Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Sermon: The Grand Canyon

This was my sermon this morning. I even learned how to copy it from my computer at work! I am learning more of this computer business every day.

The Grand Canyon

Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? There’s really nothing else like it anywhere, is there? You can see pictures, but they don’t really capture the sense you get when you are standing there, looking down into the huge unbridgeable chasm. My family stopped at the Grand Canyon when we were on a family trip when I was a teenager – just stopped to take a look. We took some pictures – little square pictures – but when we got home, we agreed that they just didn’t do the Canyon justice. This last time we took two teenagers with us – and their first reaction was like ours – there is nothing like it. "Wow!" they said – and some other words too. The Grand Canyon is awesome – in its beauty – but also in its danger.

I would like you to have that picture in your mind – the picture of the Grand Canyon – when you think of the Great Chasm in the story from our gospel today – the story of the rich man and Lazarus. After both of them die – and Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham, and the
rich man to the fires of Hades – there is an unbridgeable chasm between them. That’s what Abraham says, anyway, when the rich man begs him to have Lazarus come over and help him – just a little bit. Just as Lazarus, while he was living, longed for just the crumbs from the rich man’s table, the rich man longs for just a little bit of water. He isn’t asking for a lot. But Abraham says, "I’m sorry, but there is this unbridgeable Grand Canyon-size chasm between us. And there’s nothing I can do about it." And I imagine that he is saying this to the rich man in the nicest way possible. This is really, in some ways, an incredibly frightening parable, just as the Grand Canyon is a frightening place. If you slip and fall off the edge of the Grand Canyon, there is no way you can be saved. There is no hope for you. The familiar song "Rocka my soul in the bosom of Abraham" ... might have that lilting chorus "So high you can’t get over it/so low you can’t get under it/so deep you can’t get around it..." but the meaning is ominous. It’s the unbridgeable chasm. That's the picture at the end of this parable. It’s a dark and sobering picture of danger and judgment.

But if you look closely, you will notice that this Chasm was also there before the rich man and Lazarus died.. Though it was invisible, perhaps, it was just as deep and just as wide. Lazarus was sitting every day at the rich man’s gate, so close to help, so close to food, so close to a little bit of riches – but it seemed there was an unbridgeable chasm, and the rich man just couldn’t get over it to help him. In fact, it seems that the poor man was invisible. We don’t know what was going through that rich man’s mind. We don’t know if he was too busy, too preoccupied with his own life to help the poor man. We don’t know if perhaps that’s why he didn’t stop and at least throw some crumbs to Lazarus. We do know one thing though: we know that the first hearers of this parable, the people who were listening to Jesus at that time, would have heard the first two verses of the story and assumed a different outcome. They would have imagined the scenes in their head of the rich man and his fine clothes and large dinners and his great house in the gated community, and they would have imagined that poor sick man – and they would have assumed that in the next verse the rich man would be in heaven and the poor man would have gone to the other place. They would have gasped in surprised when Lazarus – Lazarus!!! – was carried off to the bosom of Abraham. They would have assumed that the man who was rich was blessed by God and that the man who was poor was obviously – not. Not blessed, not righteous, somehow morally inferior. And perhaps the rich man himself thought this – as he passed through his gate to go to the synagogue and pray, and as he thanked God for his big house and his good food – perhaps he thought as he looked at the poor man who lay there: "He is not worth helping. He has been cursed God. That’s why he’s poor."

And lest you think that this attitude does not exist even today: I know of a pastor who was teaching confirmation, and talking about the 7th commandment: "You shall not steal." And they were talking about different kinds of stealing – shoplifting, cheating on tests, other sorts of things ... and the pastor told the students about a business practice he had heard of – I don’t know if it still occurs – that in grocery stores in the inner cities, (where people are often poor) they often charge more than they do in grocery stores in the suburbs. "Do you think this is a kind of stealing?" the pastor asked. And one of the students answered, "That’s not stealing. That’s just GOOD BUSINESS." Is it? "So wide you can’t get around it..."

As I said – the chasm between Lazarus and the rich man existed before they died – and it exists even today. There’s a chasm between the rich and the poor – but that is not only chasm. There are chasms not only between rich and poor, but between people of different races and religious and political affiliations, people who speak different languages and live in different places. But who created these great and dangerous canyons? So wide you can’t get around them, so deep you can’t get under them... who creates them now? The chasms that say: "You are poor for a reason. I don’t have anything in common with you. You are not like me. You are not worthy of help." The chasms that separate us into US and THEM.

The book The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David Shipler begins this way:

"The man who washes cars... does not own one. The clerk who files cancelled checks at the bank has $2.02 in her own account. The woman who copy-edits medical textbooks has not been to a dentist in a decade..... This is the forgotten America. At the bottom of its working world, millions live in the shadow of prosperity and well- being.... They serve you Big Macs and help you find merchandise at Wal-Mart. They harvest your food, clean your offices, and sew your clothes."

Lazarus is at our gates. We probably look each other in the eye every day. Or do we look away? Do we look away, or turn away? For whenever we look away, or turn away from Lazarus at our gates..... we create the Grand Canyon – the unbridgeable chasm between us. Maybe we turn away from fear, or maybe from shame, or maybe we are just distracted by our own concerns and cares. Whatever the reason, whenever we look away, whenever we harden our hearts, we create the chasm between us. God doesn’t fix the chasm. We do. By isolating ourselves from one another, from others – the poor, the outcast, the lonely. By not seeing that they are our brothers and sisters, people who God also cares about, sinners who God wants to be fed and cared for and clothed. By not seeing that we are a part of them, and they are a part of us.
By not seeing that our fates are intertwined. We create the chasm – not God. And in the end it turns out that the chasm doesn’t just separate us from them – it also separates us from God.
So wide you can’t get around it, so deep you can’t get under it....

But Jesus can. Jesus can and Jesus did. Jesus came here, to this poor earth, to walk with us, and to live with us. Jesus bridged the chasm that separates us from God and from one another –
and shows us that there is no human power that can dig a chasm so wide or so deep that it cannot be bridged in God’s grace – and by God’s love. "Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord," Paul writes. "Not life or death, nor things present nor things to come...." His love is ... "so high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under, so wide you can’t get around it..."

Because Jesus is not afraid to call us, all of us, rich and poor, young or old, lonely and outcast – his brothers and sisters. He does not look away from us, or run away from us, but comes to us with healing and food, with cool water for our heads, with forgiveness, life. He comes to every single one of us sinners this day. He is not afraid to eat and drink with us, not afraid to sit at our bedside, not afraid to live and die with us. He calls us "sisters and brothers" – no matter who we are – and he invites us to look at his face, and to serve him as we serve the lonely and the outcast, the homeless and the poor – and so see them as our brothers and sisters, too. Every time we do this – we bridge the chasm – in Jesus’ name.


A Wedding and everything

It was windy and raining at 12:00 noon yesterday, as I was finishing up with a couple and preparing to officiate at a wedding at 3:30. The wedding was scheduled to be outdoors. uh-oh. It wasn't raining hard, but it was kind of a sideways rain. I prayed on the way over in the car. I knew they had a contingency plan for indoors, but that they REALLY didn't want to do that.

And the rain cleared out. Just in time.

The wind, however, did not let up. So the unity candle did not stay lit, and the butterflies they had wanted to release at the end of the service -- pretty much kept their wings folded. But the wedding was located in a beautiful area, a secluded bluff surrounded by trees.

After the wedding and the reception (chicken or steak), we went home to take care of the dog. I tried to tweak my sermon until a little too late into the night.

In the middle of the night, there was a terrific thunderstorm. The skies just broke open and loose. This morning as I walked Scout, a little earlier than usual, it seemed eerily calm and quiet. The calm after the storm, I suppose.

I knew that on the agenda this morning were three services at which I would preach, and a crammed 10:00 service with the Blessing of Three-year-olds and a Baptism. (This service I would preach and preside while the Senior Pastor led an adult forum.)

And when we came indoors, I noticed that Scout was acting strangely. She was hiding behind furniture again. She has another small "hot spot" developing. We put the "headgear" back on and gave her antibiotic spray, and will call the vet in the morning.

In the meantime, I'm a little worried that she is stressed because I have been so busy lately. I know I am stressed. Individually I love every single thing I am doing. (well almost everything). But all together they seem just a little too ... heavy.

Balance. That is my dream.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Friday Five: The End

Today is Reverend Mother's last Friday Five. She writes:
Well friends, as I prepare for the birth of Bonus Baby, it's time to simplify life, step back from the Friday Five, and let one of the other capable and creative RevGals take the helm. It's been a great almost 17 months of co-hosting the F5, but it's time to say goodbye... so here's my swan song.

