Sunday, March 31, 2013

Revitalizing the Resurrection Narrative

Yesterday, one of my friends asked me how my Holy Week was going, and I was honest.  I said that some years, I don't bring tissues with me, and I need them.  Other years, like this one, I carry a wad of tissues, and I never cry.

I said, "Every year, it's the same old story; it never changes, that march to Crucifixion."

I was joking, but it does point to a serious problem, for those of us who go to church regularly.  We hear a version of the Resurrection story every Sunday.  It's wonderful, but it does risk making the narrative hum drum.  We become immune to its power.

This Easter morning, I find myself thinking of the story of the Prodigal Son.  I think of the fear I feel when I watch loved ones engaged in destructive behavior, and I know the father was feeling that emotion for many years before his son finally leaves.  I think of that father, who must have surely given his son up for dead by the time his son returns.  I think of all of us who have loved ones that we'd love to see again.

I think of the joy that father feels:  another chance, and maybe it will all work out this time.

I think of the sorrow of the women who come to the tomb on Easter morning.  They must have had similar feelings to the father as they watched Jesus and his ministry:  "We've been waiting for this one.  Maybe it will be different this time."

I think of all the people repressed at the hands of oppressive governments everywhere.  I think of the millions of disappeared people, the family members who yearn for answers, the tombs empty because the bodies have been dumped in rivers or buried in construction projects. 

The message of Easter is that death does not have the final answer.  Repressive governments will only rule so long.  We will not have to suffer separation from our loved ones forever.  We have dead bodies to prepare for burial today, but it will not always be so.

Resurrection beckons.  How will we respond?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Poem for Holy Triduum

We are deep into the liturgical time period of Holy Triduum, or The Three Days, which begins with Maundy Thursday night services and lasts until Easter morning.  Some churches will hold an Easter vigil for all of today and through the night.  Some will do a shorter version.  Some churches depart in silence on Good Friday night and return again on Easter (not counting the gatherings for rehearsals, decorating, cleaning, and food prep that may be happening today).

My church will not be holding an Easter vigil, and truth be told, I'm both glad and wistful.  I'm feeling a bit weary, so I'm glad not to be reporting to church today.  But I do feel like we're missing an opportunity.

For those of you who want readings for today, go here and scroll down.  For those of you in the mood for a poem, here's one I wrote years ago.  It appears for the first time here.


We thought we had you safely buried,
or at least confined to little cages
where we could consider you contained.

“God is dead,” Nietzche declared,
and we all nailed shut the coffin.

So now this Easter Eve,
we spend the night awakening to the sound of knocking.
Doorbells ring across the nocturnal
landscape, but no one stands
at the portal.

No one but a shivering mortal
with the sound of angels in her ears,
the urgings of mystics at her back.
She stretches out her hands to sunrise.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Fragments

I am feeling more fragmented that I sometimes feel on Good Friday.  We've had a week between classes at work, but unlike some intersession weeks, this one hasn't been peaceful.  I've felt exhausted and beat up at the end of each day--but I can't put my finger on specific reasons why.

Luckily, there are plenty of other resources for Good Friday reflection:

--I like the post I wrote last year, with photos and brief meditations on the meaning of Good Friday.

--Beth sums up my feelings fairly precisely in this post that she wrote: 

"How many years have I been doing this -- attending most of the services, singing, listening to the story over and over, presented in different ways, in words, music, dance, drama? As an adult, at least twenty-five. Sometimes it happens: something breaks through the numbness and repetition and locks its fingers around my heart, and when the grip slowly releases, there's a new insight, connecting this story of suffering and acceptance to my own life or the world at large in a new way.

And sometimes it's like this year so far: an intellectual and artistic engagement that remains detached in spite of my desire for it to be otherwise."

Yes, detached.  I, too, feel a bit detached.

--If you've been contemplating what's being termed as the rise of the nones (meaning people who claim no religious affiliation), don't miss this essay in The Washington Post by Michael Gerson.  It's full of interesting statistics, like this one:  "In America’s case [unlike Europe's], the hypothesis remains unproved. While Americans have become less attached to religious institutions, there is little evidence they have become less religious. In 1992, according to the indispensable Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Americans described religion as “very important.” In 2012, it was . . . 58 percent. There is a similar stability in the proportion of Americans who regard prayer as an important part of their lives."

--I love the way that Gerson ends his essay:  "In religion, it is easy to measure what is dying; it is harder to locate the manger where something new is being born."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Word and Sacrament and Maundy Thursday and Seders

Another Maundy Thursday--soon the sun will be up and the pace of the day will zoom.  My spouse will go to the noon service, and we will both go back for the evening service.  While he's at the noon service, I'll be having a lunch meeting with the library committee.  We'll eat in the library, which might feel transgressive.  Food and drink and all those books!  In the past, it would have been quite the no-no.

In some ways, it reminds me of a Maundy Thursday in a church I attended years ago.  In the 1970's, many youth groups did a Seder meal for Maundy Thursday, and our Lutheran Student Movement did a Seder one year, when I suggested it and put it together.  I wanted to do something similar for the church.

We couldn't do it in the evening because I had to teach.  The impediment to doing a Seder during the daytime was that the preschool used every bit of space in the building except for the sanctuary.  I came up with a way we could have a meal in the back of the sanctuary.

As I researched the Seder, it became apparent that I had volunteered for more than I could accomplish.  So, I switched to a simpler meal.  I made a big pot of lentils and bought pita bread.  I bought feta cheese and olives.

We sat and ate and talked about how the simple meal was similar to the food that Jesus would have eaten regularly.  We talked about the Seder meal.  We talked about Maundy Thursday, since the people who came to the meal were like me, unable to get back for an evening service.

Did we also have a service?  I honestly cannot remember.  What I remember is the joy of sharing a meal, and everyone's surprise at how good lentils tasted.  I remember being pleased that my experiment worked.  We had just enough room for everyone who came.  If the whole church had attended--well, what a great problem that would have been, not having enough room.

But we had a small, select group, which I was fairly sure would happen, when I made the plans.  It was neat to sit in the sanctuary and enjoy a real meal, not the scrap of bread and sip of wine that we usually got. 

It was very cool to do Word and Sacrament in a completely different way--and wonderful that it seemed to work for people.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Meditation on Easter (and Ashes)

The Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, March 31, 2013:

Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25

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

1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43

Luke 24:1-12 or John 20:1-18

The Narrative Lectionary readings for Sunday, March 31, 2013:

Luke 24:1-16

Optional reading: Psalm 118:17, 21-24 or 118:22

Our Lenten journey comes to an end with our arrival at Easter. But what do we do if our mood has not caught up? How do we celebrate Easter when we still have the taste of ashes in our mouth?

You may find the words of the men in the glowing clothes resonating: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Maybe you feel somewhat tomb-bound yourself. Maybe you’ve resisted, but you still find yourself having a morose March, full of melancholy, a spring of sadness instead of new growth. You see the snow falling across the country, winter invading a new season, and you can relate.

It’s good to remember that the miracle of Easter involves actions done to Jesus, that old definition of passion.

