Friday, April 30, 2010

Off to Synod Assembly

Will I blog the Synod Assembly? Last year Thrivent had set up computers with Internet access that we could use for free. If that's the case, perhaps I'll post. Otherwise, I'll report back on Monday.

This year, I've packed the camera. Last year, I barely knew how to use the camera. Now I find myself wishing for a better camera. Mine is perfectly fine, except that I can't snap lots of pictures one after another. The camera needs about 30 seconds to reset itself. Usually, it's no big deal. But at the retreat at Lutheridge, I missed a few shots because of it.

I've packed good books to read, and a swimsuit, just in case I can steal some time to relax by a pool. I'll be buying some food to have in the room. There's not enough time to go off site for food (at least, based on last year), and the on site restaurants were either pricey or wretched (or both!).

Will we do any important legislative work? It's hard to imagine that we can do anything that would have more impact than the work we did last year. I'm willing to be happily surprised.

There will be some workshops, but I don't remember what I signed up for. I'm sure it will be useful somehow.

Off I go, first to spin class, then to a morning meeting at work, and then a drive to Orlando, and then, finally then, Synod Assembly. I'm trying not to be tired just thinking of it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Preparing for Synod Assembly

Tomorrow I head to Orlando for the Florida-Bahamas Synod Assembly. I'm not sure what to expect. Last year, I expected a quiet legislative docket, and we ended up voting on a variety of sexuality statements.

I remember that the worship services were phenomenal--no small feat for such a large group. I loved getting to know the ELW in different ways, even though my church doesn't use it as much as we could.

I liked the Bible study, even though I don't remember the particulars. I remember being pleased with the depth, which doesn't always happen. I'm an intellectual snob, so I can be hard to please in that regard. I don't need anyone to tell me what a passage says; I'm quite capable of literary interpretation (I have a Ph.D. in English to prove it). Please use your theological education to give me some background, some depth, that I wouldn't have otherwise. Hopefully, I'll be in luck this year. If not, I'll bring a book or two.

The Assembly is held at a resort, which bothers me when I consider the cost and better uses we might have for that money. But I plan to enjoy my time there anyway. I remember that the hotel food was pricey, so I'll stock up at a grocery store before I leave. But I might repeat one of my memorable meals of last year: 2 scoops of Haagen-Daz ice cream for lunch, enjoyed by the side of the pool. I was re-reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and not enjoying it as much as I expected to, always a risk when one returns to books that were influential in adolescence.

I don't know as many people as when I go to Lutheridge, so that's always a bit overwhelming. I don't yet have that experience of seeing old friends. My dad said, "Well, that's the way you get to have old friends in the Synod, by going to these events." Still, there are days when I shake my head in wonder that I have more Lutheran friends in the Carolinas, even though I moved away in 1998. Our Synod has never felt very cohesive to me, in the way that the South Carolina Synod does. We're too spread out in Florida. We're aliens, as Lutherans, particularly down here in South Florida. Aliens in a Catholic land. In fact, down here we probably have more Lutherans who started out life as Catholics than than we have life-long Lutherans.

I return home on Sunday, and one of my old Lutheran Student Movement buddies is flying in that evening. I'm looking forward to that. Ever since my LSM days, I've wondered why regular church can't be like that LSM experience of my college years. In terms of worship, Synod Assembly comes close. In terms of friends on the journey, not so much. Not yet.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 2, 2010:

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Psalm: Psalm 148

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Gospel: John 13:31-35

When I was a child, I wished that my family was part of a more rigorous religion. I wanted to go to Confession every week. I wanted to do more penance than just saying I was sorry. I thought it would be neat to be a kosher Jew, with lots of laws to keep. The Lutheran concept of grace didn't thrill me very much. It just seemed so easy.

In today's Gospel, we get our marching orders: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (verses 34-35). When I was a child, I would have rolled my eyes and asked for a harder assignment.

Now that I am older, I think that loving each other is plenty hard enough. As a grown up, I think that following dietary laws would be an easier command. I think of all the other things Jesus could have required of us, and some part of me wishes for one of those.

Why is it so hard to love each other? Why are we so unlike Thomas, so unable to thrust our hands into each other's wounds? We don't want to get involved. We don't know what to say. We don't know how to act. So, we take the easier route and lose ourselves in our busy routines. We get so frantic with our schedules that we don't have time for ourselves, much less each other, much less God.

But Jesus tells us firmly that we are to love each other. He doesn't tell us how, but he shows us. This Gospel lesson comes after the washing of the disciples' feet and a leisurely dinner.

If we don't know how to love each other, we might start by sharing meals together. We have to eat, no matter how fast-paced our lives. Why not take some time to slow down as we nourish ourselves? Why not take some time to nourish ourselves in other ways? By sharing meals, we open up the door to love.

We might engage in other behaviors that open our hearts to love. We might try not saying negative things about each other. It's so easy to gossip. It's so easy to make ourselves feel good by pointing out the faults of others. But why do that? Why not focus on the good of our fellow travelers with us on our journeys?

Refusing to bash others verbally could be our modern equivalent of foot washing. We could show our care not by lavishing attention on physical bodies, but by lavishing our attention on the good qualities of others.

