, but then you will see me resurrected with new life and a transformed figure. Up and down, up and down. Life following Jesus has been anything, but stable and predictable.

So, as the Scripture tells us, when they had come together, they asked him “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” I hear a great deal of frustration and a general sense of exhaustion in that question. After all that they had been through together, this was still the question on many of the apostles’ minds. It’s what they expected would happen when the Messiah came, and it still ahs not happened yet.

It’s not an unfaithful question or expectation really. It’s what they had been taught by their parents who had been taught by their parents who had been taught by their parents and on and on for generations. A successful and true Messiah would usher in a certain set of events, and at the culmination of those events would be a new old kingdom. One established by God, protected and blessed and prosperous in Yahweh’s name. “Lord, is THIS the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

It had been a LONG time since Israel was on top for any length of time. As a nation it has been conquered and reconquered more times than most people would like to remember, and more than many would bother counting. It has been GENERATIONS since the people of Israel could say that they have been free, and their kingdom has been established. But the memories of that time have not faded. Maybe they’ve even been enhanced, as memories of the glory days often are.

When the followers of Jesus truly began to believe that he was the Messiah, they thought for sure he was going to be able to bring this kingdom of Israel back to the top of the pile. That’s the story that had been told to them; that’s the story in which they placed their trust and their hope. When that didn’t take place right away it seems as if they gave Jesus the benefit of the doubt because he was, after all the Messiah, but now that they are moving through uncharted waters with the resurrected Son of God, you can almost hear the frustration and uncertainty in their voices. Jesus’ resurrection was a second chance to make the dream a reality after his embarrassing defeat on the cross, surely NOW he will take care of the business he came to do. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Now will we finally be free again and out from under the rule of others? Now will you bring what was promised to us? A place where we can thrive? A future that is glorious? A life that is peaceful and prosperous? Are we finally going to have a faithful man on the throne again? Is our temple worship going to be pure and undefiled like before? Will our children and youth come back to participate like they used to? Will we have all the volunteers we used to? Will we be known as your blessed people and take our place of honor among the nations? Lord, NOW will you restore us to the good old days? NOW will you help us return to what we once were? It doesn’t seem too much to ask, since it’s what the Messiah was supposed to do anyway.

Jesus’ answer is appropriately and characteristically vague. I can’t tell you, guys. What you ask for I can’t disclose. I don’t even really know if it’s going to happen like you’re expecting, and I think you’ve maybe missed the boat again. This resurrection, this new life, isn’t about going back to the old life. This resurrection, this new life, will be a whole new ball game. You’re going to get the power and support you need from the Holy Spirit to get the job done, and you’re going to get it done not just here in Israel, not just here in this kingdom you’ve been waiting for, but here in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth. This is going to be a whole new world.

The resurrection didn’t promise us restoration to the good old days. Jesus wasn’t given his body back in the same form he had the first time around. Remember, the disciples, his closest followers and friends, had a hard time recognizing him when he first appeared to them. We don’t know what, but there was something different yet something still the same. When he broke bread with them, they knew who he was, but when they simply saw him, there was something very different about him. The resurrection brought new life, and a whole new being to Jesus, and the resurrection brings a whole new reality to us, too.

The new life we face in the church and in our lives is not new life to do the old things. The new life we have been given by the grace of God as a congregation and individually members of it is not, new life to recreate our favorite times of the days gone by. The resurrection didn’t take place just so we could recreate the same program we thought was successful years ago, just so we could expect the same sort of mission we did in times past.

The resurrection didn’t happen just so that we could go back to our old way of living, of praying, of learning, of following God. It didn’t happen so that I could find the old path I walked, and walk the same direction I walked before. In fact, didn’t that old path take me to a place where I needed the grace and forgiveness of the resurrection? Jesus has made it possible for me, for us, to walk a new path; Jesus has brought us NEW LIFE, and it’s new life empowered and encouraged and emboldened by the Holy Spirit to witness to Christ’s love and new life in ways we haven’t even imagined yet.