On Endings and Goodbyes:

1. Best ending of a movie/book/TV show
I love the ending of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, when he resolves all of the little stories in all of the windows that Jimmy Stewart has been watching. Also, in literature, at the end of A Tale of Two Cities, "It is a far far better thing that I do than I have ever done before. It is a far far better place that I go to..." (Sidney Carton). (As read by Ronald Coleman)

2. Worst ending of a movie/book/TV show
Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. Great movie, terrible ending. Cary Grant is dangling Eva Marie Saint from a cliff, and suddenly, they're on a train, on their honeymoon! And then the movie is over!

3. Tell about a memorable goodbye you've experienced.
As I was leaving Kumamoto, Japan, where I taught English, the boys from my 9th grade English class came to the train and gave me a present: a "hakata ningyo" (delicate ceramic doll). She looked like she was praying. This had been a challenging class, and it was a moment of grace as one of the boys stepped up to the train platform and presented me with the doll.

4. Is it true that "all good things must come to an end"?
Yes. Except eternal life. The exception that proves the rule.

5. "Everything I ever let go of has claw marks on it." --Anne Lamott Discuss.
Reminds me of another goodbye: when my sister got married. Growing up we mostly shared a room. We fought a lot, but also talked to each other until we fell asleep at night. We also shared an apartment for a short time when she was in college. So, at 20, she got married and moved to Arizona with her husband the next week. We drove down to Rochester to see them off. I cried most of the way home in the car. Claw marks.

Bonus: "It isn't over until the fat lady sings." I've never loved this expression. So propose an alternative: "It isn't over until ____________________"
The little Renault dies. Then it's really over. And yes, there is a story behind this.

Great Swan song, Reverend Mother!

A Short Rant

By the way, I finally got directions to the wedding Saturday (heavy sigh of relief).

It's been a hard week. I won't go into details, but this is the second time this week that I am the last one out of the church. I'd much rather be out visiting people than spending so much time preparing and sorting etc in the office, but that's the way it is sometimes.

So I escaped for a little while this afternoon. I went over to the local Large Chain Bookstore to eat soup and read. On the way, I caught the tail end of a conversation on NPR about -- dogs. Dogs in public places. Where should dogs be allowed? It was the very tail end of the conversation, and one woman called in to say that "dogs should be dogs! Don't take them in your little handbags to all these places they don't want to go!" (for the record, my dog doesn't fit in a handbag.)

And a woman named Amy came in with the "last word" on the subject: "that the same people who love their dogs and use them as a substitute for children (something like that) are also the people who are annoyed with or don't have any patience with children."

There's a sweeping generalization for you.

And then the program ended.

Now I do know a few people who love animals but hate children. I am not one of those people (just for the record).

I know I'm a little neurotic. She's my baby because I love kids and I didn't have any. I need something to care for. I especially like it when I have the time to take her to a class and teach her something. I also think she's beautiful.

Most of all, I love to see her around children, how she loves to be petted and to lick their hands and to sniff them. She's very gentle. There are two children here whose dad is ill. They love to play with Scout, and they ask if she will come to church. Scout has come to Vacation Bible School too. She lets all the children pat her on the head.

Take that, Amy! What do you know?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Before .... and After

They say a picture is worth one thousand words.

So here are two recent pictures of Scout. The first taken during her recuperation from her infection:

and the second last Sunday at the dog park.

Can you say "fully recovered?"


Monday, September 24, 2007

Where We Were

On Friday evening and Saturday, we briefly escaped to historic Red Wing, Minnesota.

We love Red Wing and have stayed in the town before. Most recently, we were fortunate enough to get away for two nights in early March. We stayed at the historic St. James Hotel right in the middle of a blizzard, and spent a couple of days feeling lazy and pampered. If you have to visit somewhere while a blizzard is raging outside, please make sure you stay in a place like the St. James Hotel.

However, the St. James Hotel does not take pets.

We spent a quiet evening reading and writing in a somewhat less luxurious hotel where Scout was welcome. We spent the next beautiful day hiking along the Mississippi River and climbing around Barn Bluff. It was warmer than we expected, and the hike wore both of us humans out. But Scout loved every minute of it. She even made a few new friends. We stopped at Pottery Place Antiques for lemonade and iced coffee before heading home that evening.

We made an impulse stop in Hastings, where classic cars were gathering for a car show. It was Scout's least favorite stop, although she did make one or two friends. She didn't like standing so close to cars revving their engines.

Once home, I finished up the evening by doing the dishes and cleaning out the ice cube keeper. For some reason, I felt a small sense of calm after getting this task done.

So, a brief getaway to a beautiful place -- and finally cleaning out the ice cube keeper -- these two things made me feel ready to face the new week.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Last Day In South Dakota

I had really left two weeks before, on a Sunday afternoon. It was the middle of May. I preached my last sermon, a story sermon without notes, I remember. I stopped at an anniversary celebration for the retired pastor who lived in my community. And I drove, my car full of boxes (and one cat), to my new call in suburban Minneapolis. My parents had taken a car-full as well, and my mom had tried to help me organize and pack the possessions that had bred like mice in the parsonage during the last four years.

But I wasn't done yet. The moving truck was coming at the end of May. I had left some half-packed boxes throughout the two-story, five-bedroom house I had managed to fill up all by myself. So, on Sunday night two weeks later, I drove back to the prairie and walked back into my home.

My church secretary and my past church secretary both came over that night, to help me finish packing the rest of my boxes. I had started out with such aspirations to organize: books, music, dishes, clothes. It all made sense at first. Somewhere along the way, though, I had discovered items that didn't quite fit into my neat categories: "miscellaneous". Miscellaneous, it turned out, was my biggest category. Gifts, stationery, a cloth angel wall-hanging, candles, bric-a-brac, scripture verses, hand lotion, bath soaps -- after awhile many things became "miscellaneous."

Monday morning I was still working when the movers arrived, two earnest young men from the big city. They seemed bewildered to be here, as if they had taken a wrong turn and fallen off the edge of the world. One of them talked more than the other. He saw my grandmother's old piano in the corner and said, "That's staying here, isn't it?" "No, that's going," I answered. He saw my small television in another corner, and asked some question or another about a show I never watched. "I don't get that station," I replied. "What? You don't get cable?" He looked around and said, "I could never live in a place like this."

He didn't know the half of it. I didn't get cable; I also didn't get NBC; never got addicted to E.R., because it was not available on my television. And during blizzards, ABC went out too, so I was pretty much left with CBS and Public Television. And we did have blizzards. During blizzards I did jigsaw puzzles, caught up on paperwork (like parochial reports, conveniently due in January or early February), called people on the telephone, cross-stitched and watched the same movie over and over until I knew it by heart (no video store either). One year it was Strictly Ballroom; another it was Gigi. I think I watched Roman Holiday over and over one winter too. And of course, if the snow wasn't too bad, I could always walk over to the council president's house. They did have cable.

I had never seen professional movers at work before. They were experts at building boxes around furniture. Everything was going very quickly, as they emptied my bedroom (couldn't understand my love of antiques), the kitchen and the living room. I was furiously packing the last of the kitchen items while they worked. At one point the talkative mover asked me, "Are there ticks here? I think I got a tick!" I said that yes, there were ticks out here at this time of the year, and he shook his head again and said, "I could never live in a place like this."

I remembered the two summers my niece and nephew came out to stay with me for a week. One year they came at the same time; the next year they came separately. They had a great time at Vacation Bible School. The older children down the block came over and played with them and baby-sat while I did hospital and nursing home calls. I invited them all over for dinner one night and my neice cried and cried when they left. My nephew learned to ride a bike; a family loaned him their smallest one for the week he stayed with me. And my neice chased a cat under the porch and -- you guessed it -- got a tick.

Lunchtime drew near, and my movers asked where they could get a hamburger. In the next town, ten miles away, I told them. "No restaurants here?" they asked. No. No restaurant, no grocery store, no gas station. I told them I would drive down and pick up a couple burgers for them. "I could never live in a place like this," the young mover said, yet again.

Almost four years before, on a hot day in the middle of July, I had driven into town, following the pick up trucks (and a U-Haul) driven by the council presidents of two of my congregations. Between us, we carried all of my possessions. Shortly after we left Watertown, they seemed to speed up and I had a hard time keeping up with them. They ran a stop sign just east of a small town called Hazel. Following them, I ran the stop sign too, fearing I would not find my way if I lost sight of them. (Later on, I found out that they were laughing, and one of them said, "Our pastor broke the law." to which the other replied, "at least she slowed down.")

Perhaps I was thinking, "I could never live in a place like this," as we turned on to the street which would eventually turn in to this small town, home to (as the sign said) 90 people (although others thought the correct number was 63). As our small caravan of cars approached the parsonage, it seemed as if everyone in the whole parish was there, waiting for me.

That's why they ran the stop sign. They were late.

