Monday, June 30, 2008
The principal told us that "Minnesota Nice" is part of what makes it harder to combat racism than in the south. He said if people hear something they disagree with, they will often not say anything, or leave the room. He said we need to do more than that.
Here's the email:
Proud To Be White
Someone finally said it.
How many are actually paying attention to this?
There are African Americans,
Native Americans, etc.
.....And then there are just -
You pass me on the street
and sneer in my direction.
You Call me 'White boy,'
.....And that's OK.
But when I call you Nigger,
Kike, Towel head,
Sand-nigger, Camel Jockey,
Beaner, Gook, or Chink,
.....You call me a racist.
You say that whites commit a lot
of violence against you,
so why are the ghettos the most
dangerous places to live?
You have the United Negro College Fund.
You have Hispanic History Month.
You have Martin Luther King Day.
You have Asian History Month.
You have Black History Month.
You have Cesar Chavez Day.
You have Ma'uled Al-Nabi.
You have Yom Hashoah.
You have Kawanza.
You have the NAACP.
And you have BET.
If we had WET
(White Entertainment Television)
.....We'd be racists.
If we had a White Pride Day
.....You would call us racists.
If we had White History Month
.....We'd be racists.
If we had any organization for only whites
to 'advance' OUR lives,
.....We'd be racists.
We have a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,
a Black Chamber of Commerce,
and then we just have the plain
Chamber of Commerce.
Wonder who pays for that?
If we had a college fund that only gave
white students scholarships
.....You know we'd be racists.
There are over 60 openly-proclaimed
Black-only Colleges in the US,
yet if there were 'White-only Colleges'
.....THAT would be a racist college.
In the Million-Man March,
you believed that you were
marching for your race and rights.
If we marched for our race and rights,
.....You would call us racists.
You are proud to be black,
brown, yellow and red,
and you're not afraid to announce it.
But when we announce our white pride
.....You call us racists.
You rob us,
and shoot at us.
But, when a white police officer
shoots a black gang member
or beats up a black drug-dealer
who is running from the LAW and
posing a threat to ALL of society
.....You call him a racist.
I am proud.
.....But, you call me a racist.
Why is it that only
can be racists?
There is nothing improper about this e-mail.
Let's see which of you
are proud enough to send it on...
Here are some of the things I said:
I know you didn't write the email you forwarded to me, but I will tell you that I AM proud of my background and heritage, not simply "white" but Scandinavian-American. And my parents belong to the Swedish Institute and there is nothing racist about that. I know that my Swedish grandmother was ashamed that the Swedes, to remain neutral, sold arms to Hitler during World War II, but I told her I was proud that Sweden took in Jewish people when so many other countries were killing them. But of course, it is up to me, as an individual, to live up to the high ideals that I am proud of.
But then, I am usually judged as an individual, not primarily as a member of my race. I have never heard anyone say, "A white man cheated me, or robbed me, or held me up, so not I don't trust white men." If one white man (or white woman) does something shameful, we do not judge all white people on that, do we? That is the kind of society I want to work for.
Martin Luther King had a dream that we would one day be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. I don't believe that is still the case.
I also wrote:
Also, while I am proud to call myself an American, I am prouder still to call myself a "child of God," which is something I did nothing to earn and has nothing to do with my race or ethnicity, the color of my skin or my class.
Though all of us can be prejudiced (blacks can be prejudiced against asians or whites or whoever), usually those of us who are white are judged as individuals -- not our race or culture. Unfortunately, that hasn't always been the case with people of color.
I do understand how it feels to be in the minority from when I lived in Japan. There is something about sticking out and knowing people see you and are watching you all the time that perhaps makes you want to band together with people like yourself sometimes. I assume that is where some of the ethnic groups' organizations came from.
Also, just as the "ladies aids" came from a time in our church history when women couldn't vote or have any power in the church, so some of the organizations for minorities (and the historic black colleges) came from a time when black people didn't have power in the wider society.
I realize that there were many parts of the email I didn't address, especially the part that begins "You rob us...." which implies that victims of crime are mostly white, and that perpetrators are mostly people of color. (in reality, victims of crime are disproportionately people of color.)
Anyway, I'm glad I responded, but I'm not entirely happy with what I wrote. What would you have said?
Sunday, June 29, 2008
But ordinary time is never quite ordinary.
It was a lovely morning out on the lawn. Though there were no big special announcements, at the end of the service I had a special recognition and prayer for the Senior Pastor, who celebrates the 40th anniversary of his ordination this weekend. Everyone clapped. There are some times it IS ok to clap in church, I said.
We sang the wonderful song, All Are Welcome, this morning, at both services. And we closed with Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service. We baptized the little girl who lives next door to me at the 10:00 service. When I said, "Let us welcome the newly baptized!" -- everyone clapped! There are some times it is ok to clap in church, but this is the first time we have clapped after a baptism.
We had a number of babies babbling lightly throughout the service. I greeted a tall man and his little girl after the service, and complimented him. "She makes me look good," he said.
And after the service I went to visit a church member in Intensive Care. I almost didn't go. Major highway through town is closed this weekend, making it a headache to get to this particular hospital. But when I walked into the set of Intensive Care rooms, I saw a familiar name on an adjoining room. I peeked in and saw that another woman from my congregation was there as well. These two patients know each other, but not primarily from church: they have been treated for the same issues. I prayed for them both; they are concerned about each other as well.
Ordinary time. But it's never completely ordinary, if you can really see.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I usually don't post twice on one day, and especially on Saturday, but I wanted to share this with you.
What are your favorite hymns? I've been making a list in my head lately. I know Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Children of the Heaven Father, and How Firm a Foundation are in the top ten.
Where do his eyes lead us, then? To our own deepest reality, to the living self-communication of God which is at the heart of our existence and which by sin and laziness and forgetfulness we deny; to the wellspring of divine life in the centre of what we are, the Word that calls us into being. Remember the wonderful ending of Charles Wesley's hymn, 'Jesu, love of my soul': 'Spring though up within my heart, Rise to all eternity". That is what the eyes of Christ the Panto-crator direct us to.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Back in the day, before I went to seminary, I worked in the Children's Room at the Public Library, and every year we geared up for Summer Reading. Children would come in and record the books read over the summer, and the season included numerous special and celebratory events. As a lifelong book lover and enthusiastic summer reader, I find I still accumulate a pile of books for the summer.
This week, then, a Summer Reading Friday Five.
1) Do you think of summer as a particularly good season for reading? Why or why not?
I do think of summer as a good season for reading. Probably it goes back to when I had "summer vacation" and took all kinds of books out of the library. Probably it relates to the idea of having "beach reading", too. However, I will say that I often have unrealistic expectations of how many books I can actually read during the summer -- big stacks, and they don't all get read.
2) Have you ever fallen asleep reading on the beach?
No. Lots of other places, but not the beach. (suntanning in the back yard, yes.)
3) Can you recall a favorite childhood book read in the summertime?
Not sure if it was in the summer or not, but one of my favorite childhood "library" books was "Half Magic", by Edward Eager. I read and liked all of his books, which were great fantasy/adventure stories. I picked up "Half Magic" in a used bookstore recently, and am planning on re-reading it. I also think I read A Spiderweb for Two in the summer.
4) Do you have a favorite genre for light or relaxing reading?
Mysteries. Anna Pigeon. Rabbi Small. Father Brown, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.
5) What is the next book on your reading list?
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Thanks to The Muser for reminding me of these wonderful words
And from the Steeles, this reminder:
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
We were very impressed by our middle school principal, an African American man who grew up in Tennessee and came to our area as a teenager. I noticed the "Negro League" baseball jersey he was wearing right away, and complimented him on it. He is committed to fighting institutional racism in education as well as educating families to take responsibility for their education (there's that both/and that I am so fond of.) He has a passion for education, and for helping at-risk kids. Like us, he believes "all kids are our kids".
Yesterday I spent the morning in a staff meeting; the whole staff then helped our children's ministry coordinator clean up after Vacation Bible School. Later on I took some study materials and went to our local bookstore/coffee shop to study and get a little ahead on my sermons for July 6th and 13th. I also bought a large-print Bible. And in the evening I met with a couple to be married in August.
This afternoon I visited a shut-in that I have known for four years, ever since she and her husband moved back here from Arizona. Her husband died last December. She is legally blind, but has received one of those reading machines, so she had requested that I pick up a Bible for her, so that she could participate more fully in a Bible study she has been attending.
She was so excited when she saw the Bible. She just raved and raved about it, and also about the wonderful Bible study she has been attending. She is so excited that she will be able to read the Bible more often now. I wish I could bottle her excitement and pour it over many more people. What is it that has made her not only love the Word, but also love to read and study it?
Our church recently took the Natural Church Development inventory. The good news was: our highest category was Empowering Leadership. We also had pretty high marks in Inspiring Worship. The bad news was: our lowest category was Passionate Spirituality. In the mind of the inventory-writers, passionate spirituality includes regular time for prayer and Bible study. So, right now I'm thinking: how do we create more people like my widow, who could hardly wait to receive her Bible today?
Achievement gap picture from here.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
What? A commercial for NOT buying stuff? How subversive is that?
I thought it was a great idea, sandwiched, as it was, between all those commercials telling us that that we really need that car, or those clothes, or that TV, ipod or phone. We need them, of course, because then we'll be smarter, more popular, better-looking: you name it. And of course it helps the economy: it's patriotic to buy stuff. So I love this commercial, and the website that goes along with it, too.
But as I got to thinking, I worried, too. This is only one side of the equation: the "personal responsiblity" side. It's great to instill better personal habits, especially subversive ones. But there is another side to the spending and personal debt crisis. There are predatory lenders, and there are bankruptcy laws that, while purporting to discourage cheaters, often end up benefitting the rich.
Don't get me wrong: personal responsibility is great. I am all for personal responsibility. Tear up the million credit card applications you get every week. Just say no to the telephone offers for whatever-it-is-they-are-selling. And don't worry about whether that salesman will make his commission! It's his job to try to sell you the TV. It's your job to figure out whether you can afford it. (Can you tell my dad was in sales?)
But there's also such a thing as justice. And some people use the word "personal responsibility" as if to imply that "if you are in financial trouble or are poor, it's your own fault, and I don't have to feel sorry for you."
Ahem. Will everyone who has never made a mistake please raise their hand? I thought so.
I'm a both/and sort of girl. I believe in personal responsibility AND justice, trying hard AND creating a more level playing field. It's not a matter of "feeling sorry for" people who are in trouble; it's being angry about a system where the rules are skewed against the very people who need help the most.
A few years ago a friend of mine was trying to buy her first house. She had had some financial difficulties in the past, and the mortgage lender she went to both tried to give her an interest rate which was about twice the current rate AND told her to lie about her income in order to get a bigger loan. She told my friend that she wouldn't get the house unless she lied. Luckily, at the last minute my friend decided she couldn't lie.
So: feed the pig. Yes, of course. But that's not enough. Change the system, too.
Monday, June 23, 2008
I felt strangely unsettled the rest of the day. I looked through a few pockets and an extra bag I carry and didn't find anything. I remembered as well a couple of odd things about my office at church -- when I returned to my office after church, the door was locked but ajar, and there was a stray quarter on my desk, and another on the floor. I thought that was odd.
This morning, I called the the credit card company, and they informed me that there was no activity on the card. So maybe I had just mislaid the money and the card. It's been known to happen.
At about 5:00, though, I got a phone call. Someone had used my card at a gas station. That's what they do nowadays. To buy gas, you don't need an I.D. or even a signature. So I cancelled the card, and now I'm depressed. I keep telling myself, it's just a little bit of money. And then another part of me says, yeah, but every little bit helps. And I also hear my mother's voice, saying, You should be more careful with your things. So, along with everything else, I also feel a deep sense of shame.
This isn't the first time this has happened to me. Not long after I moved here, someone stole my billfold (which at that time contained my checkbook) and actually used two checks at a grocery store. This was also at church, while I was at an evening meeting. Another time, I was attending a church dinner, and someone stole my entire purse. Someone found it later in a nearby park. And yet another time (actually Christmas Eve two years ago) my credit cards were stolen during the Sunday morning service. I got a call the day after Christmas from the fraud department. I hadn't even realized they were gone.
While on internship, my billfold was stolen one day at the church I worked at. At that time, my biggest worry was actually my Drivers License. The good news in that case was that the police found my billfold and I eventually got it back.
And lest you think that this is just a church thing, I never had one problem with theft in all the years I spent in rural South Dakota. I also never had a problem while in college or Seminary. Not one. I did have small amounts of money stolen from my purse sometimes when I worked at a small office in downtown Minneapolis.
It all goes back, though, to the 8th grade: that year, my parents gave me my allowance and my lunch money every week, and for a few weeks in a row, someone stole the money from my purse, until I learned my lesson. Seems in some ways, I still haven't.
I ask you, why can't I take better care of my things?
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Just last Tuesday afternoon, I found myself in a place that – before Tuesday – I had no idea existed. I think it’s probably a well-known place to people of a certain age (that is, significantly younger than I am), and from its advertising, it is one of the best places to have fun in the Twin Cities. The place is called “Pump It Up!” I was there to help chaperone a number of our Vacation Bible School children for a field trip. Perhaps some of you are wondering what kind of fun you have a t a place called “Pump it Up”. I at first thought it must be some kind of body-building experience, but in truth it is a kind of gymnasium full of inflatable sports equipment, from bouncy slides to basketball courts, obstacle courses, and what they call “bounce houses.” I witnessed children of all ages throwing themselves into the equipment, bouncing as high and as hard as they could, running back and forth between play stations with big smiles on their faces.
For about an hour the children could play as hard as they wanted to, jump as high as they wanted to, with as much energy and enthusiasm as they could muster – without any danger of serious injury. Everything is bouncy, but that means everything is padded too. There aren’t any hard surfaces to run into. And for extra measure, there were a few spotters wandering around the area as well, keeping an eye out for sparrows, making sure everyone was following directions, making sure all of the landings were soft ones. So everyone played fearlessly – because they knew no matter what they did, they could not really get hurt. And I caught myself thinking, wouldn’t it be great if life could be this way? We could set to the tasks, the responsibilities, even the fun of our daily lives with no hesitations, no worries, no fears, because we would know that our landings would be soft ones.
In truth, we have been given no such guarantees, have we? That’s clear from our gospel lesson today: a curious mixture of hope and warning, of promise and peril. Jesus speaks frankly to his disciples about the dangers that go along with following him. He tells them that as he will be mistreated, so they will also sometimes be mistreated; as he has been misunderstood, so they will be misunderstood; as he has been opposed, so they will sometimes be opposed. It will not be easy this life of being a disciple. They will need every bit of courage they can muster to live the kind of life he is calling them too – a life of welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting the grieving, and standing with the poor. They will need every bit of courage they can muster to live the life he is calling them too, because, let’s face it, this life will also involve sometimes not just welcoming the stranger, but being the stranger, not just feeding the hungry, but being hungry, not just healing the sick, but standing in need of healing themselves. They will strengthen the weak, but sometimes they will BE the weak ones. They will shelter the homeless, but sometimes they will be homeless wanderers themselves.
And it also seems that, to start with, there are a lot of things that Jesus is not promising them. He’s not promising them safety for one thing. He’s not guaranteeing that they will never be injured when following him. And he’s not promising them financial security either. I’m not saying that disciples won’t be secure: there are just no guarantees. He’s not promising that they will never be forsaken or abandoned by their friends or family. And He’s certainly not promising that they will never fail or fall down in their discipleship.
I’m reminded of a story about St. Teresa of Avila, famous 17th century mystic and nun. It seems one day that she was on her way to a meeting somewhere. The road she walked on was muddy, and as she went on her journey she prayed, as she often liked to do, that she would not fall into the mud. But wouldn’t you know, even while she was praying, she fell into the mud. Teresa scolded God then, for letting her fall and get dirty. God replied, “I treat all my friends this way.” To which Teresa replied, “No wonder you have so few of them.”
As Jesus calls his disciples, even today, there are many things he does not promise, many things he does not guarantee. He does not guarantee our safety or our success. He does not guarantee soft landings, with no possibility of injury. He promises a life of service, a life of meaning: but he does not guarantee that everyone will be happy with us when we stand up for him, when we do justice, do kindness. He does, however, exhort us to live fearlessly. “Do not be afraid!” he tells us. But how can we ever manage it?
In his first inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation in the midst of a deep depression. He said at that time, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He meant of course, that our worst enemy is fear itself – worse that our fear of failure or abandonment, worse than our fear of danger or injury. Fear can keep us from going forward when we most need to; fear keeps us from doing important work that needs to be done. When we act out of fear, we fail to see a vision of the future. We only see possible nightmares.
Recently I’ve been reading a children’s book I picked up on vacation. It’s a book mainly about the immigrants who came through Ellis Island, and it gives fascinating facts about immigrants during the time from 1892 to 1924, when Ellis Island was closed. For example, did you know that from the 1820s until 1924 nearly 35 million people came to America from other countries? They picked up and left everything they knew and many of their loved ones and set out for a new land, a place they had never seen before, a place they had only heard about. They endured hardships, hunger, sickness sometimes on the long journey here. They overcame the fears that must have entered their minds: how? What gave them the courage to endure and to come here? I’ll tell you what: it was hope: they had hope that in America a new life with new opportunities awaited them. Perhaps they heard that the streets were paved with gold. Perhaps they heard that in America everyone was free. Perhaps they heard that in America there was work for everyone. They came because of their hope for a new life, and this hope overcame their fears, and gave them courage to endure.
It’s true; there are many things that Jesus does not promise us: he doesn’t promise us success or riches, popularity or security. But he does promise us life: the best life, the only life, a new life in a new kingdom. And he gives us a vision of this kingdom as well: it is a kingdom where the poor will be lifted up, where the hungry will be fed, where the lame will leap for joy, where the dead will rise, where even sparrows will be valued and protected. And it is our hope for this promised new life that overcomes our fears and gives us the courage to follow Jesus and to live for him.
But as if that were not enough, that is not all that Jesus promises us.
I was struck by the stories of those immigrants, the ones who were so brave, who came here hoping for a new life. They had crossed an ocean and left much behind; they had overcome their fears – but upon arriving, do you know what their greatest fear was? Their greatest fear was that they would be examined and found not worthy to stay, and be sent back. And you know, some of them were turned back – because they were too poor, too sick, too old, couldn’t read.
Jesus promises us that he will never turn us away – no one is too old, too sick, too poor. If even a sparrow, the lowliest of birds, falls under God’s watchful eye, how much more do each of us? That is the meaning of Jesus’ words: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your father.” You may not wear the best clothes, and you may not know the best people, and you may not live in the best house: but you are one of God’s treasured people, and in God’s eyes you shine. And you may consider yourself discouraged and bedraggled, rundown and worn out, but God considers you a beloved child, a star, of more value than many sparrows.
The children know the secret: they live fearlessly, jumping as high as they can and as hard as they can for as long as they can. They live fearlessly, believing that as long as they are loved, they can never really get hurt. And in a way that is the truth. For in the end, not even death can separate us from God’s love.
So do not be afraid. Jump as high as you can and as hard as you can for as long as you can. Run through the obstacle course. Welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, comfort the grieving, Jesus promises eternal life and love to you, and to all sinners, strangers – and sparrows. Not one of us falls to the ground apart from him. And he will never turn us away from his gate. AMEN
Friday, June 20, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
Among the songs the family wanted to hear was an old standard, vintage, "I'll Be Seeing You." We usually don't have popular music in funeral services, but we try not to be too rigid about it, so we put it in, right after the remembrances and right before the Scripture readings and Sermon. It's a sentimental song, and I know it's a temptation to confuse sentiment with the gospel, but it did force me to think about some things a little more than usual. And even though it's not a religious song, I do, for some odd reason, love it.
So, after hearing the song, and during the sermon, I said this:
“And grace will lead me home.” That is true trust, trust in the sure foundation that each of us builds on in confidence. Because grace will lead us home, to the place where the evening light shines through the window, the place where God waits for us, where the place is prepared. Grace will lead us home, to the place where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, where death and mourning and crying will be no more. This is our hope.
During World War II, people grew familiar with partings and with separation, and they liked to sing, “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places/that this heart of mine embraces all day through.” They endured and they hoped for the day that they would be reunited, for the time when the war would be over, for the day when peace would return. They hoped for the day when their husbands, their sons, their fathers and mothers, their daughters --- would come home. “I’ll be seeing you… in all the old familiar places…" but our hope is even more: “I’ll be seeing you… where the home of God is among mortals, where he wipes away our tears, and makes all things new. I'll be seeing you when we beat our swords into plowshares, where the lion shall lie down with the lamb, when enemies will work together to rebuild cities. I'll be seeing you... where the blind will see, the hungry will eat, where we will dine together forever. I'll be seeing you where death and crying will be no more. "
And grace will lead us home.
I had the children present all come forward. I then had all the fathers in the congregation all stand up and remain standing. At 10:00, I had "all children" stand for a moment as well, just to make the point that we are all children.
At ten o clock there were just two children present who came forward (there were a couple of others, but they were too shy). One of them was African-American, and the other was a little girl from India. I had two of the dads standing come forward (not their own fathers), and I asked them, what was one of their important jobs as a father? One of them said, "Discipline." The other said, "Showing your children you love them."
Then I said, "One other important job is telling our children the truth. And since all children are our children, I have something I want you to share with the children who are here this morning. So if you would just turn toward one of the children, look them in the eye, and repeat after me:
"You are a beloved child of God.
Jesus died for you. That's how much he loves you.
He guides you every day, and he lives in you."
After worship, we had our dads over to barbecue steaks. My husband's oldest son manned the barbecue. He also helped my dad with his corn on the cob. (My dad has Parkinsons.)
What a fine young man he is turning out to be.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
She still has trouble walking on the "teeter totter", but she is getting the hang of weaving, if just a little. And today I had her sit and stay after each part of the course, so that she would pay attention to me a little better.
Which she did.
After about the first 40 minutes, I could tell she was winding down, or up, in her case. A couple of times she ran through the tunnel and straight to her friend, the German Shepherd dog. Then she ran around the gym a couple of times at top speed. She was running so fast she was leaning sideways, practically bouncing off the walls. Other dogs only wander away and sniff when they don't want to pay attention; Scout runs. Fast.
Our trainer explained to the new woman who was there today, "Scout's kind of our class clown."
So there you have it. Another gifted child.
Friday, June 13, 2008
What is a Bible Science Project, you ask?
I'm not quite sure. All I know is, our group's project was to discover "Why did God create bugs?" One girl read up on mosquitoes, another on spiders, a boy was having trouble finding anything positive about ticks, and a little girl had help learning about bees. There were eleven other groups. I know one group was researching the animals on the ark, but beyond that, I'm curious about what the other science projects could have been.
I am in awe of our Children's Ministry Coordinator. I left the Library dead tired, with a half a day of work still ahead of me. I love kids (I mean it), and everyone was pretty well-behaved, but there is something about being around about 70 kids at one time that is just kind of tiring. Yet our Children's Ministry Coordinator keeps everyone together, is extremely well organized, and is just the right blend of tought and tender. And she gets results.
Our group had seven children. The youngest was 4 1/2 and was just there to be with his brother I think. The oldest was twelve, a beautiful Hispanic girl who goes go Sagrado Corazon Church. She decided to study spiders. One eight year old girl kept watch over the 4 1/2 year old and his brother, and helped them study gnats. Another nine year old finished her study of mosquitos and read all about bees to a 6 year old girl. It reminded me of all the strengths of a one room school house.
After the morning at the library, I had two communion services at senior apartments. I tied up the communion ware in a square Japanese cloth called a furoshiki. I just discovered this method, and it does seem to work, and keep everything stable.
We sang, we prayed, we confessed, we listened to Scripture. I read Exodus 19:2-8, about God carrying the Israelites to himself on eagle's wings.
That pretty much took care of my afternoon. I think I had time to make two phone calls, and organize two things for Sunday.
How was your day? Are you tired?
Thursday, June 12, 2008
So I got an appointment and spent more time than I would like at "the car place" today. I brought a book I have been reading (Preaching as Testimony, by Anna Carter Florence), and some sermon folders, so that I could work ahead.
"The Car Place" is somewhere I feel most dislocated. I am totally out of my element when I am there, at the mercy of whatever advice they mean to give me. At a bookstore -- I belong. But at the Service and Repair station, I am ignorant and incompetent.
The first thing I found out when I came is that someone signed me up for something called "Oil Change for Life." Every 3500 miles, if you take your car in, you get a free oil change. I had no idea. No one ever told me about this benefit. So I have not been taking full advantage of it.
I'm sure there's a lesson in here somewhere, right?
So, I was sitting in The Car Place, waiting for my car, and reading ahead on the lessons for a week from Sunday. You know, "I come not to bring peace, but a sword." "Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." "Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven." You know, fun stuff like that.
The lesson talks about sparrows, too, how not one of them falls without God noticing. Jesus tells the disciples that the hairs on their heads are all counted, that they are of more value than many sparrows. Maybe they are all at the first century version of The Car Place, and they feel out of their element, incompetent, ignorant. Maybe they look around and say to themselves, "You know, I really don't belong here. It would be really easy for people to smile and take advantage of me."
And I thought about those who are sparrows now, the ones whose lives seem to be dispensable to us (sold for a penny), like the Mexican woman I know who fled domestic abuse, and was undocumented here for awhile, like the albinos who are being murdered in Tanzania, because their bones are valuable to witch doctors. They are valuable to God, not dispensable at all, and God is willing to fight to the death for them.
Eventually the car was done, and it cost a goodly sum to repair, even with the free oil change. I am still musing on these words of Jesus.
And especially these: "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known."
Even and especially the value of sparrows, caught in a world where they their worth is hidden.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Rowling speaks eloquently about the values of failure, and of the power of imagination in our lives. Please go and read, or view the whole address. Meanwhile, these words struck me:
"But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.
If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."
For those of us who claim a Christian heritage and vision, I hope and pray that the Christian imagination informs and empowers us as well.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall ot lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more; (Micah 4:3)
We have the power to imagine better.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I wanted to be a star. Or at least, I wanted to shine, to stick out, to be noticed, to do something great.
In reality, all I had a couple of bit parts. We did an ensemble piece based on Marlo Thomas' book, Free To Be .... You and Me when I was in high school and I had a couple lines of narration. It was great to be part of the team, even though a small part. I loved the musicals, but I flunked dancing, so I never got any further.
Until my last year of seminary, when I got my fifteen minutes of fame, playing Eliza in a church production of My Fair Lady.
I didn't lobby for the part; the church asked me if I would audition. It was given to me.
That's always the way I thought it should be. I could be a leader, in the center, the star of the show, the one calling the shots -- but only if they asked ME. I couldn't reach out and take it; I could only receive it. Because, deep down, I thought it was wrong to stand out, to call attention to myself. Today, someone questioned the wisdom of that position. "If you want something," she said, "sometimes you have to reach out and take it. You can't wait for someone to give it to you."
All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
O, Wouldn't it be Loverly?
Eliza was braver, and better than I thought.
She had a dream, and she reached out for it.
She took a risk. She let her light shine. She was a star.
Monday, June 9, 2008
#5. Water for Elephants. This was a wonderful, suspenseful book about a depression era circus. It's an adventure story and a love story, and a story of loyalty and loss. I have to admit, though, that I didn't catch the reference to the Biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel that is supposed to be there. I'd appreciate comments from others about this.
#6. Atonement. Some members of our book group thought it was slow, and that "nothing happened." (They admitted, though, that it sped up considerably in the second half.) I myself was, at least by the end, fascinated with the way the author played with the idea of story and reality, and the way The Trials of Arabella (the author's adolescent story) returns with a new layer of meaning at the end.
#7. Take This Bread. I found Sara Miles' story and passion fascinating. I didn't agree with everything in terms of her interpretation of the symbols of the church (does having the baptismal font at the entry to the church make it a barrier? I didn't think so), but really liked how she connected food, hunger, vocation and faith.
#8. Purple Hibiscus. This was our May book for my church book group. One woman walked into the room that evening and announced, "I hated this book." The theme of both domestic violence and political violence in a prominent family in Nigeria was disturbing. But it was also affecting. We ended up having a discussion of depth, both about domestic violence, and about the role of faith in both condoning and condemning it.
#9. Praying in Color. I've posted about this previously. I highly recommend this book for cultivating a creative and passionate prayer life.
Addition: #10. Redbird. You never really finish reading a book of poetry, but this is Mary Oliver's latest, which I have had at my bedside all spring. My favorites so far in this volume are: Of the Empire, Maker of All Things, Even Healings, and We Should be Well Prepared. So far... the operative word.
I'm looking for a quote from an interview with Ian McEwan that I read when we were reading the book Atonement. I remember being fascinated by his contention that one of the uses of fiction is to help us to learn to empathize with others, and that empathy is one of the chief skills we need to learn in order to live a moral life.
I never thought about it that way before. To me, it seems that the audience for fiction is diminishing, and if McEwan is right, that is a troubling trend. On the other hand, I suppose that there are other ways to learn empathy as well.
I'm also thinking: I might have to read a few really short books.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Last night we watched the movie, August Rush. Heavily sentimental, and I was surprised that the authors did not give credit to Oliver Twist for large chunks of the plot. However, the music is lovely, and there was one piece of dialogue that stopped me in my tracks:
Wizard (Robin Williams charcter, modelled on Fagin): What do you want to be in the world? I mean the whole world. What do you want to be? Close your eyes and think about that.
August (11 year old orphan who has run away, looking for his parents): FOUND.
Today our outdoor service was held indoors due to rain. We held our annual event to honor veterans between the services. The last three to be honored were World War II vets, but this year's honoree was a young man who had served in Iraq. The person who gave him the award noted that this is a different kind of war than that fought in World War II; no islands or cities to take; the enemy is not before you, but beside or even behind you. He also noted that that we are not hearing stories of heroism from Iraq, and speculated that this might be because the war is unpopular. That may be so, but I also suspect that we don't hear stories for the reason he first mentioned: because this is a different kind of war.
At our second service, we honored high school graduates with a special ceremony, one we designed shortly after I arrived here. We call all the graduates who are present to come forward with their parents. First we have the parents lay their hands on their children, and bless their children. Then we ask the parents to kneel, and have their children lay their hands on their heads, and say a blessing for them. I really love this action, where children bless their parents. And today the graduates who showed up were five young women who were all in the same confirmation small group. They have remained close friends, even though they are from different communities and go to different schools.
They say the weather here right now is "unsettled." We are in an "unsettled" weather system, which means we have been having thunderstorms and rain off and on for several days, with brief periods of sunshine interspersed. It's not awfully warm, but it's been very humid, and the grass is growing faster than weeds. (the weeds are growing pretty fast, too).
By the way, what do you think of my new blog design? I have been thinking about "typepad' lately, but it might be too hard for me.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Matthew 9:9-13 and following...
A long time ago someone gave me a piece of friendly advice, somewhere along the lines of "how to resist temptation." It went like this: "Don’t go anywhere you’d be ashamed to have Jesus go with you." At first glance, that seemed to be pretty good and practical advice – and destined to keep a conscientious person out of dark taverns, back alleys, and away from bad company. "Don’t go anywhere you’d be ashamed to have Jesus go with you." This is really good advice for a young person, I think – how to be an upstanding Christian, and a good role model for others. But then I started thinking – thinking about all the places that Jesus went, and all of the people Jesus associated with. You know, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, thirsty Samaritan women and curious Pharisees. I thought about the story we just heard, the one about Matthew sitting at his tax booth, and how Jesus called him, "follow me." And I thought about how after that it’s reported that Jesus is eating and drinking with "sinners" and tax collectors (perhaps some of Matthew’s friends), and the Pharisees – you know, the ones who are careful about where they go and who they associate with – ask some of his other disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" It’s the question of people who understand my friend’s advice: "Don’t go anywhere you’d be ashamed to have Jesus go with you." They understand that this is good advice, if you want to be righteous, if you want to lead a good life, if you want to stay out of trouble. It’s the kind of advice we give our children, because we want them to stay out of trouble. But it also got me thinking, is that what it means to be a Christian and a follower of Jesus: that we stay out of trouble?
That’s the perception of the Pharisees, who are concerned with righteousness, with living a righteous life. We like to criticize them now, but for most of us, I think that we are still concerned with living a righteous life, aren’t we? Whether our version of ‘righteousness’ consists of regular church attendance (something I heartily endorse, by the way) and constant prayer, whether it consists in ‘healthy living’ – eat right, don’t drink, don’t smoke, whether it consists in trying to live a balanced life, whether it consists in a deep study of the Bible, whether it consists in a life of service to others, or advocacy for those oppressed, we are all, in one way or another, concerned with living a ‘righteous life.’ And Jesus, overhearing the question of the Pharisees, a legitimate question for people concerned with righteous living, blows them out of the water with his response: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
Someone has said that there are two ways of looking at the church: That it is a gathering of saints, or a hospital for sinners. And of course, there is truth in both views – we who gather here today are God’s saints – we are God’s chosen and holy people, set apart for a particular purpose in the world. That’s what it means to be a saint. But oftentimes, when we think of the church as a gathering of saints, we also think about ourselves as people who are concerned about righteousness – our own and other people’s. We become concerned with ‘holy living’, which translates, in one way or another, into ‘staying out of trouble.’
A while ago I read a survey about health care which was done in Great Britain. You may or may not know that in Great Britain health care is universal -- free for everyone. However, the survey questioned the wisdom of this, and asked whether people who smoke, drink a lot, or eat poorly ought to pay for their own coverage. The title of the article I read was "Should sinners be made to pay?" And a lot of people who took the survey said, "Yes." After all, they reasoned, most people know the consequences of these behaviors, and the costs affect everyone, even those of us who take care of ourselves and stay out of trouble. However, the article’s author argued that this thinking is far too simplistic. It doesn’t take into account genetic factors for certain diseases – how some people can smoke for forty years and never get cancer, and others who have never smoked get smoking-related diseases. And, the author pointed out, what would probably happen is that many people wouldn’t pay – they just wouldn’t seek treatment, and, the author writes, ‘we would end up with a two-tier system such as in the United States where the most needy are excluded from the best care.’
We are all, in one way or another, concerned about righteous living, about holy living, but oftentimes the result is the same in the church as in the world: those who are most needy are excluded from the best care. So, there is another way of looking at the church: rather than a gathering of saints, we can look at the church as a hospital for sinners. This seems to be the way Jesus is looking at it, when he tells the Pharisees, ‘those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.....For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
Not the righteous, but sinners. And lest we not realize the radical nature of this statement, consider who is included in ‘sinners’. There’s Matthew the tax collector, working for the Romans and cheating his own people. There’s the Samaritan woman who was married five times. Jesus comes for them, and for others as well, whether street people or corporate executives, addicts and AIDS victims, immigrants and wanderers and workaholics, the judgmental and the lackadaisical. Jesus comes to call sinners, and to call them to get up and follow him. Jesus comes to call sinners, and when we consider the church only as a gathering of saints, we run the risk of excluding the very people who need his care the most. We also run the risk of making the church into a great "self-help" center, where we are expected to heal ourselves by our own pursuit of righteousness. When we call the church a hospital, a hospital for sinners, we can see clearly our own need, and confess that only Christ can say the word, only Christ can heal us, only Christ can raise us from the dead, so that can get up and live, daily returning to the source of our healing and life. When we call the church a hospital, we realize our utter helplessness and the power of God’s love and forgiveness in our lives. As Martin Luther once said, "So we are now under the Physician’s care. The sin, it is true, is wholly forgiven, but it has not been wholly purged.... the Holy Spirit must cleanse the wounds daily."
The church is not a gathering of saints, but a hospital for sinners. You may worry that this seems a passive view, that if this is so, we might run the risk of seeing ourselves only as receiving care, but not as giving care to one another, or to others. And I admit, that this is a risk, when we think that way, until I think of a friend of mine, who has endured several hospitalizations, and so it quite familiar with hospitals. I remember one time when I visited her, that she had been carrying on quite a conversation with the woman in the next bed, and had found out some of her new friend’s concerns and worries and hopes. She invited all of us to pray together on that day, both giving and receiving God’s blessing. She realized that in God’s hospital, we are all both sinners in need of healing, and ministers empowered to share God’s blessings.
There is one more risk involved in seeing the church as primarily a gathering of saints, and that’s the risk of seeing ‘righteousness’ as ‘staying out of trouble.’ It’s the risk of seeing ‘righteousness’ as something we do by eating right, praying and staying away from the wrong people. In truth, righteousness is a free gift given to us in the love and mercy of God, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are made righteous when Jesus looks at us, and calls our names, ‘Follow me.’ "Little girl, get up.’ ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well.’ And the result of Jesus’ call might be just the opposite of staying out of trouble. After all, we follow Jesus, who fed the hungry and ate with sinners, who forgave sins, who befriended the poor, and made the powerful angry. After all, we follow Jesus, who came into this troubled world to live and die as one of us, to heal us and to raise us and to gather us together as his own. You can’t say that he ever stayed out of trouble.
There’s a story about Henry David Thoreau, that at one time he was engaged in some civil disobedience that landed him in jail for the night. His friend Ralph Waldo Emerson came to visit him, and upon seeing him, asked, "Henry! What are you doing in jail?" To which Thoreau replied, "Waldo! What are you doing OUT of jail?"
Perhaps we ought to turn the question of the Pharisees around: instead of asking, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?", we need to ask, "why do we NOT eat with sinners more often? After all, who are we all, but sinners found by God's love? Jesus still comes not for the spiritually fit, but for sinners...for the immigrant and the executive, for the down-and-out and the successful, for the doubting and the certain, for those weary and well. He comes to lift us up, again and again, to remind us that we are his beloved children, and to say to us, ‘Follow me. Follow me into a troubled world, full of people like you: beloved sinners, children of God."
Friday, June 6, 2008
"Don't doubt me!' he said. "I'm always here!" This is true, but I explained that it wasn't him that I was doubting; it was email; it's a great modern convenience; sometimes I don't know what I would do without it. And yet, there have been a couple of times when someone has said, "What email?"
The truth is, though: it's not just email I doubt. There's a reason that the Youth Easter Sunrise Service caused me the most anxiety of any worship service over the entire year. It's because I did not have absolute and total control over everything that happened, including whether everyone would show up at sunrise. They always did. But still, I didn't sleep well the evening before Easter. O me of little faith.
My work requires me to work in partnership with other staff and with lay leaders on a variety of projects: worship, Bible study, service projects, youth. I know incredibly gifted people who bring gifts I don't possess. I feel privileged to serve with creative people, good organizers, great cooks, compassionate visitors, insightful Bible study participants and co-leaders. And I am also plagued with doubts: what if the communion servers don't show up? What if the microphones don't get turned on? What if the the visitors don't do their calls? What if....? well, you get the picture.
Of course, every once in awhile, something crashes and burns. But more often than not, everyone, including me, rises to the occasion. And I can hear my Lord whispering in my ear, "O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Truth is, trust is one of the most essential components of human community, and also one of the hardest to achieve. A few people trust too much and too indiscriminately, but most of us trust others too little. We need each other's opinions, talents, strengths; we even need each other's failures, weaknesses and hesitations. I do think that's true.
And then there is the ultimate trust: the trust that even when life crashes and burns, even when those we counted on don't show up, even when we don't show up for someone else, God raises us up, heals us and calls us again, saying, "follow me.'
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
I'll admit right now, this kind of question sort of annoys me, what with me being a pastor in a -- you know -- church, and all. My husband is deeply into the Jesus Movement writers, particularly Crossan and Borg; in fact, to tell the truth, he is more of a fan than I am. While at the bookstore, he was checking out a book about Jesus and Paul, and how Paul, not Jesus, started the church. Which, of course, led to the question, "Do you think Jesus wanted to start a church?"
Well, after the first wave of defensiveness passed, this is what I answered: "It depends on what you mean by 'church'". If, by church, you mean the institution, with all its bureaucracy, hierarchy and patriarchy (not to mention a few more "archys"), probably not. But if you mean by 'church' a movement of people committed to gathering together to worship and to serve, to pay attention to and work for the Kingdom of God among them and in the world, yes, I think he did."
I'll bet if the "church" was less an institution and more a movement, some different kinds of people might want to join. Like, tax collectors and sinners. The blind who are made to see, and the lame who now walk. Little kids with crumbly fish and a little bread. A few zealots who want to change the world.
What do you think?
Want to join a movement?
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Monday, June 2, 2008
1.) What first tells you that summer is here?
First hot day, hot not warm, where you see people at the beach and really in the water (like Sunday).
2.) Name five of your favorite distinctively summer habits or customs.
*Picnics, whether the food is homecooked or just bought and eaten outdoors
*Summer vacation, the three months off from school between June and August. I'll never get over summer vacation
*Going to the lake (Nokomis, Cedar, Lake of the Isles, Harriet, Calhoun, Como. Swimming is fun but optional.)
*Reading a book outside, at the beach or other scenic venue
3.) What is your favorite smell of summer?
The smell of the air just after a storm. Clean, and fragrant
4.) What is your favorite taste of summer?
Fresh local strawberries!
runner up: popsicles
5.) Favorite summer memory?
On a hot summer night, my sister and I would go to sleep with just sheets covering us, and with two of those old-fahsioned box fans running in the window. At sometime during the night, my mother would quietly come in and turn the air on the fan around.
6.) Extreme heat or extreme cold? Which would you choose and why?
After this long long cold cold winter, I am going to choose extreme heat. Although I might change my mind later.
7.) What books do you plan to read for the season?
*Our June book club book is Tall Grass, by Sandra Dallas
*Christianity for the Rest of Us, by Diana Butler Bass
*Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan
*The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
*The Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian
8.) How does the summer affect your faith? Is it a hindrance?
I think summer, and the long liturgical season of discipleship, is an ally. The summer walks by the lake, and the time for meditation, are good for me spiritually. I like the longer days, too.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
This morning early we saw someone walk through our backyard. He told us there was a great tree down on the next block and they would have to move that before they could restore our power.
So this morning:
No curling iron.
It was my anniversary celebration here at church today. I preached. When we get power restored (and coffee!) I'll tell you more about that. Also, Scout went to agility class yesterday. And she'll have something to say about that too.