Part of my Lenten discipline has been to read my way through Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent by Henri J. M. Nouwen, and he has this interesting discussion of the passion of Christ and its relevance for us: “It is important for me to realize that Jesus fulfills his mission not by what he does, but by what is done to him. Just as with everyone else, most of my life is determined by what is done to me and thus is passion. And because most of my life is passion, things being done to me, only small parts of my life are determined by what I think, say, or do. I am inclined to protest against this and to want all to be action, originated by me. But the truth is that my passion is a much greater part of my life than my action” (p. 125, originally part of The Road to Daybreak).

If resurrection can come out of passion, then maybe I can shift my attitude towards the passions that I suffer. God can take something most horrific and turn it into redemption. And happily, my moroseness is not caused by anything horrible.

In some ways, that’s what makes melancholy difficult. It’s easy to understand why I feel Ash Wednesday intruding on my Easter during years when I’ve watched loved ones struggle with disease, in years when hurricanes have ravaged the landscape, in years of job loss. It’s harder to understand my emotional landscape when I can’t point to much that’s specific that’s making me blue.

If we've heard the Easter story and the Holy Week stories again and again, we tend to forget the miraculous nature of them. Or maybe we’re just subdued, too shy or scared to run out of our gardens to tell everyone else what we've seen, what we know.

Now is a good time to remember the promise of Easter: death will not have the final word. Even if we’re feeling beaten down by sorrow, like the women who came to the tomb to dress the body, we have the promise given to them too. We are not the dead. We will not live forever in the tomb.

Remember we are a Resurrection People. Commit yourself to new life. Celebrate the miracles.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moneychangers in the Temple, Rummage Sales in the Fellowship Hall

My morning prayers (in Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime) have the reading that shows Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the Temple. In some (all?) of the Gospels, this action is part of the Holy Week actions that get Jesus in trouble.

This same morning, I got an e-mail because I'm part of the Executive Committee of my Church--how shall we pay for the roof job that needs to be done? Even though I had the Gospel ringing in my head, I suggested putting a special donation envelope in every Easter bulletin. This church building won't heal itself, after all.

I'm also aware of our example of the Babylonian captivity of our buildings, as Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it in this post. These buildings have demands on our time, energy, and money. In retrospect, it might have been wiser not to buy them in the first place.

But we have bought them. And they do require upkeep. And they can be a wondrous resource. I've written about this before. I want to get back to the issue of moneychangers and our Temples.

When we first moved down here, I was surprised by how many churches had carnivals in their parking lots. I was surprised by huge rummage sales in the church fellowship halls. It was so different from the churches of my childhood and adolescent.

Youth groups were allowed to have car washes, but that was about it, in terms of overt fund raising. We might have done a special fund drive, but unless you were on church council or some sort of committee, church members wouldn't have a sense of needing to pay the light bill, needing to come up with extra money to replace the roof.

I lived in a variety of Southern towns until we moved down here in 1998, and I never heard of a church rummage sale. It would have been too close to money changers in the Temple. I saw the occasional farmer's market in church parking lots, but that was as close as they got.

I was part of a very small church when we first moved here, and a few members REALLY wanted to do a rummage sale. Because of my background, I had reservations. I was outvoted.

Now I am opposed to rummage sales for a different reason. Holy cow, they're a lot of work! Should the body of Christ really spend its time tagging the trash of other people? Why not just put it all on the lawn and let everyone take it away for free?

Well, for one reason, it would be a mob scene. I was a bit horrified at the reaction of people at that church rummage sale back in the early part of this century. It went beyond haggling. There was verbal abuse when we wouldn't drop our prices. Ick.

If people behaved that way over items that were only priced at a few dollars, how would they behave when fighting over free things?

My slightly larger current church has rummage sales periodically. I'm amazed at the amount of stuff we offer for sale. I want to believe that the cheap rejects from one family may go on to help someone else's family survive.

Is the money worth the time? I'm not having that argument anymore. Everyone gets to make those decisions for themselves.

And back to the original question: how shall we pay for these operating expenses? I want to believe that everyone is contributing--but what to do if those contributions don't cover the expenses? Special fund drives? More rummage sales? Taking out a loan? Finding other groups that want to use our space, groups that will contribute money? Asking congregational members to adopt a bill?

You're hoping I'll have an answer. I do not. Each approach has its own drawbacks. Each has some possibilities.

What would Jesus do?  Send us out two by two?  Suggest special projects that the Church should do?  Give us a special vision that blows our minds?

Again, I don't pretend to have that answer. 

Churches will come to a variety of answers and that's cool.  At the very least, I'd like us to encourage us to behave in ways that bear witness to God, not in ways that undercut it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Palm Sunday Creativity

Those of you who have been following this blog know that my church has been experimenting with a different kind of service, which grew out of experiments with Sunday School and family services and a yearning for more creativity.  We've been using resources from Faith Inkubators and creating our own. Along the way, we've taken turns leading.

Yesterday it was my turn to lead.  The resources that we planned to use were Good Friday resources.  But I wanted also to discuss Palm Sunday.  And as I started thinking about Palm Sunday palm branches and the crucified palms of Good Friday, I thought of that passage from Isaiah chapter 49:  16 "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands."  I've spent weeks thinking about ways to tie it all together, giving just enough Holy Week story so that people don't arrive at Easter with none of it at all, but not so much so that people who come for Holy Week are bored.

We're lucky down here that we have real palms--REAL PALMS GROWING ON TREES--in our yards.  Every year, as Holy Week approaches, my spouse uses it as a reason to prune the palm trees.  Yesterday, we took a bucket of palm branches to church.

It was great to begin by waving palm branches and talking about the meaning of the Palm Sunday celebration.  We also talked about donkeys and the ways that rulers usually travelled.

Then we talked about crucifixion--with a great picture by He Qi (to see it, go here and scroll all the way down; I'm realizing our picture was cropped). 

I must confess that I didn't talk about the atonement theory of crucifixion.  I'm not going down the path of Jesus is up on the cross because I was mean to my sister--no way, no how.  I did talk about the kinds of executions that Rome administered, that crucifixion was reserved for people who threatened the state, as opposed to say, stoning.

Then we talked about the Isaiah passage and our names being written on God's palms.  We're always on the mind of God because our names are right there.

For our art project, I had drawn 2 giant hands.  Yes, they looked like Homer Simpson hands--or the hands of aliens.  And when I traced them with what I thought was a black marker, the ink had turned green through the years.   Still, it worked for our art purposes.

I had a huge mug of markers, and I asked people to put their names on the hands and the names of people whom they love.  It turned into a beautiful project.

I was pleased with how all the different strands wove together.  I was extra pleased with how everyone responded.  One smart ten year old asked me about the robbers that were crucified with Jesus--I tried to explain the vagaries of translation, while at the same time thinking, I did not see that coming.

It was one of those mornings that I felt a Holy Spirit nudge--but is it towards ordained ministry or Christian education?