We live in a culture that prefers to argue, to fight, to tear down. Focusing on the good qualities of others seems as intimate in our current climate as foot washing must have seemed in the time of Jesus.

Of course, to focus on those good qualities, we have to get to know each other well enough to know what those good qualities are. Back to the dinner table!

I've only focused on two ways of loving each other; the ways to love are infinite. Choose the one that calls to you and decide that this will be your ministry. Know that you will have to gently refocus your efforts time and time again, as you move along. Fortify your efforts by asking God to help you, so that you can glorify God, so that everyone will know the God you serve by the efforts you make to serve others.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

End Days of Confirmation

I have Confirmation on the brain for many reasons. Spring has come, which makes some of us think of Love, and some of us fear tornadoes, and some of us think of Confirmation.

In my own Confirmation process, Confirmation was the end destination. We were drilled on the Creeds and the Catechisms. We had one individual conference with the pastor that Saturday night before Confirmation, the thought being that if we had last-minute concerns, we could talk about them. I knew that my whole family had arrived for my Confirmation, so I certainly wasn't going to talk about my doubts then.

What a shame that it couldn't have been different. If I was in charge, I'd use the end days of Confirmation as a good teaching moment for the Confirmands, as we're expecting them to enter into full adult membership. How are these decisions about worship made? How do we balance the feelings of all of our parishioners? How do we decide what's best? What are Council issues and what are issues that don't need Council consideration?

This discussion could blossom into a discussion about our mission in terms of worship and in terms of other ministries, and then I'd hope that we'd encourage the Confirmands to choose an area of mission that calls to them.

We know that many people finish Confirmation and don't come to church regularly again until they have children of their own, if indeed they come back then. Maybe approaching the end of Confirmation differently could change this statistic.

Our church has moved to reserving 2 Council seats for people under the age of 21. That's a great start. But it might not be enough.

We're confirming our youth on Pentecost, a time for new visions spoken in a new language. I'd love for the Church to move towards encouraging our youth to dream those visions and to feel encouraged to articulate them. Youth are often less impeded by knowledge of church as it has always been. Youth are often more likely to have a church-that-could-be vision. How can we harness that energy more fully?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tempests, Teapots

I've been having conversations with people about Confirmation and worship service. I don't have any children who are getting confirmed, so I don't have a dog in this fight. I must confess to being surprised by how much energy people have on this subject. I always assumed that since the congregation promises to support the Confirmands in this new part of their journey that we'd have the rite of Confirmation during the service where more people attended, as opposed to the service where the Confirmand attends most regularly. Not everyone sees it this way.

In fact, I'd have assumed that the parents of Confirmands might be offended if the rite of Confirmation was done at the less well attended service. Well, I'd have assumed that, if I had thought about it much.

I'm still fairly new to my church, so I assume that there are traditions, and I don't give much time/thought/consideration to some of these issues. I'm also Church Council President, so I hear from unhappy people. It's a very strange position in which to find myself.

I'm reminded of some of my work encounters this week, where various people have gotten really worked up over issues that surprised me. For example, I had one student come to my office in tears, so upset that she could barely speak because of a grade on her first paper.

It was a B+.

I tried to assure her that a B+ on a first paper was actually quite good, and that she'd be fine. Even though she eventually calmed down, I'm not sure that I convinced her.

I've been reading Bill McKibben's new book, Eaarth, about the climate and how the planetary changes we've wrought are not reversible, and that experience provides an additional disconnect. I have spent several days wanting to scream, "Excuse me. EXCUSE ME. You're upset about this, and meanwhile we've altered the planet into this hostile place we've never experienced before. You can't be serious."

And, to keep myself humble, I force myself to think about all of my own personal tempests in teapots. I know that I spend lots of time worked up over things that really won't matter in the long run. And they probably don't matter in the short run.

Why can't I remember this when I'm in full lather? Why can't I talk myself away from the precipace of rage and worry and fear before I get fully worked up?

There are many answers of course. I see it as a psychological issue, but maybe it's also a more deeply spiritual issue too.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Important Quotes from "After the Baby Boomers"

Quotes from After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion by Robert Wuthnow (Princeton: Princeton UP: 2007)

“It is important to note, though, that even among young adults the ones who have actually earned a college or graduate degree are still in a small minority. Only about a quarter have done so. This is an important fact to remember. Because research about young adults is often based on studies of college students—and produced by faculty in academic settings for readers with advanced education—it is easy to forget that the experiences and opportunities open to college graduates are not part of the typical young adult’s life world.” (page 37).

“The reality is that even for young adults—the busiest, best educated, and most cosmopolitan segment of our society—religion is potentially important. It engages as many as a quarter of them quite extensively in their congregations, and another half of the young adult population is at least somewhat inclined to participate in religion. For good or ill, that is the reality. The role of scholarship is to understand how this involvement in religion fits into our society—and thereby to encourage reflection about what its future should be.” (page 231).

