Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Sermon

Pentecost 16 Year A
Romans 12:9-21

"Things to do"

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

I’ve heard it said that there are two kinds of people in the world – those who like to make lists of things to do – and those who don’t. There are people who leave scraps of paper all over the house, are always jotting things down that they want to remember, who may even consider making lists a creative activity. And there are people who never make lists (I’m not sure I know any of these people, but I know they exist), but who just go out and do things. There are really two kinds of people in the world... Actually, I’m not sure I totally agree with this statement – I think there are really three kinds of people in the world
– those who don’t make " things to do" lists, those who make lists
– and those who make lists of things for other people to do.

If that is the case, then the apostle Paul is one of the list-makers. In fact, he doesn’t just make lists of things to do: he makes all kinds of lists: lists of spiritual gifts, lists of his qualifications to be an apostle, lists of names of people he wants to thank, lists of fruits of the spirit... I could go on and on. Paul is a list-maker. And today’s lesson from Romans – really is a kind of a list, isn’t it? You can almost hear Paul numbering while he is writing: 1) Let love be genuine. 2) hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. 3) Love one another with mutual affection; 4) outdo one another in showing honor. ... and we could go on and on like this. It’s a list, a kind of a spiritual "things to do" list, both like and unlike the lists we make in our daily life. "Do laundry." "Feed cat." "Fix rocking chair." "Call the plumber." And oh, by the way, "Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer."

In fact, this list seems full of just this kind of ordinary and mundane thing. Just last week, we heard the first part of this chapter of Romans, which begins with such soaring language of transformation... You can see, I printed verse 2 in your bulletin, so you can remember. "Do not be conformed to this world," he says, "but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." So how is it that now he is writing out "things to do" lists for the Romans? How can we go from "be transformed by the renewing of your mind!" to a "things to do" list? Now I know that all the things to do are good things, it’s all good advice, like: "Extend hospitality to strangers" or "do not claim to be wiser than you are." All good things, you might say. Maybe even ordinary things. Some of the things on this list you might even think, "Of course! It just seems like common sense to me."

For example, consider the very first piece of advice Paul gives to the Romans, "Let love be genuine." Just four words, simple words, and of course, we think: what other kind of love is there? Might seem like common sense to us. But we might consider a little deeper just what Paul is talking about when he talks about "love." Let "love" be genuine – the word here really means "without hypocrisy" – so we might be tempted to think about not "faking" feelings of love for someone we don’t like. But that’s not what I think Paul is getting at. To Paul, and to Jesus as well, "love" is not primarily a feeling, but an action – an act of the will. I remember as a child, when I would get together with my good Catholic friend to discuss the mysteries of our faiths, once she said, with an air of great authority, "My priest said, you don’t have to like everyone, but you just have to love them." We weren’t sure why at the time, but we were sure that this was profound, and true. To love is a choice, an act of the will, and it expresses itself in actions, big and small – the small and great acts of kindness couples give to each other, the way neighbors pitch in for one another, organize to make their community better. "Love your neighbor as yourself..." means literally to seek the good of your neighbor as much as you would seek your own good. If you like having a roof over your head and a good job, seek that good for your neighbor as well. If you like having nutritious food to eat and a safe community, seek that good for your neighbor as well. That’s what it means to love your neighbor, and that’s what "genuine" love is, as well. Genuine love expresses itself in action.

So some of the advice on the list seems simple, and even common sense at first, but let’s face it, some of Paul’s advice might be simple to understand, but not so easy to do. Consider if you will, a verse a little farther along in Paul’s list of advice, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil...." It sounds good, doesn’t it? Eugene Peterson, in his interpretation of this passage, simply says, "Don’t hit back." But we do, don’t we? Literally, when we’re children, but even as adults, our first, our knee-jerk reaction is often to "get back" at someone who has wronged us, in one way or another. Sisters and brothers, estranged spouses, neighbors, communities, countries – get back at each other, when they have been wronged. So when we read these words, when we really consider them, when we really take them to heart, one thing we have to admit is that we do not live by them very much of the time. It reminds me of what Mahatma Gandhi said once when a reporter asked him what he thought of Western Civilization. "I think it would be a good idea," he said. I think that all of us believe that Paul’s words, "Do not repay evil for evil..." would be a good idea, but.... but....

It’s a list. It’s a list of hard, but good "things to do" in it, but it’s still a list. And, even those of you who make lists out there, even those of you who live by "things to do" lists – don’t you just hate them sometimes? I mean, we keep them because they are necessary and because we wouldn’t get anything done without them, we think, but they also remind us of how we are bound to many things, many obligations: "Feed the cat." "Do the Laundry." "Fix the chair." And oh, by the way, "Love one another." "Extend hospitality to strangers." "Contribute to the needs of the saints." It’s a list, and we feel good if we have done one of the things on the list, but the things we have not done weigh on us, make us feel guilty, or tempt us to make up excuses, or break our hearts. It’s a list.

Or, maybe we can think about it another way.

