Monday, November 7, 2011

This is the church

To you it looks like a cute (albeit short) baby covered in lasagna (or at least, I hope that's what it looks like). To me it looks like the church.

Margaret's still in a cast. I posted the picture a few days ago of her in the bed at the hospital right after the cast was put on. It looked a little more pitiful than she has been acting. She's actually been awesome! She scoots; she crawls. She rolls all over flipping those big purple legs anywhere she wants. It's no big deal to her at all.

It's been more of an adjustment for us, as these things go, I guess. She can't sit at the table right since she doesn't fit in her usual booster seat (which is why she looks so short). She has to have diaper changes throughout the night took avoid leaks. In the long run it's just a bunch of little things here and there that inconvenience, but no major life-altering difficulties.

In the immediate aftermath of everything, several friends, family, and many church members all wanted to help. We weren't sure what we would need, so as we do in the church food started rolling in. A meal registry was set up on-line (VERY useful), and people started signing up to bring us dinner every other day for two weeks. It was a huge help especially that first week when we were figuring out how to even just do daily tasks with this baby who was 50% heavier than she was the week before, still in some pain, and wanted a lot of cuddling. A little over a week into it we found our groove and likely could have gotten meals together, but people were still signed up. The question came, do we keep accepting meals or do we say "thanks but no thanks"? We kind of like cooking. We had some meals planned before this all happened and hadn't yet used those groceries. We worried that our family inconvenience was a burden to others.

In the end we kept the meals coming. It seems like helping us out was something people WANTED to do. Bringing food is what we do for each other to show our support, our love, our concern. Feeding each other is what the church does, and while we COULD have made do without the meals (we would have figured something out), it was also a blessing to just be fed for a little while. When other things in our lives were a little harder than usual, a little more stressful, a little more difficult, it was just a blessing to be lifted up and carried in that one little way for a while.

The lasagna lasted a while. In fact, it still lasts in our fridge on day 4 or so. It ROCKS! In another day or two, though my husband will be back to cooking those meals we had planned a few weeks ago. At that point it will be this picture that I have to remember this experience of the church -- The Church of the Holy Lasagna -- that fed us, that carried us, that blesses us with her generosity.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Show and Tell

Mark 10:13-16
Psalm 78:1-7

Despite the morning scramble it sometimes produces, "Show and Tell" is a favorite day at our house. For William it comes every other week, and for Karoline every Tuesday, so you'd think we would have gotten the schedule down by now, but anyway. We don't.

But even with the extra time spent in the morning running around the house trying to find just the right thing to bring to school to show their friends and tell good stories about, Show and Tell is a favorite for my kids. Like Mark in that picture, both Karoline and William got the chance to tell their daycare classes about the day Margaret was born, and show her picture even before they got to meet her. We haven't been brave enough to send a real pet to school like Eric, but pictures of Sophie and even our cat that died years before either child had a good memory of him, has slipped into a turn or two. Show and tell, at least for our children, is more than just a time to talk in front of the class and share your "stuff." It is an important place where they make sense of their lives. It know it sounds like I'm inflating this little classroom activity, but I think it’s true. It's where they get to choose what is important to them and stand up in front of their teachers and peers and declare it. They get to tell their stories, share what they know, remember what they have experienced, and in the telling, in a way, experience it all over again.

The disciples were less than excited about the “Show and Tell” that was taking place around Jesus in the gospel of Mark. People were bringing their children to Jesus to receive his touch, probably for the healing or exorcism that Jesus had been demonstrating, but the disciples wanted none of it. It wouldn’t have been abnormal at the time. Thoughts and feelings about children were much less positive and sentimental at the time than they are now. Children weren’t even better seen than heard; children were better fetching water, watching animals, or working in fields than anywhere else. Children were a commodity more than a blessing, so their presence around Jesus, in the minds of the disciples and many others would have been superfluous, unnecessary, a distraction from the real ministry that needed to be done.