Of course, our experiments show that we can be doing both--the divide between Christian Education and Word and Sacrament Ministry doesn't have to exist.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Passion Sunday and the Martyrdom of Oscar Romero

Today marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. At the same time, Christians around the world are preparing to remember the crucifixion of Jesus; today many churches will celebrate Passion Sunday, which wraps Palm Sunday and Holy Week into one big service. The lives and deaths of these two men, almost two thousand years apart, remind us of the forces of the world, which we take on, when we preach and live lives of radical love and commitment to the poor and dispossessed.

In his book Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers, Eugene H. Peterson reminds us, "Nothing is more rudely dismissive of Jesus than to treat him as a Sunday school teacher who shows up on Sundays to teach us about God and how to stay out of trouble. If that is the role we assign to Jesus, we will badly misunderstand who he is and what he is about" (page 135). Interestingly, many scholars believe that Archbishop Romero was chosen to his position because the leaders in the Vatican saw him as a quiet man who wouldn't make trouble.

All that changed when one of his good friends, an activist Jesuit priest, was assassinated by one of the death squads roaming the country. Romero became increasingly political, increasingly concerned about the poor who were being oppressed by the tiny minority of rich people in the country. He called for reform. He called on the police and the soldiers to stop killing their brethren. And for his vision, he was killed as he consecrated the bread for Mass.

Romero knew that he was in danger from various political forces in the country, but he refused to cower in fear and back down. Likewise, Jesus must have known what wrath he was bringing down upon himself, but he did not back down. Until the end of his life, he called upon us to reform our earthly systems, systems that enrich a few on the backs of the many. Romero and Christ both show us that the forces of empire do not take kindly to being criticized.

Jesus warns us that to follow him will mean taking up a cross, and it may be the literal cross of death. The story of Passion Sunday reminds us that we are not here to seek the world's approval: the world may love us one day and crucify us next week. Passion Sunday offers us some serious reminders. If we put our faith in the world, we're doomed. If we get our glory from the acclaim of the secular world, we'll find ourselves rejected sooner, rather than later.

It's important for us to remember the basic lesson of the Scriptures: God is not fickle; it's humans and the societies that humans create that are fickle. You can be acclaimed in one season and denounced in the next.

The Passion story and the story of Oscar Romero remind us that dreadful things may happen to us. God took on human form, and even God couldn't avoid horrific pain and suffering. But the Passion story also reminds us that we are not alone. God is there in the midst of our human dramas. If we believe in free will and free choices, then God may not be able to protect us from the consequences of our decisions. But God will be there to be our comfort and our strength.

A more important lesson comes with Easter. God can take horrific suffering and death and transform it into resurrection. We know what happened to Jesus and those early Christians after the death of Jesus. Likewise, in death, Oscar Romero became a larger force for justice than in life. His death, and the martyrdom of other Church leaders and lay workers (not to mention the deaths of 75,000 civilians) galvanized worldwide public opinion against the forces of death in El Salvador. God is there with us in our suffering and with God's help, suffering can be transformed into a more loving world.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Hush Before Holy Week

Here we are, the day before Holy Week begins.  It's hushed here, lights twinkling in the mango tree in my neighbor's back yard, which puts me more in an Advent mood than a Holy Week Eve mood.

I'm thinking of Palm Sundays I have known.  Last year in Williamsburg, we didn't have palm branches, but these leafy stems would do.  Strange to stand on colonial streets and wave those branches.  Strange to think about power and what happens when we stand up to worldly power as we stood on colonial streets.

Many churches will be using palm crosses.  Will church members have made them or will they be ordered from special charities? 

I live in a world where I'm surrounded by palms.  I should be in a Palm Sunday mood all the time.

My favorite Palm Sunday memory:  in 2006, our church was still a bit ravaged by Hurricane Wilma.  We'd ripped out the ruined carpeting, but we still had concrete floors uncovered by anything.  My spouse cut down palm branches and laid them up the aisles.  It was visually stunning.

It also confused people.  They didn't want to step on the branches.  They couldn't figure out how to get to their seats.  They managed, of course.  I want to think that the palms jolted people out of the kind of complacency we can sink into, when we celebrate these holidays again and again.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Meditation on Palm Sunday

The Narrative Lectionary readings for March 24, 2013:

Luke 19:29-44
Optional Reading:  Psalm 118:19-23 or 118:20

The Revised Common Lectionary readings for March 24, 2013:

Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16 Procession with Palms

Isaiah 50:4–9a

Psalm 31:9–16 (5)

Philippians 2:5–11

Luke 22:14--23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

If you didn't already know the story of Jesus inside and out, you might wonder if today's lessons are an early April Fool's joke. Here is the Incarnation of God, and look how the people treat God. We get the whole Passion Week story in today's readings. It's tempting to drift off, especially for those of us who will return to church on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But stay awake. Pay attention. Try to hear it again, as if for the first time.

Jesus continues to teach the same lesson as he has been teaching his whole life: it is better to serve. If we weren't familiar with the story, we might wonder at its strangeness. We make ourselves better by humbling ourselves? We might hear the echo of other Gospels: Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus riding through Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus has sent out the disciples with nothing--and they want for nothing. There's a lesson here for our possession-crazed culture. Empty yourself, so you can find what's essential.

One of my favorite images of Jesus is this scene of him praying that the cup be lifted from him. How often have I prayed that same prayer? How often have I learned what I needed to learn when the cup was not lifted? It is this scene that shows Jesus at his most human--that yearning to avoid great suffering.

Here we see Jesus moving through varying ruling branches of his society: the church, the government, the masses of people. One day they're on your side, the next day they're not. Things haven't really changed all that much, have they? Here, too, Jesus makes it clear what following him will mean for our earthly life. Marcus Borg calls Jesus "what can be seen of God in a human life" (Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, page 7). In other words, Jesus shows us our highest potential as humans, what we can strive for, what we can reasonably expect to accomplish in our own lives--and it won't necessarily be greatness in the way that earthly life defines greatness: who gets to sit at which position of power and authority. According to this way of thinking, we can't let ourselves off the hook by saying, "Oh, but Jesus was divine, so what was expected of him would be different than what would be expected of me."

No, Jesus came to show us how to live a life for which we yearn. And how do we do that? By serving others. By sacrifice, perhaps the ultimate sacrifice of our lives, but certainly of our time and our treasure.

Sacrifice. It's such a grim sounding word. And yet, think of the times when you've felt most at peace, most like you were fulfilling your destiny. Those were probably some times of sacrifice. We finish an academic degree, which requires much sacrifice of time and money, and we get an incredible amount of joy. We weather tough times in our personal relationships. Any long-term relationship demands some sacrifice of ourselves. We can't always put ourselves first and expect people to stick around for that.

I've met (or read the books of) people who have made even deeper sacrifices, people who have formed intentional communities to better serve the poor and outcast. Those communities have made a deep and lasting impression on me, so much so that I spend a great deal of time yearning to return, wondering if I, too, could make that commitment. Those communities, like Sojourners in Washington, DC, or Jubilee Partners in Comer, GA, seem filled with peace and purpose. One senses God's presence there, in a way that one doesn't ordinarily in regular life, like, say, when stuck in rush hour traffic. These people in intentional Christian communities seem to be living a life most like Christ's. And though they may lack for things that our Capitalist culture tells us we NEED to have, like the latest electronic gizmos or speedy Internet access or health insurance or meat on the table for every meal, they seem to have found a way to fill the yearnings that many of us feel in our souls.