When I was in college, a couple of students I knew wrote songs. They wrote Christian songs, and one I remember because two of his songs were actually taken word for word from the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament. It wasn’t often that someone used the Old Revised Standard Version, word for word, as the basis of a Christian song. One of them was from Matthew, chapter six, and the other song was this very passage of Scripture, Romans 12, starting with verse 9. I remember how it began,

"Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal; be aglow with the Spirit; serve the Lord....."

What if we thought of these words of advice from Romans 12 not as a list, but as a song? What if we saw them not as obligations, but as a vision – a vision to aspire to, a vision of what a transformed life looks like, in all its simplicity, in all its complexity, in all its beauty and impossibility? What if we heard "let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good," and let the words seep into us as if we were hearing a beautiful song, or seeing a landscape, or discovering and studying a sculpture?

A teacher friend of mine tell the story of beginning to take piano lessons. When he first began to take piano lessons, he said, his parents tried everything to get him to practice. They kept a log of his practice time, with little stars for minutes – that didn’t work. They tried bribery – a dollar for practicing; that didn’t work. They tried threats "practice or else. That didn’t work. And then one day he got a new piano teacher, who began by sitting down and playing for him: She played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and my friend was so captivated by the beauty of the music that he began to practice because he longed for that beauty himself.

"Do not be conformed to this world," Paul writes, "But be transformed by the renewing of your mind." And here’s what it looks like: it looks like genuine love, hospitality to strangers, generous giving and generous blessing, even to our enemies. That’s what it looks like. And we’re not there yet. But I hope we are practicing like crazy, practicing like crazy, keeping the vision in front of us.

Finally, Paul tells us, or sings to us, "Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good." And I can’t help wondering, while singing this song, while writing these words, if he isn’t remembering the One who, on the cross, did that very thing. Instead of seeking revenge, Jesus loved and forgave, even his enemies, and on the third day, rose in the power of God’s love. He is the vision we seek, and his love, the power that transforms our minds, our hearts, our lives and our world. AMEN

The piano story I first heard in a sermon by Prof. Jim Limburg at Luther Seminary, in 1993.

Friday, August 29, 2008

(Almost) A Million Little Pieces

For the last ten years, my office has been blessed with an extremely large, old desk. Though it had the single virtue of its expansive size, some of the drawers were falling apart, and two of the handles had broken off. It was also just a little too huge for the office space I had, lending a kind of claustrophobic feel to the room.

There were several attempts to fix the drawers. The handles had been reattached and fallen off again several times.

So imagine my surprise when last Friday morning, our church treasurer called me and asked if I would like to go see a desk that was on clearnace at the store. She said she had been looking for just the right desk for a couple of years, and wanted to know what I thought.

We bought it.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven. First I get a laptop computer, now a new desk!

It was going to be delivered on Tuesday, I heard. I needed to get everything out of the desk, pronto, so that I would be ready when the new one arrived. I discovered just how much that old desk could hold! There were many things I had not seen for a long time, notepads, and pens and staples, even, stuck way in the back of the drawer.

And then the new desk came: in a box, with many many many pieces. Not a million, maybe, but more pieces than I have ever seen in a piece of office furniture before. All of the drawers, with all of the sliding pieces, and all of the hangers for the pendaflex folders, needed to be assembled.

It took two full days.

I am still taking files, pens, erasers, paper clips and etcetera out of bags and putting them into the new desk. And I am trying to keep up on all the work that will not stop because I am in disarray. And I am also contenplating the complexity of desks, all the moving parts, and the non-moving parts, the million little pieces that, finally put together, make up the whole.

If it had just been me, I might have been tempted to look at the million pieces, and look at the complicated instructions, and give up. But the two men from the congregation who put it together (one, reading the directions with a magnifying glass) just kept plugging along, as if giving up was not an option.

Giving up is not an option.

Just because there are a million little pieces: of our community life, our political life, our faith, our relationships, just because it's complicated, doesn't give us permission to give up: on our friends, on our church, on our country.

So: get involved. Vote. Go to church. Ladle soup at a homeless shelter or work at a food shelf. Weep with those who weep. Love one another.

Do something hard, and complicated, and necessary. Live.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ruth's Never-ending Story Meme

IThis is Ruth's Meme. It's taken me awhile to write my chapter. (Sorry Ruth!) If you have a good idea, for Chapter three, I would be delighted. (I have never done this before!) Meanwhile, here are the rules:

Put a link to this post. Label the Link "Chapter Two." and to Ruth's "Chapter One. "
Write your own installment and label it "Chapter Three." Remember to leave it unresolved.
Come leave a comment on this post when you're done. I will list links to all possible versions of the second chapter at the bottom of this post.
Anyone who writes a version of Chapter Three should leave it open-ended and invite people to create Chapter Four. Etc, etc.
Let's see what happens and how far this goes.
P.S. There is no time limit on doing this, but this post will drop into the archives in about a week.


As I look back now, I can see that this small strange dream marked the beginning, a turning point. But of course at the time, I didn't know that yet. All I knew is that, for the first time in a long time, I felt acutely the deep hole of time since my father's death. All of a sudden I could see him quite clearly: his gray work shirt with the pocket protector and screwdrivers in it, the earnest way he like to talk to customers, with his hands clasped behind his back, the black curl of hair just on his forehead.