“Finally, I want to reiterate what I said earlier about young adulthood lacking the institutional support it needs and deserves. We cannot hope to be a strong society if we invest resources in young people until they are eighteen or twenty and then turn them out to find their way entirely on their own.” (page 232)

“To repeat my central argument: We provide day care centers, schools, welfare programs, family counseling, colleges, job training programs, and even detention centers as a kind of institutional surround-sound until young adults reach age 21, and then we provide nothing. Schooling stops for the vast majority, parents provide some financial assistance and babysitting but largely keep their distance, and even the best congregation-based youth groups or campus ministries no longer apply. Yet nearly all the major decisions a person has to make about marriage, child rearing, and work happen after these support systems have ceased to function. This is not a good way to run a society.” (page 216).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

After the Baby Boomers

I've always been interested in generational politics. I was born in 1965, the first year of a declining birth rate. I've always been aware of the Baby Boomers who always seemed to be there, clogging up the works, hogging the good jobs, making ludicrous claims of one sort or another. Do I sound resentful? You should have heard me twenty years ago. Now, I'm more or less resigned.

I am still intrigued, however, by how the different generations affect each other and social institutions. For several years now, I've had Robert Wuthnow's After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion (Princeton: Princeton UP: 2007) on my reading list.

The man does some impressive research, but his findings about the post-Boomer generation didn't seem new to me. What was new was his analysis of how church participation differentiates members within the population group and within larger society. Again, his analysis didn't startle me or shock me; it made sense to me, in fact. But he's got the numbers to back up claims that if I made them, would be simply anecdotal.

He concludes by saying that if he was a pastor of a Mainline church, even an Evangelical church, he'd be very worried by the findings in his book. The future does not bode well for the institutional Church, although individual churches may thrive. Boomers and the generations following them do not have the institutional loyalty that earlier generations have.

What can be done? Wuthnow points out that many churches have social ministries and outreach programs for children and teenagers, and by extension, their families, but nothing for young, unmarried adults. Many churches have social ministries and outreach programs for the elderly, but nothing for young adults just starting out on their life journeys.

Wuthnow says that if he was remaking the institution of the Church, he'd have much more focus on twenty-somethings, who don't have much in the way of societal support: “To repeat my central argument: We provide day care centers, schools, welfare programs, family counseling, colleges, job training programs, and even detention centers as a kind of institutional surround-sound until young adults reach age 21, and then we provide nothing. Schooling stops for the vast majority, parents provide some financial assistance and babysitting but largely keep their distance, and even the best congregation-based youth groups or campus ministries no longer apply. Yet nearly all the major decisions a person has to make about marriage, child rearing, and work happen after these support systems have ceased to function. This is not a good way to run a society” (page 216).

Tomorrow, more choice quotes from this important book.

Friday, April 23, 2010

BOLD Justice--2010 Nehemiah Action Report

Last night was our BOLD Justice Nehemiah event, where religious folks gathered in the spirit of Old Testament prophets to remind elected leaders of their responsibilities to the poor and outcast. We were overwhelmingly Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic, with an Episcopalian group and a Jewish group here and there, along with a stray Evangelical group or two. We enjoyed music from a fabulous black Baptist group. We demanded that county officials do more to save people from foreclosure and to bring more moderately priced rental units to market. We demanded that the police do more to encourage citizens to report crime.

I came away with mixed feelings. Part of that response was due to my spouse, who has worked in local government with some of the officials present. Things I might have seen as an unqualified victory, had he not been along, he showed me as compromise.

I was also disappointed in the police. We wanted them to adopt a low-tech, anonymous post card method of reporting crime. There was strong resistance to this. They felt they already had enough ways for citizens to report crime: Crimestoppers (primarily a phone system), online, the police presence in the neighborhood. But a postcard system would cost very little, and I'm unsure why adding to the methods already in existence would be a problem.

Last year I was exhilarated to be with an ecumenical group working for justice. I'm fairly certain I hadn't experienced that since the 1980's, when I was part of groups gathering to protest nuclear weapons expansion, to protest apartheid, to demand that the U.S. change its behavior in Latin America, particularly Central America.

Last night, I didn't feel the same exhilaration. But it's not about what I feel. It's not about me. It's about doing what God commands, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, in the words of the Old Testament prophet, Micah, caring for the least of these, in the words of Jesus. Our presence and demands may not mean much to elected officials, who spend every night going to groups who make demands. They may not care as much about us as about those big donors. But our silence would send the kind of message we cannot afford to send.

And it's a witness. My atheist friend had planned to attend with me, before her horrible ear infection laid her low. She was impressed that elected officials would deign to meet with religious people. She was impressed with the fact that we'd all give up an evening to work for justice. She's realizing that she's not making much of an effort to change the world, and she might just put up with religious, non-scientific ideas, if it meant we could change our corner of the world.

Will we make a long-term difference? It's always hard to know. Back in 1986, when we gathered to pray for justice for South Africa, we had no way of knowing that Nelson Mandela would soon be free, and then be elected president. We had reason to be despairing and cynical. But we are people who listen to a different promise, who see a different possibility. We are resurrection people with a vision for a redeemed creation, a Kingdom that is already breaking through.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Joys of a Cross Necklace

When we went to First Lutheran to serve dinner to the homeless last month, a man asked me if I had a cross on a necklace that he could have. I didn't, and neither did anyone else.

