Monday, June 30, 2008

Potentially Pissing off "Patriots"

The Fourth of July has snuck up on me. I don't know why that is since it's not like it's a holiday that moves around. I just don't like things that fall in the first week of the month because I don't flip my calendar in time to realize they are coming. So now the 4th is here and I'm not really prepared to deal with it in my new congregation.

One blessing I had being an associate in my last call was that I got to sort of sit in the shadows during annual "stirrings" around "patriotic" holidays and observances. I am one of those Christians that many would probably call unpatriotic, although I don't see it that way at all. That's usually how it goes, isn't it?

I am appreciative of the many freedoms I have simply because of where I have been born, but I do not think that releases my country or myself from any or all responsibility to think critically and deeply about our actions. I do not give blanket support or allegiance to the actions or positions of my government or its leaders simply because of who they are. And I am REALLY bothered by the mixing of Christianity and nationalistic thoughts and feelings. I don't think it does the church or the country any good to mix the two up.

So, when I received today a link to a website that plays the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" while showing pictures of flags and Jesus and the White House and the Bible with a request from a member to play this before or during worship on Sunday ("It is the 4th of July weekend you know?" she wrote) I knew I should have thought of my response before now. Ugh. She doesn't want a long drawn out theological answer about the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of allegiance. She wants me to say "God bless America" and show the video. She isn't going to see that I can be thankful for my freedom to worship and critical of my nation's abuses of power, and that in being and doing both of these I am patriotic.

So, now I need to craft an e-mail back to her that somehow says "Thanks, but no thanks." Somehow I need to say this isn't liturgically appropriate and is better left for another arena (if any arena at all). Somehow I need to say all of this without alienating a very faithful and committed woman who loves both her God and her country in a way that may be very different from the way I do, but from a place that is very pure in her heart.

It's a pastoral moment from which I can no longer hide. That, at the same time, frightens me and thrills me. I think, even in the struggle (and probably because of it), it thrills me more!

Very Late Friday Five (but I really wanted to play!)

Songbird writes:

Back in the day, before I went to seminary, I worked in the Children's Room at the Public Library, and every year we geared up for Summer Reading. Children would come in and record the books read over the summer, and the season included numerous special and celebratory events. As a lifelong book lover and enthusiastic summer reader, I find I still accumulate a pile of books for the summer.

This week, then, a Summer Reading Friday Five.

1) Do you think of summer as a particularly good season for reading? Why or why not?
I did more before kids. Summer tended to be slower so there was more time for reading. TV, which is often too big of temptation and enjoyment for me, is in re-runs so evenings are free-er. That said a good book, curled up with a warm quilt on a cold winter night is divine also.

2) Have you ever fallen asleep reading on the beach?
Every time I read on the beach I fall asleep. I don't know how not to. The sound of the waves, the need for sunglasses, the book. It's a recipe for a nap in my opinion.

3) Can you recall a favorite childhood book read in the summertime?
I don't think I can pick a summertime read over any other time reads from my childhood. I read like CRAZY as a kid - - literally 8-10 books at a time on my nightstand, and they were usually all read within a week. In 2nd or 3rd grade I was really into the Secret Seven, a kids' mystery/detective-type series by British author Enid Blyton. They must have been summer reads because I got them at the public library and that was the only time we went to the public library since our school library was FANTASTIC.

4) Do you have a favorite genre for light or relaxing reading?
A guilty pleasure are the QUICK James Patterson "Alex Cross" mysteries. Gosh I haven't read one in YEARS, but they are fun. I really tend to be drawn to family sagas or dramas - the Anita Shreve or Jodi Piccoult books or (in earlier years) Maeve Binchy or Rosamund Pilcher.

5) What is the next book on your reading list?
Hmmm - - our church book group is discussing A Prayer for Owen Meany in September. I guess I better re-read that. I can't remember if I ever finished it the first time through, but it's been so long. That aside, since it's kind of for work, the next book I'd like to get off the shelf and actually read is one I've started a little bit called The Birth House. It's been good, but I need to just turn off the TV and go for it one of these nights.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Radical Reception

Matthew 10:40-42.

In the summer of 1997, I was blessed to participate in a short-term mission program that regrettably no longer exists in our denomination. The summer after my sophomore year of college I traveled to Ghana, West Africa for 3 months as a Global Intern of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Before I left the States I participated in a mission orientation session in Louisville with the other young adults traveling around the world that summer. In our time together we talked about mission in general, international travel and safety, and our specific assignments. Of all my colleagues, I got the LEAST amount of information about my work. Instead of being nervous about what that might mean, though, I just got more excited about what surprises were ahead of me.