When we feel these yearnings for something more, many of us turn to food or exercise of Internet wanderings or alcohol. What would happen if we turned towards God?

Soon Easter will be just a hazy dream, and we'll have to return to life in ordinary time. We'll have forgotten about the story of Christ's passion and returned to focus on our own passions. But Christ calls us out of ourselves, to focus on the suffering of others. Paradoxically, here is where we will find our deepest joy, by serving others.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Colcannon as Metaphor for Spiritual Life

Here we are, racing to Holy Week.  Where has the season of Lent gone?

You may be feeling a bit of blah-ness or despair these days.  Many of us live in places where winter refuses to relent, which might be coloring our mood.  Many of us remember a more vibrant past.  Our thoughts might turn to all the ways our church disappoints us.

If you're feeling this way, I wrote this piece that appears on the Living Lutheran site just for you.  It looks at our spiritual lives as colcannon.

What is colcannon, you ask?  It's an Irish dish made of mashed potatoes and cabbage, a dish that disappointed me when I first made it years ago.

It's perfectly nourishing, no doubt.  It doesn't taste hideous, like spoiled food.  It's just not glamorous.

In some ways, our spiritual lives are similar:

"Many of us navigated toward a spiritual life with certain expectations. Maybe we remembered the churches of our childhoods: packed sanctuaries on Sundays and bountiful potluck dinners and vibrant youth groups. Or maybe we hoped to find inspiration to lead us to our better selves. Perhaps we wanted to learn to pray better or to be less judgmental. Maybe we yearned for grand choirs with brass ensembles that come in for special occasions.

In the meantime, we’ve had to learn to live with what we actually have on our plates for dinner. We don’t attend the churches that our grandparents had. We may sit in pews that are mostly empty. We may wonder where all the youth went. Maybe we have a decent choir, but we wish we had a good Sunday school for adults. Or maybe no aspect of the church is as glorious as we wanted it to be."

But there is hope.  Go here to find out how to shift your thinking about the colcannon that is your spiritual life.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Feast Day of St. Joseph

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph, Mary's husband, the earthly father of Jesus.  Here are the readings for today:

2 Samuel 7:4, 8-16

Psalm 89:1-29 (2)
Romans 4:13-18
Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a

I have done some thinking of Joseph, as many of us do, in the Advent season, when occasionally, we get to hear about Joseph.  He thinks of quietly unweaving himself from Mary, who is pregnant.  This behavior is our first indication of his character.  Under ancient law, he could have had Mary stoned to death, but he takes a gentler path.

And then, he follows the instructions of the angel who tells him of God's plan.  He could have turned away.  He could have said, "I did not sign up for this!"  He could have said, "No thanks.  I want a normal wife and a regular life."

Instead, he turned towards Mary and accepted God's vision.  He's there when the family needs to flee to Egypt.  He's there when the older Jesus is lost and found in the temple.  We assume that he has died by the time Christ is crucified, since he's not at the cross.

Some of us today will spend the day celebrating fathers, which is a great way to celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph.  Lately, I've been thinking of his feast day and what it means for administrators and others who are not the stars, but who make it possible for stars to step into the spotlight.

Let us today praise the support teams, the people in the background, the people who step back to allow others to shine. Let us praise the people who do the drudgery work which makes it possible for others to succeed.

For example, I am not the kind of person who immediately decides what to do with each piece of e-mail.  Consequently, once every few weeks, I have to do that work all at once, since my e-mail system threatens to crash.  I am amazed at how many e-mails I send and receive in any given day.  And yes, much of it is not that important.

But occasionally, an e-mail exchange can quickly settle a problem.  Some times, it's good to have an e-mail chain for reference. 

I do other important work too.  I help students who need help with the transfer credit process.  I help students with registration issues.  I help with the grade dispute process.  Occasionally, I get the chance to participate in something greater.  My great joy this term has been helping a student with her portfolio; long ago, she was part of my Composition class, and now she's graduating.  It's good to remember that a lot of these stories have happy endings.

Many of us grow up internalizing the message that if we're not changing the world in some sort of spectacular way, we're failures.  Those of us who are Christians may have those early disciples as our role models, those hard-core believers who brought the Good News to the ancient world by going out in pairs. 

But Joseph shows us a different reality.  It's quite enough to be a good parent.  It's quite enough to have an ordinary job.  It's quite enough to show up, day after day, dealing with both the crises and the opportunities.

Joseph reminds us that even the ones born into the spotlight need people in the background who are tending to the details.  When we think about those early disciples and apostles, we often forget that they stayed in people's houses, people who fed them and arranged speaking opportunities for them, people who gave them encouragement when their task seemed too huge.

I imagine Joseph doing much the same thing, as he helped Jesus become a man.  I imagine the life lessons that Joseph administered as he gave Jesus carpentry lessons.  I imagine that he helped Jesus understand human nature, in all the ways that parents have helped their offspring understand human nature throughout history.

Let us not be so quick to discount this kind of work.  Let us praise the support teams that make the way possible for the people who will change the world.

Here is a prayer that I wrote for today:

Creator God, thank you for your servant Joseph.  Help us to remember his lessons for us.  Help us look for ways to shepherd your Good News into the world in ways that only we can.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A New Approach to Church Council

At my suburban church, we're trying a new approach to Church Council.  We've been doing Church Council the way that I'd guess 75% of churches do it:  we've been meeting once a month.  We approve reports and minutes, we discuss old business, and we discuss new business.

We've tried to infuse meaning by opening with Bible Study.  We've tried having periodic retreats to get to know each other better.  These things worked, but the meeting itself was still stultifying.

Now we will meet every other month over a meal.  We will invite everyone to the meal, but we'll extend a special invitation to the leaders of various church ministries.  Hopefully, we'll have both fellowship and cross polination.  Hopefully we'll all stay better informed about what each group is doing.

We also divided ourselves into 3 teams.  One team will look at budget issues.  One team will oversee our visioning the future process that we're also launching.  One team will look at personnel and process issues.  The teams will meet outside of our meetings that will take place over meals.

For a variety of reasons, I love the idea of meeting over a meal.    The most simple reason:  I get dinner at the same time I have a meeting.  It feels efficient.  I don't have to get home, gulp down a meal, and race off to a meeting.

I also love it because I think we relate better to each other when we have a chance to relax and eat together.  There's something about a meal that defuses anxiety and tension.

If it's good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us.  Jesus came to show us how to live our best lives as humans.  We don't see Jesus and his followers discussing old business and new business and approving the minutes of the last meeting.

No, we see them eating together and figuring out creative ways to feed the crowds and retiring to people's houses for dinner and then doing it all again the next week.

We are a church, albeit a small one, and we often operate more like a corporation than a people of faith.  I'm hoping that having a meal together will remind us of our true purpose.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Feast Day of St. Patrick

Last year, I wrote the following piece for the Living Lutheran site.  I'm hoping they don't mind if I reprint it here for St. Patrick's Day.