They were making barbeques (South Dakota for "sloppy joes") and serving chips and lemonade, and of course bars. And they made moving into a party. They had my furniture and my possessions unloaded and in the house in an hour. And then they wisely left me to get acquainted with my new home. I did hear later, that one man had commented to his wife as they were leaving, that he felt sorry for me living all alone in this great big house with hardly any furniture.

Perhaps he was thinking, "How can she live in a place like this?"

And now, almost four years later, I was leaving. I was ready to go to a place where I could be anonymous, at least sometimes. I was ready to go to a place where I could have Chinese food for lunch, and hop right over to the nearest bookstore. I was ready to go to a place where the grocery store was five minutes away, where I didn't have to do jigsaw puzzles and cross-stitch during blizzards, and watch endless marathons of Gigi. Really, I was ready to go.

How could I have lived in a place like this?

But then there was my first Easter there. It was my birthday, and as I walked down the steps to the Easter breakfast, I saw that they had gotten a cake, and that there were cards and presents. There were the Christmas programs every year, and the gifts they left for each other under the tree. There was the surprise party they threw for my 40th birthday, and there were all the pickles and jams and sweet corn and green beans and even a couple of pheasants, once (but that's another story).

It was a lonely day, just me and the movers. I didn't run into anyone from the church. After all, I had already officially left. But every once in awhile I had to go upstairs, to the second floor, and have a good cry.

I was ready to go -- really I was. I was a big-city girl, returning to her roots. I had never lived in a place like this. Sure, my mother was from rural Minnesota, but that was different: trust me. A small town of 4,000 is much different than a small town of 63. And I had only visited there. I had a been a fish-out-of-water for four years, and now I was going home. That's what one of the council presidents had said. "You're going home."

"I could never live in a place like this," I heard the young mover say, again.

In my mind, I replied, "you never know."

P.S. this is a draft of something I'd like to continue working on. I'd appreciate feedback.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I wrote this a number of years ago when I was in seminary. When I saw the RevGals Friday 5 on "Clutter", I remembered it.

What was that noise? I heard a loud thud and went to the window. There it was, in the middle of our driveway. A two-ton crate with my name on it. I was both surprised and embarrassed to see it there. It seemed at the same time too large and too small, considering what it was. It was the accumulation of three years of my life overseas. It was all of my "stuff" from Japan.

I had packed it all myself, some months before. I labelled boxes, counted socks, wrapped bubble paper around breakable. Then I sent it off, forgetting what most of it was, except every once in awhile, when I would think of a particular item and wonder where it was. "Oh yeah," I would think, "that's in my stuff from Japan," and begin anticipating impatiently the day when it all would arrive.

There were a few problems getting my "stuff." It got to the U.S. all right, but it got stuck somewhere in customs, where they refused to release it to me. It seems that I had been overly meticulous and honest in itemizing it, so that they thought I ought to pay them about $500 for it. Not only did I doubt that it was worth that much, but so did my national church headquarters. They were unwilling to reimburse me that much money. The thought occurred to me that I would never see my "stuff" again. I pleaded, I cried and I prayed. I finally talked the customs people down to $32.50, came in and gave them a check, and verified my shipping lists. It was indeed, all my "stuff."

"Well," I asked eagerly, "when can I get it?" I had been kind of hoping that I could take it with me that day. "We'll make arrangements for it to be delivered soon," they promised. So I went home and waited. Then one day came the thud, and the two-ton crate, much larger than I had remembered, much too large to "take with me" anywhere.

I spent many hours and days then taking out of the crate boxes I had packed myself, as if I had never seen them before. As I retrieved old tennis shoes and ornate vases, unopened goodbye gifts and patched sweaters, miraculously unbroken dishes and cardboard boxes of Christmas card and letters, I remembered things both precious and mundane. I touched things again I had forgotten all about, searched for those things I knew I had, and tried to find a place for some of it in my parents' house. It was quite a mess for a long time after that. In some ways, it still is.

In some ways, I have spent my life since then unpacking and then packing up "stuff." I can't quite seem to stop accumulating it. I don't know what to do with it all. It seems that there is always something at the bottom of a box at my parents' house that I suddenly can't live without. A Japanese cup that becomes a symbol of gracious hospitality. A book with one sentence in it that I suddenly remember and understand. A handmade gift that calls to mind a child I loved and promised to write, but did not.

What is all this "stuff" anyway? "Stuff" is a word that has crept into our vocabulary that shows how crowded and puzzling our lives have become. "Stuff" is indefinite and indistinct. There is always too much of it. It crowds out tiny dorms rooms, fills our dark attics, lines our narrow hallways. Our lives are crowded with memories, obligations and information. What is all this "stuff"? And what do we do with it all?

Boxes line my closets, filled with trinkets and gifts, silverware and old toys, things I cannot use right now, but that are too valuable to throw away. Books almost tumble off my shelves, all filled with information promising to be useful in my years of ministry. Memories tumble through my mind, some pleasant, some painful, overflowing the boxes I have stuffed them in, promising me insight into myself as a person and a pastor. Traditions line and mark my years, both giving meaning and constraining me. They are all a part of my "stuff." They are all a part of me.

I wonder if I will ever again have all my "stuff" out of boxes, and know what it's for. I wonder if I will ever have room in my life for all of my "stuff", of the courage to throw some of it away. Some stuff might be useful, and some might be excess baggage, but how do I learn the difference? What do I grasp, and what do I let go of? What should I hold on to, and what is holding me back?

What do I do with all this stuff?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shhhh! It's a Secret...

It's been a very busy week. In a few minutes I'm leaving for Inreach Training at Central City church. I'm doing the opening reflection. The training will last until 9:00 tonight.

Next week doesn't look better. In fact, a little worse: Tuesday, another inreach training at my own church; Wednesday, confirmation, Thursday, my book club (I have, alas, not finished the book, Abide with Me, by Elizabeth Strout, yet), Friday, wedding rehearsal (at an outdoor location I still don't have a map for), Saturday, Health Care meeting, Wedding (at an outdoor location I still don't have a map for), Sunday (deep breath) Young Couples' Dinner. Oh, and did I mention I'm preaching next week? No?

But I'm not preaching this week. So tomorrow night and Saturday Husband and I are going to take a little get away to a secret location. I don't know for sure where it is, but I think it looks like this:

My dream: relaxing time reading and writing (maybe even some bad poetry! I haven't done that in years), and active time hiking with Scout, if the weather turns nice. And time to get away from the pressure and desire to succeed at all of the things I am doing, and remember that I am a person and a child of God.

My hope: that I will return renewed.

I believe in this: do you?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rite of Passage

Well, it has finally happened! On Monday, actually, although I waited until today to post about it. YES. I had my first ever RevGal Meet-Up, with RevDrKate of Prairie Light. (The obligatory picture should be posted on her site if not now, soon.)

She came up to my big city for some work and play over the weekend and into this week. (Hope it was fun!) We got in touch on Saturday and Sunday nights by phone, to work out our plans for how we would cross paths.

On Monday I drove to Suburb That Is Almost In Wisconsin to pick her up, and we had a fine brunch together at Edina's Original Pancake House. We both had Swedish Pancakes with lingonberries and talked "shop" and "blogging" (maybe a little too much for Husband).

While waiting for tall Husband to enter the restaurant, I looked up and saw a face that looked somewhat familiar. When Husband sat down with us, he informed us that yes, it was true: Twins center fielder Torii Hunter had just entered the restaurant.

After the picture, when Husband and I were both back at home, he said, "You know, if I had known there was a camera involved, I would have gotten your picture with Torii."

Oh, well. Just missed true greatness by such a little bit.

And for those who don't like baseball, Torii is well known for his community work (especially in the schools) as well.

But as for me, it was enough to meet the famous RevDrKate.

P.S. Please let me know how this rates on the "coincidence scale": at her workshop, RevDrKate met (and had lunch with) a member of my congregation who is a diaconal minister.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The List

Right now I am working on a lot of ministry items, maybe too many (I think, secretly, sometimes). There is one that I think is most important to our future as a congregation, but all of them have some place in my heart.

1. The Outreach Coordinator and I are planning a Young Couples' Dinner on September 30. We're an older congregation, but could find 9 young couples to invite ... and 4 of them have already RSVP'd! This is close to my heart because it all started with two of the couples. I know them pretty well, and I have been thinking for awhile, "I wish I could invite them both over for dinner. They have so much in common." We just broadened the vision.