At my creativity retreat, somebody had brought some cross pendants that seemed to be made out of ceramic, and so I asked if I could take a few with me. The woman said yes.

Last night, we took dinner to First Lutheran, and I scanned the crowd, looking for that man. I wasn't sure I had the right guy, so I said, "Last month, someone asked me if I had an extra cross necklace. Was that you?"

The man nodded. He said, "I got one, but I gave it to another lady who needed it worse than I did."

I reached into my pocket and held out my bundle of pendants along with the cords to hang them around one's neck. I explained where I got them. The man looked at me as if I was handing him a big wad of cash.

On the way home, my spouse and I debated the durability of the pendants. I agree that it would be better if I had made them out of carved wood, but I didn't have that kind of time. Perhaps I should have brought a case of metal pendants.

The ones I had are made of cornstarch and baking soda (I would post the recipe, but the PDF file is not cooperating). Perhaps they'll melt in the first rain. Maybe they'll break.

But I'm not going to worry about that now. I'm going to take with me through my busy day today the memory of that man's face gleaming at me as if he'd won the lottery.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 25, 2010:

First Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Psalm: Psalm 23

Second Reading: Revelation 7:9-17

Gospel: John 10:22-30

This week's Gospel reading takes us back to the metaphor of the sheep. Those of us living post-agricultural lives probably don't know how stupid sheep are. The idea that we are sheep is not attractive.

What would a more modern metaphor be? That of the clueless student, who nonetheless can respond to a specific voice? That of a computer that is just a dumb box of electronics until the right programmer comes along?

We might also ponder the nature of the questioners in this passage. They say to Jesus, "If you're the Messiah, we wish that you would just say so."

This moment must be one of those that would drive Jesus to thoughts of taking up a really bad habit to deal with the pain of these people who just don't get it. Jesus must have considered just giving up on the whole salvation project since he was undergoing so much to save such clueless people. How many more ways did he have to say/demonstrate/show that he was the Messiah before people could understand?

Before we spend too much time congratulating ourselves for recognizing the voice of our shepherd, we might consider all the ways that Christ calls to us and we refuse to hear. Christ tells us to give away our wealth, and we rationalize: surely he didn't mean all of it. Jesus tells us to care for the sick, and we do a good job of that, some of us, as long as we liked the sick person back when that person was well. Jesus tells us to visit those in prison. I haven't done that--have you? In short, Jesus tells us to care for the poor and oppressed and to work for a more just society. How many of us do that?

Those of us living in Broward county have a chance to do that on Thursday night. BOLD Justice holds its annual Nehemiah action on Thursday night, where elected leaders meet with a huge crowd (last year we had over 2000) of believers who gather to remind leaders of their obligations to the poor and the oppressed. In the spirit of Old Testament prophets and our risen Lord, we call those elected officials to action.

My atheist friend said, "The elected leaders show up? Really?" So far, they have. There's power in numbers. My atheist friend was so impressed that she's coming with me to the action.

I went to the Nehemiah action last year and found it profoundly moving. It's good to be reminded that people from a wide variety of faiths have similar interests: most of the world's major religions have a social justice function. It's good to be reminded that one lone voice crying in the wilderness doesn't usually accomplish much. But thousands of voices, demanding justice, can bring about change.

Even if you can't come on Thursday, you probably have many opportunities to work for justice. Most of us don't because we lead lives that leave us tired. But often, a group that works for good in the world can energize us. Find a group that works to alleviate a social injustice that particularly pains you and join it. Write letters to your elected officials. Help build a Habitat house. At the very least, you can give food (real food, not just the castaways from your pantry) to a food bank. At the very least, you can clean out your closets and give your perfectly good clothes to the poor.

If you're in the South Florida region, join us at the Nehemiah action on Thursday, April 21, at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale (5555 North Federal Highway). Registration starts at 6:45, and the action starts at 7:30. Christ has called us to care for his sheep. This year we're demanding affordable housing and fair policing--what our Broward poor need more of. Only with thousands of voices demanding action will they get those things. Come be part of that voice.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Praying with my Parents in Public

My parents have just zipped through town. They decided to snatch up a last minute cruise deal, and since we live near the port of departure, they got the added bonus of spending time with us.

We went out to eat twice yesterday: breakfast at the beach, and lunch at a seafood restaurant. Both times, we held hands and said grace. Out loud.

I'm not sure when this changed. My parents have always bowed their heads and said grace, no matter where we were. Often, they said it silently. I'm not sure when my parents took our private family practice of holding hands during grace public.

I'm certain they're not doing it in hopes of witnessing. They're not those kind of people. I think they simply have their spiritual habits which they're not going to suspend just because they're in public. Happily their spiritual practices shouldn't make people uncomfortable; it's not like they're handling snakes.

Still, we were the only ones praying so visibly. Even though I prayed with them, I'm not so evolved that I didn't wonder what people around us were thinking. I didn't particularly care, I just wondered from a sociological point of view.

