Saturday, September 29, 2012

Internet Snow Day

This may be a quiet week-end, in terms of Internet based reading and writing. I returned home on Thursday night to discover that our phones are out. When our phones are out, the Internet is out. Perhaps this is a sign that we need to upgrade.

We don't have dial-up, but we do have an Internet connection that depends on the phone. And the technician may get there today or tomorrow, but it may be as late as Monday. Sigh.

Oh to live in a land of fiber optic cables. We had that kind of access once, in grad school, in the early days of Internet connectivity. It was lightning fast. I told myself not to get used to it.

I tell myself that there are worse things. I'm not a big talk on the phone person anyway. But I do love to spend time reading on the Internet. I do love the immediacy of blogging.

It has been interesting to return to journaling on private pieces of paper that I can be relatively sure that no one will read. I'll keep doing that.

And I do love a big stack of library books. I shall pop by the library and stock up.

It's kind of like a snow day, only with electricity!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Narrative Lectionary Reading

The Narrative Lectionary Readings for September 30, 2012:

Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8

optional text:  Luke 22:14-20

What a difference a week makes:  last week, the Israelites were saved from starvation because they had connections in Egypt, but this week, generations later, the Israelites are in trouble.  Once again, we see a people enslaved and crying out for deliverance.  Once again, we see a God who can make a way out of no way.

There are directions that must be followed, even as the people might not fully understand them.  Blood on the doorposts?  This deliverance may not be what the Israelites had in mind.

This text shows that deliverance doesn't always happen in the time frame that humans demand.  God has a larger picture and a plan that we may not understand.  But the Exodus story does promise us that deliverance will come.

Throughout the centuries, enslaved people have taken much comfort from the Exodus story.  It's a vision that still speaks to us, this one of keeping our shoes on and our food ready to travel.  It's a story that terrifies, with its tale of widespread death of children so that the ruler's heart can be softened.

Our deliverance will come, but the cost may horrify us. 

We see echoes of this story throughout the Bible.  The one that is most likely familiar to Christians is the Christ story itself.  In some of the Easter stories, Jesus celebrates the Passover, the ritual that makes sure that the Israelites will remember what God has done for them.

We see echoes of the Passover story in Christ's story:  the violence of the redemption, the swiftness, the fear, the blood, the ultimate salvation.  We also see in both stories a people enslaved by a repressive empire:  Egypt and Rome.  The Romans hang Jesus on a cross, the capital punishment reserved by those who are a threat to the state.

We are at the mercy of many forces that seek to enslave us, and again and again, the Biblical stories remind us of how precarious life is.  The regime that saves us in one story will enslave us in the next.

Again and again, our Bible stories tell us that God will set us free.  As we will see, humans are often our own worst enemy, as we forget our ultimate liberator and try to do things our own way.  Our Biblical texts, our religious holidays, our daily spiritual practices:  all of these things remind us that God has a greater, more liberating plan than anything that we can dream.

But again and again, we're told that we must be ready, with shoes laced and eyes watching.  God will swoop in where and how we least expect it.  Even if we're chafing in our chains, we can trust that salvation isn't very far away.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 30, 2012:

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Psalm 19:7-14

The commandment of the LORD gives light to the eyes. (Ps. 19:8)

James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

Here we have another Gospel that reminds us again that Jesus is not the warm, fuzzy Jesus that the modern church often depicts. This Gospel is harsh. Cut off my hand? Just because it offended me? What happened to forgiving 70 times 7?

Again and again, Jesus reminds us that we often let ourselves off the hook too easily. We don't require enough of ourselves. How many of us really do forgive 70 times, much less that 7 times more again? Too many of us won’t even forgive once, much less again and again. We refuse to begin the work of reconciliation, which is one of our main tasks in this world.

We're supposed to be the seasoning of the world, but too many of us do absolutely nothing. We close our ears to the cries of the oppressed. We know that we have resources, but we refuse to share. We cling to our possessions, even though we have more stuff than any human can use in a lifetime. The other day, I realized I had 3 pairs of shoes with me, between the shoes in my gym bag, the shoes on my feet, and the shoes that I brought to change into for spin class. I only have 2 feet, but I had 6 shoes with me. I thought of all the shoes in my closet. I thought of all the unshod feet in the world that could use the protection that even my shabbiest shoes offer.

Or worse, we behave in ways that would make our beliefs unattractive to the nonbeliever. Every time we gossip, lie, cheat, steal, or give in to our darkest natures, the world is watching. Our hypocrisy endangers us all on so many levels.

We move into the part of Mark where Jesus must realize that he's in great danger. He offers challenges to the larger domination system that controls the Earth. Jesus understands how many forces dominate us: both the secular ruling system, as well as the larger idea of a Satanic/fallen set of powers that keeps us from God's goodness, not to mention our own beliefs which hinder us. Jesus refuses to back down. He must know what will happen. The book of Mark, always apocalyptic in tone, becomes more so.

We see those echoes in the planetary calendar too. We’ve seen a seasonal shift, as we leave summer behind and autumn arrives. Once we drove home from work in broad sunlight. Now we squint into the gathering twilight. The produce sections in our grocery stores offer sturdier fruits and vegetables, like the gourds that remind us of the need to prepare for a harsh season ahead.

Additionally in this past week we have come to the end of the Jewish high holy days, with its reminders that time is short. Like Ash Wednesday, these holidays remind us that the years go by quickly and that we must continue to atone for all ways we’ve fallen short. We can be better. We must be better.

Time is short. We don't have much of it on earth, and Jesus always pulls us back to that existential fact. If we don't have much time, we're pressured to make the most of what we have. We have a huge task, one not likely to be completed in our lifetimes. Still, that's no reason not to get started building the Kingdom where the last will be first.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Lutheran Considers Yom Kippur

Before I moved to South Florida in 1998, I didn't really think much about the Jewish high holy days.  I hadn't known many Jews.  We had Jewish neighbors in Montgomery, Alabama when I was growing up.  I noticed that they decorated their house with blue lights around Christmas time.  I assumed that Hanukkah was like Christmas, only drawn out over more days.  That was about the extent of my encounters with Jews.

Certainly I read about Jewish people.  As a young person, I was somewhat obsessed with the Holocaust and the formation of Israel.  But I hadn't met many Jewish people.

Then we moved to South Florida, and the community college where I worked gave us the Jewish high holy days as holidays.  Swell.  I'm an ecumenical gal.  As I went shopping for shoes, I did wonder about more traditional ways of celebrating the holiday.  But I wasn't doing much religious celebrating of any kind.

Now, I've become a much more observant Lutheran.  I've met a lot more people of different faiths.  Always an ecumenical person, I've become ever more intrigued by the similarities and differences in world religions.

I like the idea of a day of atonement.  As long as I get a chance to try again, I like remembering that I've fallen short.