However, even after I arrived in Ghana, and had been staying with a host family in Accra, the capital, for a few days, I was still unsure of what I would be doing. I knew my itinerary would take me out to the countryside for the next few months, supposedly to “work with youth”, but I had no idea what I would be doing when I got there. I began to become jealous of my colleagues who were working with street children in Zimbabwe, or in a geriatric hospital in Egypt, or on a communal farm in Italy. They all had jobs to do, and so far I was just a guest in someone’s home.

A week or so into my trip, after I had begun my first stay outside of Accra, I finally got the nerve to ask what I would be doing. I was supposed to be working with youth, and all I had done so far was sit as the guest of honor in nightly worship services held by various youth groups in the area. When would my real work begin? Almost as soon as the question was out of the mouth of my translator my hosts began to laugh. I thought for sure something I had said had been lost in translation. I was embarrassed for even speaking up. But I was ready to do something! I was ready to work! So far this trip had not been what I thought I was signing up for!

I wonder if that’s how the disciples felt as they were listening to Jesus’ commissioning sermon, now recorded for us in Matthew, chapter 10. We’ve heard most of it in worship over the last few weeks, and at risk of understating the issue, much of it has not been easy to swallow.

First this rag-tag bunch of disciples is called together from the most unlikely of places. We are told specifically about Matthew. Jesus reached out beyond any normal lines and barriers built by society to call this hated and sinful man to be his disciple. Jesus reached beyond the outer shell of sinfulness and into the core of Matthew, trusting that he, the Son of God, could make this one who was unworthy into just the disciple he needed. Jesus reached out radically, from the root of who he was to the root of who his disciples could be in order to gather them together.

Next the disciples are told they are supposed to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, all while proclaiming the good news. Excuse us? We’re fisherman, a tax collector, maybe a few family farmers. We’re supposed to be doing WHAT? And who’s going to show us how to do this? When does the training begin and how long do we have to learn the tricks of the trade? We are not really equipped for this sort of work.

But the disciples are called and they are supposed to respond radically, looking not inside themselves for the ability to do this, but to Jesus, whose life and love and spirit gives them the strength to carry out the task. They won’t find what they need in their own lives, but they will find everything for their journey in the root of Christ who calls them.

Next they find out they can’t bring anything with them – no gold or silver or copper, no bag, no extra clothes, no sandals, no staff for the walk. They are to depend totally on their hosts and hostesses to welcome them in their homes. All that would be well and good, except with these directions to be dependent on the kindness of strangers comes the warning that strangers won’t be kind. Shoot - Not only won’t the strangers be kind, but in following Jesus with such radical discipleship, discipleship that changes who they are at the very core of their lives, the disciples may very well even be rejected by their own families.

Well, doesn’t this job sound grand! Is THIS what we said, “Yes” to when we threw down our nets immediately and walked away from our livelihoods and families? Is this REALLY the mission you’ve set before us? I don’t know if I’m ready for this sort of radical risk, the men must be thinking. I don’t know if I’m willing to risk everything right down to the center of who I am and from where I come. I don’t think this is what I meant to sign up for!

But after all this difficult news, after all these challenges and warnings, it seems that Jesus’ commissioning sermon finally has some good news today. He ends things a bit on the bright side, but of course it’s the bright side with a challenge, a unique challenge.

First the bright side! After all the scary stuff the disciples have heard about how we will be received, Jesus slips in that somewhere along the way we will be welcomed. What WONDERFUL news to the disciples who had just heard about being sent like sheep into the midst of wolves, being sent into towns and villages where they will be handed over to councils and flogged in synagogues. Here tucked into the last few verses of their instructions Jesus sneaks them the news that, thankfully, someone along the way will welcome them for who they are, prophets bringing a word from God, righteous men following God with all that they are, even just little ones in need of some rest and cool refreshment. Some will be there to welcome them, to receive them radically, at the root of their need, from the core of their hearts.

Well, THANK GOD! SOMEONE will understand. Someone will get who I am and what I’m trying to do. Someone will appreciate me and my work and my message and my healing and by preaching and my RISK and my life. Well, THANK GOD! Someone will do the right thing and open their home and their life for me.

It can seem that the moral of this story is the practice of hospitality. It’s an important thread and teaching throughout all of our scriptures – think of Abraham and Sarah who are led to welcome three strangers into their tent, and in doing so they entertain angels. Jesus welcomes sinners to live, work, and move with him. The saints of God welcome Paul as he preaches throughout the known world on his various missionary treks. Hospitality is important, Jesus seems to be saying to his disciples, but this lesson comes with a little twist, that challenge I referred to earlier.