Let me stress that in my younger years, I'd have been mortified. I might have even accused my parents of hypocrisy. How would I have justified that charge? I don't know, but I do remember it being my favorite accusation of Christians.

I remember watching Chariots of Fire and being deeply unhappy with the ending, where both runners won their races. I accused the moviemakers of being hypocritical sellouts. My parents asked how that was possible, since the movie was based on a true story and that's the way it really turned out. I didn't have an answer for that, and I didn't care. I wanted that Christian character punished for sticking to his faith. I thought he was unreasonable, not principled.

Ah, the irrationality of youth. Little did I know at the time that the character was horribly punished, as he was a missionary in the wrong place at the wrong time in World War II, and he spent some brutal years in a labor camp. My adolescent self would have been glad. She'd have said, "Well, he shouldn't have been inflicting his religion on those native people. Serves them right."

My adolescent self was harsh and judgmental, and I'm not sorry to have shed most of her ideas. Now I can gracefully take my parents' hands and be glad that they have their faculties together, that they remember what's important to them and that they practice it freely.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Paying for the National Day of Prayer

I know that some people are insulted by the idea of the National Day of Prayer. I've heard all kinds of huffing and puffing about separation of church and state and the like.

But that's not what outrages me.

Our National Day of Prayer activity charges a $16 ticket price.

Sixteen dollars!!! I hope that people at least get a fancy breakfast, with mimosas, for that. I hope that money isn't going to pay the worship leaders.

I won't know, because I won't be there. For me, every day is a day of prayer. I don't need a national decree. I don't need to pay $16. I don't need prayer leaders. The Bible is very clear about all these things.

I suspect the prayer leaders, at least some of them, will use this model of prayer: "Father God, we just wanna ________________." You can fill in the blanks many ways: asking for things, praising. Except to my Lutheran ears, it all sounds so insincere and sucking up to start a prayer that way.

And then there's the issue of gender inclusivity. I bet these male prayer leaders aren't going to be spending any time praying to Mother God. Sigh.

No, when I'm joining a big, ecumenical group to pray, I want there to be social justice at the root. So, this Thursday, I'll go to the Nehemiah action, where people of faith gather some local political leaders together to remind them of their obligations to the poor and the oppressed.

My Marxist atheist friend said, "And the political people actually come?"

I was happy to be able to say yes. Ah, the power of numbers. I know that's what the National Day of Prayer is supposed to be about. So why charge admission?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hearing Voices

I'm listening to an NPR interview with Michael J. Fox. His voice is so familiar, yet so different, now that he's deep in the depths of Parkinson's disease. I've always admired his spirit, as he has dealt with his illness.

He's talking about some interesting aspects of disease, of our physical selves, the ones that we present to the world, the ones that we present to the world. His body manifests those issues more obviously than other bodies, but it's an issue we all face at some time or other.

I've had a different experience of hearing voices this week. Several different times, in several different places, I've heard someone call my name. Except that no one did. Each time, I could come up with a rational explanation. I'm not alone in my house when it happens. I'm out on the street or in the shower in the gym. Maybe I'm hearing someone else, and with all the background noise distorting sound, it sounds like my name when it hits my ears.

Maybe I'm beginning to lose my mental facilities, and we'll look back to this post as the beginning of the end.

Of course, I'm back from an intense week-end retreat, and I haven't been getting much sleep. Maybe I'm just tired.

And because I was raised Lutheran, I immediately think of all those accounts of God calling God's people, that still, small, barely discernible voice.

The voice I've heard has been the same each time, which strikes me as odd. It's sounded like someone calling out across a balcony, trying to get my attention on the street. And it's been female.

I'm perfectly O.K. with the idea of a female God. I'm a little more perturbed with the idea of a God who calls out to me, but has no further message.

I got a lot of sleep last night. Let's see if I keep hearing a voice calling out to me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What Happens at a Creativity Retreat? A Photo Essay

You may wonder what happens at a creativity retreat. I thought I'd share some photos.

As you might expect, we do a variety of arts and crafts (if you're the type of person who draws a distinction). Here are some batik pieces drying on a line. I like the prayer flag image that we've unconsciously evoked.

We did a variety of interesting worship services. Where else can you worship God with a parachute?

Wind chime creating was one of the most popular activities.

I particularly liked the chair weaving. What do you do when the bottom falls out? Make a new chair and one that's more beautiful.

We did a variety of playful activities. Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera with me when we did tethered balloon rides. But here's some hula hoop play.

We had a talent show at the end. Here are people contra dancing to our impromptu bluegrass band.

We did a balloon meditation (go here to read about how we did it on a smaller scale at a planning meeting).

At the end, we did a Communion sending service at the braided labyrinth. I like that I've captured the stained glass window on the far wall, and the pottery and wood baptismal font in the front.

Plan now for next year! The retreat will be the week-end after Easter--you should come.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 18, 2010:

First Reading: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

Psalm: Psalm 30

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14

Gospel: John 21:1-19

Here we have another mystical encounter with the risen Christ. Notice that it's mystical and yet grounded in earthiness. Jesus makes a barbecue breakfast, and Simon Peter gets wet. It's mystical, yet rooted in second chances. It's mystical and yet a bit whimsical too. The men have fished all night and caught nothing. What does Jesus cook for breakfast? Fish.