This time of year, as St. Patrick’s Day comes and goes, is one where many of us discover our Gaelic roots—and often, this discovery goes beyond beer. We’ve seen an upsurge of interest in Celtic Christianity in these past two decades. But we often forget how hardcore the earliest Christians of the British Isles were.

For example, St. Patrick, arguably one of the most famous Irish Christians, was born to a high ranking Roman family in England, but when he was approximately 16, he was kidnapped and spent 6 or 7 years as a slave in Ireland. While there, he learned the language and the non-Christian customs of the land.

This knowledge would come in handy when he was sent back to Ireland in the 5th century to solidify the Christianity of the country. There are many stories about Patrick's vanquishing force, complete with Druid spells and Christian counterspells. I suspect the real story was perhaps more tame.

Later scholars have suggested that Patrick and his compatriots were sent to minister to the Christians who were already there, not to conquer the natives. Other scholars have speculated that one of the reasons that Christianity was so successful in Ireland was because Patrick took the parts of pagan religions that appealed most to its followers and showed how those elements were also present in Christianity--or perhaps incorporated them into Christianity as practiced in Ireland.

All scholars seem to agree: Patrick was essential in establishing Christianity in Ireland. And he wouldn't have been so effective, had he not spent time there as a slave, which meant he learned the language and the customs of the country.

So, when we despair over our bad fortune, perhaps we can remember St. Patrick, born into a noble family, sold into slavery--an experience which would later make him successful in God's mission in ways he never could have anticipated.

Of course, Celtic monks may not have been surprised. After all, they’ve gained a certain amount of fame (or notoriety?) for setting off in tiny boats, called coracles, to see where God, by way of currents, led them.

If you want to see modern people trying to use a coracle, visit this post by Dave Bonta. I knew that ancient Celtic monks set off in little boats, but seeing modern people in a coracle made me think about those monks with new admiration.

Dave reminds us, "Though the ancient ocean-going coracles did probably have rudders (and according to The Voyage of St. Brendan, could be fitted with a sail), their relative unsteerability constituted part of their attraction to Celtic monks, for whom the ideal form of travel involved surrendering to the will of God and going wherever the winds and currents took them. Some of the more God-besotted ones set off without even an oar."

Without even an oar! Celtic monks have become famous for this kind of faith, for their willingness to go to the most wild places to bring the word of God. Think of Columba heading off to Scotland, and looking for ever more wild places before settling down in Iona.

In many ways, modern people are living in as distant an outpost of empire as those ancient Celtic monks. Many of us are far from the corridors of power, whether they be in the U.S., in China, or in India. Most Christians reading this post are far from the places where Christianity flourishes today, in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But instead of despairing and longing for the mythical glory days of past times when the Church was more influential in the U.S., perhaps we should think of ourselves as Celtic monks, trying to till a very rocky, thorny soil. We should take comfort and encouragement from how much God can accomplish, even in the most unlikely circumstances. There’s plenty of transformative work for us to do today. Let us launch our coracles!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Electing a Pope, Electing a Bishop

Our synod will elect a Bishop in 7 weeks.  Like Pope Benedict, our bishop, Bishop Beneway is stepping down.  Well, it's not like Pope Benedict, exactly.  Bishop Beneway has served 2 terms; each term is 6 years.  He could have run for a third term.  At our Synod Assembly last year, he told us he would not run again.

Our Synod Assembly will do little else this year than the election.  Some years, we have lots of workshops.  Some years, we have lots of legislative tasks.  This year, we elect the Bishop.

At least we're all spending all this money to do a task which might turn out to be very important.  It might not.  But at least it's not like years when we had legislation that said that we did not approve of bullying and that we supported children who have been bullied.  And then, we had to hear about 20 people speak in support of the legislation.

It will not surprise you to learn that not a single person spoke against the legislation:  no one spoke in favor of bullies or against victims.  That year, we just didn't do much of note.  So each delegate spent money to travel, money to register, money to stay in a hotel, money for food--and to do what?

Yes, it's good to be together as a group.  Yes, it's impossible to predict what kind of synergestic connections might take place that wouldn't happen otherwise.  But my stars, it's a lot of money!

Today, small groups across the Florida-Bahamas Synod will meet to discuss this election of the Bishop.  I'm not sure what to expect.  I've never been part of the process that elects a Bishop before.

I'd like to see in a Bishop the same things I'd like to see in a Pope.  I'd like to see someone with a younger mindset, whether they're younger or not.  I'd like to see someone who has done a lot of thinking about the purpose of the church in the world.  I don't want someone who has gotten stuck in mourning the past.  I'd like to see a person of vision and inspiration--and with specific plans to get us to a different point.

I'll be honest.  I'd like a woman.  I'd like someone younger than 50.  Dare I hope for a person of color?  I'm tired of seeing older, white men at the head of institutions.  I realize the bias in my words, but there it is.

As I think back to former Synod Assemblies, I realize that I've narrowed the slate down to about 5 people, if I insist on all 3:  woman, younger than 50, non-Caucasian.  If I give up one of those categories, I still don't have a lot of choices in my Synod.  We're a Synod that skews older, and we're in a denomination that skews older and whiter.  And we still haven't done a fabulous job, churchwide, in promoting the few people of color and the women who become ordained.

Yes, I understand the obstacles.  I understand that people might not want to be promoted.  Very few people go to seminary hoping to become a Bishop--and that, in itself, is an interesting statement.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Meditation on This Sunday's Narrative Lectionary

The Narrative Lectionary readings for Sunday, March 17, 2013:

Luke 18:31-19:10

Optional Reading:  Psalm 84:1-4, 10-12 or 84:10

Last week's reading presented the rich man who was blind in so many ways that Lazarus was not.  This week's readings also revolve around blind people.

Perhaps the most surprising blind people in today's readings are the twelve disciples.  Can they really not understand the forces that Jesus has set into motion?  A large part of me understands that they don't comprehend Christ's mission, but can they really not see that the actions of Jesus put him on a collision course with societal institutions?

After all, the Romans were not reserved at all when it came to punishing criminals.  Likewise, the regional rulers chosen by Rome, men like Herod and Pilate, were brutal.  Crucifixion was not uncommon--and other methods of capital punishment were a regular fact of life too.  Life in a Roman outpost was harsh, especially for those groups that were lower on the social spectrum, as Christ and his followers were.

But the disciples cannot see.  Are they willingly blind?  Can they just not cope with what's coming, and thus they live in a delusional state?

Contrast the twelve to the one blind man, the man who can't see with his physical eyes.  Nonetheless, he recognizes Jesus--and as a reward, he receives physical vision to go with his spiritual vision.

And then, there is Zacchaeus, the man who is so short that he cannot see Jesus, even though his eyes are working perfectly fine.  So, he climbs up a tree to get some perspective.

In this story, we get to see Jesus act in ways that have set him on that collision course with the authorities.  Time after time, Jesus turns away from the rich and the powerful, as he heals the sick (often in violation of the purity laws) and invites himself to dinner at the homes of the outcast and lowly.