A long talk that night when I was in Ghana, made even longer by the necessity of translation, revealed to me the source of my hosts’ laughter and my confusion. Work by a guest was something my hosts couldn’t even imagine allowing. Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of Ghanaian society. Welcoming visitors and guests is an art form! A culture of pride in welcoming strangers and treating them with utmost respect and luxury was at work in how they received me.

The thought of allowing me, a guest in their home, in their church, in their country, to do work was absurd, even if I came as a missionary! My worship with the youth in the evenings, that was what I was going to be doing - - singing, dancing, and praying with the young people, and then receiving with grace the gifts they gave sacrificially at every single stop. My mission, it turned out, was one of hospitality. However, my job was not to provide that great gift, but to receive it.

Such is the job of the disciples. The job of the disciples is to be welcomed, but not to be welcomed because of anything they are themselves or anything they bring to the task or anything they deserve on their own. The disciples are called in order that others might welcome the one who has changed them at their core, the one who has called them, the one who has sent them, the one whose name they carry. They disciples are called and sent in order that the ones they meet, the ones they heal, the ones they clean may welcome not them, but welcome God who sent them.

You know, this whole chapter of Jesus commissioning his disciples, of giving them instructions for their journey is interesting to me. These men have little to no experience in what they are about to do. They are not healers. They are not preachers. They certainly are not holy men. And here Jesus is calling them and sending them out in his name to accomplish these tasks, and he gives them quite a few instructions. But if you really look at them, you see there’s something missing. He never tells them how to do their job! He doesn’t give them the insiders’ information on how to restore sight to the blind, how to raise the sick from their beds, how to cast out demons, or the words to say to proclaim God’s kingdom.

Instead when it comes down to it, Jesus tells them to get out of the way. Don’t worry about what you’re going to need to eat, to sleep, to wear. Get your needs out of the way. Don’t worry about how you’ll be treated or your own comfort; God cares for you even more than the sparrows that he watches. Don’t worry about how you are to speak or what you will say. At that time the Spirit will speak through you and give you the words you need.

Get out of the way. It isn’t you the people of Israel will be receiving. It isn’t you the people of Israel NEED. This isn’t about you, Jesus tells them. It’s about me. And when they can see who I am in who you have been become, when you have heard me and followed me and been changed by me, then in welcoming you, they will welcome me. Then you will have been my disciples.

This call, this task of discipleship before us, it is not about us. It is a radical call, one that calls us out of the very center of ourselves, so that we will be centered in Christ Jesus. It is a call to hand over to Jesus everything we have and everything we are so that it can be molded and shaped by the hands of God. The question then, for we who accept the call to radical discipleship is this - - Is our mission consistent with the mission of Jesus and the kingdom of God?

If it isn’t, then we’re missing the call. If it isn’t, how can others welcome God in welcoming us? If it isn’t, than what can we do to make sure it is? For it is only when the lives that we lead are covered with the fingerprints of God that are we truly Christ’s radical disciples, bearing his name and sharing his love. Amen.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Going in different directions

Sometimes I get a little nervous when I feel like I'm going in a completely different direction than others preaching the same text. I'm working with Matthew 10:40-42 this week and I see the welcome all over it. It's there a gazillion times, but it's just not the idea calling to me. I keep thinking about these quick 3 verses in light of the whole chapter - a chapter of instructions to the disciples, none of which have necessarily been easy to swallow. It seems to me have been all about doing GOD'S work while on the road, proclaiming God's kingdom, healing with God's power, even receiving God's rejection.

My mind is carrying this idea forward in vv. 40-42. What does it tell me about being a disciple-apostle? We finally get to a part of the commissioning speech that makes it sound like a job worth doing! In welcoming the disciples people welcome God. I THINK I want to go with the idea that the message we bring should not be our message, but God’s message which, in my theory, is good news (both the message itself and that fact that we're "off the hook"). It means the pressure is off me to figure out how to “save the world.” I’m just signing up to be the carrier of the message, not the creator of the message. Ultimately, I THINK I’ll talk about discipleship being the task letting God work through us.