I poured myself a cup of coffee, picked my morning paper off the front step, and sat down at the kitchen table, alone. The house was quiet. I was alone, as always. I didn't think of myself as a loner, a solitary person, but in that moment, I listened to the clock ticking, and I thought, I am alone. Has it always been like this?

I'll be honest: if I'm not quite "old" yet, I can safely say that I'm bordering on "elderly", anyway. My retirement looms, and I look at that horizon with a mixture of anticipation and dread. M&F Insurance has been a sort of family to me; the work hasn't been exciting, but I know all of the people, and I feel that we don't just work together; we are a part of each other's lives.

But that morning, after the dream, I wondered if that was really true; how connected was I to anybody in my life, really? Shirley at the desk next to mine, who had pictures of her children taped to her wall, Fred in accounting who, once, long ago, asked me out -- Mary down the hall who keeps three extra pairs of shoes in her desk, and likes to slip out 10 minutes early on Friday.

I sipped coffee and read the news with moderate interest. There were rumors of wars, like always; the president was traveling to Europe, I saw. I read a story about an enterprising young boy who earned money selling lemonade and giving away kittens; he was saving his earnings to send his brother to a special camp for MD. There was another story of corporate embezzlement. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Just as I was turning to the obituaries, the phone rang. No one ever calls me, I thought. I wonder who it is.

True Story

I was talking to an older gentleman in my congregation about thunderstorms the other day. We've been having our fair share lately. Our dog, who hates thunderstorms, gets as far as possible from a window when she hears the thunder.

The gentleman I was talking to said, at the senior cooperative where he lives, a memo went around one day about what to do in case of storms.

There was one tiny typo, though.

The memo warned: "Stay away from widows."

(Good luck with that....)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lessons from the Eagles

We learned two things at the National Eagle Center:

Eagles just came off the endangered species list this year.

Benjamin Franklin did not consider the eagle a worthy bird to have as a national symbol. (He felt warmer toward, of all birds, the turkey.)

Now you might be thinking: I knew both of those things! You didn't learn anything at the National Eagle Center! But what we learned was behind those two statements.

Eagles just came off the endangered species list this year. Those who are about my age or older might remember just why eagles were on the endangered species list in the first place. It was because of a chemical called DDT, commonly used to combat mosquitoes. However, as our guide graphically showed us, DDT had unintended consequences in other parts of the animal kingdom, up to and including eagles. He showed us how mosquitoes are connected to small fish, and small fish are connected to big fish, and big fish are connected to eagles, and how if one link in a chain is damaged, it affects the health of the whole chain. He told us one of the things that DDT did was make eagles' eggs soft and easily broken, so that most eaglets did not survive into adulthood. I didn't write down the numbers, but he said that at least 80% if all eaglets did not survive into adulthood, and eagles were in grave danger of becoming extinct.

He also told us that in 1972, something happened, when people banded together to outlaw DDT and to work to bring the bald eagle back from extinction. Now comes the statement that this year bald eagles came off the endangered species list. He told us that the story of the bald eagle can remind us and inspire us to remember what is possible when we work together for positive change.

Benjamin Franklin did not consider the bald eagle to be a worthy bird to have as a national symbol. There were three reasons for this, but I remember the third one the best. Franklin had observed eagles as they were attacked and dive-bombed by smaller birds like herons and gulls, and saw how the eagle would not engage in a fight, but simply fly away. He thought that the eagle was a coward, and not a fitting symbol for our young nation. However, as our guide told us, the eagle is not a coward, but is honorable in flying away from a fight with a bird clearly not its equal. So, I thought: if you know you are strong, you don't always have to fight.

Two lessons from eagles.

oh, and this piece of trivia: about how much do you think a fully grown bald eagle weighs?

about 10-12 pounds.
Picture is Harriet with handler last Saturday.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kids, Don't Try This At Home!

We're on vacation this weekend. Sort of.

We left late Friday evening for a short get-away to a small town near here, a beautiful, little, old town on the Mississippi River (not Red Wing.) Husband's younger son went with us: we've had a trip together every summer, and we just weren't quite ready to let the tradition die.

But there were a few catches.

One: This was our interim organist's last Sunday with us. It's been a great year, and it's been a pleasure working with him, getting to know his Golden Retriever, Rupert, and getting to know him, too. I really didn't want to miss that. The truth was, I was a little crabby about it. I really didn't want to go away. I also had a baptism this Sunday, at the late service. So, even though I wasn't preaching, I had responsibilities.

In fine marital tradition, we reached a compromise. We actually drove into town, just for my late service this morning. And then we drove back here, had a great Southwestern Chipotle Pizza at a little place on their historic main street.

Tomorrow, we drive back home: for good this time.

We've had a good time: learning about eagles at the National Eagle Center (I recommend this new attraction to everyone), eating at a historic Hotel, driving along the Mississippi River to Red Wing to celebrate my husband's birthday, perusing antiques.

But I don't recommend this for a normal vacation option. I drifted asleep last night thinking, "I'm in another town, and I'm going to get up and preside at worship tomorrow." I had some of those weird neurotic dreams that pastors get (I won't explain, and I haven't had them for awhile). But I'm still glad we went away, saw the bluffs, the river, the eagles, the old town.