Christ's acceptance changes Zacchaeus, so that he can see spiritually as well as physically.  He vows to give half of his goods to the poor, and to all whom he had defrauded, he'll repay them four times over.

In a Sunday of stories that presents so many blind people, even those closest to Jesus, it's good to reflect on our own blindness.  Do we really understand the mission of Jesus, or are we blind, just like the disciples?  Are we willing to invite Christ into the center of our lives?

How big a tree will we climb if it means we can meet Jesus?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Pope Who Rides the Bus

First, the standard disclaimer:  I am not a Catholic.  I am not one of those wonky types who has kept up with the higher ups in my own church (although I can name the Lutheran higher ups), much less the higher ups in other denominations or other religions.

But I am an ecumenical kind of gal.  I do understand that one Christian leader can impact us all.  I would also say the same thing about regular folks, walking our faith one step at a time.  One powerful example can impact us all.  Each day I pray that our impacts, individual and collective, will be for the good, not towards the darkness.

I am not one of those people who downloaded an app so that I could be one of the first to know that the smoke had changed colors.  But my brain still perked up at the news that the bells were tolling in Rome.

A pope from Argentina?  How intriguing!

A pope who has two working class, immigrant parents?  Wonderful!

A pope who cooks his own meals and rides the bus?  Could it get much better?

Well, yes, I guess it could--we could be waking up to a female pope.  I heard a caller on an NPR show mention Joan Chittister, and I thought, yes, that would certainly be a near-perfect choice.

But we are not at that point yet.  I know that the Holy Spirit can move quickly and in surprising ways, but I would have been awed beyond words had a woman emerged as pope.

The first pope from the New World, the first pope from the Global South, the first Jesuit pope.  What an interesting new day dawns!

Don't get me wrong:  I realize that this man is a conservative, as so many men in older age are.  I know that this pope did not embrace Liberation Theology.

But he has been a forceful voice in support of the poor and dispossessed.  That's fine with me.  I understand the problems that many people had with Liberation Theology and its Marxist roots.

I will be interested to see what comes to light as people explore the role that this pope had in the dirty wars of Argentina.  Did he cooperate or did he maintain silence?  If he backed away from the more radical option of speaking truth to dictators, I am understanding.  It is hard to speak in the face of murderous brutality.  The martyrdom of Archbishop Romero shows us what is likely to happen.

I love that the first thing the new pope asked was for our prayers.  Yes, I will pray for him, as I do for all world leaders. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 17, 2013:

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

Psalm: Psalm 126

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

Gospel: John 12:1-8

I've always had some amount of trouble with this Gospel reading; I suspect it's because I would have been that disciple who said, "Just think what we could have done with the money that went to buy that expensive oil. Doesn't Jesus know the electric bill is due? We could have helped the poor. And she went and poured it all over his feet!"

I know that traditionally we use this Gospel lesson to make us think forward a few weeks to Good Friday, when Jesus' dead body will be anointed with funeral oils. But there's still something about this Gospel that makes me restless.

Perhaps it is Jesus saying, "The poor you will always have with you." I'm uneasy with the way so many people through the centuries have used this line to justify their unwillingness to work to eradicate poverty. A shrug of the shoulders, that verse out of context, and poof, we don't have to worry about our riches.

I hear my own self-righteousness as I sit with my discomfort. I'm sure this passage addresses our impulse towards anger and self-righteousness. I can criticize the decisions of others in how they spend their money: "Imagine. She calls herself a Christian and she goes to get her nails done. She could do them herself at home and send the money she would have spent to Habitat for Humanity.” It's not always easy for me to know how to allocate my resources of time, money, and energy. I so rarely fulfill my plans of tithing time and treasure. Why am I so harsh to others who are similarly unsuccessful?

I want to be the woman who can live in the moment, the woman who actually uses the expensive oil, instead of saving it for a special occasion. I want to be the woman who understands that life changes quickly and often drastically, and loss waits at every turn. I want to be the one who worships and blesses and anoints, not the one who criticizes. But so often, I’m the one with the harsh voice, that voice that comes from a scarcity consciousness, not the one who speaks with the trust of the abundance of God.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, I think back to those early Celtic Christians, who seemed to be able to blend a fierceness with a zest for life. What can we learn from both the Gospel and the hardcore monks of early Celtic Christianity?

If you looked at the early life of St. Patrick, you would not think that he was on a path to be a great leader of the early church. He was born into a noble family, kidnapped, and sold into slavery — an experience which would later make him successful in God’s mission in ways he never could have anticipated. Because of his time as a slave, he could understand the language when he returned to bring Christianity to Ireland.

Are you more like the grumbling Judas, the woman with the expensive oil, or the fierce Celtic monks? Is there a way to integrate those personalities?

Many of us need the reminder that the woman with the expensive oil gives us: we need to take the time to be present with the ones we love. We need to give attention to God. But we also need the grumbling Judas to remind us that we cannot lounge about all night: there’s work to be done. Like those ancient Celtic monks, we have a rocky land to plow and transform.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Winter Shifts to Spring: A Poem to Celebrate (or Mourn)

Over the past few weeks, I've noticed the light changing. I get out of evening exercise class, and it's only dusk, not night. In fact, last week it was still light, though just barely.

I suspect this week, with the time change to Daylight Savings Time, will feel radically different.

Or maybe it won't. Maybe you're saying, "I get to an office before the sun comes up, and I leave well after sunset."

So, no matter how you're experiencing this shift in seasons, here's a poem, which appeared in my second chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents:

Slant of Seasons

Now she knows the seasons only by the slant
of light against her windshield.
Her car protects her from the extremes
of climate--hot or cold outside, it's the same
seventy-eight degrees as she sinks
into the luxurious leather seat
waiting for the traffic to crawl forward.

She thinks of her ancestors' farms, row
after row of rich dirt furrowed
to keep a family fed. She wonders
about the land below the pavement,
land that lies fallow to allow commuters
the fast route to the office.

She looks across the lanes of cars,
row after row of metal husks,
pod after pod with precisely one person
per car, lying fertile,
waiting to blossom in the workplace.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Gratitude Haiku and Spiritual Journaling Techniques

A week ago, I'd have been leading a workshop on gratitude haiku. Why gratitude haiku, you ask?

First of all, a disclaimer. I'm using the word "haiku" very loosely. I understand that there's much more to haiku than the syllables per line (5-7-5). But I was asked to talk about spiritual journaling, and the gratitude haiku was part of a list of ways to use your journal as a spiritual practice.

I also talked about regular gratitude journaling: at the end of the day, write down 5 things that fill you with gratitude. No doubt that it's a powerful practice. But I wanted to be honest. When I've kept this discipline for any length of time, my gratitude lists begin to seem quite similar. As always, cultivating a quality of mindfulness does not come naturally to me.

I've only been doing the gratitude haikus for a few weeks, and they short-circuit my tendency to keep the same list. I find myself paying attention and trying on subjects for haiku possibilities. I find myself more lighthearted than I sometimes am when I'm keeping a gratitude journal--it's fun to write haikus.

Will this practice turn into drudgery eventually? I have no idea. Truthfully, I'm not likely to do this practice year after year. But it's a good practice to take up occasionally.