This Gospel reading also has a lovely symmetry. It ends the ministry of Jesus in the way that it began, on the shore, with Jesus calling his disciples to mission. This Gospel story gives Peter a chance to redeem himself. He declares his love for Jesus three times, just the way he had previously denied Jesus three times.

The Gospel reading for Sunday reminds us of some of the essential messages Jesus gave us. We are to let down our nets, again and again, even when we have fished all night and caught nothing. Our rational brains would protest, "What's the point? We know there are no fish!" But Christ tells us to try again.

Even when we can't see the results, even when our nets are empty, there might be activity going on beneath the surfaces, in the deep depths of creation, where our senses can't perceive any action. We might need to repeat our actions, despite our being sure that it will be useless. We aren't allowed to give up. We aren't allowed to say, "Well, I tried. Nothing going on here. I'm going to return to the solitude of my room and not engage in the world anymore." No, we cast our nets again and again.

What do those nets represent? What do the fish represent? The answers will be different for each of us. For some of us, casting our nets might be our efforts at community building. For some of us, casting our nets might be our efforts to reach the unchurched. For some of us, we cast our nets into the depths of a creative process. We cast again and again, because we can't be sure of what we'll catch. Some days and years, we'll drag empty nets back to the shore. Some days and years, we'll catch more fish than we can handle.

The Gospel also reminds us that we're redeemable. I love the story of Jesus and Peter. Peter would have reason to expect that Jesus would be mad at him. But Jesus doesn't reject him. Jesus gives him an opportunity to affirm what he had denied in the past.

Jesus also gives Peter a mission, and this mission is our mission: "Feed my sheep." There are plenty of sheep that need feeding and tending. We have our work cut out for us.

But this Gospel also shows us the way that it can all be done: we must work together, and we must take time to nourish ourselves. The men work together all night, and in the end, Jesus makes them a meal. Think about how much of Jesus' mission involved a meal. Jesus didn't just tend to the souls of those around him. He fed them, with real food. In doing so, he fed their souls and renewed his own ability to keep healing the world.

We must do the same. We must heal the world. And in doing so, we must continue to practice self-care. A burnt out husk of a person can't prepare a barbecue breakfast.

Now, as we walk through Eastertide, think about the redemption of the world and the good news of Jesus, that the redemption of creation is breaking through right here, right now. Think about the part you want to play. Think about practices that will help keep you healthy enough to partner with God in this exciting endeavor.

If you're so burnt out that you can't think of anything, start with breakfast. Make sure you're getting enough healthy food to eat throughout the day. And next week, invite someone else to eat with you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Down from the Mountain

And now to return to regular life, after some time away on the mountain. We had great fellowship, great worship, great mountain views, great creative time. In so many ways, it is hard to return.

And yet, as Transfiguration Sunday reminds us (and other times from the life of Jesus and other spiritual greats), we can't stay on the mountain forever. We can retreat periodically, but we must return with our renewed selves to repair the world. There's plenty of repair work to do.

We are resurrection people who eat the Easter food of the Eucharist. That's the take-away message from the retreat. We are creative people with all sorts of tools for the repair work of Kingdom living. That repair work is joyful. No need for sadness as we come back to sea level.

So why do I feel a bit of sadness?

I have a sense of what those early evangelists must have felt after their periodic reunions: it will be so long before I see these friends again. It was so nice to be with people who understand me in ways the larger world will not. It was so nice to be in a group with critical mass. It was so good to be in a space that was so conducive to those spiritual practices that nourish us. It is so hard to be back in the outposts of empire, those spaces of abandonment.

Ah, well. Time speeds along, and in no time, I'll be back to retreat time again.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This Blog Will Be Quiet for a Few Days

I'm away to the creativity retreat at Lutheridge that I go to every year. The photo above is the chapel at Lutheridge. It is here where we will hold our sending service, with the braided labyrinth that we created last year. That sending service will be here too soon. I expect to return to regular blogging on Tuesday, April 13.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

This week's meditation comes a bit early; tomorrow I'm on the road to Lutheridge, for a creativity retreat, and my computer access is likely to be limited.

The Readings for Sunday, April 11, 2010:

First Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Psalm: Psalm 118:14-29

Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 150

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4-8

Gospel: John 20:19-31

I think of these post-Easter, pre-Ascension stories as second chance stories (or tenth or thirtieth or forty-seventh chances, depending on how you're counting). Notice that Jesus appears to them and offers peace. He doesn't show up to castigate the disciples for how they behaved badly during his hours of need. He doesn't say to Peter, "See, I told you that you would betray me." He doesn't say, "You big bunch of cowards, running away from the Romans." He breathes on them to give them the Holy Spirit (and if you read the Bible from the beginning, you'll be noticing a theme here; God breathes creation into existence, and much of the power of God is described throughout Scripture in terms of breath and/or wind).