Sure, there are days when I'd like to just throw in the towel.  How much easier it would be to live alone, to never have to realize that I'm still far away from being the partner I wish I could be.  I get tired of trying to be a better leader at work.  It's hard work being a friend.

But it's worth it.

So today, as the sun sets, I'll ask for forgiveness from God for all the ways I've fallen short as a human.  It would probably be a good day to end every day.

And tomorrow, I'll wake up and ask for help as I try to be the best human I can be.  I do try to remember that prayer every morning.  I'm ready for transformation, even though the work that gets me there can be painful.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Inscribing the Names

My 6 year old nephew started CCD classes this year.  His first night was tough.  He cried and cried.  His parents weren't allowed to be in the room with him.  He cried some more.

I've heard him crying.  It rips me up.  But to be fair, the sound of almost anyone crying rips me up.

I'm my nephew's godmother (or, as to be more accurate, his Christian Monitor, since I'm not Catholic, and he is), so I really want this CCD experience to go well.  I took an oath at his baptism!  For days, I spent time thinking about what I could do, from this distance of 1000 miles, to ease this transition.

I thought about some kind of talisman, something he could carry with him, something that he could touch that would give him courage.  I wanted it to be ready for the 2nd night of CCD class, so my options were limited.  I had to create something that could be finished fairly quickly.

Here's what I created:

I chose a butterfly shape and cut out 4 layers of colored paper.  I wrote the names of people who love my nephew on the butterfly.  In the center:  God, Jesus, Holy Spirit.  I left room for him to write some names.

I wrote a card to explain the butterfly and to suggest that he write some more names.  I told him that the butterfly could remind him of how many people love him.  I said that I hoped it would help him be brave for CCD class, because he could meet a lot more people who will love him in CCD class.  I told him that I understood how he was feeling, that going to new classes and meeting new people can be tough.

My sister reports that my nephew took the butterfly with him and that the 2nd night of CCD went smoothly--no tears!  Of course, he also had a new friend, so that helped.  I'm just happy that his second night was so much better regardless of who gets the credit.

What I like about this art project:  it's easy!  And colored paper is so cheap.  It's a project that could be easily adapted for any number of classes or purposes.  It could be decorated elaborately or not at all.

I like the idea from Isaiah 49: 16, of our names being inscribed on the palms of God's hands.  The idea of inscribed names inspires me in all sorts of ways.

May inscription inspire you too.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

WIsdom from a Chief Rabbi

As the Jewish High Holy Days draw to a close, if you need inspiration, try this recent On Being show.  Krista Tippett interviewed Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.  Here are just a few insights, to whet your appetite:

"It seems to me that one of the things we most fear is the stranger. And at most times in human history, most people have lived among people who are mostly pretty much the same as themselves. Today, certainly in Europe and perhaps even in America, walk down the average Main Street and you will encounter in 10 minutes more anthropological diversity than an 18th-century traveler would have encountered in a lifetime.

So you really have this huge problem of diversity. And you then go back and read the Bible and something hits you, which is we're very familiar with the two great commands of love: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might; love your neighbor as yourself. But the one command reiterated more than any other in the mosaic box — 36 times said the rabbis — is love the stranger for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Or to put it in a contemporary way, love the stranger because, to him, you're a stranger. And this sense that we are enlarged by the people who are different from us — we are not threatened by them — that needs cultivating, can be cultivated, and would lead us to see the 21st century as full of blessing, not full of fear."

"The Bible is saying to us the whole time, don't think that God is as simple as you are. He's in places you would never expect him to be. And you know, we lose a bit of that in English translation because, when Moses at the burning bush says to God, "Who are you?" God says to him three words: "Hayah asher hayah." And those words are mistranslated in English as "I am that which I am." But in Hebrew, it means "I will be who or how or where I will be," meaning don't think you can predict me. I am a God who is going to surprise you. One of the ways God surprises us is by letting a Jew or a Christian discover the trace of God's presence in a Buddhist monk or a Sikh tradition of hospitality or the graciousness of Hindu life. You know, don't think we can confine God into our categories. God is bigger than religion."

"Look, the two very famous Jewish festivals, Passover and Tabernacles, it seems to me, you know, people can really relate to those. Passover, where we meet as families, this is a very important service that takes place not in the synagogue, but at home. We tell the story of how our ancestors were slaves, but we don't just tell the story. We reenact it. We eat the bread of affliction. We taste the bitter herbs of slavery. We drink four cups of the wine of freedom. And we hand that story on to our children and that is universal. That speaks to anyone who knows what it is to be a slave and all who needs to know what it feels like to be a slave so that they can be active in fighting the cause of people who are oppressed.

MS. TIPPETT: OK, and that won't be as familiar to many people, so say some more.

LORD SACKS: So that is when we recall the 40-year journey through the wilderness when the Israelites had no homes. They were just essentially like Bedouin. They were living in tents or shacks. So for seven days, we leave the comfort of home. We build a shack with only leaves for a roof, so we're exposed to the heat by day and the cold by night, and we just understand for seven days what it is to be homeless. Now how many of us, you know, in the West know what it feels like to be homeless? But we need to feel what it's like to be homeless because there are a billion people on the face of this planet who are pretty near as it gets to being homeless."

"It is about conversation and I think he was absolutely right. The real conflicts arise when our minds are focused on the past. We bring to bear a sense of grievance, injustice, victimhood, and we are then held captive by the past. If we could get Israelis and Palestinians to think simply of what would be best for their grandchildren, we would move into a new frame of thinking."

Saturday, September 22, 2012


A month ago, I returned from vacation and got the phone call from my boss, who said, "I've got HR here with me."

My first thought:  nothing good comes after those words.

My second thought:  I wish I had saved more money.

As it turns out, I was, indeed, losing my job.  But I had a chance to apply for a new job in the reorganized structure, which will be a version of what I'd been doing already.  I was luckier than many.  And I got the job, which means I'm luckier than most.

Still, it's a clear sign that it's time for some serious thinking about the future.  The issue of getting ready for the future is never very far from my mind.  But it's a different thing to be saying, "Hmm, I wonder what it might be like to be a hospice chaplain," as I often have, and to move to making definite plans.

Not that I plan to be a hospice chaplain, mind you.  I'm open to that.  But I'm just not sure of a direction yet.

So, I will be praying and writing and visioning.  Maybe I'll discern that my school is strong and that there is work for me to do here.  Maybe I'll say, "The whole field of higher education is in serious trouble.  I need a different direction."  Maybe God will give me a nudge or a push towards a future that I can't even see right now. 

I felt that push when I decided to take the teaching job that led me to administration and my current job.  It was the fall of 2001, and all my adjunct work was changing.  My teaching schedule at the University of Miami was going to require me being on campus more days a week, which would mean more hours driving long distances.  When Florida Atlantic University told the adjuncts that there would be no work in the spring of 2002 on the day after I got the offer from my current employer, I remember saying, "O.K. God, I got it.  No need for a car accident on the way home to get my attention."