A person just has to remain flexible, I guess. Not a bad lesson to learn.

I also learned some great lessons about Bald Eagles. More about that later.....

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Five: Calendar Edition

Songbird over at the Revgals blog graciously offers this Friday Five:

It's Friday afternoon, Eastern Time, and this is your faithful Songbird with a calendar-related Friday Five. Due to some confusion with our dates, I'm stepping in today, although I am usually here only on the 5th Friday, when there is such a thing.Here are five things to ponder about dates. I hope you'll play!

1) Datebooks--how do you keep track of your appointments? Electronically? On paper? Month at a glance? Week at a glance?
I still keep an old fashioned appointment book. I've moved from a huge one back to a small one, small enough to keep in my purse, so that I can write down when people ask for an appointment. I've been flirting with Google Calendar, but I'm not serious -- yet.

2) When was the last time you forgot an important date?
I don't remember the last time, but I do remember an important time -- while out in South Dakota, I had a phone interview with a big church (and a somewhat high profile church) in a large city. My father and neice and nephew were visiting, and I completely forgot about this interview. Needless to say, I did not get that call.

3) When was the last time you went OUT on a date?
Depends on what you call a "date." My husband would say that our whole trip to Paris was a long, expensive "date." If you only count dates between single people, it would have to be longer than 9 years ago.

4) Name one accessory or item of clothing you love even though it is dated.
My mother had an eyelet lace peasant blouse that we (my sister and I) wore until it practically disintegrated. Now eyelet lace is "in" again. I also have a black wool skirt I wear all the time in the winter, even though the woman who keeps fixing it for me says it won't last much longer.

5) Dates--the fruit--can't live with 'em? Or can't live without 'em?
I've never really been a date fan, but now we have discovered this wonderful recipe for Orange Banana Date Oatmeal, so I have grown to like them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Easily Distracted

I get so mad at Scout sometimes. At our last agility class, I couldn't get her to run the course at all. As soon as I gave the signal, she just took off running, and ran around the room like a mad dog, not listening to me when I called her to come.

Of course, that's not unusual. Coming when called is not one of her best things. This particular class, though, it was embarrassing, as we had a substitute instructor. She was not impressed with my dog training skills. And that's an understatement.

One thing is, she's easily distracted. That means she's very good at coming when I call her, as long as there's not a squirrel or a butterfly or a bug, or a piece of grass that needs sniffing at the moment. We're working on the "down" command, when given from a distance, right now, and she's very good at it, as long as we are alone in the yard with nothing and no one else around.

When we go on walks, she walks very nicely beside me most of the time. But we do get into a little trouble when we see a squirrel, a gopher, a deer, or a chipmunk. Or if we hear a particularly attractive or unusual noise. Like I said, she's easily distracted.

On the other hand, she is capable of intense focus occasionally: when she is waiting for me to give the signal for dinner, when she is discovering and chewing a bone, when she is watching a dancing family of rabbits in the front yard. She has her own idea of the important things in life.

Of course, she is not the only one who is easily distracted. Is she? We all have our own ideas about what is really important: things we will focus on: dancing rabbits for my dog, facebook and fashion and footwear for me.

And perhaps I do not know it sometimes, when my Master is calling me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Take me Out to the Ball Game

Last night we went with about 50 other members of my congregation to a ball game here in my home town. The Twins (underdog small team) were playing the Oakland Athletics. And WE WON! 13 -2. My husband is a baseball fan from when he was 10 years old and he was at the airport to greet the players when they moved here from Washington (The Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins.)

However, we don't go to very many baseball games. We just don't.

Why were we there last night?

It was "Lutheran Night at the Twins." Lots of churches brought busloads of Lutherans.

And I'm just wondering: do any other teams have "Lutheran Night" or "Catholic Night" or "Presbyterian Night"?

It does seem odd.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Books, books, books.....

I'm so far behind on the reading challenge for 2008 that I won't even tell you which numbers I'm on so far (though I'll sneak back and check later, probably)....

I have a few more to report on today.

1. Neither Here Nor There, by Bill Bryson. I got it because it had a chapter on Paris, and really, really, enjoyed the whole thing. I've been wanting read I'm a Stranger Here Myself for a long time, but I'm happy I started with this one. He takes a summer and visits a number of great European cities, recalling a similar adventure taken as a college student. Parts of it are, of course, hilarious.

2. I read Sleeping With Bread on the advice of Lutheranchik, and was NOT disappointed. It's a simple spiritual exercise, called the Examen, (after Ignatius of Loyola) and it's explained with such simplicity and depth. Really, only two questions to end your day: For what was I most grateful today? And for what was I least grateful?

3. I've been wanting to read The Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian, for some time. It's part social commentary, part mystery, party psychology..... and there's this great subtext with some of the characters from The Great Gatsby. Plus, a surprise ending.

4. I found a copy of Edward Eager's book Half Magic at a used book store and re-read it this summer. I remembered the basic premise well; even used it in a sermon once (on the strange healing in Mark where Jesus has to heal the man twice). But I had forgotten a lot of the particulars about the story, so it was fun to re-read. The premise is that four children one summer discover a coin that is "half magic": it takes a while to figure it out, but in order to get a whole wish, they need to wish everything twice.