Jesus offers forgiveness and peace again and again. Thomas has come under fire through the centuries for his doubt--but really, who can blame him? Even some of our more prominent theologians today (like Marcus Borg) seem to doubt the physical resurrection of Jesus. Our rational brains just can't wrap themselves around a mystery of this magnitude.

Thomas, too, gets second chances. Just because he wasn't in the locked room when Jesus appeared, that doesn't mean he's doomed to doubt forever. He gets to touch the wounds of Jesus.

Notice how physical these descriptions are: Jesus breathes on them, and death hasn't healed his mortal wounds. He's recognizable. And he seems to carry on with his life's work, at least for a little bit more time: the last verses of today's Gospel refer to many more signs, but the writer John won't burden us with them all. We get a select few to help us believe.

And then Jesus is gone. But we've been left with a mission. We're to spread the good news. We are not to remain in our locked rooms, keeping company only with each other as we eat the last of the bunny cake. We're to go out and be the light of the world. We are entrusted with the mission of helping to create the Kingdom where peace reigns, where death doesn't have the last word, where everyone has enough to keep their bodies alive and their souls fed. Evaluate your daily life with that vision of your call always before you. See what you can do to move towards that vision. Each day, every day.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Monday Reflections

Easter Sunday was long, as I knew it would be, but enjoyable. The part I enjoyed the most? Making Easter cards for Lutheran missionaries.

I wasn't sure how that would go. I had the idea fairly late in the Easter prep/planning time. But I knew that we have lots of construction paper in the supply closet, and lots of other supplies, so I decided to set up a few tables and see what would happen.

The tables were on the stage of our fellowship hall, which was set up for breakfast. As I hoped, many children came up to make a card while their parents finished their meal. They were fairly peaceful together as they made cards. We made about 20 cards.

I'm always amazed at how creative children can be. I made mundane cards, like the kind you'd buy in a store, but not as interesting. The children cut out shapes and made tri-fold cards and created all sorts of interesting cards.

I like hanging out with kids. It's neat to see the world in new ways.

The second most wondrous part of Easter? After making cards, we all went out into the butterfly garden, where we got a crash course in butterflies and flowers. We saw butterfly eggs! They're little tiny specks that you wouldn't see as a butterfly. But low and behold, soon there's a baby caterpillar where once there was a speck, and we know how the rest of the story will likely unfold. What a great activity for Easter!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Childhood Easter Memories

I don't have as many childhood memories of Easter Sunday as I do of other liturgical holidays, or even Wednesday night Lenten gatherings of my childhood.

When I was a child, I liked Christmas Eve much better than Easter Sunday, which probably doesn't come as a surprise; most people do. I also loved Good Friday. I mean, I LOVED it. I remember some conversations with my father, where he explained why I should love Easter best of all the Christian holidays, but I was not convinced.

My childhood church did Good Friday much better than Easter--or at least more memorably. I cannot recall one single Easter Sunday from my elementary school years. But I remember Good Friday. On year, our pastor read an article that talked about the crucifixion from a medical point of view, an article which told us exactly what Christ experienced on the cross. Another year, the lights and candles were extinguished throughout the service, and at the end came the big bang of the book being slammed shut.

What can I say? I'm a drama major at heart. Just as I think that teaching requires a certain element of theatricality, I also think that worship services require some theatricality. Otherwise, it's just all of us mumbling our way through the memorized liturgy.

These high holidays give us so much opportunity for good theatre--here's hoping that we're all going to churches today that will give the children memories that will last for 30 years.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

On Good Friday, We Become Catholics

In the Lutheran churches of my youth, we weren't likely to be influenced by Catholicism; we'd have been far more likely to be influenced by Southern Baptists.

As I sat in the aftermath of Good Friday, waiting for my husband to be done with his choir duties, I was struck by how many Catholic practices (some of them quite ancient) have crept into my Good Friday. I'm not complaining, mind you, just observing.

At mid-day yesterday, I went to our labyrinth. We offer a self-guided Stations of the Cross, where people make their way through the labyrinth and stop, if they desire, at numbered bricks to read about a particular Station of the Cross. I made my way through the labyrinth, under a brilliant blue sky, a mild breeze blowing, reflecting on capital punishment, abandonment, and salvation.

Afterwards, I sat at the labyrinth to hand out the booklets and to answer questions. Very few people came after 1:30, so I had a pleasant time reading Brian McLaren's latest book, A New Kind of Christianity.

Then I went home, grilled burgers, and ate them, while watching From Jesus to Christ, at this Frontline site.

My Good Friday ended with our Good Friday service, which ended with the Adoration of the Cross. That element has never been part of any Lutheran service I've been to, but I didn't find it objectionable. I have always had problems with churches that focus more on the crucifixion of Jesus, and less on his life, which put him on his collision path with authorities, but happily, my church doesn't do that. On Good Friday, it seems appropriate to focus on the cross.

We live in South Florida, where there are far more Catholics than Lutherans. Lutheran churches down here see a fair number of parishioners who come to us from Catholic churches where they're made to feel unwelcome, often after divorce. I've gotten used to seeing people who bow and bend on one knee. But last year was the first time I've seen the Adoration of the Cross.