This is the 4th and final week of "Radical Discipleship". My first three titles have been Radical Reach, Radical Response, and Radical Risk. This one, several weeks ago when I thought I was going with hospitality as a theme, was going to be Radical Reception. It still might be with the idea being - - What or who is being received when the disciple-apostles are sent out? Who is at the root of their being, their message, that is being welcomed?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Radical Risk: Like it or not

Matthew 10:24-29

The Presbyterian church I grew up in was one that had not really grasped what we in the Protestant tradition called the “Liturgical Renewal Movement.” In the US, at the end of the 20th century, while Catholic churches were embracing guitar masses and “lighter” liturgy, some of the less liturgical of us Christians began moving in the other direction. Even in Presbyterian churches you began to hear things like “The Lord be with you.” “And also with you.” Unheard of, I’m sure some of you remember, in the middle of the last century, thanks to the liturgical movment, these sorts of greetings and prayers are slightly more comfortable in EVEN Presbyterian churches today.

Like I said, though, the Florida church I grew up in had not experienced this movement. Of course, I didn’t even know what this movement was. So, when I got to college and began attending what you might call a “high church” I had the same initial reaction as many do, “This is so Catholic!” or maybe in this part of the country, “It sounds Lutheran!” As one who has always loved tradition, maybe sinfully, possibly to the point of idolatry at times (see I am Presbyterian), these greetings and responses and prayers struck a chord with me. I fell in love with the liturgical church.

In seminary, it became like our secret language, (and maybe that’s a critique of it all). It was a whole new way of greeting and relating to people in and out of worship.

Peace be with you. And also with you.
In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

One day in chapel the preacher for the morning read a particularly difficult text. She ended with the usual “This is the word of the Lord.” I don't remember what it was now, but I remember my reaction to the reading was a thought like, "Really? That one's in there? Does it have to be?" And so was born my own internal response to "This is the word of the Lord." Instead of the usual “Thanks be to God” I muttered "Like it or not."

This week's lesson from Matthew elicits that sort of response from me. This is the word of the Lord. Whether I like it or not! These are not easy words to read or digest, especially on a Sunday when we are celebrating two 50th wedding anniversaries among those worshiping with us today. I promise you, the irony of THIS gospel lesson being read on THIS Sunday was not lost on me in preparation. In fact, it was the source of quite a bit of stress and anxiety!

I am aware that these aren’t really the most INVITING words of Scripture. They aren’t “Love is patient; love is kind.” They aren’t “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them”. They aren’t even “a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.” The words here are much harsher, much more dramatic, much more shocking. “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” As I used to hear in my days in the south, “Them’s fightin’ words!”

At the very least they are words of warning - - words of disclosure to those who might be preparing to follow Jesus’ call into radical discipleship. If you come along with me, or (more accurately) if you go along with my plans for you, people just might not like you. What we're going to do together, it's not necessarily going to make you popular in the way you might hope to be. This isn't necessarily going to get your face on the cover of the Community section of the Star Observer, one where you're holding a certificate of commendation or receiving the keys to the city.

Your family might not include a detailed description of your exploits in the annual Christmas letter. People around town might not invite you to their fancy parties. You might not be able to stand in favor of the same issues you used to support. Your values will change. Your activities will change. Your priorities will change. If you do this, if you REALLY go where I tell you to go and HOW I tell you to go, your life will be changed.

This is the word of the Lord. Like it or not.

Whoa! Maybe that’s not what we thought we were getting into. I mean, it looked like something I could be a part of when I saw Jesus healing people. Isn’t that something we can all get behind? Jesus, we heard a couple of weeks ago, is the kind of guy who has compassion on people, on whole crowds of people. That’s the kind of person I was planning to follow. That’s a message and a ministry I think I can be a part of. I want to help heal people of diseases, raise people out of the depths of despair, cure them of illness of body, mind, and spirit. I know what it feels like to be touched by the Son of God in my life. I want other people to know that feeling, too. I’m ready to share that experience. What’s so controversial about that? What’s the big deal?

But it is a big deal, Jesus warns us. It’s good news we have to share. It’s an important and admirable cause, but it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because when you get down to the core of it, the message Jesus shares, the ministry he began, it can sometimes rub people the wrong way. This ministry of justice that Jesus proclaims doesn’t always line up with what we think of as fair, and we sure do like things to be fair.

But what does Jesus say about our idea of fairness? Pay all of the workers the same pay. It doesn’t matter if they showed up at 6:00 in the morning, at noon, or at 4:59 p.m. Pay them all the same. What should you do if someone strikes you? Do you hit them back? Is self defense an acceptable excuse? No, if someone hits you on one cheek, give them the other to hit again. What about forgiveness? Can I stop forgiving someone after they’ve wronged me more than once or twice? I mean, at some point in all of this forgiving am I turning into a door mat? Nope, Jesus says. Forgive others as many times as you have been forgiven by God. Forgive them 7 times 70 times; forgive them until you can’t remember how to do anything else except forgive.

This is the word of the Lord. Like it or not.