2. First annual (I hope) Blessing of the Animals on Sunday, October 7. Pray for good weather.

3. I am leading an Adult Forum on "How to Study the Bible" on October 14th. (Boy, I almost forgot that)

4. Weddings on September 29, October 12, and November 3 (two off-site).

5. We are planning a Congregational Inreach for the month of October and into November. We have done congregational inreaches on a few other occasions. I believe they are great opportunities to deepen our relationships with one another in our congregations. A few years ago we had an inreach and trained 50 congregation members to be "visitors." They take an evening training where they learn to do a "one to one" visit, which is not an interview with a set of standard questions, but a natural conversation where the visitor really tries to listen for the most important stories the person has to share, their interests, passions and concerns. Sometimes we find out about particular struggles people are going through, but it's not a pastoral care visit. We often find out interesting things about a person's passions, interests, and history. We also find out what has drawn the person to our congregation, what they are proud of, what they wish for. I believe they are holy conversations. It is so rare that we allow ourselves to "go deep" with one another.

In preparing for the Inreach, I re-read Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12. He talks about the church as a body, with individual gifts and abilities (eyes, ears, feet, hands), but also a need for interdependence. They exist, as a body does, to be in relationship with each other. They function not for their own good, but for the good of the whole body. They have each been given gifts, but they are for the "common good", Paul says. I think we have lost this notion, both in the church, and in our wider communities. Instead, we think of ourselves as a collection of individuals. It's not that I think that (especially church) people are selfish. I know a lot of people who are going the extra mile for family, or friends. But I'm not sure that most of us have the sense that we are bound to each other, as the image of the body of Christ would suggest.

These one to one conversations, I pray, will strengthen our ties to each other, and also help us to envision what the future of our congregation will be.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Because My Dog is More Popular Than I Am...

Yesterday was a beautiful day. After a quick descent into autumn, it soared up into the 70s on Sunday. Even though after church we just had to take our naps, we couldn't let the day pass without getting ourselves and yes, Scout, out into it. She is feeling better lately, although I still have to give her the full course of the antiobiotic. We should be done in a couple of days. I am also gradually transitioning her to another food, a kind of half-homemade, half-prepared brand called Sojourner Farms. She was doing all right on the semi-raw diet, except that 1) it's kind of icky, and 2) I was concerned about whether she was getting all the right nutrients. I did like that I didn't have to deal with so many additives. The vet shared my concern about that and thought we should try more red meat with Scout. "She seems like she might be a red meat kind of dog," he said. Also, he said she should be getting more exercise.

So ... we live for our dog, you know. (Well, at least I do.) And Sunday was an opportunity that could not be passed up. So after the mandatory naps (which left me a little groggy, I'll admit) we packed up the dog and headed up to Lake of the Isles, where there is a great little dog park and walking paths.

We were waylaid at first, because my husband wanted to get a cigar, and then he kept thinking we were going to Another Lake, The Lake Where He Always Smokes A Cigar. So we drove around in circles for awhile, until we got to the right place, to the dog park where Scout used to go almost every day. She hasn't been for over a year.

The woman with the smart, frisbee-obsessed Border Collie recognized us right away, even after all this time. "Nobody came in the morning any more," I explained, my excuse for not showing up. We really went to play with other dogs and owners. There's no point in coming if we're the only ones.

In the meantime, after some initial sniffing, Scout starting making up to other dogs and people and pretty much ignoring us, as was her habit always at the park. She's fun to watch, as she solicits pets from most of the people, and checks out which might be the most fun dogs to play with. But she has an issue with coming when called, another reason, now I remember, why we stopped coming to the park. She had a brief interlude of fantastic obedience, during a time when she got ALL of her food by hand. She got NOTHING unless she obeyed. And, as the food-obsessed dog she is, she obeyed.

We have both backslid since then.

A few people asked what was wrong with her side. "Hot spot," I said. Pretty much everyone knows what that means. People always ask what kind of dog she is. "Golden retriever, Husky, probably shepherd," is the standard reply. Many people comment on how friendly she is. She is always smiling. She has no self-esteem problems.

After the park, we took a walk around the Lake, meeting more people and a few more dogs, including a 9 week old puppy. Husband said to me, "Do you know those people?" "No," I replied. "They just have dogs."

After we came home, we decided to keep being social butterflies. We went out to eat at a place we have never been before, Broder's Pasta Bar. It's not too far, and turned out to be a fun place. I even had a glass of wine.

And then, I got a call from RevDrKate, in anticipation of our RevGal brunch meet-up, which took place today. More on that later.

Next morning, I let Scout run in the yard, part of the "more exercise" orders from the vet. She promptly picked up a tomato (I know, it's too late for them) and ran around the yard with it, playing keep away until I came back with breakfast. That Scout! She's "high maintenance."

But I love her.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Sermon

It occurs to me that there is probably a way to copy my whole sermon from the computer at church rather than re-typing it, but I haven't figured it out yet. My next project.

Note on sermon: please visualize a large cardboard box, in the middle of the chancel, with a sign on it: "lost and found", and overfilled with items. The first paragraph is given not from the pulpit, but from in back of the box.

Lost and Found

Recently I've been looking around in our church's "lost and found" basket. Is everyone here aware that our church has a lost and found basket? Every once in awhile I mislay something I'm fond of -- a nice pen, a coffee mug, a book I've been reading -- and I check out the lost and found here at church to see if anyone else found it and returned it. I have never found the item I'm looking for in the lost and found.... But I have found a lot of item items, really quite a variety, some small things and probably easy to replace, like this box of Pampers wipes, and some, I thought, anyway, quite valuable -- like this cell phone I found. Now there are also some things that are valuable to some people but not to others: when I saw this white sheet, I immediately thought, Oh, I know what I could use that for! But I don't have a current use for a mini etch o sketch or a matchbox truck, or even, sadly, one glove. One person might not have any use for a notebook like this, and another might think "wow! this is just want I need!" and there might be an item here in this box which would cause great rejoicing for someone. You never know.

What do all these things have in common? They are all things which have been lost but have not yet been claimed by someone. They are "lost and found" but they haven't been "found" by someone who is willing to take them home and claim them as their own -- not the umbrella or the winter cap or the sweatshirts. They haven't been found by the original owner -- or at least, by someone else willing to call them "useful" or "valuable" to them. It could be that these items were just not so valuable to the person who lost them -- or it might be that the person was a guest here -- and even from out of town -- and just can't afford to fly back to look for whatever the lost items was.

So what does the church's "lost and found" have to do with our gospel lesson today? What does the story of the "lost sheep" and the "lost coin" have to do with a box full of "stuff" that it appears no one wants? At first glance -- nothing. We clearly have a case of a sheep that is so valuable that the shepherd is willing to leave the others to find it and return it to the flock. and we have a story of a coin that is so valuable that the woman won't cease sweeping the floors and searching the shelves until she find it. And then there is the party afterwards. That's important too. The shepherd and the woman are so overjoyed that they found the lost item, it is so valuable to them, that they throw a big party to celebrate. "In the same way, there is joy in heaven over every sinner who repents."

But I think this box and the story do have something in common. and I want to start with the story of the woman and the coin to show what they have in common. Of course, it's a little easier in this case, because the "coin" and all the things in this box are inanimate objects. the story says the woman has ten "silver coins." In Greek, those would be "drachmas" -- each would be equal to about a day's wages. That's actually not a lot of money. To lose one drachma would not be a huge tragedy -- for some people. for a rich person, a lost drachma, a lost coin like this one, would not be a cause for worry. But this woman only has ten. It's probably her whole savings -- maybe even her dowry, the money she would take into her marriage. So the drachma isn't so valuable, but it's valuable TO HER. That's important. the one coin that she searches and searches for may not be valuable to everyone, but it is valuable to the woman. In that way, it is like the items in the "lost and found" which are valuable to someone -- but not to everyone.

But what about the 1 sheep lost among 100? That's a little more puzzling. One hundred sheep would have been a huge amount in those days. It would be three times as many sheep as most people had. so it would be hard to imagine a farmer leaving his 99 sheep to go after just one lonely and lost sheep. It is only 1 100th of his flock! One sheep- would NOT be that valuable -- like MOST of the things in the lost and found box, that no one took the time to come looking for. It is much more prudent to rejoice and stick with the 99 sheep he has than to go out looking for one sheep. It's actually a surprise that he even misses it. But he does. The shepherd misses that one lost sheep, and leaves the 99 to go out and look for it. So when Jesus says, "which of you would do this..." actually probably none of them would do it. None of them would risk 99 sheep for the sake of one. Just like hardly anyone comes back to find what they lost in the lost and found.

To the Pharisees, the tax collectors and sinners are just like most of the items in the lost and found, just like that little silver coin, or that one stupid sheep that got itself lost. they are not worth bothering with. They are not righteous. They may be called "sinners" simply because they are poor, and they don't have the means to measure up to all of the requirements of the law. to fulfill the law, at least one of the things you have to do is give. If you can't give, you aren't righteous in the eyes of the law. OR they might be considered sinful because of their lifestyle. They live a less than upright life (and you can use your imagination about what that might mean). And of course the tax collectors were sinners plus. They were working for the enemy: Rome. But they were also cheating their own people, collecting more than they needed to in order to line their own pockets. Why should Jesus have a party with them?
Why should Jesus hang around with them? Why should he go looking for them? They are not worth his time. They not that valuable -- just like some of the "stuff" in this box.