Last year, I stayed in my pew. This year, I went up. I wasn't sure of what to do, but when in doubt, I figure a prayer of thanks is always appropriate.

I'd be more comfortable with Eucharistic Adoration, but so far, I haven't found a Lutheran church that does that. I'm interested in how many ways I've been influenced by monastic traditions: the liturgy of the hours, the monastic vows, the observations of the feast days. I'm interested by how many ancient traditions resonate with me, particularly the labyrinth. I'm an ancient-future Christian to be sure.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thinking about Clay, Mulch, and Labyrinths on Good Friday

A year ago, our church's labyrinth was damaged. We used clay roofing tiles to make the lines of the labyrinth, and in the night, vandals smashed many of them. We spent part of Good Friday replacing them. I wrote a post about the experience here.

We've continued to have trouble with vandals, and finally, we removed the temptation. But we had already advertised that we would have a self-guided Stations of the Cross experience at the labyrinth, and we didn't want to abandon that. So on Wednesday, a team of us laid mulch along the lines of the labyrinth--people still walk on the grass, and the mulch guides them around the interlocking loops.

As we laid out the cedar mulch, I said to one of my co-helpers, "We'll all smell like hamsters when we're done."

I've spent the following time thinking about mulch and hamsters, about labyrinths. We may feel like hamsters trapped in a maze, but we're really pilgrims on a path. We may feel like clay vessels, and we are--but we contain all sorts of wonder. We are all headed to a destiny of mulch, but the Easter story reassures us that there's so much more that we can't understand.

Last night, we entered the Triduum, the three days. Here we are on the day that no bread can be consecrated. Here we are on the day when we celebrate the broken vessel that allows us to be so much more than clay and mulch.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010:

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43

First Reading (Alt.): Isaiah 65:17-25

Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Second Reading (Alt.): Acts 10:34-43

Gospel: Luke 24:1-12

Gospel (Alt.): John 20:1-18

I've talked to many people who seem a bit amazed at how fast this season of Lent has zoomed by us. I've talked to several people who don't feel ready for Easter at all. Are we ever ready for Easter?

Some years feel more difficult than others. In the past year, we've lost some pastors who were vital parts of our Florida-Bahamas Synod, and I suspect our Synod isn't alone. And that mortality seems to echo the mortality of our larger church, as many of us have spent the past year wrestling with the actions of our larger ELCA. And in recent weeks, we've seen explosions in the Catholic church, as more allegations of sexual abuse and cover up come to light. It cannot bring us glee, if we're thinking people, to see these struggles, which may leave the larger Church broken and bleeding.

If we're lucky enough to have been spared from natural disaster ourselves, we've likely looked on in horror as other parts of our world have suffered horribly. If we're thinking people at all, we have to realize how precarious is our existence on the surface of our planet, that surface which looks stable, but we know that forces are rumbling underneath.

Every Holy Week brings us knowledge of fellow parishioners who struggle with disease or impending death. Every non-Holy Week probably does too, but during Holy Week, as we hear about the Passion of Jesus, our mortal struggles take on a poignancy that might not be there otherwise, if we didn't have that backdrop of readings and hymns in our heads.

Maybe you say to yourself that you're still in that Ash Wednesday space. Maybe you ask, "How can we celebrate Easter with the taste of ashes still in our mouths?"

Hear that Easter message again. Know that God is working to redeem creation in ways that we can't always see and don't often understand. But we get glimpses of it.

The earth commits to resurrection this time of year. Green sprouts shoot out from hard earth everywhere. Each spring, we are reminded of the cyclical nature of the world, which can bring us hope in the times in which we suffer. This, too, shall pass.

The social justice goals of past generations have come to fruition. We may be seeing ravaged populations today, but in a decade or two, we may see healing. Imagine going back to 1987 and telling everyone you saw that the Wall would soon come down, that the Soviet Union would soon be no more, and the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons would soon be reduced. No one would believe you. And yet we know it happened. We can pray for a similar outcome in the Congo.

We know that sometimes our bodies can produce miracles. We convince the cancer not to kill us this year. Damaged wombs can bring forth children. We abuse our physical selves with too much exercise or too much drink or too much smoke, but to our surprise, our bodies can heal.

But maybe we see those examples of resurrection as random and capricious. We taste the ash in our mouths. If we've heard the Easter story (and the Holy Week stories) again and again, we tend to forget the miraculous nature of them. Maybe we're tempted to downplay them even. Maybe we're beaten down and tired (tired of praying that the insurance company gets its act together before the next hurricane season starts, tired of praying for health and people getting sicker, tired of praying for peace in the world which never seems to come), too beaten down and tired to believe in miracles anymore.

Resist that pull towards despair, which some have called the deadliest sin, even worse than pride. We have seen miracles with our own eyes: Nelson Mandela walks out of jail to claim his place as president, for example; peace in Northern Ireland; peace in some parts of Eastern Europe. We're often too shy or scared to run out of our gardens to tell everyone else what we've seen, what we know.

But we must remember we are a Resurrection People. Commit yourself to new life. Rinse the ashes out of your mouth with the Eucharist bread and wine. Celebrate the miracles.