And a lot of people didn’t like it – they didn’t like it then, and they don’t like it now. Our families might not like it. Our friends might not like it either. The people we want to impress, the people whose favor we seek or think we need, they might not understand this calling to a new way of life.

In Jesus’ time it was practically guaranteed the family wasn’t going to like it. The family unit, the household, was more than just people who shared a last name and a dwelling place. The family was at the root of society in a way most of us can’t comprehend. The success and the LIFE of the entire family depended on the cooperation of all of its members.

Take the family of two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John. According to Mark, this was a fishing family. On the day Jesus called them to be disciples, James and John were mending nets with their father. Jesus walks by, calls them, and they immediately leave the work behind with their father, and pick up a new life with this itinerant preacher.

This had to have HUGE consequences in the family. The family’s well-being depended upon the fish that was caught. They needed it to feed themselves. They probably needed it to sell or trade in the market to bring other goods into the family. Dropping the family’s workforce by two would make a huge impact on the whole family. The life of the family, even though the children were grown and old enough to make their own decisions, depended on everyone in the household, and that included adult children and their families.

Jesus warns us that following him on this mission and in this life is a big deal and an even bigger risk. Everyone we know might not be on board with us. Even our families might not understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Truly answering Jesus’ call and going where we are sent in his name is a life-changing decision, and it isn’t always going to be easy, not on the road and not with the folks back home.

Being Jesus’ disciples, agreeing to cure the sick, cast our unclean spirits, and heal diseases isn’t as easy as simply accepting magical powers that will take away the aches and pains, the illnesses and cancers of our close friends and relatives. It means we have the power and the mandate to seek out those who have no close friends and relatives, to look for those who aren’t surrounded by love and support. We are called to walk with these people as much or more than the ones we know, and help THEM find comfort and wholeness.

This is the word of the Lord. Will we like it or not? Or maybe that’s not even an important question. Jesus doesn’t really ask us to like it. I think, in fact, he warns us that we probably won’t like it. There are going to be times when this discipleship is hard. There are going to be times, if we’re doing it correctly, that this discipleship is lonely. There are going to be times when we wonder if we’re really following the God of love, the God who protects, the God who welcomes us like a father welcomes the prodigal, the God who like a nursing mother will never forsake her child. There are going to be times when the risk will seem too great and the road too difficult to walk.

There are going to be times when the life we have organized so carefully is completely unrecognizable. We won’t be able to find it among the tasks we are called to and the ministry we are involved in. Life as we know it will be lost.
And this is exactly what Jesus is going for. “Those who find THEIR life will lose it, and those who LOSE their life for my sake will find it.” Discipleship isn’t about holding on to the things we build around ourselves. It isn’t about being so focused on ourselves or even our families that we can’t see the need in the world around. It isn’t about being so worried by what the neighbors or the town or the people at work might say, that we can’t step out in faith to reach out the way Jesus reached out. It isn’t about holding on so tightly to the life we’ve set up that we miss the opportunity for life in God’s light.

Discipleship is instead about knowing, about believing, about trusting that God who watches even the sparrows worth half a cent lavishes divine attention on us. Even when risking it all seems like we will lose it all, God, who knows how many hairs on each of our heads, is walking with us, and even before us.

Have no fear of them. Have no fear of those who may mock your choices, question your priorities, discard you from their circles. The risk is well worth taking. Do not fear those who will question your life, your faith, your radical discipleship. In Christ Jesus there is love for those who hated. There is welcome for those who are turned away. There is life for those who have lost it.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Word Association Friday Five

Singing Owl gave us this one!

This post is loosely based on previous "wordy" Friday Fives from Reverend Mother and Songbird. I liked the results, and so we are doing another word association . Theirs were based on words from a lectionary text. Mine comes from the Lovin' Spoonful song, "Summer in the City."

Think summer......are you there? Below you will find five words or phrases. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem, a memory, a recipe, or a story. You get the idea:

1. rooftop - pool diving board
Growing up in Florida most of the houses in our neighborhood had pools. My friend's parents were way cooler than mine, and they would let us climb a ladder to the roof to jump into their pool. I have now grown into my mother's sense of paranoia about injuries and am APPALLED I was allowed to do that! (It was SO FUN!)

2. gritty - Sand in the bathing suit. 'Nough said. For this reason I'm not a beach person.

3. hot town (yeah, I know, it's two words) - All I can come up with is my first few days in Ghana in the summer of 1997. Accra was the hottest city I had experienced without access to a real shower. It was pretty darn hot, without access to news media I don't know how hot, but hot is hot, right?