I took the job, even though it had some drawbacks.  And it turned out that it wasn't as bad as it sounded on the surface, and I got to develop and teach some wonderful creative writing classes which wouldn't have been possible elsewhere.

Now I have a feeling that God may have some plans again.  I don't know what they are yet.  I'm open to all sorts of possibilities.

My church council will be studying call stories this year.  I'm glad.

I'll be logging my own discernment and call story here and over at my creativity blog. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Feast Day of St. Matthew

Today we celebrate the life of St. Matthew, one of the 12 disciples. Matthew was a tax collector, and that fact should give us all hope.

Throughout the Bible, we see God at work in the world. We see God using all sorts of humans, the kind of humans that a wise CEO wouldn't promote. But God sees their potential, and God calls them.

Sometimes, people protest and remind God of their unworthiness; think of Moses. Sometimes God has to do a lot to get their attention; think of Jonah.

But sometimes, the call comes, and the person responds, dropping everything to follow God's call. In Matthew, we see this example.

Maybe you're in a time of your life where you're feeling particularly unworthy.  You are not unworthy.  God can use the most hideous humans in the work of the redemption of creation. On this day, take a minute to remember God's grace.  We are chosen.  God wants to be in communion with us.

Maybe you're feeling a bit adrift as you wonder what comes next.  God is always offering interesting invitations. Take a moment on this day to listen for God's call.  What visions does God have for you that are better than any you could dream for yourself?

On this day, let us celebrate all the ways in which God takes humans from every level of society and turns them into a cohesive community.  Let us live in the promise of the God life that God wants for us.

Here are the Bible readings for today:

First Reading: Ezekiel 2:8--3:11

Psalm: Psalm 119:33-40

Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10

Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13

And here's a prayer I composed for today:

God full of grace and compassion, on this day that we celebrate the life of Matthew, help us remember that you have a plan for the redemption of creation and that we have a place in it. Thank you for the witness of Matthew and the disciples. Help us to follow in their example, that we may be a light, your light, in this shadowy world that so desperately needs brightness.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Narrative Lectionary

The readings for Sunday, September 23, 2012:

Genesis 37:3-8, 26-34; 50:15-21

Optional Text:  Luke 6:35

This week's narrative lectionary gives us the story of Joseph:  the beloved youngest son, one of those Biblical tales of sibling rivalry that make us shake our heads in wonder.

Researchers tell us that sibling violence is the most common kind of domestic violence.  The news is full of tales of children abused by their elders, but for all sorts of reasons, it's much more common for siblings to attack each other.

Even if we get along well with our siblings, we've likely been on either side of this kind of paralyzing jealousy that we see in the early story of Joseph.  Perhaps it's that coworker who always seems to get the glory, while everyone else wonders what the boss sees in that person.  Maybe we're the ones with visions and solutions, and we wonder why it's so hard to be taken seriously.

We see Joseph sold into slavery and taken far away from home.  In many ways, this story seems modern.  We may naively think that we're past the time of slavery, but experts tell us that more people live in slavery today than ever before; think of migrant workers and sex trade workers and those who labor in the third world so that those of us in the first world have cheap goods to buy.

These lives are full of desperation, and often an early death, and Joseph's brothers sell him.  It's that desire for wealth that keeps his brothers from killing him.

In the story of Joseph, as in so many Biblical stories, we see that God can bring salvation out of the most horrific circumstances.  Because Joseph goes to Egypt, his family later has a place of refuge.  Joseph's ability to interpret dreams serves him well, and he saves not only his family, but entire populations.

We should also keep in mind that Joseph's journey isn't all happiness.  He's got the hard labor of a slave's life.  He's imprisoned by various people throughout his life.  But he perseveres, and so, he is in a place where God can use him for the greatest good.

It's still a valuable lesson today when so many of us might feel our futures ever more constrained with each passing day.  We may feel ourselves far away from anything that feels like home.  This story assures us that God can take the most ugly situations and wring the good out of it. 

We may find ourselves in all kinds of slavery:  perhaps addiction, perhaps debt, perhaps bad relationships, there are so many things that enslave us. Again and again, God intervenes and brings salvation.

We also see that forgiveness is often possible where we might have thought it couldn't happen.  Joseph's brothers ask to be forgiven, and Joseph, having travelled through all sorts of humanizing experiences, offers them the peace that comes with forgiveness and reconciliation.

We, too, can have that peace of reconciliation, that welcome homecoming, that salvation that comes out of the most unlikely circumstances.  Our Bible stories give us that promise again and again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 23, 2012:

Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16—2:1, 12-22

Psalm 54

God is my helper; it is the LORD who sustains my life. (Ps. 54:4)

James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

This week’s Gospel reminds us of the order of things in God's kingdom. In the fallen world, the rich are first; everybody else gets along as best they can. In our modern world, as was true during most of human history, the lives of the non-rich feel increasingly precarious.

Jesus comes to proclaim the new Kingdom, where the situation is reversed.

Many preachers will focus on the warm and fuzzy angle of children in this Gospel. While I do think Jesus loved children, I don't think that's why he refers to them here.

Children are some of the most vulnerable members of society. Many people have said that we can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members, who are often children, the elderly, the ill, the mentally unstable, the poor. Many Bible stories remind us that we, as individuals, will be judged by God based on how we treat the most vulnerable. The child in this Gospel is a metaphor for all of the most vulnerable. We are judged by how we receive these people.

We live in a world that doesn't value the vulnerable. We live in a world that worships power, fame, and wealth. Look at any magazine on any given week or month, any news show on any given day, any newspaper on any given day: you won’t see many stories about the destitute. You’ll see even fewer stories about the people who serve those who are vulnerable in this way.

Those of us who have worked to adopt the servant ethos can tell a different tale. Those people might talk about how good it feels to serve, how their own desires disappear in the face of those that are needier than they are.

But there is a bigger reason why we're called to serve: God hangs out with the lowly. Go back to your Scripture. See how often God shows up with the poor, the outcast, the lowest people in the social structure. We serve, so that we meet God. We serve, so that we serve God.

This Gospel reminds me of the 25th chapter of Matthew, where humans are separated depending on whether or not they fed Jesus or clothed him or visited him while sick or in prison. And the ones headed to eternal punishment say, "When did we ever see you hungry or naked or sick or in prison?" And we get the classic rejoinder in verse 45: "Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me."

We serve God by serving. Leaf through the Gospels and let yourself be struck by how much of the message of Jesus revolves around this message. We are called to serve. We elevate ourselves not by making ourselves better, but by serving others, by serving those who have the least to offer us.

Again and again, Jesus reminds us that the world at large is not the world we're to emulate. We're called to create the Kingdom where the least will be first, where we each serve each other.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Wisdom of Lectio Divina

A week ago, we'd have been doing lectio divina for our morning devotions.  On Monday night, the 3 of us in charge of devotions realized we had nothing for morning.  One of us suggested a session of lectio divina.