5. Finally, this may not count, as I'm not quite done, but I'm reading. on Auntie Knicker's suggestion, a wonderful mystery called Murder in the Marais. by Cara Black. I'm really loving it and plan to finish tonight, if I'm up into the wee hours. Murder and political intrigue, and set in Paris. What's not to like?!

I will be back in the a.m., I promise, to add all the links to the books. But I have to get back to my mystery now!

Good night, all.

P.S. I'm tired, but I finished the mystery!

P.S.S. That was #s 11 - 15. I can't believe it is that few.....

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Good Story from "Funky Grandpa"

Recently I discovered this blog by a retired pastor. He tells stories about his family, his grandchildren, etc. He's new to blogging, and I really enjoyed his last story.

Go over and read it for yourself.

And encourage him to keep it up!

His blog is called Wandering Toward My Shifting Self.

Of course, his is not the only blog I've just discovered. More on that later. Happy reading today, everyone!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's not for you

That was one of the recurring phrases from my sermon this morning. It was about the Canaanite woman, and how Jesus' words to her amounted to, "It's not for you." What is it like to hear that? Yet she persists in begging even for table scraps from God's table. I wonder why she did not give up as Jesus ignored and insulted her.

Even so, I confess to being haunted by the words of Isaiah this morning, words about "the outcasts of Israel." In the gospel, it's clear the Israel is the chosen people, the ones that deserve the bread, not crumbs. They are the insiders -- just like we consider ourselves to be, most of the time. And, in more ways than one. Those of use who are Christian -- well, we are insiders because we are Christian. (There's a T-shirt that says: "Jesus loves you, but I'm his favorite." And sometimes I think that back in the recesses of our brains, we think this.) And we're insiders because we are citizens of the most powerful nation on earth.

In Isaiah, God's chosen people are called outcasts. They are both God's chosen people, and they are outcasts. They are children who get bread, and they are outcasts begging for crumbs. I wonder what it would mean for us if we thought of ourselves this way. Not as insiders, with all the answers for everyone else, but as outcasts.

A while back, there was an evangelism initiative in my denomination. There was a lot of focus on "Welcoming the Stranger" and the ministry of hospitality. What would it mean for us to be more welcoming communities of faith, more friendly, with bigger hearts and more open arms? Don't get me wrong, I think this is a good idea, but I wonder...

I wonder what it would look like if the church, instead of welcoming the stranger, started being the stranger. I wonder if it's even possible for us, except in the most unusual situations, to experience what it means to be the outcast: not just the chosen people, but the outcast, begging for crumbs, desperate for healing.

Really, that's what we are. God's children, but wandering strangers, searching for a home, and welcomed in the end by the same one who once said, "it's not for you."

"The body of Christ, given for you."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Simple Faith

I had a funeral today: an old woman who was considered to be, I suppose, "developmentally disabled". She was single and lived with her sister and many dogs her whole life. She loved dogs and hoped to see her dogs Binkie, Melody, Billy Blue, and others, in heaven. Her sister died in 2000. She lived alone until she fell this winter, and her extended family discovered that she had cancer.

They took her to their small town to care for her; she lived in the nursing home where she loved to watch the birds (that's where her statement "not enough people watch birds" came from); she went to church with them almost every week. It was a little country church; she told her nephew and his wife that "she loved that nino church."

As she grew sicker and began to be in pain, her nephew's wife would often go to visit her and to care for her. She told this woman on one occasion, "I wish you didn't have to suffer." And she replied, "Jesus suffered on the cross for me. I can do this."

They told me I could share this story.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Five: Fall Transformations

Mary Beth from Revgals brings us this Friday Five:

Here in my neck of the woods, rain is falling...a little uncharacteristic for August, but most welcome! It'll be hot and humid later, but a break in the heat is most welcome.Also falling (especially into my driveway) are the fruits of the bois d'arc tree (also known as the Osage Orange). We call them "bowdarks" and enjoy bowling them down the driveway to the empty lot across the street. (Yes, I may be a redneck...)
Bois d'arc fruits are used only for: 1) making more trees and 2) eating by squirrels (if you have another use, please let me know!)
The wood of the bois d'arc tree, however, is very hard and very beautiful, and makes gorgeous items like the vase above. Such a lovely thing, from such an odd-looking source!

For this Friday's Five, share with us five transformations that the coming fall will bring your way.

1. We will have a new full-time organist and music director at my congregation. Our last music director left last August. We've had a wonderful interim director/organist, but I'm looking forward to the new ideas and new energy that will come to us this September.

2. We will be hosting a community forum on race and poverty as they affect education at my church: I hope this is the beginning of a transformation of our congregation to get involved in becoming a more integrated community and church.

3. We will be doing some home improvements this fall, fixing the chimney and the floors. We're working on making the house more beautiful.

4. We're beginning the Book of Faith Initiative in our congregation and around our whole denomination -- hopes for personal and congregational transformation, as the winds of the Spirit blows on us.