4. night - mosquitos (not very romantic, I know)

5. dance - Nothing much is coming. There was a dance at the camp I worked at one summer in college. It was a Presbyterian camp, and the counselors pretty much took over when the kids were sick of it. We got in trouble for putting on the song "Two Pina Coladas" by Garth Brooks. It was only a like two days until our only full week off, and we were ready for the break.

Funny little video of that song:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Like it or not

Growing up Presbyterian I was in a church that hadn't really grapsed the "liturgical renewal movement". I didn't know anything about the traditional responses to things like like "The Lord be with you" or "The Word of the Lord." The church I attended during college was "higher" church than my laid back Florida congregation so I learned some of these things in my second worship home.

In seminary, they became like our secret language, a whole new way of greating people in and out of worship, and, especially, in class. Professors gave "The Lord be with you" a whole new meaning, in my opinion. At the start of class it was repeated several times until the dull roar had quieted. If someone were asking me to translate this foreign language greeting, I would have had to tell them that "The Lord be with you" really meant "Shut up." It sort of annoyed me that this greeting, this sharing of the good news, really, was used in such a way.

I digress. I usually do.

One day in chapel the preacher for the morning read a particularly difficult text. I don't remember what it was now, but I remember my reaction to the reading was a thought like, "Really? That one's in there? Does it have to be?" And so was born my own internal response to "The word of the Lord." When "Thanks be to God" isn't what I want to say "Like it or not" is how I respond silently or even under my breath.

This week's Matthew lesson elicits that sort of response from me. This is the word of the Lord. Whether I like it or not! These are not easy words to read or digest. They aren't really the most INVITING words either. They are words of warning. If you come along with me, or, more accurately, if you go along with my plans for you, people just might not like you. What we're going to do together, it's not necessarily going to make you popular in the way you might hope to be. This isn't necessarily going to get your face on the cover of the "What's happening" section of the local paper, one where you're holding a certificate of commendation or receiving the keys to the city. Your family isn't going to include a detailed description of your exploits in the annual Christmas letter. People around town might not invite you to their fancy parties. You might not be able to stand in favor of the same issues you used to support. Your values will change. Your activities will change. Your priorities will change. If you do this, if you REALLY go where I tell you to go and HOW I tell you to, your life will be changed. This is the word of the Lord. Like it or not.

Being a disciple of Jesus is a risk. Truly answering his call and going where we are sent is a life-changing decision. It's not even the folks at the destination that pose the risk all of the time, it's the people who knew us before. It's our families, our friends, our co-workers, the people who see us around town, the people who have known or think they know who we are and what we're all about. Discipleship risks these relationships more than any others.

It's easy to make a fool of yourself in front of people you don't know, people you may never see again. It's easy to bare your soul when you don't think you'll have to face your audience another day. But making these kinds of changes and declarations in front of those who really know us and will always know us - - that is dangerous. Going out to follow the call of Christ (even if it doesn't take us farther than the end of the street) doesn't mean those relationships are going to be there in the same way when we get back.

OK. I've got to run. I've got more thoughts that may or may not be incorporated. More that I want to ponder, and I hope I do in blog format. For now, a short list to come back to when I come back.
- The disciple may not be above the teacher (which should be obvious), but in this relationship as Jesus describes it we're elevated above even being a pupil under the teacher. It seems more mutual - the disciple is like the master. Is this a statement about hierarchy or about similarity of message and reputation?
- The scandal of the cross? Taking up the cross? Easier (but not easy) to understand this in retrospect, but what did it mean to the disciples that day? I don't like just resolving questions with, "Well Matthew was written after the fact and put stuff in that maybe Jesus didn't say, blah blah blah" I don't think that preaches.
- The good news - The world may hate you, but God loves you. Is that really all we've got? I mean, it's a lot, but it's hard to hang my hat on that here and now, right when my family has been set against me. It's not really the best selling point if this were a sales pitch!
- The found life - I think this might be where the real good news is. What does a found life look like? What makes losing everything I know and I love and I'm comfortable with worth it? I think the answer to this is the reason the risk is worth taking.

Getting back on track

Funny - - when I started this blog in January I thought it would be more for posts like this, lectionary thoughts, initial sermon musings. I think I still want it to be, but it seems to be wandering in no particular direction lately. I think I'm still trying to find my "font". I think that's like trying to find your voice.

Today, after a not so great experience preaching on Sunday (the delivery was OK, and I thought the sermon, although written late, was pretty good, but I wasn't feeling it with the congregation in the preaching moment), I am really thinking I need to put more of my effort on earlier in the week. I will probably always still be a Saturday writer, but in my better weeks that writing actually happens very quickly because I have some much of the sermon already "composed" in my head and my heart. That habit has been drifting away, and I need to recover it. Today is my attempt to do that again.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

To Wean or Not to Wean. That is the question.