There are probably a variety of ways to do lectio divina, but we proceeded in the way I've done it before.  I read the text, stayed quiet for a few minutes, read the same text again, stayed quiet for a few minutes, and read the text again, with more time for contemplation.

The question we tried to keep forward in our minds:  what is God saying to us? What words and phrases leap out at us?

We prayed before and afterwards, of course.

The text?  1 Corinthians 3:  10-16:  10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

It always feels a bit like cheating when I do lectio divina instead of a Bible study, a sermon, or a lecture.  Others don't seem to see it as cheating.  In fact, there are always some people who love the process and exclaim over the insights they've gotten.

Why do I think it's cheating?

Perhaps I think it's cheating because it seems to take such little effort on my part--although being quiet can be quite a struggle.

No, in lectio divina, it's not the leader doing the work and the guiding.  It's the Holy Spirit, at least, if we're lucky.

We had some time at the end for people to share what leapt out at them.  We talked about the variety of building materials and the fact that the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.  We talked about the creative process presented in the text, as you might expect from a group of people gathered to plan a creativity retreat.

And then we were off, ideas zinging back and forth, all sorts of great retreat planning taking place.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Channeling Our Spiritual Mentors

A week ago, we'd have had a full day of retreat planning at Lutheridge.  We met from September 9-11 to plan the Create in Me retreat.  I'm always amazed at the process.  There's a point at which I despair and think, we'll never get it done!  Then it comes together.

We started every day with Bible study, and for me, it was revelatory.  In the past, we've had pastors lead the Bible study.  This year, we approached it differently.  This year, I was in charge, but I didn't know that I was in charge until I arrived.  There was no time to prepare a traditional Bible study, the way I might have if I had more time.

In so many ways, my lack of preparation turned out to be a good thing.  It opened the door to something new.  Today and tomorrow, I'll talk about what we did and what I learned.

When we met on Sunday, we spent time brainstorming about the theme of the retreat:  Spirit Blazing.  Each year, we focus on a different aspect of God:  Creator, Christ, Holy Spirit.  We talked about all the places we see fire in the Bible, both as aspect of God and in other ways.  We talked about Bible passages.

For Bible study on Monday, I decided to focus on 2 Timothy 1:  3-7:  "3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline."

I gave the group paper to write on and read the passage.  I had them write about what needed to be rekindled in each of them individually and/or in the groups and communities of which they are part.

Then came the interesting part.  I talked about the presence of spiritual mentors in the passage.  There's Paul, writing to the younger Timothy who he has known for many years.  There's Timothy's grandmother and mother.  I asked the group to think about our own mentors.  Then we moved into a free writing exercise.

The ground rules are simple:  keep writing.  Don't stop, don't go back, don't think--just write until told to stop.

My students usually last 45 seconds until they start whimpering and wanting to stop.  Not this group.  I think they could have written all morning.

I gave them the prompt:  if your mentors were here, what advice and insight would they give you about rekindling?

I wasn't sure what would happen.  In college classrooms, I have a good sense, but I've rarely tried this experiment outside of a college classroom or my own writing desk.

Our group was mildly to wildly enthusiastic.  I did the exercise too, and I came away with important insights, which I wrote about here.

I find this process interesting, and it's a different approach to Bible study than what we usually experience.  In my experience, Bible study usually consists of an expert who has studied the text and can give background and insight.  Or it consists of the participants saying what they think--but they often haven't given the passage much thought.  That surface level, first-exposure approach can be interesting, but what we did leads to depth.

We had talked about the 2 Timothy passage on Sunday, and I'd spent the whole night thinking about it.  Then we arrived on Monday to write.  We dove deep.

Writing intensely can serve as a kind of meditation.  Many people aren't good at sitting and quieting their minds.  Free writing gives the brain the focus it needs and gives the body something to do.

I'm amazed at what bubbles to the surface in free writing.  I should do it more often. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Theological Thoughts on a Hindu House Blessing

Yesterday, I attended a Hindu house blessing; for more on what we did and for different pictures, go to this post on my creativity blog.  I didn't talk much theology in that post.  It seems appropriate to think about the implications here.

The Hindu priest was very gracious, and he tried to explain much of what we observed yesterday.  He began by talking about the oneness of God, but how his people prefer to think about how this oneness is expressed in multitudes.

I have already glimpsed some of that idea in conversations that I've had with my Hindu friend.  I understand the many manifestations of God from my own Christian beliefs, although I confess to finding Trinitarian theory to be one of the most difficult elements of Christianity to explain.

But here's one thing that still eludes me.  My friend has objects that I would call statues, like Ganesh below, that less tolerant people might label idols. 

Are these objects the gods themselves or reminders of the ineffable, the God that cannot be captured?  A conversation for another day.

I was struck by so many things.  Let me try to record a few of them.

As we moved through each blessing and each offering and each section, the priest began the chanting with a long "Om."  I felt it in my bones, and I felt my rib cage open up.  I know that's supposed to happen, but I've rarely experienced it. 

I loved the chanting, even though I didn't understand the words.  My Jewish friend who was there said, "Chanting is chanting, whether in Sanskrit or Hebrew or Latin."  Indeed. 

In fact, I was struck by how many things about the Hindu house blessing felt familiar, in the midst of so much that was alien.  For example, the priest had streaks of ash on his forehead and earlobes:

During the ceremony, he explained that he puts ashes on his head every day so that he remembers how temporary our lives are, how soon, we all shall be dust.  I thought about how so many religions incorporate the same idea and the same symbol, the ash.  He said that the ash reminds him of how he must not get upset over issues that are so temporary.  It's just not worth it.

Other ideas that felt familiar:  the idea that we must strive to bring good into the world and to become our best selves.  He encouraged us again and again to be less judgmental, particularly when we're harsh with ourselves.  He came back to those ideas again and again.

I was also happy to see how laid back he was.  My Hindu friend, the homeowner, worried about all the items she didn't have.  The priest continued to assure her that she need not worry, that they'd improvise.  Once, when talking about the lack of the right kind of cotton, he said something along the lines of:  or we'll close our eyes and imagine the best cotton ever, and that will be enough.  How wonderful.

My friend is easily moved to fretfulness, to panic over not doing it all right.  The priest continued to soothe her and assure her that all would be well.

We watched various offerings to various Gods.  In the second half of the ceremony, we moved to the offerings to the fire gods:

I thought about my more conservative Christian friends, who would have been horrified and worried for their mortal souls at being present.  But I didn't worry.  Sometimes I think that Christianity has wandered too far away from those ancient roots.  We're not asked to sacrifice much, in most Christian churches.  Sure, we may tithe or go to feed the poor or make other kinds of sacrifices.  But most of our churches don't require it.