5. There may be a transformation on the horizon this Thanksgiving for us. We have gone every other year to my husband's sister's house for Thanksgiving. This year they're in transition, they don't know exactly where they will be, and we'll possibly be considering a new tradition or so. Whether it involves travelling or not: I don't know.

Bonus: Give us your favorite activity that is made possible by the arrival of fall.

I love to go to apple orchards to pick apples. I don't go enough, but it's a great fall activity. I also love shopping for school supplies, even though I don't go to school any more.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The problem with this world....

She said, "The problem with this world is that not enough people watch birds."

The more I think about it, the more I think: she could be right.

The problem with this world is... how would you complete that sentence?

By the way, her funeral is on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Seeking "The Lost"

About a week ago I was googling around the internet and I looked into one of our neighboring churches' websites. They describe themselves as an evangelical church of their denomination, stating that they believe that "hope is not a human achievement, but God's gift through the power of the Holy Spirit." I really liked their statement of their aspiration: to "dream dreams for ministry big enough to know that the results cannot depend on us alone but rather on God."

Part of their vision statement made me think, though: they described their urgency to minister to "unsaved and unchurched people, believing that the heart of Jesus' mission was to seek and save the lost."

You know, we don't talk much about "the lost" in my denomination. There are probably myriad and complicated reasons for this. Maybe it's because these days many of us are reluctant to consign those who believe differently to the fires of hell. That's what it means to be lost, after all. To be consigned to the fires of hell, because you don't know Jesus.

I used to be a missionary, which means it was my work, and my passion, to introduce others to Jesus. I do really think it matters to know Jesus. But somehow I resist (and have always resisted) the next statement: and if you don't, you are eternally lost!

And yet, I do think that it's true: "the heart of Jesus' mission was to seek and to save the lost." And that this is the heart of the church's mission, too.

So, just who are the lost, then?

In my congregation we are preparing a fall community forum. The subject is "The achievement gap" between students of color and white students; more precisely, this gap is between children living in poverty and those who don't. We want to eliminate that gap. Our school district is very diverse, with white students and African American students and Latino students and African students. They are all beautiful -- but they are not all succeeding. And there are some white parents who are, for various reasons, taking their children out of the schools.

We know that this will not be an easy task. Someone from our group said recently that it's not just an achievement gap; it's really a hope gap. Children don't achieve because they don't have hope. People do drugs, get into destructive relationships, commit crimes because they don't have hope. Whole communities give up because they don't have hope.

Who are the lost? People who don't have hope: hope for the next life, of course -- but hope for this life, too, hope that their living makes a difference, hope that they will flourish, that they will have enough to eat, a place to sleep, a job, a reason to live.

The church has lost its way if it forgets that the heart of Jesus' mission was to seek and to save the lost. It doesn't exist simply to inspire itself, to make the people who come to worship "feel better" when they leave. The church exists to seek and to save the lost, those without hope, whether that is hope for eternal life, or hope for life right now.

The apostle Paul once wrote: "If for this life only we have hoped, we are of all people most to be pitied." But I think it's true the other way, as well, "If for eternal life only we have hoped, we are most to be pitied."

Pray for us, as we seek God's vision to address "the Hope gap" in our community, and even among ourselves.

I pray that we, as well, begin to "dream dreams for ministry big enough to know that the results cannot depend on us alone but rather on God."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Throwing Caution to the Wind ...

... and posting the award Ruth gave me. It may not be the exact words I would use, but I agree with the sentiment, anyway, and I'm ready to pass it along. I read the meaning of the award as those who are good writers, honest, insightful, but also couragoeus in some way. That's my take anyway. Now, I need to post these rules:

1) Choose five other bloggers that you feel are “Kick Ass Bloggers”

2) Let them know that they have received an award.

3) Link back to both the person who awarded you and also to

4) Visit the Kick Ass Blogger Club HQ to sign Mr. Linky and leave a comment.

And here are five bloggers who I believe fit the criteria of the award:

1) Mompriest over at Seeking Authentic Voice. She is not afraid to write about both her hopes and her fears. She writes with honesty, integrity and well: authenticity. Mompriest, you kick ... well, you know what.

2) Fran at FranIam also courageously blogs both about her personal life, and her passions for spirituality and politics.

3) Border Explorer is a relatively new blog for me. She's not afraid to explore the edges of life. She doesnt keep to the safe subjects.

4) Choralgirl is honest and passionate about her work, and about her faith, and about life in Christian community. Plus, she plays a mean cowbell!

5) If you will just read Sue's blog over at InnerDorothy, you will know why I think she deserves this award.
Now, back to writing my own kick*** posts. more or less.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Irreverent Sunday

Between the early and the late services this morning, I talked to a few parish members and learned about a community event this afternoon called Penn Fest. Some of the businesses and the City put together a small summer get-together this afternoon, and also unveiled some ideas for a planned redevelopment around the intersection, which would include making it more green and friendly for walking.

However, some people expressed concern about the future of the small businesses there. There are more than enough chain coffee shops in the area. When other areas of the city were redeveloped, none of the former tenants came back. And there are some wonderful, unique small businesses here, that no one wants to lose: Fireside Pizza, Penn Cycle, Homestead Pickin' Parlor, Koram Tae Kwan Do School, and the Lariat Lanes Bowling Alley.