We talked about other ways to turn an ordinary journal into a spiritual journal.  I'd like to experiment with a prayer journal:  to actually write down my prayers.  I'd like to go back later to see how they were answered.

I also talked about the journal as lectio devina, a way to focus attention on a particular Bible passage, a hymn, or a spiritual reading.

I talked about channeling our spiritual mentors, a process which I describe in more length in this post.

In what may feel like the edgiest suggestion, I said it would be interesting to write in the voice of God.  What is God saying to you right now?

Like I said, I don't do any of these spiritual journaling practices exclusively, and thus regularly.  But they are practices to which I return.  They are practices which I'm happy to share with others.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Meditiaton on This Week's Narrative Lectionary

The Narrative Lectionary Readings for Sunday, March 10, 2013:

Luke 16:19-31
Optional reading:  Psalm 41:1-3 or 41:1     The story of Lazarus and the rich man has been used as a cautionary tale in so many wrong ways throughout the centuries.  Some of us read that story and hear that if we have great wealth in this life, we'll be punished in the next.  Some read it and say, "Well, it must be better to be poor."

The Bible is quite clear, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, that wealth is not intrinsically evil.  Simply having wealth is not enough to send us to damnation.  But wealth does come with dangers.

I have a friend who comes out of a Charismatic Catholic tradition, and I said to her that I thought that having wealth was spiritually dangerous.  She gave me a look of disbelief, as if I had suggested that we reinstitute virgin sacrifices.  But the Bible backs up my belief.

If we have wealth, the danger is that we will love our money more than we love our families, more than we love strangers, more than we love God.  Think about how the parable of the Prodigal Son would be different if the father had loved his money more than his lost sons. 

We see people who can't leave their wealth to follow Jesus--think about the rich young man who has kept all the laws and expects to be congratulated.  Instead, Jesus tells him to give away all that he owns and to join the disciples.  The young man can't do it.  His wealth keeps him from God.

We here in the first world should pay close attention to this lesson.  We have so much that would seem miraculous in developing nations:  clean water that flows with the turn of a tap, electricity that we can count on, a steady supply of food.  Many of us operate out of such a scarcity consciousness that we can't share.

And it would take so little money to make such a difference.  Ethicist Peter Singer encourages those of us in the first world to give away 1% of our wealth to developing nations, where a dollar will create so much more transformation than that same dollar would in the first world.

You don't need me to tell you the value of sharing your wealth.  You've had centuries of prophets who extol us all to share our wealth.  Are you like the rich man, who will not hear until it's too late?  Are you like his brothers, who wouldn't even believe a man returned from the dead?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Halfway Through Lent

We're about halfway through Lent.  How are you doing with your Lenten disciplines?

Yes--mine are falling apart too.  I've written more gratitude haiku than longer poems.  If I'm going to meet my goal of working on my memoir 3-4 days a week, I need to work on it every day between now and Saturday/Sunday.  Sigh.

I find myself yearning for that long, green, boring season that comes in August.  Of course, the irony is that when I'm in the doldrums of August, I yearn for Lent or Advent.

I've written a post that explores these ideas over at the Living Lutheran site.  Go here to read it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 10, 2013:

First Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

Psalm: Psalm 32

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Ah, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We've heard it so many times that we may have forgotten pertinent details. We remember clearly the younger son, the one who squanders his fortune in a foreign land and becomes so hungry and desperate that he yearns for swine food. We understand this part of the parable. Even if we haven't been the wastrel child, who among us has not occasionally envied the ease with which some of our society just do their own thing and give themselves to riotous living. We assume the younger son represents us as our worst sinner selves.

We forget that this story has two lost sons.

Yes, the older son is just as lost as the younger. Perhaps more so.

Look at his behavior and see if you recognize yourself. He has to find out from the servants what is going on. He hasn't been invited to the party. He has done all the right things, been steadfast, honored his father and society, and what does he get? Does he get a party? No!

Which child is more lost? The one who gives into his animal nature, who indulges in carnal pleasures? Or the one who shows himself to have all sorts of repressed anger, a well of resentment that erupts all over his poor father?

In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen says, "Looking deeply into myself and then around me at the lives of other people, I wonder which does more damage, lust or resentment?" (71). What a powerful question!

Nouwen sees this parable as being about love and how we're loved and how we're afraid that we won't be loved. We spend a lot of time looking for the approval of others. Nouwen says, "As long as I keep running about asking: 'Do you love me? Do you really love me?' I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with 'ifs.' The world says: 'Yes I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much'" (42). Obviously, we can't win this game.

Luckily, we don't have to win. God loves us regardless. Of course, learning this lesson of love may take us a lifetime. We have to force ourselves to the disciplines that will thaw our frozen hearts. Nouwen suggests, "Although we are incapable of liberating ourselves from our frozen anger, we can allow ourselves to be found by God and healed by his love through the concrete and daily practice of trust and gratitude" (84).

He goes on to say, "There is a very strong, dark voice in me that says the opposite: 'God isn't really interested in me, he prefers the repentant sinner who comes home after his wild escapades. He doesn't pay attention to me who has never left the house. He takes me for granted. I am not his favorite son. I don't expect him to give me what I really want" (84).

Yes, trust and gratitude can be difficult moods to sustain. But we're called to do that. And then we're called to work on a deeper transformation. We must become as full of love as the father in the parable.

The traditional approach to this parable is to see the Father character representing God, which is certainly true. But many of us assume we cannot love the way God can. Maybe not. But we have to try. Nouwen says, "Perhaps the most radical statement Jesus ever made is: 'Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.' . . . "what I am called to make true is that whether I am the younger or the elder son, I am the son of my compassionate Father. I am an heir. . . . The return to the Father is ultimately the challenge to become the Father" (123).

How on earth can we accomplish this? Nouwen suggests that we cultivate these three traits: "grief, forgiveness, and generosity" (128). To those I would add that we should commit ourselves to believing in resurrection. Believe in the possibility of second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. Believe that the lost will be found. Believe that the Prodigal will return. Throw a fabulous party. And when you notice that someone is missing from the party, someone is standing in the shadows, stewing in resentment, anger, grief, envy--go get that person and invite them to the party. Remember that we are children of a God whose love we cannot begin to comprehend.

Model that behavior.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Every Day Miracles

On Saturday, after the retreat, we headed to my sister's house.  What a treat to spend time with my nephew, who will be 7 years old in May.

I had found a pair of Spiderman slippers under the guest room bed, and checked with my sister to make sure they were left behind after their last visit--in other words, I didn't want to return a pair of slippers that he'd already outgrown.  She said he'd be ecstatic to get them back.

So, I brought them with me.  I said, "Guess what I brought you?  It's something you've been wanting for a long time."

His face lit up, and he said, "Dental floss!"

I did give him my box of dental floss, along with the slippers.  I'm willing to do my share to promote good dental health.

Like my mom, you may wonder why a boy loves dental floss so much.  He loves opening the box, as if it's got superpowers.  He loves unspooling the dental floss.  And it's very strong.