In fact, many churches focus much too much on wish fulfillment.  That whole strain of Prosperity Gospel theology tells us that we need to dream ever bigger and let God know exactly what we want--and the texts I've read don't encourage readers to ask God for a mosquito net for every bed so that malaria can be eradicated.

My Hindu friend teaches mythology and fairy tales, and she says that she always tells her students to beware of wishes.  Wish fulfillment has the price of sacrifice.  She always says, "What are you willing to give up to get your wish?"

It's a different view of sacrifice, but one that works for Western brains.

The service lasted over 90 minutes, and I didn't understand it all on a literal level, since much of the language wasn't in English.  The priest, however, was very gracious in explaining a bit what was happening.  Still, I didn't struggle to grasp it all.  I just let it wash over me.

I loved the basic messages, of a desire for new life out of the ashes of my friend's house fire, of the reminder that all is temporary and we should cherish what we have while we have it, especially our relationships.  I loved that the priest was happy to see our Western faces and that he invited us to come to his temple any time.  I feel so honored that our Hindu friend invited us.

I'm in an ecumenical mood these days, although I do worry a bit about being seen as a spiritual tourist or a dilettante.  Tonight my observant Jewish friends will celebrate Rosh Hashanah.  I plan to spend this afternoon making challah bread which I will braid into a circle shape.  After sunset, I will dip the challah into honey and wish for us all a good and sweet new year.

Perhaps tomorrow I'll cast bread on the water, as Rabbi Rachel Barenblat describes in this post.  She calls it "symbolic releasing or casting-away of our mistakes from the previous year."  I love that symbolism.  I'm ready to cast away those mistakes.  I'm ready for a year that doesn't come with house fires and staff reductions and all those other flames that reduce us to ash.  I'm ready for new life.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hindu House Blessing

What happens at a Hindu house blessing?  Soon I will know.  My Hindu friend suffered a devastating house fire last October, the day after Diwali in fact.  She has spent the last year rebuilding her life out of the ashes. 

She's a modern woman in an industrialized nation, so she hasn't had to do the rebuilding literally with her own two hands.  But in some ways, being a woman in an industrialized nation has brought hassles and headaches that she wouldn't have had if she had lived in a remote village.  She's had to deal with insurance agents and contractors and building inspectors and city/county officials.

But she's persevered, and today we bless the house.  The Hindu priest has decided on an auspicious day and time:  Sept. 15 between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m.  So we will arrive before daybreak, take off our shoes and see what happens.

What does one wear to a Hindu house blessing?  I'm assured that it's fine to wear pants; we'll be sitting on the floor part of the time, so pants seem wise.

Are certain colors forbidden?  My Hindu friend says no.

My Hindu friend says that grapes and bananas are customary offerings, so we'll bring those.  Since it's so early, I'm bringing some coffee, which may not be part of the Hindu custom.

Are there other customs?  My Jewish friend has done some research, and she says that we have to watch which way we point our feet.  Of all the ways I've been aware of my physical body, I've never thought about which way I point my feet.

I'm hoping that we'll all have an ecumenical spirit of openness, especially in light of what has been happening in the Mideast in the past week.  My Hindu friend and her friends do seem welcoming and open--like people who would forgive us if we accidentally did something offensive.

I think back to my youth, in the late 70's and early 80's, when ecumenical outreach meant talking to Catholics or Baptists.  As a Lutheran, I was often the oddity in the community.  I didn't meet a Hindu person until--well, maybe, until my current Hindu friend.  I had a Muslim friend in grad school, but we didn't discuss religion much.  I wish now that we had.  I didn't live anyplace that had a large Jewish population until we moved down here.

I'm grateful that my Hindu friend has included me.  I'm grateful that I don't come from a Christian community who would tell her that she'll burn in hell.

I'm grateful for her homecoming, her success in rebuilding her life.  For this, I'll offer a prayer of thanks to God.  And I'm certain that God will smile on us and say, "Wow, a Hindu, a Lutheran, an atheist, a Wiccan, and a Jew all blessing a house--what a cool world I've created!"

Friday, September 14, 2012

Double Rainbows, Rising Moons, and Shooting Stars

Last week was a week of rainbows.  On Thursday, I saw a rainbow as I left work, and then on Friday, we saw a double rainbow as we drove around Jacksonville, Florida.

Here's a picture of a past double rainbow, for your Friday viewing pleasure:

My rational brain knows that rainbows are a trick of light and refraction.  My inspiration brain says, "Wow!  What a cool sight!"  And then, as I've written before, there's my theological mind that sees the rainbow as a sign of God's promise.

The world is full of reminders of God's promise.  On Wednesday, I got up very early to drive south.  The moon was just rising and huge.  It was a waning moon, so it hung low on the horizon, the crescent a pumpkin orange.  Imagine just a sliver of this moon:

Again, I was enchanted--and grateful that there wasn't much traffic, because I kept wanting to gaze at the moon.  We think of the full moon as having that bewitching power, but the crescent moon has a pull too.

As I drove through the dark, I saw not one, but 2 shooting stars.  I made a wish, as I have been trained to do since childhood.  My brain said, "A beautiful moon and two shooting stars--they must be portents of good things to come."

Leftover impulses from a more superstitious time of human history?  Willingness to be enchanted?

I think of my impulse to pray, which my more scientific friends might dismiss as fanciful as much as I dismiss my impulse to wish upon a star, shooting or otherwise.  But I make my wishes known to God--and to my spouse, my friends, anyone who will listen.

I want to be more present, more attuned to all the ways that the world shows us the presence of a caring creator.  Double rainbows, rising moons, and shooting stars are very flashy ways to get my attention.  I want to also see the subtle signs.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Meditation on This Week's Narrative Lectionary Reading

The readings for Sunday, September 16, 2012:

Genesis 15:1-6

Optional reading:  Luke 3:8

Today's reading shows God making extravagant promises that human brains cannot quite comprehend.  It's not the first time, and it won't be the last.  I've always thought that one of my favorite Biblical themes is the extravagant Divine promise fulfilled in ways that humans never would have dreamed otherwise.

God promises that Abraham's descendants will be as many as the stars.  But Abraham has yet to have any children at all; how will this promise be granted?

In the chapters that follow, we will see Abraham and Sarah (when they're still called Abram and Sarai) try to make the promise happen on their timetable.  Abraham fathers a child with a slave, Hagar,and Sarah's jealousy leads to the expulsion of the slave woman and baby from the household.

And still, it isn't clear how God will fulfill this promise.  God continues to come back to this covenant, promising that Abraham will be father to a great nation, even as Abraham and Sarah become ever older, ever more barren in all sorts of ways.

And then, the miracle:  Abraham and Sarah conceive.

And we see the abundance that God offers.  Abraham does have a huge collection of descendants.  Abraham also fathers metaphorical nations.  Abraham becomes the father of not just one great nation of faith, but three:  Islam (through Hagar's child Ishmael), Judaism, and Christianity.