There are people like that around us, too. People who don't seem too valuable -- at least in the eyes of the world. Maybe it's because they're poor -- people who are homeless, and live at the edges of our society. Or they're immigrants, struggling to get by. Or maybe it's because of their "lifestyle.' They've done something or things that others don't approve of. They don't live a righteous life. For some reason of another they just don't measure up. They're not worth bothering about -- at least in the eyes of the world. Tax collectors and sinners. Not righteous. That's one way of looking at it -- Or -- you can look at it another way -- they are people who have not yet been claimed by One who would find them useful -- and valuable. People who are no valuable in the eyes of the world -- but who are valuable to God. Like notebooks and sweatshirts and umbrellas and one glove -- ordinary things, small things -- ordinary people, small people -- lost and waiting to be found. Like you and me.

I heard a story recently a bout a woman who lost something very valuable, very precious to her. She was coming home late at night, after an evening out doing errands. It was early in December, so maybe it was even Christmas shopping. There was a light sprinkle of snow covering the ground. As she reached for the door, her wedding ring caught on the edge of the door frame, and the diamond popped out and fell into the snow. How could she find such a small item in the middle of the snow-covered yard, in the dark? She felt panicked, but almost without thinking she grabbed two flashlights, and began to shine them throughout the yard. And do you think she would give up without finding the diamond? No -- she searched and searched until she found it -- and she found it because the light of the flashlight made it glitter, even in the midst of the snow. and you know what else she said? She said that it wasn't the cost of the diamond that made her search, although I'm sure it cost some money. It was what it meant to her: that's what made her search. She said it was a miracle. I agree with her. Maybe she had a party. I'll be she wanted to.

My friends, in God's eyes, every single one of us here is a diamond. God was willing to come here to search and to find us, to get down in the dark and the snow and cold to find us and to claim us as God's own. God came down to the darkness and the coldness of our world, to find us and to call us his own -- diamonds -- even thought we're really more like -- the one glove, the notebook, the umbrella -- all of the items in the lost and found, all of the items that it seems nobody wants. God came here to find us and to claim us and also -- to put us to use. God calls us to go out and find others -- those who are not here yet -- and to get out our flashlights -- and to go out into the dark world and to claim them as God's own -- to call them diamonds. God calls us to find the lost items in the "lost and found" and to rejoice and celebrate, put the tablecloth on the table and have a party (coincidentally, one of the items in the lost and found is a tablecloth).

And then, may it be said of us, just as it is said of our Lord Jesus Christ, "these people welcome sinners, and they eat and drink with them." AMEN

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Summer was so Long Ago...

We just got some pictures developed from our vacations in New Mexico and the North Shore. It's been cold the last couple of days. There was frost on the car windows this morning! It seems that summer was so long ago, and passed so quickly.

I think I'll remember Gooseberry Falls the most. I've been there more than once, but it was great to go there with neice M, Scout and my mom and dad, who had never been further north than Duluth before. And it was good to walk across the falls, although, as I may have mentioned before, I am bad at these sorts of things.

I am not good at taking risks. I like to play it safe. Sure, I went to Japan once, a long time ago. And I have done a couple of other things too: I ran an inner city program one summer for children. It didn't quite crash and burn, but it wasn't pretty.

As a pastor, I think most people would prefer we don't take too many risks. But I suspect that, for the future of the church, we pastors need to want some things, for ourselves and for our churches, so badly that we are willing to risk failure, willing to fall into the water, scrape our knees. We need to want to get to the other side so much that we are willing to do something risky to get there.

But it's hard for me. It's hard for me even to imagine what I want that much. I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 12 or 13, because I was afraid of falling down. Finally the shame of not knowing how overcame the fear of falling, and I spent a week with my best friend, riding a smaller bike until I could get on the tall one. At the falls, I think it was because I wanted to be with my niece. So I did what I didn't want to do.

Right now, I am trying to keep the image of the falls in my head, and asking myself the question, "What is it that I want so badly, that I am willing to risk failure? That I am willing to fail and keep failing until I succeed?" What am I willing to walk across the falls for? I don't know yet, but I am willing to keep asking, and to keep walking, until it is clearer.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Passion Monologue

I need your help. I wrote 5 Monologues based on the Passion narrative in Mark a couple of years ago. They were called "Unnamed Witnesses to the Passion." I also wrote 6 Monologues based on the Passion story from John. I would like to get them published, but I don't have any ideas. If you do, please pass them along. As well, I'd like feedback. Here is one of the Unnamed Witnesses to the Passion:

The young man who ran away

One thing I remember is how dark it was that night, how really dark it was. It seemed like the night was a good place to hide while I was watching, the whole time watching from a little distance. I want you to know that I had been following Jesus for awhile before this. I wasn't just watching because I knew something bad was about to happen. I'm not one of those people who is just waiting for tragedies to happen so that I can watch. No -- I had been "hanging around" for awhile and listening to Jesus teach and watching him heal -- but it is safe to say that I wasn't one of the main disciples. I followed, but from a distance. That's me -- I like to follow, but from a distance. I don't want to get too close. I just had the feeling that there was something dangerous about Jesus -- and you know, I was right.

The thing I remember most about Jesus is that when I heard him preach, it always seemed like he was talking straight to me, like he knew me. He knew just what I was hoping for, and just what I was afraid of -- what made me hesitate. This is what drew me to him, but it's also what help me back. He made me feel vulnerable, exposed, like there was no place I could hide. I always followed at a distance, wanting to hear but not wanting to get too involved. So there I was, on the night he was betrayed, watching and listening just like I always did, except this time, somehow I ended up just a little too close to the action. I saw everything -- I saw the prayer he prayed and how everyone fell asleep. I saw how lonely he was, in the dark. I saw Judas coming toward him, and I saw the soldiers descending on him like he was going to fight back. I mean, the disciples weren't an army. There were a couple of fighters in the bunch, but mostly they were fishermen. I just seemed so incredible. They were treating him like he was a criminal. And then I felt a hand and I knew that I had gotten a little too close this time, and I ran away. Just like all the others. My heart was beating wildly, I was so scared -- scared of being caught, but also scared of being so close, so close to the action. And I ran away so fast that it didn't even matter to me that I lost my clothes. I was naked -- running away in the dark -- running for my life.

Jesus was dangerous -- everyone was right about that. In fact, He still is. I almost died that night -- me, who doesn't like to get involved. I'm the one who likes to play it safe. And there I was, in the middle of things before I knew it. And there I was, vulnerable and exposed, just what I didn't want to be -- ever. That's the way it is with Jesus. He doesn't allow you to sit on the sidelines. Before you know it, you are right in the middle of something. Anyway, that's the way it has been for me -- ever since that night. Ever since I stopped running away. Ever since I started following him.

Oh, I feel like running away sometimes, still. Life isn't easy, you know. But it's useless. I can't help it. I start listening again, and it seems like he is talking to me, and he knows all my hopes and all my fears, and my heart is beating wildly again. just like that night. That's how I know he's dangerous. And that's how I know he's alive -- and so am I.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

And that's the way it is...

In Japan, they have a saying, "only a fool doesn't catch a cold."

So, I have a cold. I suppose that, in a way, that's a good thing, because it means I'm not a fool.

I blame my brother. He had a cold when he came to my mom's birthday party on Sunday. He tried really hard not to touch anything or anyone. But I have a cold anyway.

All I really want to do is sleep (and sneeze). But there's a lot to do. I could make a list. But I'm too tired.

And, Scout goes back to the vet this afternoon for her check-up.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sermon from September 23, 2001

Note: this was preached the week after the Sunday after 9/11.

"The New Normal"

Perhaps you've been hearing, like I have, the phrase "getting back to normal" this past week. At the opening of the stock exchange, and the reopening of certain streets in Lower Manhattan, as some people return to their jobs, our nation is "getting back to normal." Or perhaps you've heard these same commentators, or government leaders, urging us to "get back to normal." They mean, I suppose, that we should start up our daily routines -- mow our lawns, feed our children, go to work and to worship, to shopping. And in a sense, we are getting back to normal. The twenty-four hour news coverage is over, unless you are watching CNN or the Fox News Network. Television has returned to regular programming, with interruptions for brief updates and speeches. We have begun watching our favorite sports teams again. Regularly scheduled meetings are not canceled any more. I hear airplanes flying over my home -- their regular flight path -- again. In a sense, we are returning to normal life, settling down from a sudden feeling, a week ago last Tuesday, that maybe the world was coming down around us.

But when people urge us to "get back to normal", there's always long pause, like it doesn't sound exactly right. Then there's an effort to define themselves. Once I even heard someone say -- "but it will be a new normal." Yes, people will go back to work, they'll go back to the ordinary routines of their theirs, they'll go back to balancing checkbooks, and worrying about their children and watching sports and listening to music (instead of news reports) on the radio. But it will not be the same somehow -- and I'm not sure we even want it to be the same -- because the images that we have seen since Tuesday, September 11th have changed the way we look at the world, and perhaps the way we behave in the world. It has been a defining moment for us as a nation. Now that we have experienced this kind of terror, this kind of hatred, this kind of destruction, unleashed -- how can "normal" be the same?

From now on there will be a new normal. Those who are interested in defining these things point to a loss of innocence, or a loss of a sense of security in our lives as Americans. There is also a new patriotism around us -- as flags wave from homes and cars, are displayed on highway overpasses, sold on street corners, waves by children carrying signs that read: 'honk if you love America.' There is a new sense of unity: we don't ask if those who display the flag are conservative or liberal, Catholic or Jewish or Muslim. There is a sense that we are all in this together -- even though we are not sure yet what "this" is. There is a new sense of fear as well -- with broadcasters speculating about new and creative forms of terror which had been unknown before, with airline passengers putting up with inconvenience for security's sake, with some foregoing airline travel at all. There are fears regarding our economy, and fears regarding strangers among us. Just a few days ago Northwest Airlines took three Arab Americans off of one of their flights. The reasons: the other passengers had voted that they wouldn't ride with them. The three took a Delta flight.

So this "New Normal" that we talk ab out can be positive or negative, with both positive and negative consequences for our nation. If September 11 turns us into a fearful nation that drowns out dissenting voices, that would be a terrible conversion. If September 11 turns us to vengeance rather than justice, that would be a terrible conversion. If September 11 makes us forget that our most precious freedoms are the freedom to speak, to worship, to gather, to work, that would be a terrible conversion. If September 11 makes us into our enemy, that would be a terrible conversion.

But is on September 11 we gained a new sense of unity, a new sense of appreciation for diversity, and for the freedom that has led so many people from so many places here, that would be positive. If on September 11, our eyes were opened not only to evil, but also the preciousness of each human life, that would be positive. And if after September 11 we return to our normal lives determined to do something of values, to do something courageous, that would be positive as well.

As Time correspondents put it last week: "When one world ended at 8:45 on Tuesday morning, another was born, one we always trust in but never see, in which normal people become fierce heroes and everyone takes a test for which they haven't studied. As President Bush said in his speech to the nation, we are left with both a terrible sadness and a quiet unyielding anger. He was wrong, though, to talk of the steel of our resolve. Steel, we now know, bends and melts; we need to be made of stronger than that now --" but there is no material substance strong enough -- now that we have realized how truly vulnerable we are.

It seems to me that this would be our faith community to know a "new normal" as well. What do I mean by that? I mean this would be a good time to go about our normal activities, to go to work and to feed our families, help our children with their home work and pay the bills. This would be a good time to go about our normal activities -- praying and serving and working and resting, but seeing the world in a new way, and acting in the world in a new way. This "new normal" for us would not simply come about because of September 11, but in response to the defining moment of our lives -- the death and resurrection of Jesus -- who we call both son of God and son of Mary. What does the story of his life and death say about our world, about us, about God?

--First -- this story says that the one who is stronger than steel, the God who is immortal and invisible, became human, became vulnerable, for our sake. God became one who knows and experiences our agonies, who suffered and died at our own hands. --Second -- God did this because for some reason God loves us -- all of us -- friends or enemies. As the author of 1 Timothy writes: "Christ Jesus, himself human, gave himself a ransom for all." -- Third -- as it turned out on the third day after Jesus' crucifixion, the love of God was stronger than the hate that put him to death. We know this -- even as we grieve -- even as we search for understanding -- even as we struggles with our fears.

What does this new normal look like and how can it help us in the days ahead? In all humility I can'[t tell you exactly what it will look like. But I have a few glimpses -- a few postures. First, the new normal will look like people on their knees. Not in humiliation, but in prayer and remembrance, in confession and in vulnerability. It is a position of strength, not weakness, that at the same time we remember our wounds, we also confess our sins, that we pray both "forgive us our sins," and "as we forgive those who sin against us." From our knees we recognize our vulnerability . We see that along with all the other members of the human family, we are dependent on God. From our knees we confess our vulnerability, our blindness, our attachment to material things, our lack of trust in God. From our knees we realize that God alone is our refuge and our strength, and that God's mercy is our only hope. And on our knees we know that God is merciful.

The new normal for Christians will also look like people who are sitting -- sitting and learning, sitting and listening. We will sit across table and speak with people and pray with people who are different than us. We will study God's word and learn more about the God who was willing to come here, to become one of us, and to fight for us by dying. We will learn more about the God who, like a fireman on a mission, ran toward death and destruction in order to rescue us. We will learn about the God who hates injustice -- whose wrath burns against those who cheat the poor. We will learn about the God who loves all people -- including our enemies -- and desires for them to come into his care. We will also sit and learn and absorb and we will want to understand -- we will have a passion to understand -- to understand God, to understand God's son -- to understand all the people that God loves.
The new normal for Christians will finally look like people who stand up straight. The "new normal" will lead us out to serve one another, support one another, love one another. The new normal will life us up and give us God's strength -- stronger than steel -- both to fight and to love. The new normal will lift us up to re-build what has exploded -- but to rebuild on the foundation that is Jesus Christ. The new normal will give us courage to befriend and protect our neighbors who are persecuted because of their religion, and to give comfort to our neighbors who are broken and grieving. But mostly, the "new normal" will be people standing and serving and going and giving -- being faithful in small things, in ordinary ways, in their ordinary lives.

To kneel, to sit, to stand -- these are ordinary activities. We kneel to bathe a child, to plant flowers, to scrub floors. We sit to eat together, to work and rest, to listen. We stand to show respect for an elder, to give someone our seat, to go and do something. These are ordinary activities, ordinary postures. They are also the postures of worship. As we engage in these ordinary postures -- singing, praying, listening, learning, serving -- we live a "new normal", putting our lives in the hands of the one who died and rose for us.

Even in the midst of these uncertain times, we can trust him. Especially in the midst of these uncertain times, we can live for him. For his love is stronger than steel that bends and melts, his love is stronger than hate that destroys and explodes, his love is stronger than fear that runs away -- and he lives for you.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Few September 11 Thoughts

Things I remember:

*It seemed very quiet all week. We live near the airport, and are used to constant airport noise. There was an eerie silence.
*There were prayer vigils all over town, both on Tuesday evening, and on Friday.
*There was a sense of unreality.
*On Sunday, we changed the songs for worship. After singing the opening, Ken Medema's "Lord, Listen to your Children Praying", we sang two verses of "America the Beautiful" at our 10:00 worship service. Then, the patriotic song seemed like a prayer.
*For about two weeks, the church was full, with some people we didn't know, and people we didn't know well somehow finding it compelling to be there. After that, church attendance started to return to normal.
*There was talk about the Mall of America being a possible future target.
*Two weeks after September 11, my sermon title was "The New Normal." I took it from an article from Newsweek magazine. I'd like to go back and read it now. I have a feeling that "the new normal" turned out to be different than I had first imagined. But not in a good way.

Anniversary of 9/11

On the anniversary of 9/11, I'd like to share a poem by Robert Frost:

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire.
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

It was first printed in Harper's Magazine, in December of 1920.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom!

I'm one day late -- but better late than never, I say. It was my mom's birthday yesterday (September 9). The day before was my aunt M's (her older sister) 80th birthday. They were born 8 years and one day apart.

They grew up on a farm just north of Jackson, Minnesota, along with their younger sister and two brothers. My aunt graduated from high school and worked in town for a couple of years, and then moved to Minneapolis when she was 21. My mom moved to Minneapolis when she graduated from high school, inspired at least in part, I think, by my aunt's bravery. My aunt worked for Augsburg Publishing House for awhile; they both worked for General Mills (home of the fictional Betty Crocker).

One of my aunt's claims to fame is that she worked on the classic Betty Crocker Cooky Book. There were those who wanted to spell it "cookie", and my aunt insisted that this was the way they spelled it at her house! I do think the spelling contributed to the charm.

My mom got married when she was 20, and had me when she was 21. At a certain age, I did the math, and asked her, "Was I planned?" She answered, "Let me put it this way. We didn't plan not to."

Both my mom and my aunt are smart women. Neither went to college from high school. That option just wasn't open them at the time. I remember when I was in high school, that my aunt decided to go back to school and get her teaching degree. I rode the bus with her to the University of Minnesota one day when I was looking into colleges. She took me to classes and, most important, I thought, to the college cafeteria. Then, when I was in college, my mom decided to go back and get her business degree.

On Sunday afternoon, we had a birthday party for both of them. Part of it was a surprise. My mom had invited some of my aunt's girlfriends, including one of her good friends she had worked with at General Mills, and one of her roommates from when she first lived in Minneapolis.

At one point, my aunt got up and gave a little speech, thanking her sons (she said she didn't know they were capable of giving a party like this) and my mom. She said, "For a long time we have been sisters.... but we've also been good friends."

I'm so proud to have them both as a mom, as an aunt ... and as my friends, too.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Rally Day

Today was Rally Day at church. In some ways it's right up there with Christmas and Easter. At our church Sunday School has started, and the church is filled with colorful balloons, and many children. We invite the people to release their balloon at an appropriate time for them (when they would say "amen!" if they were Baptist). I always try to carry a green balloon to match my stole.

I asked one of the youth working on the "balloon patrol" how long they have had balloons on Rally Day. "A long time," she replied. "Since God created dirt."

I think you can't really experience the full impact of Rally Day unless you have been coming to church all summer, wondering if there will be anyone for the children's message, seeing the people straggle in, worshiping with the people who don't have cabins up north. There's a small sense of eschatological hope: a foretaste of the feast to come, when we will gather together for the great feast in heaven. And I'm sure there will be great crowds on that day, all ages, all kinds of people. I love the faithful few, but on the Great Day, heaven will be full. Don't get me wrong, summer worship is lovely, but there's an energy on Rally Sunday.

I remember when I first came to this church. I started at the end of May, and all summer I worked on the contemporary worship service I was supposed to introduce in the fall. I was also charged with the children's message on that day. It was my first children's message in this church, and I wanted it to be good. The gospel was "the lost sheep", and I thought I had a good idea: the children would find a "lost person" out in the congregation (a youth wearing a corsage), find her and bring her back. Then the "lost person" would tell everyone how good it felt to be found!

At the right time, I stood up in the sanctuary, which had more people than I had seen all summer. And remember, I had just recently come from a small parish in South Dakota. I said, "Would all the children please come forward?" About 80 children surged up toward the altar steps. At that time I knew that I would have to change my plans, at least a little. I couldn't send 80 kids back into the congregation to look for a lost sheep. Instead, I chose two. They found her. It worked out. Whew!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

About Cats

This post is dedicated to Barb, cat lover and one of my first blog friends.

I've been looking through old journals, photo albums and miscellaneous lately, uprooting and disturbing dust, and I came across a little poem I can't believe I wrote a long time ago.

though the cat is by nature
the most graceful of beasts
there comes a rare moment
she's not light on her feet
when she falls in the toilet
leaps and misses the chair
miscalculates distance
as she flies through the air
I don't laugh out loudly
I pretend not to see
it's just a little secret
between the cat and me.

The picture is an old one of my cat, Kiki, who died two years ago, at the age of 18.

For those who have asked about Scout...

At the vet, where they told me it was the worst "hot spot" they had ever seen, they shaved a little fur off of Scout, cleaned her sore up, gave her two antiobiotics and what my husband called "the lampshade." One good thing about the lampshade is that it is clear, so at least she can see out the sides. But she still bumps into things a lot.

The sore still looks pretty alarming. When I brought her in, and they were talking about it, I said something about it looking like "flesh-eating bacteria" and they nodded, like well, yes, it was.

The first time I tried to give her pills, she chomped down on my hand. Didn't break skin, but was clearly upset that I was putting my hand on her muzzle and sticking my finger down her throat. Usually she's ok with me giving her pills, but I forgot that the "lampshade" makes her a little fear-aggressive. But we worked with that, and now we're got a system down.

I think the sore is improving slightly, but I suppose it is too soon to tell. She still seems to be a little down, but that might be from the head gear. She doesn't want to catch the ball. She did seem to sleep a little better last night.

We really appreciate all of your prayers. And those of you who are asking St. Francis to pray as well, I say: the more the merrier!

I'm thinking about posting a picture of Scout and me together, but I'm nervous.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Interviewed by Barb!

1. WooHoo! You have just published a bestseller. What is its title (and what is it about)?

My first instinct is to say my book is: True Confessions: Lives and Loves of Parish Pastor. Because, they say, write what you know. And of course the book would be totally fictional, but something to counteract the Jan Karon Mitford stories. Because you know, the small town I lived in was Not like Mitford.

My second idea would be a memoir called Scout Is Not a Bad Dog. I don't think I need to say any more about that one. I was thinking, pet memoirs are hot right now.

Third, (and I don't have a title for this one) I would love to write a Christian book that would get really popular like The Purpose-Driven Life, but with better theology. 40 daily kicks in the butt, or 40 daily stories that make us realize that God Is Our Only Hope. What do you think?

2. What is your favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities, and why do you love it?

It will tell you something about my taste in restaurants to reveal that I miss the old Forum Cafeteria, in downtown Minneapolis, the place where, as a little girl, I could carry my own tray and have any color jello I wanted. And it had the most marvelous Art Deco architecture. They were going to tear it down, but they did save some of the inside. But now it's a real lah-di-dah expensive restaurant, and I've never been there.

Truthfully, our favorite restaurant is a place called The Good Earth. It's a kind of pseudo-healthy, organic place, and it's been around the Twin Cities about since I graduated from college. And it's not too expensive. If you come and visit, I could take you to some other, hipper places: St. Martin's Table (books and a healthy lunch), Convention Grill (50s style, burgers and other really unhealthy comfort food), Mickey's Diner (hard to explain). But The Good Earth is our favorite place because 1) most waits under an hour; 2) Husband likes the planetburger; 3) free fresh bread; 4) Good Earth tea!

3. What was the most challenging thing about serving small churches in rural South Dakota?

It wasn't the lack of money. I didn't really feel that there were a lot of expensive things I wanted to do if only we had more money. I think it was that there were three churches. Each church really did have its own distinctive personality. They had many things in common, but they were all different too, and they didn't require the same things. And, I needed to always be careful not to show favoritism.

Also, although the people were very friendly and welcoming, sometimes it was lonely. And, there are many more funerals than baptisms there, so I couldn't measure ministry "success" in terms of numbers.

4. What was your proudest accomplishment back in high school?

I was kind of a late blooomer, so in high school I played bit parts in the school plays, and sang in the choir, but never a solo. But I was on the school literary magazine in my senior year of high school, and I got three pieces published; one, I remember, was a story called The Writer's Eye.

1st runner up: the day my Comparative Religion teacher read a piece I had written aloud to the class. I was gone that day, so the next day all of my classmates were showing me new-found respect! (It was a "creation myth": everyone had to write one.)

5. If you had a time machine, where (and what time period) would you go?

This was hard! I love studying history, but do I really want to go there? (I keep thinking about things like Shakespearean England, but what about the lack of indoor plumbing, etc?) So... what I really come down to, is the 1930's. I'd like to go back to the era of screwball comedies, union organizing, Clark Gable and Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, the Thin Man... yeah, I know it's not reality, it was really the Great Depression, but I'd like to visit it for a little while.

Now, I have to post these 'rules':

1. If you are interested in being interviewed, leave me a comment saying, 'interview me.'
2. I will resond by posting five questions for you. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Why I Deleted the Last Post

I still like the poem, Birthday Poem, by Erin Murphy, and I want more people to know both the poem and its author. My motives are pure. And I thought it might suffice, as it always did in school papers, to give the title of the source and publication year. But now, I'm not sure. I need to check on what is the correct way to credit sources on blogs, because I like sharing poetry, and others' reactions to it, and I want to do it right.

I will let you know and re-post the poem when I am able.

In the meantime, I'd like to direct you to the Poetry 180 website. This website was created for high school teachers and students, to bring more contemporary poetry into high schools. There is one poem a day for the 180 days of the typical school year. Billy Collins, former poet laureate, is the creator of the website and the project.

I didn't get my poem from the website, though. I got it from the second printed collection, called 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. The project has been so popular there have been two printed collections of the poems for the year. The preface to the book has a wonderful explanation of an "accessible" versus an "inaccessible" poem, which gives some great initial tips for interpreting poetry, as well.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Scout is Hurting

I didn't hear from the vet last night. We could tell Scout was feeling kind of low because she just kept moving from under the dining room table to under the recliner: back and forth, back and forth. Her sore appeared to be getting worse. She did have an appetite, though. And she ate a little grape tomato that dropped on the floor, which I thought was a good sign. Otherwise, she moved kind of slow, like she had arthritis or something.

I've just been cleaning off her sore, so it wouldn't get infected. And waiting to get some advice from the vet.

When we went to bed, she didn't want to come into the bedroom with us at first. Then she tried to get under the bed (too low). When that didn't work, she actually tried to climb up on the bed with us, which she never does. NEVER. She's sixty pounds, for crying out loud. She usually sleeps at the foot of our bed. So I could tell she was miserable.

I pushed her bed right up to ours to help her calm down, and she settled a bit. But I could hear her chewing herself all night. (I didn't sleep very well, either.)

This morning I could see there were new raw spots on her. I washed them off again. No call from the vet. I put a little Benadryl cream on her, because I couldn't think of anything else to do

I had a meeting in the morning. After the meeting ended at 11:30, still no call from the vet. So I called another clinic. This one also uses some holistic practices. They said using the Benadryl for now is ok, and they made an appointment for Friday.

Our own vet had called while I was on the phone. (sigh)

I feel a little sad. This isn't the one who yelled at me. This is another doctor at the same clinic, a woman who has shepherded Scout through her broken leg, the time when she ate a dog bootie (long story), and her long medical history of diarrhea.

I will keep you updated on how Scout is feeling.

UPDATE: I got my appointment changed from 11:00 tomorrow to 4:30 this afternoon. They had a cancellation!

FURTHER UPDATE: Just returned from very nice vet with (as my husband calls it) the lampshade, a very strong antibiotic and antibiotic spray. We will return in one week. He said it was the worst case of a "hot spot" (lay term) that he had ever seen. Moved very fast from Monday, when it was just a little sore, to Wednesday a.m., when it was alarming. We don't have any idea what caused it, and at this point, it's more important to treat it than figure it out. We will have to watch her carefully for the next few days, but I am really relieved this evening.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sunday Sermon -- finally

"You are who you eat with"

I don't know about you, but it seems that I have spent a good part of my life trying to find the right place to sit. It started when I was a child, I think, because I am left-handed. At the dinner table, I always sat on the end, so that I wouldn't disturb anyone else in the family by bumping elbows with them. This worked pretty well until we got a new table: round. Luckily, my family still let me eat with them. So, whenever I go out to eat, and particularly when I eat with a large group, I am always looking for the "right" place: the place on the end, where I can eat without bumping into anyone else. Of course, there are other ways that I look for the "right" place to sit, too. Many years ago, I traveled to New York for the first time -- to interview for a position as a missionary in the Lutheran Church. It was my first time to do a lot of things, including taking a cab from an airport, riding on a subway, and eating out by myself in a restaurant I didn't know anything about. To be truthful, I skipped a couple of meals, because I didn't know where to go or what to do. But one morning, I ended up at the Empire State Building, and I found a little cafe right in the building. It was clear when I sat down that everyone else there was a regular customer. The waitress was impatient with me for having to look at a menu, she wanted me to hustle and not waste her time. I was starving and a little desperate. But I can tell you, I felt pretty much that morning as if I had NOT found the right seat. It was stamped across my forehead "You are not from here." In fact, later that morning, a woman leaned over to me on the subway and said, "You're from the Midwest, aren't you"? (How could she tell?" (She was nice about it, though.)

On the other side, I have often been anxious when invited to a wedding reception where I know no one except the bride and groom. Where will I be seated? Will I fit in? I remember once or twice, at least, where the hosts had planned the seating arrangement so carefully, so that even though my husband and I were seated next to strangers, they were people we had something in common with. We ended up having a really good time. Like I said, it seems like I have spent a good part of my life looking for the right place to sit. Is it ever this way for you?

That's the issue this morning in our gospel lesson. Jesus is speaking to people who are, as well, concerned about finding the right seat. He is observing guests are a dinner party, and one of the behaviors he is observing is how guests were trying to figure out what the "best" seats were, and make sure they got them. The best seats they called "the places of honor." They were probably the seats nearest to the host; the closer you could be seated to the host, the more honorable you were. The farther away you sat from the host, the less honorable you would be considered. Now this is all in the eyes of the others at the party. In other words, everybody is trying to figure out who is the greatest and who is the least by figuring out where they are sitting at the dinner party. and all the time, the Pharisees who were the hosts of the party, are keeping a close eye on Jesus.

You might remember from at least one other Gospel story, that Jesus sometimes ate and drank with "sinners." and the Pharisees were scandalized by that. Because, they thought, no they KNEW that 'You are who you eat with.' In other words, if you were righteous, you would eat with other righteous people. If you were a sinner, you would eat with other sinners. If righteous person ate with sinners, they would become identified as a 'sinner' too. In the same way, if you sat next to someone honorable, you would be considered more honorable. And if you sat next to someone at the low end of the table -- that said something about you too. 'You are who you eat with,' remember that. Because then you have a better understanding of Jesus' instructions to guests are the party. In one way, they are just common sense. "don't think of yourself more highly than you ought to think" is one way of putting it. "Have a realistic idea of who you are. Look in the mirror, and say, "you know, I guess I'm not that close to the host. I guess I'm not that great.' But Jesus says more than that, he says, "take the lowest, most humble seat." Sit the farthest away you can, even if it means that everyone is looking at you and wondering about you. Because you know, you are who you eat with.

You might think this is a funny think to believe, 'you are who you eat with.' We don't believe that way now. Goodness or badness does not 'rub off' on us, like when we were children and were worried about whether we had "girl germs" or "boy germs." But think about it another way. As I said before, I think I had spent a good part of my life looking for the right place to sit, the place I will fit in, the place I am 'comfortable.' And I am told that in churches, one of the most common reasons people will visit and not stay is if they don't see anyone else "like them" in the the church. Young or old, male or female, ethnic background, we are all looking for the "right place to sit," for someone who looks like us, someone we would feel comfortable sitting down to eat with. Because you know, 'you are who you eat with.' In the past and sometimes even now, communities were defined by the ethnic background of the people living there. Think "Swede Hollow" or "Snoose Boulevard" in the Cedar-Riverside area. Those are the ones I know from my own background. We lived together with others 'like us', and sometimes it causes stress that our communities are not so much alike any more. We are more diverse, and there are good things about that, but we might not feel like we belong in the same way any more. 'You are who you eat with,' in terms of poverty or wealth or ethnic background, health or illness.

So Jesus' words of advice to guests are somewhat risky to take. But his words to hosts are even more radical. He tells the hosts are the dinner party not to invite those who are similar to them. In those days a host might give a party and invite people because he wanted something from them in return. After he had so generously and graciously served them, they would be expected to do something for the host. That was how it was done. so of course you would invite people to your party who were somehow 'like you.' Jesus says, instead, go out and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. This is really radical advice for a couple of reasons. First, because, as Jesus says, they can't help you. they can't pay you back. They can't turn around and give you a party. A host who invites the poor, the blind, the lame ... is a truly generous host, not expecting anything in return. and the second reasons this is radical advice is because 'you are who you eat with.' What does it mean to invite the poor, the lame, the blind... the sinner... and to sit down and eat with them? In some sense it is to say, "I'm poor, I'm blind, I'm lame" too. Because we are all looking for the right place to sit,aren't we? The place where we feel comfortable, next to people with whom we have something in common. But Jesus says, when you give a party, invite the poor, invite the lame, invite the blind, invite the sinners.

A number of years ago, a movie called Places in the Heart featured Sally Field as a young widow struggling to keep her farm during the depression. At the beginning, her husband, who also serves as the town sheriff, goes out to help a young black man, who is drunk. He husband is accidentally shot and killed. In the next scene we see that the young black man is hanged by the townspeople. The widow takes on a blind man as her boarder, to help with expenses, and a black man to help her with her farm. The town is against her plan to try to run her farm, and encourages her to sell. but she wants to keep her family together. Near the end of the movie, the black man is run out of town, and there is a devastating tornado. The final scene of the movie takes place in the local church. It's a communion service, and, as is common in the reformed tradition, everyone remains seated and the bread and the wine are passed around. At first it seems like an ordinary scene until the young widow takes the bread and passes it to the person next to her -- her husband. Her in turn passes the bread to the one next to him -- the young man who shot him. later on we see the black man who had been run out of town, the people who had run him out, the blind boarder -- all eating and drinking together. Because Jesus invited them. It's the communion of saints. Or the communion of sinners. 'You are who you eat with,' after all.

Every week we gather around this table, rich and poor, young and old, wounded or healthy. Every week we gather around this table and eat and drink with one another, and with Jesus. "Though he was in the form of God, he humbled himself, and taking the form of a servant, was born in human likeness." He took the lowest place, right next to us, and now he invites us to eat and drink with him, even though we can never pay him back. and then he invites us to go and sit next to, to eat with, to know and to serve the poor an the lame and the sinners ... just as if we were poor an lame and sinners ourselves. Because we are.

But remember, as you come to God's table today: 'You are who you eat with.' AMEN