Those of you who are Spiderman fans may see connections between the unspooling strand and the Spiderman narrative.  But I'm more interested in his enthusiasm over something that adults don't notice, or if they do, they take it for granted.

When's the last time that your face lit up at the thought of receiving dental floss?

We take so much for granted, particularly if we live in a first world country.  For example, our water is safe to drink and fairly cheap.  We turn on a tap, and out it flows.

It's a miracle unknown in most developing countries.  Easy access to clean water would make life in developing nations so much easier, especially for women, who bear the burden of toting the water.

In the first world, we're surrounded with everyday miracles, like clean water.  There's indoor plumbing.  Electricity.  Fairly cheap food.

I'd like to restore my sense of wonder, so that like a 6 year old, I'm overjoyed with the simple, every day items that so many of us take for granted.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Callings of All Kinds

We had a great one day Create in Me retreat with the women's group of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Springfield, Virginia.  The compressed schedule that we created worked well.  We spent the morning looking primarily at the first creation story in Genesis and talking a bit about the more well-known Adam and Eve story.  And in the afternoon, we looked at God's response to his creations not behaving as he had asked.  It went very well.

We had 5 drop-in stations.  People could make a small flower arrangement or a bow out of paper.  We had a station where people could use markers and stamps to make cards for the troops, and we had a yarn station where people could work on prayer shawls.  I led a drop in station that focused on spiritual journaling and haiku.  Everyone seemed engaged.

The food was wonderful.  One of the women makes cinnamon rolls that are worth every dense calorie.  We had sandwiches, salad, and fruit platters brought in from Wegman's for lunch.  Yumm.

Our closing service was simple, yet meaningful.  We sang some songs, read some Bible passages, and ended with the anointing of hands.

It went very well, which surprised me to a certain extent, because we relied on the women's group to get a lot of it organized (the food and the drop in stations) with little help from us.  Before, my mom still lived in the area, so she did a lot of the organizing and set up.  This time, to make the situation more interesting, one of the leaders of the women's group had to leave for a trip just weeks before the retreat when her mother died suddenly.  But other women stepped up to the challenge.

In some ways, I feel it went better than it had any right to go.  In other ways, I think that it's a great way to run a retreat:  give everyone a chunk and trust that it will come together.

At my mom's new church, they have a week-end long retreat.  I'm impressed that people can be convinced to dedicate a complete week-end.  We've been thinking about ways we could lengthen our Create in Me retreat.  I want to start thinking about Bible studies that I've led and how to have several of them in my files, studies that can be expanded or compressed, depending on what the group needs.

As we left the retreat and drove to my sister's house, my sister said, "You have really missed your calling.  Or maybe you haven't missed it, but you sure have an additional calling."

I felt those Holy Spirit nudges throughout the week-end.  As I sat at worship service with my parents yesterday, I felt this whisper that said that I can't stay in my current work situation forever.  The time may be coming where I need a place that's more in sync with my values. 

That whisper was before the passage from Isaiah (55:2): 

"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food."

That passage has always spoken to me.  It shows up when I need to hear it.  I should probably paste it to my walls.

I'd love to do a collage.  Or maybe I already have.  Last week-end I created a collage that you can see in this post on my creativity blog.

Now is the time to come down from the mountain of my week-end retreat.  But happily, soon it will be time to head to Lutheridge for the longer Create in Me retreat.

There's still time and space for you to come too!  Go here for more details.

If you can't come this year, put it on your calendar for next year; it's always the week-end after Easter.

And if you'd like a shorter Create in Me retreat with a group at your church or other organization, we can bring the experience to you.  Contact me for all the possibilities.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

One Day Create in Me Retreat: the 2013 Edition

Today I'm in northern Virginia leading a one day creativity retreat with my mom.  You may remember that we've done this before.  For more of an idea of what a one day retreat would look like, see this post on the retreat that we did in 2010.

Our Bible study will be different this year.  Instead of parables, we'll look at the creation stories in Genesis.  What does the story of the creation of the world have to teach us about our own creative lives?

I'll be leading a workshop on spiritual journaling, which I did before, so I'll add a gratitude haiku component, so that those who attended years ago will have something new to try. 

Our schedule will be more compressed this year.  In 2010, we noticed an energy lag after lunch, and we know that lots of people don't really have a full Saturday to give, so we created this schedule:

 8:30-9:00 coffee, treats,

9-930: Get acquainted exercises

9:30-10:30: Bible Study

10:30-10:45: Break (and final drop in station set up if necessary)

10:45-12:15: Creativity Drop In Stations:

Stay at one, visit them all, or anything in between!

12:30-1:30: Lunch

1:30-2:00: Bible Study

2:00: Worship and Blessing of Hands

2:30-4: Drop In Stations could resume or people could leave

I'll let you know how it all turns out.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Meditation on This Sunday's Narrative Lectionary

The Narrative Lectionary readings for Sunday, March 3, 2013:

Luke 15:1-32

optional reading:  Psalm 119:167-176 or 119:176     Lost sheep (1 of 99), lost coin (1 of 10), and lost son (1 of 2):  these parables might be some of the most famous parables, especially the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Let's consider what Christ is trying to teach us about the quality of being lost and the quality of being found. 

Some will preach the parable of the Prodigal Son as being about repentence, but when we look at it as part of a series of parables, it's less clear that repentence is the point.  After all, the coin doesn't have to do anything to be found; it just sits there.  The sheep might repent, but if you've ever tried to wrangle sheep, you know that repentence is not a sheeply quality.  And that Prodigal Son:  is he really sorrowful about his actions?  If he hadn't descended to such a state of poverty, would he have had his epiphany?

We could look at these parables as tales of precious resources lost and then found.  The first two parables revolve around an economic resource:  a sheep and a coin.  In some ways, the metaphor might be lost on modern readers.  I've heard more than one reader talk about how ridiculous it is to get so excited over a lost coin.

But imagine a modern spin:  the person who loses 1/3 of a retirement portfolio, but it is restored before the golden years descend.  Or perhaps the person who was facing foreclosure, but home values rebound and the mortgage can be refinanced.  Rescued from desperate economic circumstances, would we not rejoice?

The parable of the Prodigal Son is more familiar, but in our familiarity, we lose some of the point.  The man really has two lost sons, the one who goes off to squander his fortune and the one who stays behind to behave correctly.  We see his grudging behavior at the end of the story; had he been this resentful all along?  We don't know whether the elder son changes his mind and joins the party.  The story ends with the father explaining his joy.

We understand the joy of children returned to us, but I've wondered about what happens next.  Has the second son really learned a lesson?  Does he destroy the family business?  Can the elder son work through his pain?  Does the father wake in the middle of the night and worry?

We know that God rejoices when we return, even as God must know that we will disappoint again.  We know that if we're lost, God will look under every shadow for us.  We know that God will go to great lengths to rescue us, even taking on human form and suffering crucifixion.

Many of us will never experience that feeling of being completely lost and then redeemed.  These parables have a lesson for us too.  We could be grateful that we've never been in the pig pen, considering eating food too horrible for human consumption.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son makes clear that  if we can't exercise gratitude and joy, we're just as lost as the starving guy who eyes the swine food.