So I started a WAY off topic conversation on RevGals last night (early this morning) about my weaning with Godzilla. He turned one yesterday which is pretty much my plan for nursing. I don't know though. It's going OK, so why stop? I never thought I'd say that. This point was such a struggle with LadyPrincess; she wasn't interested anymore so for the most part she just weaned herself. It wasn't emotionally attached to the whole experience or anything, so when we were done, we were done. I didn't really realize I was emotionally attached to it this time until recent days. I can admit it now. I am! I love nursing my baby, and am not too motivated to stop. I know I don't need to, but it's just weird to go further than I planned partly because I have considered an emotional attachment to it on the mom's side sort of weird in the past. (Sorry if I offend, but I'm just being honest.) Now I'm in the middle of it myself. I guess I'm weird. (It's not the first time I've realized that.) With LadyPrincess nursing was about feeding her and not so much at ALL about bonding and all of that. It was such a difficult time geting started and pumping was no fun. Pumping is still no fun, but I think maybe since I stayed home with Godzilla for longer the emotional piece is here more.

Oi. I think we'll keep going when we're around together as long as my supply holds out. I'm definitely done pumping, but I can do comfort nursing and naps and bedtime. I have no idea how long this will last. Maybe all the stress is nothing and we'll be done within a week or so. Maybe not, though, maybe we'll gone on for a while. So bizarre for me. So bizarre! I never thought this would be me!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Service of Healing and Wholeness

Sort of as "Part 2" of my worship and preaching from this Sunday (Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26), I am conducting a Service of Healing and Wholeness at our Wednesday night service this week. I have our Presbyterian service from the Book of Common Worship, but's a little too "Presbyterian," i.e. stilted. I am certainly able to tweak it, and I'm working on it, but if anyone has anything they've done or suggestions of places to look I would LOVE to hear about it. The service is usually pretty small, maybe 20-30 people, intimate, uses projected image, individually shared prayer and lots of corporate or responsive readings. There's usually no one "leader", but individuals just take turns reading from the projected slide. There's no sermon, and really not even always even Scripture reading. It's definitely a prayer-based service. Song is appreciated; it's the place in our congregation where we really get to try out Taize or similar music in addition to traditional hymns.

My thoughts include having the bulk of the service as a time of personal prayer/contemplation during which there is music in the background and I will station myself somewhere in the space available for those who would like to receive anointing with oil. We also have a tradition of allowing people to come forward to light candles and offer their prayers or requests for prayers before the whole body. Those who want to light candles, but don't want to speak publically will be invited to do that during the time I'm offering the anointing and one-on-one prayer. The verbalized prayers will be at the end of the time so that people aren't speaking to the group will others are trying to pray on their own.

I guess I'm looking for any suggestions, thoughts, readings, music ideas, IMAGES, readings, websites for resources that any of you may have. I'm looking forward to this!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Mommy-Pastor: Children's Time Struggles

The mommy-pastor struggle was in full swing today. I left the house early so that I could have time at the church to get some post-worship meeting stuff together. I was feeling the loss of a day since Monday of last week I was still on vacation. I lost one day in my work week. My lovely EconMan didn't quite seem to get the point of that. I had been in my office at the church for MAYBE 20 minutes before I saw him walking across the parking lot with the kids a full 90 minutes before worship was starting. LadyPrincess LOVES coming to church so she can do "her work" in my office while I'm working. Very cute, but not so great when I really need to get something done in a pinch. I shut my door and he got the hint. They stayed out of my way while I got things done. Not a major crisis.

The bigger issue was the children's moment today. I only give these once a month, so maybe this isn't a huge deal, but it left me rattled and unsettled today. It wasn't the children's moment itself (although it wasn't my greatest by any stretch of the imagination), it was my daughter's presence. I'm not sure how she got there becuase today was EconMan's turn in the nursery. I think a well-meaning church member went and got her from the nursery just to come in for children's time. I didn't go well. She was ON STAGE, laughing horribly loud when things weren't that funny (or funny at all), answering questions by screaming, even trying to aim those screams at the microphone when she realized that's what was attached to my robe. She was climbing up my side trying to hang on my back. It was bad news. It frustrated me because I couldn't just stop to reprimand/tone her down. It was disruptive to everyone and became a show for others.