I don’t think the apostles could have ever imagined what happened next. It’s like the crucifixion and the resurrection themselves. No matter how many times he warned them it would happen, Jesus’ ascension into heaven had to be a jaw-dropping experience. Taken up? On a cloud? Out of sight? Are you kidding me? Abba Sayah, one of the Desert Fathers, a group of early early Christian mystics says it happened this way:

As Jesus began to rise, air, John just couldn’t bear it. He reached up into the cloud and grabbed a hold of Jesus’ right leg, refusing to let go! To make matters worse when Mary saw his plan, she, too, jumped up, grabbing hold of Jesus’ other leg. His glorious exit ruined, Jesus looked up into heaven and called out, “Okay, Father…now what?”

A voice came out of the clouds, deep and loud like the rumbling of thunder in the distance. “Ascend!” the voice said.

So Jesus continued to rise through the air, dangling John and Mary behind him. Of course, the other disciples couldn’t bear to be left behind either, so they too jumped on board, and within moments there was this pyramid of people hanging in mid-air. Then, before anyone really knew what to do next, all kinds of people were appearing out of nowhere – friends and neighbors from around Galilee, people who’d heard Jesus’ stories, people whom he had healed. They, too, refused to be left behind, so they made a grab for the last pair of ankles they could see and hung on for dear life. Above all of this scuffling and scrambling the voice of God is calling out, “Ascend!”

But then suddenly, from the bottom of the pyramid, there came the piping voice of a small child.

“Wait!” he shrilled, “I've lost my dog! Wait for me.” But Jesus couldn’t wait. The little boy wasn't going to be left behind, and he was determined his dog was coming with him. So, still holding on with one hand, he grabbed hold of a tree with the other, and held on with all his might. For a moment, the whole pyramid stopped dead in the air, but Jesus couldn't stop. The ascension had begun, and God was pulling him back up to heaven.

It looked as if the tree would uproot itself, but then the tree held on, and it started to pull the ground up with it. Sort of like when you pull a napkin up from the middle, the soil itself started moving up into the sky. And hundreds of miles away, where the soil met the oceans, the oceans held on. And where the oceans met the shores, the shores held on. All of it held on, like there was no tomorrow. Jesus ascended to heaven. He went back to living permanently in the presence of God’s endless love and care and wholeness and laughter. But as Abba Sayah tells it, he pulled all of creation –everything that ever was or is or ever will be – he pulled it all up into heaven with him.

The resurrection first didn’t simply revive a dead way of doing things. It changed how EVERYTHING is done. The ascension didn’t take Jesus out of the world, as much as it pulled the world up into the presence of the Triune God. We are, essentially, living in a whole new world. In the resurrection of Jesus we have been given new and redeemed life. The old has passed away and the new is in its place. As new creations in Christ we have new and blessed calls to be his witnesses in a new and hungry world.

Be lifted into the presence of God. Be lifted by Christ’s power, by his calling, and by his Spirit. Be resurrected with him, and not simply restored, that together we may be his witnesses in new, imaginative, and inspired ways.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday Five

Sally write: Prayer is a joy to some of us, and a chore to others, waiting likewise can be filled with anticipation or anxiety....

So how do you wait and pray?

1. How do you pray best, alone or with others?
Alone. With others I end up listening not praying if that makes sense. I don't keep a prayerful attitude or focus with others.

2. Do you enjoy the discipline of waiting, is it a time of anticipation or anxiety?
Time of anticipation for sure. I was the WORST engaged woman ever. Once we knew we were getting married I saw NO POINT to waiting around to get the married life going - - not even in THAT way, I mean. I had the same problem being pregnant. Once I got the positive tests I was ready for the babies. Nine months? Are you kidding?

3. Is there a time when you have waited upon God for a specific promise?
I don't know how to describe it very well, but I would say I was waiting all through high school for a new start that I felt was promised by God. I knew that if I was myself and didn't try to be something that I wasn't I would know the blessing of friendships, but that didn't happen in high school. I had to wait it out until I was in college to feel the new life I knew God wanted me to have.

4. Do you prefer stillness or action?
Action

5. If ( and this is slightly tongue in cheek) you were promised one gift spiritual or otherwise what would you choose to recieve?
I tried to be all deep and meaningful, but you know? I'd really just like to be able to sing beautifully. I can carry a tune and read music, but I wouldn't say it sounds beautiful. That would be nice.