Here again, we see one of the great messages of the Bible:  God can make a way out of dead ends.  God can make all sorts of wondrous events happen, even events that should be out of the realm of possibility.

And once again, we see God choosing unlikely methods.  If humans had been in charge of founding a great nation, humans would choose someone young and strong, someone with many years to devote to having children, someone with a wide variety of talents.  Humans wouldn't have chosen an elderly couple who had spent their most fruitful years fleeing famine and hardship.

Again and again, God sees possibility where humans see none.  Again and again, God makes outrageous promises, and again and again, God fulfills them.

It's hard to trust in God's plan, especially when God takes us in surprising directions.  It's good to remember that God has a long history of fulfilling extravagant promises, that God is generous in ways that humans can scarcely fathom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 16, 2012:

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Proverbs 1:20-33

Psalm: Psalm 116:1-8 (Psalm 116:1-9 NRSV)

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 19

Second Reading: James 3:1-12

Gospel: Mark 8:27-38

I can only imagine how much the Jesus in today's Gospel must have baffled people--Peter even goes so far as to rebuke him. It's important to remember that Jews during the time of Jesus weren't looking for the kind of spiritual savior that we have in mind when we use the term Messiah; Jews during this time period expected their Messiah to be a great warrior who would kick the Romans out of the homeland.

And here's Jesus, talking about being rejected by everyone and being killed and rising again; he mentions crosses--in that time, the only ones picking up a cross were those on their way to their own brutal public executions.

This Gospel was written during a later time of social upheaval (and written about an earlier time of social upheaval)--the reason the Gospel of Mark sounds so apocalyptic is because the Christian community feared attack from various quarters. This Gospel is written both to calm the community, as well as to give them strength to face what is coming, and the courage to do what must be done. The last chunk of the Gospel shows this motivation clearly. What good is our earthly life if, in preserving it, we lose our souls?

An intriguing question, even today--a time of social upheaval, where there are plenty of events to frighten us. Notice the language of Jesus. Following him is a choice. Crosses don't just fall on us out of the sky; we choose to pick them up when we follow Jesus.

It's a marketing scheme that you would never find in today's "How to Build a MegaChurch" model books. Emphasize suffering? Why on earth would people want a religion like that?

It's interesting also to reflect on Jesus' words at the close of this chapter--are we ashamed of Jesus? Do people know we are Christians by our actions? If they ask us about our faith life, are we able to speak coherently (or at least openly) about it?

I tend not to talk about my faith at work unless people bring it up or ask me questions. I also try not to overwhelm people with too much information. One Holy Week, a work colleague asked me why it's called "Good Friday," when the Crucifixion was such a terrible thing. I took a minute to collect my thoughts—after all, whole books have been written on the topic.

I talked about the traditional view of the Crucifixion as being necessary for salvation and redemption, that because of Christ's pain, we get into Heaven. I talked about my view, not as traditional but shared by many, that Heaven is a lovely bonus if it turns out like that, but that Christ really came to show us how to live here. I talked about what Crucifixion meant to the Romans, that it was a punishment reserved for enemies of the state.

I tried to stress the idea that this new way of life that Jesus proposed, a life where we care for each other and for the oppressed, was so radical that he was seen as a threat to the empire, and so he was killed.

I had love on the brain because of Maundy Thursday, and I stressed the love angle. At the end of our talk, my colleague said, "I really like this vision of yours, this God who loves us."

I hope that’s what sticks with her. So many people have had such negative encounters with the institution of religion and with specific Christians. So many people have heard such damaging theology, and I’m convinced it’s not the theology that points us to God.

Perhaps that’s our cross, in our post-modern lives in western, industrialized nations, to be the correcting vision of Christianity. We’re not likely to be martyred in a traditional way, like Christ, like Peter, like Paul. We’re much more likely to be thought of as freaks, to be shunned as one of those weird religious types.

In some ways, it’s a difficult cross to bear. In other ways, what a gift, to be the person who reminds society that there’s more to life than that which the larger culture wants us to focus upon. We live in an empire that’s deadly in so many ways. We can be the subversive yeast culture that rises undetected, leavening the loaves of the societies in which we find ourselves.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Poems or Psalms for September 11

Most of us are well aware of what happened on September 11, 2001.  Now we are left with discussions about the best ways to remember that day.

I like the idea of some kind of service; of course, I come from a variety of religious traditions that instruct us to do service every day, not just as a response to national horror.

I have a friend who finds the Psalms refreshing.  She particularly likes the unflinching anger.  There are plenty of Psalms for any mood that you might have this day.

I'm a poet, so I often turn to poetry during times that need commemoration.  It's been some time since I posted a poem on this blog, so let me give you one.

It's not ostensibly about September 11.  In fact, it's about the Mount St. Helens volcanic explosion.  But it feels appropriate for today too.  It was first published in A Summer's Reading.

Thirteen Miles

My declining health, your job loss—our comfortable
life explodes. That clean mountainside crumbles.
Stress builds, and the volcano explodes.
We can see the coming cataclysm,
the moment for which we have prepared,
the disaster we thought we could avoid.
We saved money and thought we were safe,
like those folks who lived thirteen
miles away from Mount Saint Helens
but the mountain swallowed them whole.

The day after the volcanic explosion,
we emerge into sunshine, amazed
that the sun rose as if it was any normal
morning. The world, covered in ash, loses
its color. Tragedy paints
our world black and white. We can’t imagine
how life can continue.

And yet, life struggles on, swims towards continuity.
We have ecosystems protected deep inside ourselves,
whole worlds that we didn’t even know existed. We discover
them now that our misfortunes have blasted
away the undergrowth that took eons to grow.
In twenty years, we won’t recognize
our various, volcanic landscapes.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Of Rainbows and Work and Sunday School

It's been a long several weeks at work. I've been getting all my annual evaluations done, even though they're not due until Oct. 1. In light of all the uncertainties, it seems wise to get them done.

Our annual review process involves observing the faculty member teaching a class, preparation of lots of paperwork in advance of the annual reivew process, a meeting with the worker who's being evaluated, then more paperwork and some electronic forms and then the copying and the filing. August and September were already going to be busy months for me, as half of my department has a hire date of Oct. 1. With all the other disruptions, it's even more hectic this year.

Wednesday evening, thunderstorms rumbled through. My office is close to an outdoor patio, and I sometimes go outside, just to take a break from staring at screens. It's a fairly protected space; last night, I stepped outside to see what the weather was doing.

I turned to go inside, and part of my brain said, "Wait! Is that a rainbow?"

I turned back and scanned the sky. Sure enough, a rainbow!

My rational brain knows that rainbows are a result of water droplets and light fracturing into colors of the spectrum.

My optimistic brain sees a rainbow as a good sign. I remember all those Sunday School lessons that presented rainbows as a symbol of God's grace, a promise that we're protected.