I don't have huge existential questions about how to be a pastor and a mom at the same time. I just have these annoying little details to work out. I want her to be able to come forward with the other kids, but I don't want her to be any more of a distraction than any other kid! I think I need another adult to be willing to come with her and help keep her there, but not the center of things. Her distraction really threw me off my game today and that sent me into the pulpit and sermon a little flustered. I know the congregation is OK with all of this; it's totally my thing/issue, not theirs, but it is an issue for me. I want to do my job and fulfill my call to the best of my ability. I also want to be a loving, attentive mom whose children get to participate fully in the life of the church. I don't want my call to stand in the way of their experience of church.

Hmmm....a work in progress.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friday Five on Saturday - Yes I'm procrastinating

Sally at RevGals writes:
This week I took some time out to stop and walk and take in the view; my son Chris is studying in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, too often we simply drive up there, turn around and come home! This time Tim and I took time out to take in the view. It occurs to me that we need to do that more in life....

With that in mind I offer you this weeks Friday Five:

1. How important is the "big picture" to you, do you need a glimpse of the possibilities or are you a details person?
I love starting with the big picture and I try to stick to it, but I can get easily caught up in fun details. I guess I'm thinking of the creative process and planning situations. Whether it's sermon preparation or creative worship or even a fun project with my daughter or around the house, I start working on the big picture, but then get side-tracked with a detail here or there that intrigues me. I don't know that I qualify as a details person though, because I don't take care of all the details. In fact, it's easy for me to miss quite a few of them. I'm just an easily distracted person, so I love one or two particular details, not necessarily all of them.

2. If the big picture is important to you how do you hold onto it in the nitty gritty details of life?
I just have to keep coming back to it. It's something I've probably "trained" myself to do through sermon writing and lesson planning. I have learned to set a particular focus or goal for what I am working on. I have to set that first and it's usually the step that takes me the longest. Then as I start to get distracted by my fun detail stuff, I have to ask myself, "Is this serving my focus or goal?" I mean, I have to do this when I'm cleaning the house or I'll get distracted looking at old pictures. It's a problem!

3. Name a book, poem, psalm, piece of music that transports to to another dimension ( one....what am I thinking....)
Music - - Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture. I've performed it a couple of times in orchestras and nothing else has ever done the same thing to me. Can't describe it.

4.Thinking of physical views, is there somewhere that inspires you, somewhere that you breathe more easily?
I never knew where "home" was for me until I moved to the Midwest. I grew up in Florida, college in Virginia, seminary in Georgia. I liked Virginia and Georgia OK, but I was never a fan of Florida. I took my first call in Nebraska and knew when I got there that I was home like I had never known before. It got even better when I went with my future husband to the farm where he grew up. They have this one gorgeous huge east facing picture window in the modest ranch style home on the property. The sofa-bed I slept on looks out this window and NOTHING makes me happier than to occupy that bed so I can see the sunrise over the cornfield and cow pastures. It rocks my world! I love my new home in the upper midwest now, too. All the rhythms of farming areas with hills and trees, too! It's awesome!

5. A picture opportunity... post one if you can ( or a link to one!)
I wish I had a picture of waking up looking out that window, but I don't even know that I've tried. I think a picture would ruin my memory. However, here is a picture my husband took at sunset once. I can't find the original right now to get it at a good size, so it's tiny. If I can find the big one on another computer, I'll swap it out. Similar effect!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Back at it

It was a good vacation, good time away, and I was REALLY away. I didn't get any phone calls. There were no fires to put out, no interruptions to my days. I read my e-mails because I was curious, but I didn't answer ANY. It was beautiful.

Now I'm back, but having a hard time getting motivated to work. I have a burial tomorrow for the woman whose funeral I presided over right before my vacation. Her family is beautiful and will share quite a bit. I will provide a prayerful framework. Tomorrow is supposed to be a yucky rainy day, but the rain may slow down enough in the afternoon to let us do this. The burial is in the woods on their own property. I don't think I'll wear heels. I'm sure I can just wear my mocs.

I think it will be a beautiful, but draining service. I know it's not all about me (or about me at all, in fact), but I can't help thinking about how I'll be ready to this to be wrapped up. The family is wonderfully emotive. They talk freely about their loss, their hope, their sadness, their memories. S's husband has surprised me with the freedom of his thoughts and sharing. It is great for them, and I'm glad they are able to do this. It can be heart-wrenching for me, though, and I'm ready for this to be wrapped up so I can miss S on my own and begin to move on in my own grief process. It won't be long or difficult, but I look forward to doing my own reflecting and remembering (even though it has been a short relationship) without the need to hold up well for the rest. I don't have huge issues showing emotions in front of a family, but I do feel the need to hold things to a respectful sadness and not make the mourning about me.