There is a rumor that when Mick Jagger comes to town, he goes bowling at the Lariat Lanes.

So, maybe that's what the song, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" is all about.

All these years, his one ambition has been to bowl a perfect game.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Three New Things Last Week

After assessing my recent book-buying binge and becoming filled with self-loathing (and stacks of books), I decided to find my old library card and begin to get books out of the library more often, rather than buying them.

I confess that I haven't been to the library in a long time; it was one of my summer haunts, as a child. I'd go back every two weeks for a new armload, and take them home to read in between trips to the lake and (when forced to stay home) afternoons running through the sprinkler.

But I didn't just find my library card. I also discovered how to ask for a book on the Internet. I requested three books that have been in the back of my mind for awhile. Just yesterday, I was notified that the first one, The Faith Club, had come in.

Next I googled something my sister told me about a long time ago, something call Pandora. I have, in just the last week, created about six radio stations I can listen to while I waste time at the computer.

Finally, in the wee hours of Thursday evening (or was it Friday morning), I created a Facebook account. My cousin (the one who visited with his seven children) emailed me and sent me some family pictures. He said, "Are you on Facebook?" "No," I answered. He emailed right back, "It's easy," and provided me with the link. The rest -- is history.

I have 22 friends so far. I was pretty proud of this.

Then I discovered that my stepson has 346.

Little by little, I'm being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

But what is all this about Twitter?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Reader Poll

Just yesterday I got this award from Ruth over at Ruth's Visions and Revisions. I will have to say that I am flattered and flustered. I'm not so sure that I'm as courageous as the award seems to imply. I do think that I try a little too hard sometimes to be nice, and senstive to everyone's feelings. However, I do think that sometimes pastors are called to "Kick XXX." I'm just not sure if we can SAY it.

Ruth seems to feel similarly. In telling me about the award, Ruth seemed to wonder whether, as a clergyperson, I would be able to post this on my blog.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Is this award appropriate for a pastor?

If there are any congregation members out there, I would be particularly interested in your point of view.

But of course, everyone is welcome.

In the meantime, I'm pondering my next post. Hmmmm.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Music Gene, part II

This is my nephew playing the piano, his own composition. It is called "Dead War -- Acoustic".

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Does It Hurt Your Head?

A friend of mine from church just got new glasses. She left hers in a restaurant a couple of states away. She was philosophical about it; she said that it was about time for a new prescription anyway.

I really like them; she said she does too, although it's taking a little getting used to. She says she had gotten used to things being a little fuzzy, and now her vision is so sharp it hurts her head, a little.

In thinking about my recent post about reading the Bible, I suspect that this sharper vision is one of the benefits and also one of the pitfalls. It's true, when we start hearing God's word, we start getting a much clearer picture of God's love for us: a picture of a Father running down the road with his arms outstretched, tears running down his cheeks; a picture of a woman, pouring a year's worth of perfume on a dying man; a picture of a mother hen protecting her young; a picture of a host throwing a lavish dinner party for people who can't ever pay him back; a picture of a woman combing her whole back yard at midnight looking for a penny.

But it's not all sweetness and light. It's not just God that shows up more clearly -- it's the human race. Our family tree is filled with cheats, rogues, tax collectors, liars, and ne'er-do-wells. Also, just your average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill, well-meaning but imperfect people. Sometimes, when we're looking at ourselves, it much easier to stay with the old prescription, the one where we come off looking fuzzier, younger, a little more flattering.

I'm not talking self-abasement here; just an honest self-assessment. I remember reading and clipping a newspaper column by Ellen Goodman long ago. It was a Valentine's Day column, and the gist of it was that we should all look in the mirror every morning and say to ourselves, "You're no bargain." I think that we get the same sort of feeling when we start delving into the stories of the Scriptures.

It's enough to hurt our heads. Or make us grateful.

Or both.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Accidental Pilgrim

.... that's what my sermon title should have been this morning. And I admit, in some ways it turned out to be a shameless excuse to talk about our trip to Paris. I "used" the Isaiah text to talk about the invitations that God extends to us, to come and eat, to see the world in a new way (a place of abundance) to live in the world in a new way (sharing with others and connected to others).

I told a story about seeing the same DK Paris guidebook everywhere we went, only in different languages. And about one time in particular that I saw that guidebook at the table next to ours at a sidewalk cafe. I also recognized the letters on the front cover, and turned to my husband and whispered, "They're from Greece." (I knew that that New Testament Greek study would have more uses!) I didn't think any more about it until we got up to leave. The couple moved their guidebook out of the way so that my husband could get out, and he turned and said to them "Thank you" -- in Greek. (He told me he learned it from a grocery bag.)

That last line got a big laugh because there is a local grocery store here that has the words "Thank you" printed on all of their grocery bags, in many different languages. The closest store to us is managed by our of our congregation's leaders. I was kind of hoping that he would be at church today, but he was working.