For those of you preparing to teach your Sunday School classes and wondering if your students will retain anything that you teach them, I assure you that they will.  We can't always anticipate what our students will hang onto, of course.  But something will stick with them throughout adulthood.

I'm grateful that I don't see rainbows as a simple trick of light and water.  I'm grateful to be surrounded by evidence of a carefully constructed planet, a creation full of signs and wonders.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Symbols from a Sailing Trip

Three weeks ago, we'd be heading to Maryland for our annual sailing trip.  A sailing trip on the Chesapeake Bay:  what a delight for the soul!

It's good to see a different shoreline from South Florida (below, Annapolis):

I like to see a shoreline with no evidence of humans; it's good to remember what God has done:

Of course, a good sunrise is also a potent reminder of what God can do:

Along the way, I saw these Annapolis steeples, which reminded me of both the wonder of God's grace and the wonders of human creation:

I envy the people who own this swing.  I yearn for time to sit and contemplate the Bay:

But the sailboat of life continues through the water, driven by winds I often hardly notice until I'm in a different port, watching the sun rise from a different shore:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Week of Weeping at Work

What a week it's been at work:  in short, much weeping, weeping in the hallways, weeping in public.  Once upon a time I thought of creating small chapels so that religious students had a respite and a place to pray.  Now, I wish that I had.  Would a chapel be a more comforting cry space than a conference room?

I've been thinking about tears, about a theology of tears.  I've been thinking about our obligations of hospitality and what that means for those of us who mourn and weep.

When I was much younger, I saw a lack of emotion as a sign of maturity.  Now, I, too, cry with those who weep. It just seems cruel to let people cry alone.

I'm frustrated by my inability to make the situation different.  I can't manufacture jobs to replace the jobs that have been cut.  I can't promise that there will be no job cuts in the future.  Those decisions are not up to me.  I'm just left here on the ground to carry them out and to try to keep the school functioning.

At my school, and maybe at your workplace, we are living in an ever more haunted place:  ghosts of colleagues disappeared in prior RIFs, ghosts of programs that barely function (or cease functioning) as we no longer have the staff to carry them out, ghosts of our earlier optimism.

I try to hold on to the Easter message, that even out of death can come new life.  I try to remember that even when I think I can do nothing, I can pray.  I can listen and be present.  I can offer a tissue.  I can pray.

I can pray.  Not out loud.  I know that many of my colleagues would react in horror if I suggested that we pray together.  I'm not real comfortable with that myself.

But I can pray silently.  I can ask that God be with us all as we grieve.  I can ask for guidance.  I can ask for the peace that will allow me to be present and attentive.  I can ask for the Divine Presence to be with us all.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Narrative Lectionary: Creation

The Narrative Lectionary Readings for Sept. 9, 2012:

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8

Optional:  Luke 11:4

This creation story is not my favorite.  I much prefer the first creation story that Genesis gives us.

Two creation stories?  Two ways to begin?  You were not aware that Genesis contains at least 2 variations of the same story?

The earlier version shows God as a creator making things and declaring them "Good" and "Very good."  The Narrative Lectionary will give us this creation story in later years.

The creation story for this Sunday gives us the more familiar story:  God creates a human out of dust and puts him in the garden of Eden with strict instructions not to eat of one particular tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The rest of the story is familiar even to people who rarely go to church or temple.The snake convinces the woman to eat the fruit, she convinces the man, and they're aware of their nakedness and feel shame.  It's a story that has left us with centuries of interpretation.

Many Bible scholars think that the second creation story was written during the time of the Babylonian exile (587 B.C.E.), and it's interesting to compare this Judeo-Christian creation story to the much more violent creation story of the Babylonians, where many gods battle, and the heavens and the earth are formed out of the dessecrated body of the defeated goddess Tiamat.  In the Genesis story, we see a kinder God, with humans who are given freedom and choices.

One of the central questions that I've often gotten about this creation story revolves around free will.  Why would God put this object, this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, into the Garden of Eden in the first place?  If we believe in an omniscient God, the question becomes thornier:  if God knows that the humans will eat the fruit, why set them up?

The simple answer:  God wants humans, not pets.  The Scriptures show us time and time again that God wants relationship with us, but God wants it to be a non-coercive relationship.  God has created a universe based on free will, with humans (and perhaps animals and perhaps even quantuum particles) making a variety of choices, some of them disastrous.  It's the best answer that I can give to that eternal question:  "Why does God allow such bad stuff to happen?"

Again and again in these Biblical narratives, we'll see humans making trust-breaking decisions.  We'll see both humans and God wrestling with how to handle these disappointments.  We'll see humans deciding to look out for themselves, or deciding that they know better than God, or deciding that they'd like to be God, and we'll see the consequences of those actions.

It makes sense to begin with such a story as we have for today.  We may find it tempting, as the ancients did, to impose strict moral lessons onto the story.  One of the reasons that this passage makes me queasy is that it's been one of the primary texts used as a justification for the oppression of women.  All of our sinful consequences get laid at the feet of this first woman who ate the fruit and convinced the man to do the same.

We've got the signature text for the doctrine of original sin. And that doctrine has been used in so many destructive ways.

Later Biblical scholars have argued that the Bible is primarily about God, not about us.  When we turn this text into a set of orders to follow, we've lost our way.

In the coming weeks, we'll see an interesting assortment of people, many of whom we wouldn't choose, if we were putting together a dream team of people who will fulfill God's covenant.  For me, that's one of the most important lessons of the Bible:  God can use us where we are, even with all the ways we are imperfect.

In fact, we could make the argument that God uses those very imperfections to get us all closer to a redeemed creation, a reformed Garden, a world that's closer to finished draft than the rough draft of a world that we see in the creation stories in Genesis.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 9, 2012:

First Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Psalm: Psalm 146

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 125

Second Reading: James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

Gospel: Mark 7:24-37

Many people find this Gospel's depiction of Jesus disturbing, but I find it refreshing, even as it disturbs me. I grew up with an idea of an inclusive Jesus, a Jesus who came for all of us. The Jesus of my childhood was never angry (except perhaps for that incident in the temple), never irritable, never tired.

The Jesus of the Gospels isn't the Jesus of my childhood. If we read the Gospels carefully, we can see that the view of Jesus shifts as the community of faith continues to interpret the meaning of Jesus and to define what happened to Jesus and the first community of believers. Often we forget that the Gospels were written not by the first disciples (as I thought, when I was a child), but by people who came along later.

One early view of Jesus was an exclusive one, the one that says that Jesus came for the Jews. As the early Christian community expanded to include non-Jews, we can see chunks of the Gospels written with this development in mind. The story of Jesus and the Greek woman may be part of that mission.