But Jesus had a little bit of show and tell to do himself. “Let them come,” he said. Against all common wisdom, against all accepted understandings, he welcomed the children to him. In fact, he was indignant that they come. He was insistent that his welcome be for all people, young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile, sinner and saint, wise and ignorant, rich and poor, free and imprisoned. He was adamant that the boundaries the rest of society insisted upon had no authority in his faith, in his family, among the people of God. “Let the children come to me; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

“Let them come,” our sacrament of baptism says. Let them come whether they know about God’s love or not. Let them come when they can’t yet choose for themselves. Let the children come and be washed in God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s love - - the grace and mercy and love God has showered upon them from the first moment of their existence. Let them come to these waters that remind us of so many other waters that have come before. Let them come to the waters of creation, the waters God tamed bringing order out of chaos. Let them come to the waters of the exodus, the water that God parted in order to bring the children of Israel out of slavery to freedom. Let them come to the waters of justice that roll down like a mighty stream washing away inequality with compassion. Let them come to the water where Jesus was baptized, commissioning him for his ministry and us for ours. Let them come to the water, the river the flows through the city of heaven, bringing life and nourishment to all who dwell there. Let them come to this water that welcomes them into our family of faith, that joins them to Christ and his body on earth, the Church. Let them come.

Let them come, let ALL of God’s children come to table of our Lord. Let us come to this table where our host is also the one who nourishes us. Let us hear and respond to Jesus’ invitation to feast with him here and in glory with a resounding, “Yes!” Let us come to the table remembering the manna that came from heaven, feeding and strengthening the Israelites days by day as they wandered in weary times. Let us come to the table that Esther set before her husband the king where she could speak truth and work for compassion before one in power. Let us come to the table where Jesus eats with sinners. Let us come to the heavenly banquet table God is preparing for us even now where we will feast with all the saints someday.

Don’t you see? These sacraments, these special celebrations and remembrances, these are our show and tell. These are the way we remind one another, the way we tell the children and the generations yet to come, the way we demonstrate to the world who we are, what is important to us, what we believe. We believe in God who welcomes all from the youngest and weakest, to the oldest and strongest. We believe in Jesus who knows our faults and sits with us anyway, who by his acceptance forgives our wrongs. We believe in the Spirit who joins us together with one another and with all people who have shown and told their faith through these sacraments before us, and even those who will come after us. These sacraments that are open not to those who know enough or believe enough or who understand enough, but these sacraments that are open to ALL who have even a mustard seed of faith, these are our show and tell when we utter the things we have heard and known, when we display the glorious deeds of the LORD, when we remember what we have experienced of God’s grace and love. In our telling today and every time we share them, may we experience that grace all over again.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Preaching Blah Blah Blah Blah

Some thoughts on preaching without a manuscript that were apparently helpful to others:

I have been mostly off manuscript for the last few months for first time in almost 9 years of preaching. I had been thinking about trying it for a while and then took a week long half day seminar about it when I got to try a mini sermon. I've done it for most sermons. I wanted to be very precise with my words on 9/11 so I didn't do it then. I haven't been doing it for funerals, and there was one other week that I accidentally produced a manuscript.

Things I have learned:
1. It doesn't necessarily take less time to prepare, but different time.
2. I am consciously thinking about my sermon even more throughout the week.
3. I have to do all my prep work and organizational planning with paper and pen or pencil or I will end up typing a manuscript whether I want it or not.
4. Structure is everything. I've been going without notes or anything much of the time and it requires a simple, easy to remember structure that makes sense to me.
5. Know your transitions.
6. The stuff you forget to say ususally didn't need to be said anyway.
7. Writing out your last sentence doesn't hurt. I find that winding it up is the hardest part.
8. (I think this one goes for manuscript preaching, too) - One point is enough for on sermon. If you've got more, save it for the time through the cycle or turn it into a sermon series.

Just my quick thoughts. I have loved the change to my preparation flow, but I do miss having words that feel like they are very carefully placed. I'm also still bothered that I don't have a consistent way of archiving what I'm preaching. I have scanned my notes and saved them all in a folder on the computer. Someday we'll start posting video of most of them and that would help.

All in all I think it has been a good move for me. I'd like to get some honest feedback from the folks who have not raved about it. I wonder if they hate it or just don't have anything to say, but some people REALLY like it. Last week was the first time I did the whole thing out away from the pulpit itself.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Service Stations: A Non-committal

I just got back from the interment for a funeral I did this morning. Sort of. I mean, I did just get back, but the interment was "sort of." The dear saint of God who died is to be buried with her husband who died about 10-15 years ago. I don't know for sure off hand. He is buried in Ft. Snelling National Cemetery. We have had a couple of church members buried there, but for various reasons I have never gone to one of these before. Also, my own grandmother is buried not at Ft. Snelling, but at Arlington National Cemetery with her husband, but I wasn't present for that one either. I don't know if what I experienced is normal for national cemeteries or not. Maybe there are others who can enlighten me.

Put bluntly - - it was just weird to me. I love our national cemeteries (or at least the two I have seen), the uniformity, the artistic quality of being in them, just floors me. I sit in awe. Today while we waited for the cemetery personnel to come pick up our procession and take us to the service site out my window were the back sides of gravestones where wives and children who are buried with their husbands are listed. Two rows in a row there were infants of different families, a son, Tim, in one, a daughter, Stace, in the other, both born at died in 1958, who were buried with their fathers. A couple of rows over from that I could see one stone whose back was engraved only "Baby Girl Smith." She didn't even have a name and that broke my heart.

Anyway, and I digress completely, the thing that struck me today was how incomplete the committal felt - - forgive my pun, but how non-committal it felt. At Ft. Snelling at least, the place where you gather for the "graveside" service isn't actually at the graveside. There several different stations set up around the cemetery with a bench and a vault-sized indention in the concrete. You don't walk across the grass to get to the place where your loved one will be buried. You pull up to a concrete "service station." When we pulled up there was one open cement vault, the lid of it marked with our saints name. There was another vault with the lid on it. I couldn't see if there was a tag on it. At the time I figured it was the saint's husband, but I think now it was an empty vault for the next burial.

In front of the vault was the usual stand with a green skirt around it that I'm used to seeing a burial site, the stand that is placed over the open hole in the ground that the casket sits on top of during the committal. Only the thing is, there was no hole underneath it. There was only sidewalk there. It was just for show. The casketbearers carried the casket out of the hearse, put it on the stand, and then it was my turn to start.

I had my book with me, and started to go through my liturgy, but when it came time for the committal I didn't know what to do. It felt weird. We weren't committing her body to the ground, at least not right then and definitely not right there. It seemed strange to say those words "We commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" someday (I wanted to add). I just went right on through with the printed words because I couldn't think of something fast enough and appropriate enough to say instead, but it just felt weird.

When it was all over we had that usual awkwardness of being done, but not wanting to leave. We all stood around for a little bit, but the usual wandering through the gravestones to remember dad or mom or talk about who is over here and who is over there didn't happen. Of course, some of that is directly related to the fact that it's a national cemetery, not a neighborhood or family one, but still. It just felt incomplete, and I haven't ever even been to a graveside where you stay to watch the body being lowered in any recent years. Still it felt not yet done.

I haven't read Tom Long's whole book on contemporary Christian funerals, but I've read a few of his articles about the subject here and there. My slight understanding of his argument is that it feels like we have removed ourselves from the earthiness of death, it's reality. I read somewhere his advocacy for accompanying bodies through their cremation which in a (hopefully not strange) way appealed to me. This process at the national cemetery felt like the exact opposite of that.

After we stood around awkwardly for a few minutes (although, in self-reflection, it may have just been awkward for me), the funeral director sort of herded people back to their cars. He could see another funeral party lined up at the appointed intersection waiting for our service station. I got back into the car in which I came feeling unsettled with ministry still unfinished.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Best idea ever!

I have never heard of this before, but I just had to share. First a long story made really short. Margaret, now 17 months old, broke her femur about two weeks ago while going down the slide with her older sister. It was a pretty dramatic afternoon and evening from when it happened until she found herself in a body cast, but all in all she's doing GREAT.

One amazing aspect of all of this has been experiencing the blessing of grace upon grace from our church family and beyond. We have not had to cook a meal in 2 weeks. Margaret has been showered with cards that make her smile. Lots of folks have offered to help in different ways.

Today I received the most adorable gift basket that I just had to share. It's called a "Sunshine Basket," and it came from the women at the Methodist Church in town. It's a gift they give to caregivers, and it's just awesome. I don't actually know what all the pieces are yet. There are maybe 7 or 8 little wrapped presents for me to open one at a time, day by day. I opened one today, and it was as simple as a tea towel, but I love it. What a wonderful, wonderful idea.

Feel free to steal. I'm fairly certain I will!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Last Meal

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
If you knew that whatever you ate next would be your last meal, what would you want it to be?

OK. I'll take it a step further. What if I had to pick only from grocery items that are currently in my house? YIKES?!?!

Let's see I'd definitely start with the pumpkin spice cake with maple syrup cream cheese frosting I made over the weekend. We have some salami. I'd definitely have some of that. We have country-style pork ribs in the freezer , so that is my main dish no-brainer. I'm fairly certain I could whip up a mean chocolate cake, too. I already mentioned a dessert, but since it's my last meal, I could have two pieces of cake. What would I have to lose?

I like fancy food, but I default to the things I just love. BBQ would be perfect.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaBloPoMo: To Write or Not to Write

So, I did a post a day back in May, and since my blog has been sadly slow for a couple of months now, I thought it was time to do it again. After the last one with the BROAD theme of "maybe" I figured this time I'd go with the daily prompts at NaBloPoMo. That worked out well since I learned that in the actual National Blog Posting Month (November) there isn't a general theme beyond blogging for blogging's sake. So here I go, giving it a try.

November 1 Prompt: What is your favorite part about writing?

That one is easy - - finishing. I do not like the process of writing. I don't like thinking up something to write about. I don't like getting started. I don't like getting stuck in the middle, taking too many breaks, getting distracted then frustrated then eating....

Whew. I don't like the process of writing at all, but I do like when I produce something good for all that work. The writing I do is usually for sermons, occasionally a well-thought out newsletter article, sometimes an important letter or communication. I'm sure my struggles are not unique to my writing and my audience, but in the process of writing I have all these competing worries about my purpose, my readers/hearers who support the idea, my readers/hearers who will be offended or disturbed, people who are on the fringe and may decide whether or not to become more involved based on this one communication, my own thoughts and beliefs and hang-ups, and then there's God. All of those considerations make the process quite taxing to me.

But, oh how I love it when it's done. I feel so complete. I feel accomplished. I feel productive and creative and satisfied. I fulfilled and used, in the best way, if there is a best way to feel used.

This is part of the reason I've gone to preaching without notes. The process of preparing sermons was really becoming a drag on me. I wasn't all the way to burn out or anything, but the late nights, the long writing, it was getting close to not much fun anymore. I needed a change.

I've gone mostly without written sermons since August, but still feel the urge to write down SOMETHING afterward. I haven't done it yet, but it's been bugging me. I've also found that I still need to write my sermons that need to be careful. I wrote the one for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 because I didn't want to misspeak my words. I'm still writing funeral sermons for the same reason, and I don't think I'll change that.

I think I might start writing posts on Sunday afternoon called "What I hope I preached." That would help me get the sermon idea down somewhere more permanently, less formally, but still in some kind of written form. It will be the "finish" I'm still looking for.