Immediately after the service, a church member whispered in my ear, "Guess where I'm going this week!" PARIS. She asked if she could borrow our guidebook. I said, "Oui."

Then I stopped at the grocery store, where I needed to buy lunch ingredients, and I was kind of hoping to run into the manager, for obvious reasons. Often on Sundays, there are many food samples in the store, and today, among other things, there was CAKE. I told the young woman who offered me a small piece of cake that I just couldn't, as I had cheesecake at church in the morning.

"What church do you go to?" she asked.

It's true, we had cheesecake on sticks this morning. A young couple is using our church kitchen to start up a cheesecake business, and made these as a sort of a gift and a promotion for us this morning. A little more upscale than your usual donut holes.

Meanwhile, I didn't find the store manager, but relayed my grocery bag story to the people who were checking and bagging my groceries. (Yes, this store still bags groceries for you.) The bagger helped me carry the groceries to my car, pointed to my collar and asked, "Are you a pastor?" After I answered in the affirmative, she asked what kind of church I was at, and then, more boldly -- just how does a person go about finding a church? I said it would be good to try a few different churches (not neglecting my own, of course), and that she could ask any questions she wanted after she had visited.

I hope you had a blessed, restful, delicious Sunday.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

One thing I'd like to work on...

I'd like to encourage people to read their Bibles more often. I'd like to promote Bible reading, so that people become really immersed in the Word, and in the stories of the Bible, and in the poetry of the Bible. But when I try to get something like that in a sermon, telling people to read their Bibles comes off like telling them to go to the Dentist twice a year, or eat their vegetables, instead of like telling them to go out and have a steak dinner and a glass of wine and a big fat piece of cheesecake.

So, I back off from telling people to read their Bibles more often in sermons. It just doesn't seem to work. But I still would like to promote a way, or ways of talking about Bible reading, promoting Bible reading, loving the Word, following the Word. I'm going to be working on that, I think, for awhile.

One thing is to acknowledge that reading the Bible has its pitfalls. It's not a piece of cake. It's a big book, with small print and a lot of possible entry points, some of them fraught with difficulty. There are some parts that are hard to understand, and a few parts that nobody understands, and any numbers of parts that are crystal clear, but might possibly make us angry. One can understand why certain segments of the church thought it better to let sleeping dogs lie.

But still, it's our book, it's our story, and not just the theologian's and the pastor's. The Word let loose in our lives can cause all kinds of trouble, but I suspect that it's the kind of trouble we might need. Take, for example, just one small but well known example: "Love your enemies." Try living with those three words for a week, or a month or a year.

Programs that help you read through the Bible in a year have their place, I suppose, but I wonder if they don't give the false impression that what's most important about the Bible is that we know what's in it. We read the Bible as if we were reading the dictionary, looking for facts and definitions, rather than looking for clues to the mystery of the One who loves us.

I know there are some books that deal with this; I have Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book, and I'm reading it now. I also know that I don't know much about a really important tradition called Lectio Divina. I'm considering doing a retreat this fall.

In the meantime, I'm pondering.... what can make the Bible a book not just lovely to look at and soft to the touch, but one that we actually open, despite the risks?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday Five: Lock me in, Lock me out

Songbird over at Revgalblogpals writes this timely Friday Five:

For some reason, Blogger declared this blog possible SPAM and locked us down yesterday. This morning, we're free to post again, but there was a fair amount of excitement last night among our contributors, who found a dire notice on their Blogger dashboards threatening that this blog might be deleted in 20 days!We requested a blog review, and I posted a request at the Blogger Help group, where I found we were not alone. Many other perfectly nourishing and cromulent blogs got the same notice last night.This turned out to be a very small barricade in our blogging community life, but it seemed appropriate to explore locks and blocks and other barriers this week. Also, I liked the picture of the security team above! Could they be Blogger's Spam Prevention Robots, working overtime?In honor of their efforts, I bring you the "Lock Me Out, Lock Me In" Friday Five.

1) How do you amuse yourself when road construction blocks your travel?
I don't know that I amuse myself. Beat my hands on the steering wheel, wail loudly, pray silently, especially when the road construction is a surprise. We have a lot of it in my area this year, too; can't get on the highway at many entrance ramps due to a major construction project. I have never gotten into listening to books on CD. Sadly.

2) Have you ever locked yourself out of your house? (And do you keep an extra key somewhere, just in case?)
Yes. And yes.
There are several stories about this, starting from childhood, when my sister and I would "break in" when I forgot to carry our house ke to school.

3) Have you ever cleared a hurdle? (And if you haven't flown over a material hurdle, feel free to take this one metaphorically.)
No material hurdles, but seminary and becoming a pastor was a hurdle cleared for me.

4) What's your approach to a mental block?
I don't have a standard approach, but one thing I do is walk away for awhile. Go away for awhile, take a walk, read a few paragraphs of a book.

5) Suggest a caption for the picture above; there will be a prize for the funniest answer!
"You will be terrified! by...The invasion of the creatures from the particle-board planet!" (coming to a theatre near you)

P.S. Speaking of detours, and being locked out, today is the first anniversary of the collapse of the I35W bridge over the Mississippi River. The bells will toll at shortly after 6:00 this evening.