Or perhaps we're seeing something more basic. I notice that a running theme in this Gospel is Jesus' attempts to get away, to move anonymously. It doesn't work. Everywhere he turns, there are the people who need him. We've all had those weeks at work or in our families where it seems that people need more and more of us and we can't get away from those incessant demands. We know how cranky that can make us. Maybe we're just seeing a Jesus who is tired and irritable. I like the idea of a snippy Jesus who needs to be reminded of his mission so that he can soften his attitude. I like the idea that we can be occasionally cranky and not ruin our mission, just as Jesus was occasionally cranky, but managed to change our world so radically.

I also find the Greek woman to be refreshing. Here's a woman who fights for her daughter. Here's a woman who is told no, I didn't come for you--and she fights back. She presents a good argument, and it works.

I like the idea of a Jesus who can change his mind. I like the idea of a Jesus who listens to an outsider (a Greek, a woman) and becomes more inclusive.

Often the Gospel gives us a picture of Jesus who seems more divine than human. This Gospel shows me a refreshingly human Jesus, with traits (irritability, a desperate need for rest) that I recognize. I see a divine presence who might really understand me, since he's been under stress himself.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Moving to a Narrative Lectionary

Our church is about to experiment with the narrative lectionary.  What is the narrative lectionary, you ask?  This website explains: 

"The narrative lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. On the Sundays from September through May each year the texts follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church:

•From September to mid-December the preaching texts begin with the early chapters of Genesis, move through the stories of Israel’s early history, the exodus, the kings, prophets, exile, and return.

•From Christmas to Easter there is sustained reading of one of the four gospels

•From Easter to Pentecost the texts are chosen from Acts and Paul’s letters."

I'm intrigued by this different approach.  I'll miss the knowledge that across the world, many Christians are reading the same texts, as we do with the Revised Common Lectionary, but I know that many churches go off lectionary for at least some of the time.

What does this mean for this blog and for my meditation on the weekly Gospel?  Well, now there will be two. 

I originally started writing the meditation on the Sunday Gospel for a different church when I sent out a weekly e-mail.  Then my mom's church started using it.  Then I switched churches, and I posted it on their blog, along with my own blog that I was keeping by then.  I'm syndicated!

I'll keep posting that meditation on Wednesdays, and then, on Thursdays, I'll post a response to the readings for the narrative lectionary.  At least, that's my plan.  We'll see how it works.

I like this idea:  "The texts include the major episodes in Scripture. They are arranged in a narrative sequence to help people see Scripture as a story that has coherence and a dynamic movement."

I went to a Presbyterian elementary school, so I have more Bible training than many people do.  I'm always amazed at what Christians don't know about the Bible, as well as by their inability to see larger pictures that the Bible presents.  I know that I'm also trained as a literary scholar and thus, I approach the Bible that way--another skill that many in our societies don't have.

It will be an interesting experiment.  I'll weigh in, periodically, on this new approach that many are adopting. And it will give me new writing challenges.  That's always good.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Believing the Best

Yesterday, I cleaned up after our family service that meets at 10, and then I headed over to the sanctuary, where I caught the last bit of my pastor's sermon.  He was preaching on James 1:  17-27.

He reminded us of how faith is scary/radical/weird in terms of how we treat each other.  He reminded us that Luther taught us to explain everything in the kindest possible way; even when the actions of our co-workers and neighbors makes us shake our head, we are required to put a positive spin on those actions.  Luther's teaching undergirds James (or does James undergird Luther?).

Of course, it would be better to avoid talking about others at all, but so far, I'm not as good at that.  So, since my workplace seems predisposed to gossip and speculation, I try to be the one who sees the possible positive when all around me, everyone is seeing negative.

But honestly, I don't believe that our various officials are on a destructive path.  I don't think anyone becomes an administrator at a school just to ruin that school.  I don't believe that political officials will destroy parts of America so that they can get elected.  I don't think that people want to get elected or rise in rank just so that they can enrich themselves.  I truly think that even when people's views differ from mine, that they're not lying to get elected or to keep the population placid.

Let me hasten to confess that my skewing positive doesn't affect anyone else.  I'm amazed at how dedicated people are to believing the worst.

Christians are countercultural in all kinds of ways.  Imagine how the world would change if we looked for the best in each other, instead of assuming the worst.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Theology and Creativity

I've spent much of the past week sorting through piles of paper, including e-mail exchanges that I printed out.  When I was going through old e-mails, I noticed that I was wrestling with discouragement then, too.  I was finding wisdom from Julia Cameron's Finding Water:  The Art of Perseverance.  On Tuesday, after a particularly difficult day at work, I found comfort there again.

As I reread parts of the book, I was thinking about Julia Cameron's theology, and how various writers who explore creativity have a certain theology.  The ones I read have moved away from the idea of a punishing God. The God or the universe of my favorite explicators of creativity is a generous God, one who is always waiting with more good ideas than we'll ever be able to use.

In the theology of writers like Julia Cameron, it's humans who have rejected God, not God who is rejecting us.  That idea squares with a lot of my Lutheran theology.

Take a look at other Julia Cameron quotes and see how they match your theology:

 “We are not accustomed to thinking that God's will for us and our own inner dreams can coincide.”


“There is no fact, no detail of our life too sordid for God's intervention. God has seen murder. God has seen rape. God has seen drug addiction's and alcoholism's utter degradation. God is available to us no matter what our circumstances. God can find us in a crack house. God can find us crumpled in a doorway or cowering on a park bench. We need only reach out to discover that God reaches back. We are led a step at a time even when we feel we are alone. Sometimes God talks to us through people. Sometimes God reaches us through circumstances or coincidence. God has a million ways to reach out to us, and when we are open to it, we begin to sense the touch of God coming to us from all directions.”

―  Faith and Will: Weathering the Storms in Our Spiritual Lives


“The doing of something productive regardless of the outcome is an act of faith. The doing of a small something when a large something is too much for us is perhaps especially an act of faith. Faith means going forward by whatever means we can.”

Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance  

“Wherever you are is always the right place. There is never a need to fix anything, to hitch up the bootstraps of the soul and start at some higher place. Start right where you are."  

“Fatigue can make it hard to have faith. Too much busyness can make it hard to have faith. Too much of too little solitude can impact faith. For that matter, so can a bout of hunger or overwork, anything carried to an extreme. Faith thrives on routine. Look at any monastery and you will see that. Faith keeps on keeping on.”

Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance


“Art is an act of the soul, not the intellect. When we are dealing with people's dreams - their visions, really - we are in the realm of the sacred. We are involved with forces and energies larger than our own. We are engaged in a sacred transaction of which we know only a little: the shadow, not the shape.”


“When we seek daily spiritual guidance, we are guided toward the next step forward for our art. Sometimes the step is very small. Sometimes the step is, "Wait. Not now." Sometimes the step is, "Work on something else for a while." When we are open to Divine Guidance, we will receive it. It will come to us as the hunch, the inkling, the itch. It will come to us as timely conversations with others. It will come to us in many ways--but it will come.”

Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance