Monday, November 30, 2009

2nd Day of Advent: The Crucial Missing Step

I'm madly knitting scarves for Christmas presents this year. I've finished two scarves with keyholes, am making one special cable scarf, and am now working on a different kind of keyhole scarf.

For those not in the know, a keyhole scarf is one with a hole, so that you can pull one end through the other, and tighten it. A neat idea, no?

This new scarf required a new skill, binding off and casting on in the middle of a row. I did okay with the first, and had a book with left-handed instructions for the second part.

But, try as I might, I just couldn't get it. I kept trying it, and it became obvious that I was not going in the right direction. I put my work away a couple of times, considered going back to the nice knitting shop I just discovered today. (Me: Do you have classes here? Clerk: Can you knit and purl? Me: Yes. Clerk: you don't need a class. Just come in and we'll help you.)

I remembered seeing a video on this skill on You Tube, so I looked it up and watched it a couple of times.

There I discovered a crucial step missing from my knitting book: "turn your work," the guide said.

So often, in life, the crucial missing step: Turn your work.

The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent Baptism

I'm so glad that the parents decided to have their baby baptized today, on the first Sunday of Advent, the first DAY of Advent. It was an opportunity to again remember that faith is a gift bestowed on the unsuspecting.

She is three-months old, with sparkling eyes and a beautiful smile. And her mother said she loves baths, so she would be okay with with the water. And she was okay at first, but the water was cold, and that was a little shock, as well it might be. New life should not be too gentle.

Afterwards, we invited some of the children to come up and say hello. A few were too anxious to get to Sunday School to stop, but a few children, the smallest ones, by the way, just stared and stared into the new baby's eyes.

We finished putting together our book of stories, "Faith Passages," and offered it to the members of our congregation. 11 people shared stories of God in their lives.

And today was the Sunday we offer prayers for healing at the close of all of the services. So today, on the first Sunday of Advent, I anointed with oil a new baby, sealed her with the Spirit, and today, on the first Sunday of Advent, I anointed many and prayed for many kinds of healing.

Indeed, faith is a gift bestowed on the unsuspecting. And healing is a gift bestowed on the heart who yearns for it.

Advent bookends.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas Walk

We will be heading out soon to a "Christmas walk" in a small historic town near to us. We have never done this before here, but used to regularly attend a Christmas walk in the Chicago area when we visited at Thanksgiving.

Scout will not be able to come, of course, so I took her on a mid-day walk around the neighborhood. At a park just up the street from us, two small children shouted out, "Can we pet your dog?" Before I could say anything, they started running toward Scout, and she started backing up. So it appeared that today, at least, the answer would be, "no." Scout usually likes small children, but does get a little worried when strangers start running toward her.

The little girl then shouted, "Is that were-wolf dog?" "No," I answered. "Then why does she look like a were-wolf dog?" she asked.

Question: what does a were-wolf dog look like?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

A favorite Table Prayer:

O Thou who clothes the lilies,
Who feeds the birds of the sky,
Who leads the lambs to pasture,
And the deer to the waterside,
Who multiplied loaves and fishes,
And changed the water to wine,
Do Thou come to our table as giver
And as our guest to dine. AMEN

If you have a few minutes, share a favorite table prayer.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

(Corn) Bread Alone

One of the best gifts I ever got was a 60 minute cassette tape, sent to me in a small manila mailer bag.

I was living in Japan at the time, serving as a missionary teacher, and though I was enjoying the people and the sights and the things I was learning, I sometimes missed my family and friends back in the states.

I missed the Minnesota lakes. I missed ordering pizzas (although you can order a bowl of soba in Japan; it arrives in a beautiful bowl, steaming hot). I missed maraconi and cheese, and conversations with friends.

So one day I received this small package from my parents, just an unassuming little cassette. I stuck in in my tape player. The first words I heard were these:

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest
Let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen
(I think my friend from Japan then said: "itadakimasu!", which means: "Let's eat.")

My parents had invited three of my friends over for dinner, and turned on the tape recorder while they were eating. I got to listen in while they ate chili and munched corn bread (I still remember the menu, don't ask why), and discussed mundane and profound thoughts.

There were theological discussions (two of my friends were seminary students), updates on family activities, jokes (probably from my dad) and laughter. I remember feeling both sadness and joy, listening in our their conversation, feeling like I was almost there with them as they passed the corn bread and asked for more coffee, please.

I leaned into the tape recorder, wanting to get closer, and I thought, it's true. one does not live by bread alone.

There's more to eating than the food. I wasn't just hungry for bread, I was hungry for words, for voices, and for the intimacy that words brought.

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest
let these gifts to us be blessed.
the gift of laughter, tears and words
the gift of bread and wine and meat
Come Lord Jesus, be our host
give us the gift that feeds us most.
Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Saying the Lord's Prayer With My Dad

My dad went back to the hospital Sunday night. He had fallen three times at home, and had a fever again. It turns out that last time he was in the nursing home, someone forgot to give him his antiobiotics, and his infection came back.

I went to visit him last night.

At first he was a little confused and hard to understand. He didn't remember my husband's name, and his voice sounded kind of funny, although I can't explain how. We talked a little, and then a doctor came in to examine him.

I also called my mom, and talked to her, and had dad talk to her as well. I said that we were planning Thanksgiving. (We're ordering it this year; I need to pick up the stuffing.)

He said he'd like to get out of the hospital for Thanksgiving. I'm not sure if it's a good idea, but I know how he feels.

It was evening, after supper, when I visited, so I asked if he wanted to pray.

We prayed the Lord's Prayer together.

Then I said, "You taught it to me, you know."

"I know," he said.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Better Late Than Never

Sunday Sermon: "Appearances Can Be Deceiving"

There's an old saying that's been on my mind lately: "Appearances can be deceiving." Do you agree?

I once had a student who I thought I had pegged. He was in my 7th grade English class and, I'll be honest -- I think all of us thought we knew about this student. He sat right in the middle of the class, and he never ever had the right answer when I called on him. The other students, too, used to ask me to call on him sometimes, because they knew he would be day-dreaming, and would just say, "huh?", and they could have a good laugh at his expense. But, appearances can be feceiving. I won't say how -- but it turns out that I didn't have this student pegged at all -- and neither did anyone else. We looked at him in a certain way, and we were wrong, all wrong. Of course, there are other examples, perhaps more common, that you can use to illustrate: "Appearances can be deceiving."

there's always the example of the person who everyone thought to be poor -- who lived as a servant, but who, in the end was discovered to have had secret riches. And there's the opposite of the person who, on the outside, appears quite virtuous, but on the inside, is harboring a terrible secret.

"Appearances can be deceiving."

Our gospel reading today, told by John, is a prime example of the truth of this saying. On the surface, this seems to be a confrontation, a meeting, between two individuals -- Jesus and Pilate. One of them is on trial. It seems to be Jesus. Pilate seems to be in control. In fact, if you read a little farther in John, you will find that Pilate says this very thing: "don't you know that I have the power to condemn you to death or to let you go?" Pilate appears to hold all the cards, Jesus none. but scratch the surface of this story, and you will see that a lot more is going on -- you will see that appearances can be deceiving.

This story takes place during what we call "Holy Week", that week leading up to Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, which has scandalized and terrorized the religious leaders. This Jesus has got to go, they decide. They conspire to turn him over to the Roman authorities, because, "it is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed." In the meantime, Jesus is preparing his disciples. He meets with them, washes their feet, teaches them and prays for them. They go to the garden together, where the authorities come to arrest him. Jesus gives himself up. He steps forward and tells the officers to let his disciples go. and later on in the story, when Pilate tells Jesus, "Don't you know that I have the power to condemn you or to set you free?" -- Jesus answers, "You wouldn't have any power if it wasn't given you by someone more powerful than you." This doesn't sound like someone who is not in control, does it? Just who is in charge in this conversation? And who is really calling the shots?

Today is the last Sunday in the church year; we call it "Christ the King" Sunday. We read this story -- Jesus before Pilate -- as our noon Bible study on Wednesday and at least one astute participant asked: "Why are we readeing this story today?" It was a great question -- why are we reading out of the crucifixion narrative on this Sunday we proclaim that Jesus is a KING, that he is the true sovereign of our lives? We don't have kings anymore, so the language might seem archaic to some of us, but we know a few things about kings -- we know that kings are usually not arrested, put on trial, and crucified. They are usually doing the arresting. We know that kings, like generals in a war, usually stay in the back of the battle and make the strategy -- they send others to do the fighting. We know that kings have wealth, and power. They call the shots, for good or ill. And the story we have before us today doesn't sound like that. but, appearances can be deceiving.

There is another reading, of course, that seems more like what we have in mind when we hear "Christ the King." It's the reading from Daniel you heard a bit ago, the one about the Ancient of days and the "one like a human being" -- and about how he is given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him." Ah, we might think -- that's morel ike it -- that's Christ the king, and every knee shall bow to him, and every tongue will proclaim him Lord. so why do we even have to hear the other one? why do we even have to hear the one about Jesus and Pilate, the one where Jesus is on trial -- reminding us that Jesus will be beaten, and laughed at and jeered and crucified?

Well, maybe to remind us that appearances can be deceiving -- then, and now. We are not yet at the end of the world, and our life today much more often resembles the scene from John's gospel than it does the vision of Daniel. But look closely, even at this story, and you will see that even as Jesus is led away, even as he is on trial, even as Pilate pronounces judgment -- Jesus is still in charge. He isn't captured, he gives himself up; when Pilate asks him questions, he asks his own right back, and he doesn't even concede Pilate's power over him. Even on trial, he offers Pilate the opportunity to have a real converesatino with him, and perhaps to follow him: "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?

So you have to look closely at the Scriptures, at least this one, to see that even on trial, even on the cross, Jesus is still reigning, still the King. And you have to look closely, not just at the Scripture but at life, your life -- to see this. Or perhaps what you need to do is listen -- listen closely.

I have been during the last couple of weeks collecting faith stories from people in our congregation. it's a part of our church's Natural Church Development Initiative for passionate spirituality, and I have been reading and listening closely. Not one of these stories are alike -- they are al different -- some are short, some long, some are dramatic, some ordinary. but many of them share a common characteristic: a growing awareness of God's presence and god's power in their lives, often in the midst of difficult circumstances, when we might be most tempted to doubt.

Is Christ still King when you have lost your job or when you have to move far away from your friends, or when your spouse dies, or when you are separated from those you love by war or disease? Is Christ the King even when it seems like the prevailing voices are the ones who say things like: "Money is king", or "you have to look out for #1, no one else will"? Is Christ the king in the midst of human selfishness, or cruelty?" is Christ the King when you are battling cancer?

One member of our congregation bears witness to the truth that this is so. I want to share just a few sentences of her faith story....

"As some of you know, my husband has spent the last three years battling cancer, living without either kidney, an staying in the hospital far too often. His side effects have ranged from sepsis to seizures. His crises have includfed temporary blindness and tracheostomy....it's been a difficult three years; life has become different than we ever thought it would be....and yet....

"And yet, we wake up most mornings ready to begin again. We face each new crisis as if we are not already worn down....At a local group we attended for our son, many of the most peaceful cancer families had the strength of faith. In tears, those with no faith would say they wished they had what we families of faith had. What is it we have?"

What is it we have? I'll tell you what we have. We have the word of Jesus, the word of truth, the word of promise. He tells us that, all appearances to the contrary, we are children of God, beloved and precious. We have the word of truth, Jesus, and he is speaking in our ears and telling us that despite what we see, despite who eems to be winner sometimes, he is the true sovereign, he is the true King, he is the true Lord -- of this life -- and the next.

All appearances to the contrary, he reigns -- even now -- and he invites us to follow him -- into a life of service, of sacrifice, of abundance -- and of love. AMEN

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Annual Meeting

I remember going to our congregation's annual meeting as a kid. I know, it seems weird to think it now, but I sat next to my parents and colored while they voted for who would be the next Church Council President. It was always a contest then, too. There were two people up for every position in the church, so there was a winner and there was a loser.

Later on, there would just be one person nominated for each position, so it wasn't so exciting to go to the annual meeting and find out who would be the next Church Council President. Instead, there was the Budget. More often than not, I remember some dramatic announcement about the budget (usually that we did not have enough money to pay a particular musician), and an equally dramatic announcement from the floor to cover that person's salary for the next year.

As an adult, I've never felt totally comfortable about annual meetings. This is probably due to a couple of occasions where controvery broke out. Usually annual meetings are boring and go smoothly, but there are exceptions.

I had three churches in my first parish, and at one of the first annual meetings, someone stood up and questioned why I was getting a salary increase after only six months as their pastor. After an awkward moment of silence, another man stood up and said, "Well, Floyd, you were at that budget meeting where we decided that." Everything went pretty smoothly after that.

I've noticed a tendency for fewer and fewer people to stay for the annual meeting of the congregation. This is particularly noticeable among young people. We've tried everything, including nursery services and serving a chili dinner. Young people, with very few exceptions, don't stay. Older people seem to think that this indicates a lack of interest and investment in the congregation.

I think there might be a couple of other possibilities. One has to do with the business aspect of the congregation. There is often great talk about how you have to run a congregation like a business. But perhaps that is just the thing that turns younger people off about the church as a business. I wouldn't mind having some younger people's perspective about this.

I also wonder about the draw of an annual meeting. There's a temptation to think that you have to have something exciting to talk about; that will draw the people. But I think if annual meetings are fraught with conflict, that too is not a draw to younger people.

I know that in the church as an organization and a legal entity, you need to have annual meetings. But I wonder about the viability. I also wonder whether newer members, stumbling into some of the meetings I have attended, would emerge with their faith intact.

People join and affiliate with a local congregation because of a deep spiritual hunger and thirst, because of a longing for authentic community, because they need to hear and participate in the truth of the gospel. They join and affiliate because of sacraments in their hands, the word in their ears, real people struggling to be disciples in the real world. They don't join a "business" and hope to attend annual meetings.

Christ the King Sunday Sermon

I wanted to post my sermon for today but somehow cannot get Control C and Control V to copy my sermon into blogger. I have no idea why. Preaching it was the high point of my day. Maybe later I will be able to share it with you. Raise your hands if you will be interested.

It is called "Appearances Can Be Deceiving."

Other than that, the day left a lot to be desired. I'm still not sure what it all means.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Prayer for the Evening

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

AMEN

Friday, November 20, 2009

Giving Thanks

..... even as I'm experiencing a lot of other emotions, most of them unbloggable. Maybe later....

In the meantime, I hold on to this:

1. I am putting together a booklet of Faith stories from people in the congregation. We have received 11 so far, and I am so impressed by them. They are so beautiful, and tell of big and small journeys, through adversity, sickness, and grief. There are small and large moments shared, but each voice is real. I am so thankful for these stories.

2. I am thankful for the woman who I don't even know who wrote to me about knitting left-handed. She has Alzheimers and has just had knee replacement surgery, but she took the time to answer my email and reassure me that I could do it.

3. I am thankful for my husband, who encourages me when I get discouraged. I'm thankful for his faith -- I think he has faith in me, which is amazing.

4. I am thankful for enough for good food, for good books, for poetry, for my family. I'm thankful for my parents, how from my mother I am learning what it means to love one another and not give up.

5. I am thankful for tears when they are necessary, how they can be such a relief, and how they can mean so many things. I'm thankful for laughter too.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Questions than Answers

Yesterday, I had my noon Bible Study group read and reflect on the gospel for Sunday, the last Sunday in the Church year. We read about Jesus standing before Pilate, Pilate asking Jesus questions, and Jesus answering with questions of his own. "Are you the King of the Jews?" "I'm not a Jew, am I? What have you done?" "So you are a king?" These are Pilate's questions.

Then there is Jesus' question, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" In other words, "why do you want to know?" Motivation is important, for Jesus.

Our group was strangely quiet yesterday. Usually we're bubbling over with questions, with ideas about the scripture. But yesterday, I don't know: maybe people were having a difficult time figuring out how this story of Jesus and Pilate applied to their lives. Maybe it was me. Maybe I wasn't asking the right questions, not yesterday.

At one point, one man asked, "Why do we have this story about the crucifixion now, at the end of the church year?"

Good question: what do you think?

At one point I got up and went to the white board and wrote down two columns: one was "our kingdoms," and the other was "Jesus' kingdom." And I asked what words might go on the side of "our kingdoms" and what words might go on the other side of "Jesus' kingdom." And a few words came up, like "grace", and "truth" (someone who was reading the gospel) and "loving your neighbor as yourself" -- and on the other side, "judgment," and "lies," and "looking out for number one." And we talked about the necessity of living in the world (our kingdoms), but living as ones who belong to Jesus, with the values of grace, truth, loving our neighbors as ourselves. And how sometimes this will get us in trouble, just like it got Jesus in trouble.

Today I was thinking about it, and wishing that I had brought up, on the "our kingdom" side, "racism." It was on our minds since the Children's Sabbath sermon, and still, I didn't think of it, not overtly.

And I wonder if that's just a by-product of the racism deep within me. I don't have to think about race, at least not most of the time. So I don't.

Today, reflecting, I think about that odd phrase, "belonging to the truth."

"Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Think about it. We usually use the language this way: "We have the truth," which is another way of saying, "The truth belongs to us." But Jesus is saying, "The truth has us," or "We belong to the truth."

How would we live differently if we believed that "We belong to the truth"?

All of a sudden Pilate's question might gain urgency, "What is truth?"

Good Question: what do you think?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prayer for Children

We used this prayer on Sunday at our Children's Sabbath. All the children moved to the center aisle, and the people raised their hands in blessing, and said:

"Great God,
Guard the laughter of children.
Bring them safely through injury and illness,
so that they may live
the promises you give.
Do not let us be so preoccupied with our purposes
that we fail to hear their voices,
or pay attention to their special vision of the truth;
but keep us with them,
ready to listen and to love,
even as in Jesus Christ you have loved us,
your grown-up, wayward children.
AMEN."

I believe that this prayer is from the Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Backwards Thinking

So, with my recent return to serious knitting (a baby blanket, a scarf, a prayer shawl all completed recently), I have recently started thinking about an odd detail, or habit (perhaps it could even be called a handicap) in my life.

I'm left-handed.

I joined ravelry.com, and immediately signed up for a couple of "left-handed knitters" groups. It's been an issue: I've often wondered if my left-handedness has held me back in knitting. Besides the fact that almost all instructions are written for right-handed people, sometimes I just get the feeling that I'm doing things all wrong. When I went to the left-handed knitters forum, it seemed that there were plenty of people willing to tell me that, too: knitters knit with both hands, they said. You can learn to knit right-handed and save yourself a lot of trouble, they said.

Well, I do play the piano with both hands, so I'm not hopeless, but, I remember getting a pair of knitting needles in my Christmas stocking when I was in the 5th grade. My mother spent a while trying to show me how to use them, but gave up. A patient home economics teacher showed me the basics in 7th grade, but apparently she taught me how to knit left-handed.

I just looked at the cabled scarf I am making, and I realized that the cables I make braid backwards from the ones in the picture. Huh. There's something not quite right about my stitching in places, too, but I'm trying not to get too paranoid about it.

On this web site that I've been reading, I've heard a few stories from left-handed knitters. One woman said that after her daughter was born, when people saw that she was left-handed, said, "Of course, she'll never be able to knit."

So, what does it do to a person's mind when they realize they do everything backwards from most of the rest of humanity? I don't just knit backwards; one of my bosses told me that I filed backwards, too. I iron backwards, and I bat left-handed (that is, when I connect with the ball).

I googled "left-handed" and found out that between 8-15% of people are left-handed. That's a pretty small segment of humanity. There used to be more of a stigma attached to left-handedness. Left-handed people were looked on with suspicion, perhaps even thought to be demon-possessed. Dexterous people are right-handed. Sinister people are left-handed.

Some people say that a higher percentage of creative people are left-handed, but maybe that's just a defense mechanism for people who have been told, over and over, that they were peculiar. Maybe it's a defense mechanism for people who have felt awkward and clumsy, as if the world were not designed for them. Or, maybe we left-handed people don't just knit backwards. Maybe we think backwards too.

But then again:

Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Now there's some backwards thinking for you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Children's Sabbath

We had our second Children's Sabbath at church yesterday. For those in the know, ours was a little late (usually they are the third weekend in October), but we just started last year, and our October was already full this year. Last year was a very preliminary effort; we added a few more elements this year, including having some of the children read the parts of the liturgy and the lessons.

Some highlights at our early service:

  • hearing "Jesus Loves Me" sung a capella by the whole congregation. I was standing next to a retired pastor, and we both got a little choked up when we came to the third verse, about the promise of eternal life (his wife died just this fall).
  • hearing children read the lessons, and hearing a child say the words of Jesus in the gospel: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
  • singing Herb Brokering's song, "Earth and All Stars."
  • those who shared "what I offer to children," especially the retired teacher instead told us what children offer to him, and the little girl who told about how she serves in church.

At the later service:

  • hearing the gospel read by two children, one Asian and one Latino
  • giving Bibles to the third graders
  • having all of the children stand in the middle aisle of the sanctuary, having everyone raise their hands, and saying a prayer of blessing.
  • All of the children gathered during the call to worship.

At both services the preacher spoke powerful words about systemic racism and how it affects our ability to care for all the children, to protect, guard and guide them. She spoke about repentance and relying on Jesus' power and promise to keep us working for a more just world, even though we continue to be imperfect followers.

Many people put sticky hearts on cardboard, "What I offer to children." I'm looking forward to reading them.

I pray that our congregation more and more can recognize and welcome all God's children, and see how beautiful they are.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Santa Claus

We went to visit my dad today, after church and naps (more on church, perhaps, later). He had been home for a few days, but is now back in the nursing home while my mom travels to the Southwest to move out of their home there.

This is good news: they've been trying to sell their place for a long time. Last spring they had already decided that last year was the last year they'd be able to go down. But the market has made their home difficult to sell, and that has been worrisome.

My mom called and told me to be sure to let my dad know that she got there ok. So that was the first thing I told him when we arrived.

He was watching football, and was a little confused at first. I don't think he remembered who my husband was for a few minutes, until he laughed. We didn't do any singing today, but we told a few jokes, and he made a few puns. I told him the joke I told one of our third graders after the Bible class yesterday: "What's the longest word in the English language?" Answer: "Smiles. Because there's a mile between each "s"."

At one point he blurted out: "I miss being Santa Claus."

Shortly after he retired many years ago, he played Santa Claus at a Famous Local Department Store. He did this for a couple of years, made a little extra money, and got to dress up. My neice and nephew visited him, and he pretty much had them fooled, except that my neice (about 4 at the time) said that "Santa Claus kinda smells like grandpa."

When I asked him what he missed about being Santa Claus, he said, "The children."

To tell you the truth, I kind of miss him being Santa Claus, too.

I also miss how he used to sit on our beds and say prayers with us when we were little. He would often pretend that he was Methusalah, the World's Oldest Man. He told us that he remembered all the people from Bible Days, but he was so old, that he would fall asleep while we were praying, and we would kick him to wake him up.

I miss how he put peanut butter on our toast for us.

I miss how good he was at speaking with different accents, not only the Swedish accent he grew up with, but also with a great Irish brogue, or a yiddish accent. He also did a pretty fair Maurice Chevalier and Ronald Colman. He could sing like Bing Crosby. But he only knew the first lines of all the songs, so he made up different words.

I miss those theological discussions we had when I was a teenager. Often they took place while we were driving in the car. They often had to do with why some people suffered, and other people were not visited by tragedy. My dad would often say that it wasn't right to say that "God spared me," as if God were not with the people who had to go through hard times as well.

Today when we visited my dad, he said that he missed being Santa Claus. When I asked him why, he said, "the children." But when I tried to ask him more about what he liked about being Santa Claus, he lost his train of thought, and we had to go on to something else.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Skipped A Day

Someone tell me if it's ok to post twice in one day somewhere down the line to make up for it.

I'm trying to do this "blog a day" thing, but yesterday really got away from me. We had a morning-long session on racism for our local Ministerium. The worship preacher was this incredible African pastor. That was wonderful. The conversations we had afterwards, and the issues of race that came out were also painful, but necessary.

I was also growing this enormous migraine. So I went home, took medicine and went to bed for part of the afternoon.

I got up in time to get back to church and work on aspects of our upcoming Children's Sabbath. (Those in the know: I know this is later than it is supposed to be, but our October was filled up with Stewardship.)

African-American Pastor and I met with two members of the community council, seeking out places where we can work together for the common good. Very very preliminary meetings.

Then went in a long Leadership Board work meeting.

I was up some in the middle of the night, thinking: I hate when that happens. I was thinking about the possibilities and difficulties in being a disciple: how I want to equip people to be passionate disciples in the world; how can I get ahold of busy people long enough to give them the tools to be followers of Jesus in all their lives? Do the members of my parish consider me to be passionate about my own faith? Why or why not? Do I think we should have after-school tutoring at our congregation? (we are across from the middle school). Do I have time or ability to learn Spanish? (We have a lot of immigrants in our community.) What about my writing? I think in order to hold myself accountable, I need to find a writing group. I am up in the night thinking about these things.

This morning I had a backache and a headache again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

War Is Hell

Today was Veterans Day. Every Wednesday morning we have a Matins Service, and later a morning program for our seniors who gather. This morning, in honor of Veterans Day, we say a medley of patriotic songs and heard a few stories by veterans who are members of our congregation. I have to say, I was strangely moved by the cheerful Air Force Song, "Off we go/into the wild blue yonder/Climbing high into the sky", especially when one elderly gentleman, a World War II veteran, stood up and remained standing while we sang.

"He was in the Air Force," someone whispered to me.

"I know,"I whispered back. He is a member of my noon Bible story, and has alluded to his service in the Army Air Corp on occasion. He has particularly said, on more than one occasion, that he never thought he would make it to his 22nd birthday.

He told us more of the story today. In fact, I got the feeling that he has been waiting over fifty years to tell his story. He trained and flew B-17s over Germany in 1945. He told us that you had to get 35 missions in before you were done, but hardly anyone made it to 35. He told us about how it felt to know you were expendable, to know every day that there were people who didn't make it back. And he told us a little bit about his mission, too: to "break the will of the German people", as he was told.

"Our job was a dirty job," he told us, and he didn't have to say more.

The war ended after he had flown 17 missions. He didn't go to the South Pacific, because B-17s weren't useful there. After the war, he flew officers over to North Africa, where he would sometimes confess how he felt about the work he had had to do. These were men who had seen ground conflict all over Europe. They told him not to feel guilty. They hated the Germans.

He was in Germany as well, for the Nuremburg trials. He put on the headphones, and heard, over and over, men whose defense was "I was following orders."

"I was following orders, too," he said.

He wondered about the chaplains, and how they did their jobs. He said they never heard scripture readings or sermons about "Loving your enemies," or even "Loving your neighbors." "We were trying to destroy our neighbors," he said. The unspoken question: what happens to faith in times of war? What does it look like? How far does it extend?

Eli Wiesel tells a hasidic tale that asks the question, "When do we know that the night is over and the day has come?"

The answer: when we can see the face of our brother, and know that he is our brother.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How I Discover that Knitting Can Be Therapeutic

At long last I have finally finished my very first prayer shawl, fringe and all. I wove in the ends and put in the Prayer Shawl label. I believe it has even been blessed.

In the meantime, I also began and completed a pink baby blanket. (It has yet to be "blocked", but otherwise, I think it's done.) I don't know who it's for, yet. But I've had the pink yarn for a couple years, from another time I got an idea or two, so I threw caution to the wind and just decided to do a pink shawl in faith that eventually, the baby would appear.

Now I'm starting a simple scarf, but with one interesting detail: the scarf is supposed to have a hole in the middle of it.

I do believe I'm on a roll.

I had a strange, rare feeling when I was folding up the completed shawl, and as I finished binding off on the baby blanket. It's a feeling that I don't get that often in my line of work. It's not satisfaction; I feel satisfied every time I baptize baby, or take communion to a shut-in, or have a deep conversation, or preach a sermon.

It's more a sense of completion, a sense that something is finished, whether perfect or not.

I hardly even get that sense in my life. Almost everything I do (and including and especially the social justice work) is ongoing. I take communion to Mary this month; I'll take communion to her again next month. I prepare lessons and write sermons and plan worship, and then I do it again. And in our community, we work toward racial justice, toward healthier communities, co-creators with God in finishing the world.

But each step is just that: the next step.

The world is not finished yet.

The shawl, though: that is finished, it is put in the bag, and it will be given to someone, complete with prayers. There were a couple of flaws in the yarn, and I was learning how to join yarn, but it's done and prayed over now, and it's good for my heart.

Co-creating with God, repairing the world, we're doing work that will never really be finished, not until God in Christ comes to make all things new.

In the meantime, it's good to know that every once in awhile we can bind off.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sunday: Ordinary Time

It was a green Sunday yesterday. We left the red stoles of Reformation and the white of All Saints' and were back to green again, green on a lovely autumn morning, unseasonably warm. I wasn't sure who had the children's message, for sure, so I brought in a small jar of coins I keep in my car, just in case. I counted out a few pennies (the widow's mite), but it turns out I didn't need them; the other pastor had prepared a children's message.

I presided two services in the morning, and had a baptism at the third. I ducked out of the beginning of the third service to introduce myself to a young couple with a toddler -- potential new members. The baby being baptized wore a gown embroidered by grandmother with Hardangar edging; underneath he wore the baptismal gown of his great-great-grandfather, it was told.

I returned to my office still with that "post-baptism buzz" I often feel. We were in a hurry; My husband, mother-in-law and I were all going to the memorial service of a good friend of theirs: a church musician of some renown in Lutheran circles. But I realized with a start that the jar of coins was now empty.

My heart sank. I saw my purse and checked my billfold. All of the cash (which was not much, admittedly) was gone. My health care prescription card was gone too. But, thankfully, my checkbook and credit cards were all still there. I felt somewhat better until I picked up my briefcase and it felt light to me.

My laptop was gone.

The exact details I don't feel that I can blog about, but I will say this: my office was locked.

P.S. I am typing this on my husband's computer.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

That Time of Year....

Yesterday was a gorgeous fall day, with temperatures up into the 60s. It was a day that there was no excuse to stay inside, so we actually got out in the morning (before I had to be at church for a pre-baptism meeting and some other office work) and raked leaves and started cleaning and organizing our back porch.

Scout wanted to be outside too. She always adds an element of fun to "outside". We took a couple of work breaks to take pictures of her.

When we got tired and needed to go inside for lunch and to do other things, Scout didn't want to come in. In fact, she didn't want to come in all afternoon.

She didn't come inside until it was time for her supper.

She wasn't running around, or chasing animals, or digging holes, or barking madly. When we peeked outside to check on her, more often than not, we would find her just sitting in the middle of the yard, just experiencing (it seemed to me) the rareness of the day, the rareness of the time of year -- the fleeting season between summer and winter, when the leaves are down but the snow has not yet come, when the sun is not too hot, the wind is not too fierce, the sun is soothing, the wind massages.

I think I knew a little of what she felt.

My days become so full, my lists so long, my worries so all-consuming, that it seems that I don't have time so often to just sit: to sit and read, to sit and knit -- even just to sit and look around and wonder. My days become so full that I don't notice... the yellow leaves, the breeze, the quiet ticking...

That time of year thou mayest in me behold
When yellow leaves, or few, or none do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


--William Shakespeare

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A faith in community book?

Off and on, for awhile, I've been thinking of making a little book of some of the best blog posts in the last two odd years or so that I've been writing. My dream is to print up a small book, and have it hand bound and give it as a gift to a few people.

Maybe my sister could do some line illustrations, maybe not.

What do you think?

And, if by any chance you remember a post that sticks out for you, what is it?

Thank you.

P.S. this is my 746th post.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Five: What's new?

Songbird over at Revgalblogpals writes:

There's a new baby on my street, a double PK whose Mom and Dad are Methodist pastors and church planters. I'm hoping to go over and meet her today. I love new babies, the way they smell and their sweet little fingers and toes. Little K has me thinking about all the new things that please us with their shiny freshness.

Please share with us five things you like *especially* when they are new.

1. New cars. I've only ever had ONE, but I loved the new car smell. (It's long-past-new now, and there is no new car on the horizon, but I do have fond memories of that rare experience.)

2. Puppies. Just a few days ago, a parish member brought in their NEW 8 week old boxer puppy. I loved everything about her, including the puppy smell, the way she just keeled over and fell asleep, and her loose, wrinkly skin and fur.

3. Clothes, and especially a new sweater. Don't know why, but there's something about a new sweater that is comforting and comfortable. (Shoes count if they are Haflinger clogs, or comfortable Borns or sneakers).

4. Freshly baked (or new) bread or other bakery products. It's the smell, the feel, the taste.

5. Newly-baptized people. At any age: whether they are babies I can hold, toddlers, children or adults, I love the water, the words, and the people with water running down their foreheads. I still remember when my nephew was baptized (at 9 months) and he stuck out his touch to drink the water. Ah! It's so wonderful being new.

Bonus: There's a plastic or vinyl new smell that I like, but didn't include because I can't think what specific object to attach it to. If anyone has an idea about that particular smell of newness, let me know.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I almost missed today....

It's early in the month, and, without really saying anything, I had decided to post something every day in November. (November is the month, and all that.) But here it is, almost 10:00 Central Standard Time, and I didn't get anything up today.

Oops. It's kind of early to give up.

Lately, I have a lot on my mind. Some of it is very complicated, and will take awhile to sort out. I've been thinking a lot about the Lutheran Core and the Word Alone, how, long ago I used to go to North Heights Church, a charismatic (Lutheran) church which I now regard as kind of scary. But more on that later.

Here are a few of my random thoughts:

1. I feel passionate about social justice, but I love the gospel.
2. I knit backwards. I just read a book that says that left-handed people don't have to knit backwards; after all, you knit with both hands. You CAN learn to knit just like everybody else. I'm not sure that's true about ME, though.
3. I've been reading a lot of poetry lately, some ouf of a book called Beloved on the Earth, which are poems dealing with grief.
4. My dad is probably coming home from the nursing home tomorrow.
5. My mom needs to go to Arizona soon to clean out their old place. She needs someone to drive with her. I would love to, but I live as a very over-scheduled pastor. Lately, I've been thinking: what does a healthy, balanced life look like?
6. In a healthy, balanced life, I would have time to cook simple suppers more often.
7. At the Celebration of Confirmation last night, we learned about all kinds of thirst, many kinds of thirst. The thirst for love. The thirst for meaning. The thirst for belonging. We also learned that there are people in this world who are literally dying of thirst, because there are not wells with clean water for them to drink.

I'm thirsty for a little compassion, I'm thirsty for time, I'm thirsty for the freedom not to feel like I have to "meet or exceed expectations" all the time. But that doesn't begin to describe it.

What are you thirsty for?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Recipe: Chicken Divan Pot Pie

From a 2002 Pillsbury recipe magazine.

1 (15 oz) pkg. refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on package
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup milk
4 oz (1 cup) shredded American (or mild cheddar) cheese
2 cups diced cook chicken
1 (9 oz) pkg. frozen cut broccoli, thawed, well drained

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Prepare pie crusts as directed on package for two-crust pie using 9-inch glass pie pan.

2. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in flour and pepper; cook until mixture is smooth an bubbly. Gradually add broth and milk, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens.

3. Add cheese; stir until melted. Stir in chicken and broccoli. Pour mixture into crust-lined pan. Top with second crust; seal edges and flute. Cut small slits in several places in top crust.

4. Bake at 425 F for 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cover edge of crust with strips of foil after first first 15 to 20 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning. Cool 10 minutes before serving. (I didn't do this, and I burned the top of my mouth.)

I served it with a baby spinach salad.

Pot pies have always been comfort food to me. We had the frozen ones at home sometimes, growing up, and I liked them. A friend and I made a pie pie from scratch once, in Japan; it ended up being pretty late in the evening before we were done because we forgot we had to cook the chicken first.

There are a couple of other pot pie recipes in the magazine (the Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff Pie also sounds good), but I haven't made them yet.

This pot pie made me feel like getting out my fuzzy slippers and a quilt.

Sorry, no picture!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Immigrant Church


This is a picture I recently discovered of my dad, from around 1949. You can't tell from the picture, but I remember the neighborhood well enough to know that he's standing outside his home Church, Augustana Lutheran (at the time it was called First Augustana, because it was the first Augustana church in Minneapolis).

Standing next to my dad is his friend Carlton, who was also associate pastor at the time. He looks like he's getting ready to preach, doesn't he? I remember that Pastor Franzen used to come get us for Bible School in his station wagon. When I was very small, our family also attended Augustana Lutheran Church with my parents and grandparents.

My father's parents, as some of you might recall, were Swedish immigrants. Folke and Judith found a Swedish Lutheran congregation after they settled down here. Augustana held services in Swedish and in English; I believe they still hold the traditional 6:00 a.m. Service on Christmas Day in Swedish.

So, we're just thinking about reaching out to immigrants in our community, simply because we have suddenly looked around and realized that there are a lot of immigrants in our community. And some people are saying, "Why did they come here? What are they doing here?"

And I look at this picture of my dad, and I think, you know, it wasn't so long ago, and they were probably saying the same things about us, "Why did they come here? What are they doing here?"

It wasn't so long ago that we were the immigrants.

"The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 19:34

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Rush Limbaugh Saved Me Money

Monday is our day off. We try to spend at least a smidgeon of time doing something fun on Monday. This always includes going out to breakfast (today was the Birchwood Cafe), and one other sliver of a fun thing. It makes doing laundry, cleaning, and other errands just a bit more bearable.

Today the other sliver was going to an antique store we hadn't been to in a long time. There's a town near us where the main street has been well known for having a number of antique dealers. When we got there this morning, however, we found that some of the antique dealers were gone (it looked like one whole mall was going to be converted into a senior high rise -- to get ready for us Baby Boomers, you know), and a couple of others weren't open on Mondays.

Our favorite store was not open yet, so we walked up and down the streets, peering in shop windows for a few minutes. When it opened, we proceeded to hunt up and down the aisles for treasures. The first time we were on this block was during advent a few years ago. It was mid afternoon on a snowy day, and all of the store windows had vintage Christmas decorations in the windows. Lovely! We have bought several things in this store in the past.

Today, I started picking out a few things upstairs. Then I headed downstairs where there is usually a wonderful array of vintage books (I love old books!). Having just read The Graveyard Book, I was looking for an old copy of The Jungle Book to read next.

After a couple of minutes, though, I became aware of a Voice that was coming over the radio downstairs. The Voice was ranting and raving, not just criticizing, but saying really over-the-top things. And after about 10 minutes I got really tired of it, and decided that I wasn't going to buy anything in that store.

I told the store clerk why. She said that she only plays classical music, but seemed unperturbed.

I remembered about 5 years ago, during a presidential election, how one of the small businesses in a quaint neighboring River Town had bumper stickers and buttons for all major candidates. When asked, he simply said, he wants every member of the town, no matter their politics, to be a potential customer.

What I told the store clerk was, "When I'm shopping, I don't want to hear either right-wing OR left-wing propoganda. I just want to shop. I won't be buying anything today."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Sermon for All Saints Day

It was back around Memorial Day weekend, when my husband and I made a trip to Southwestern Minnesota – not to visit relatives, this time, but to visit an historic site that both of us were curious about.
It seemed like we were going to the end of the world, as we drove and drove and drove through farms and prairies, following the directions on the brochure.
At the same time I was very aware that we weren’t that far away from my uncle’s farm,
really, not too far away from the place where my mother had grown up,
not too far away from the place where my grandmother had grown enormous gardens, with cucumbers and strawberries and tomatoes.
We were on our way to what is called the Jefffers Petroglyphs.
Out in the middle of the prairie and farmland are these ancient rocks with etchings on them. The etchings are from 500 to 7,000 years old, they say.

We got there about 11 in the morning, which they told us is not the best time for viewing. The best time, they said, was at sundown.
Then the faint lines come into sharp focus. At this time, near noon, we saw a few images, but mostly had to take it on faith: "That’s a buffalo." "And over here is a thunderbird." "And this is a human hand."

"Do you believe this?"

That was the question that hung in the air, every time our guide pointed at faint scratchings on the rocks.

"Do you believe this?"

That’s also the question that hangs in the air, today, on All Saint’s Day.
It’s the question that Jesus asks Martha when he came to visit them after her brother Lazarus’ death.
Though it comes in a few verses before the text we have in front of us.
"Do you believe this?" he asks Martha. It comes near the end of an exchange with Martha after he has arrived, four days late for the funeral.
Four days late! Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus that their brother was ill. Very ill.
And he didn’t come in time to gather around Lazarus’ bed and pray and say goodbye.
And he didn’t come in time to heal Lazarus, the way Jesus had healed so many other people.
And he didn’t even come in time for the funeral. Jesus showed up four days later, after the prayers and the burial, and after the tomb had even been sealed.

Martha says to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ It’s the same thing that Mary will say, just a few verses later.
And how do you suppose, how do you imagine she says these words?
Does she say them in faith, "Lord, I just know that if you had been here, my brother would not have died!"
Or does she say them in anger, "If you had been here, Lord, if you had only been here...." with some more words implied, "But you weren’t here, were you? Where were you?"
And perhaps the truth is, that Martha felt a little bit of both of those things, both trust and anger, and grief too, all residing in the same person.
That’s one of the things I love about this story: Mary and Martha are so real, we can imagine their faith, their anger, their grief.
We can imagine being them.

And Jesus tells Martha, "Your brother will rise again."
And Martha says, "Yes, Lord, I know what you mean, on the last day."
(The day when every tear shall be wiped away, death and crying and pain will be no more....)
And here’s where it all comes together, the next thing that Jesus says to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Well.

That’s the question we ask and answer at every funeral, and that’s the question for us today, on All Saints Day, when we name and remember the saints among us who had died in this past year.
That’s the question we ask and answer as we bring our grief, our anger and our faith to the tomb where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
That’s the question we ask and answer as we hear each name: some of them familiar to us, some of them strangers, all of them beloved.
We name the names and trust that these saints are gathered before the throne of God, feasting at God’s banquet table, in the presence of the Lamb.
"I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus says. Incredible words.
"Those who live and believe in me, even though they die, will live.... Do you believe this?"

Well.

I love this story because Mary and Martha are so real, and I can imagine, just imagine their voices as they see Jesus, as they kneel in front of Jesus, as they confront Jesus, with their faith, their fear, their grief, their anger.
"Lord, if you have been here?" they say, and I can imagine saying the same things, with every single one of the inflections.
What about you? Have you ever said to God, "Lord, if you had been here.... I just know... that my husband would not have gotten Alzheimers, that my wife would not have Parkinsons disease, that my child would not have cancer, that my father would not have died...."
Mary and Martha are so real, that they could be me, they could be you.
And like all of us, they have come to the graveyard – the place of tears, of suffering. We have all been there, at one time or another.

And then there’s the scene at the tomb – and that’s another story, isn’t it?
The scene at the tomb seems more appropriate to Halloween than to the Bible:
There they are, in front of the tomb, and the stone is rolled away, and Martha (who said she believed) is worried about the smell, the smell of death – so she says "wait a minute!",
but Jesus calls out to Lazarus anyway, and he comes out, still with his graveclothes bound around him, maybe stumbling a little.
Have any of us experienced anything like this in our lives?
And there, at the tomb where there has been death and mourning and crying – suddenly there is life. "Do you believe this?"

Well.

In the middle of it all, between Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ tomb -- stands Jesus.
What does he do? He weeps, he prays, he raises the dead. Here is Jesus, in the graveyard, the graveyard where we are, and he is weeping, because he loves us, and he is praying for us.
"Do you believe this?" Yes, we say.
We believe it. Just like Martha and Mary, we believe Jesus’ tears, and his prayers, as he stands between us and Lazarus, between us and death.
And we want to believe that there is a place where there is no more crying, no pain, no more death.
We believe Jesus, as we name the names of those dear to us, and remember their faces, some young some old, and remember the stories of their lives, heroic or ordinary, doubting and faithful: saints.
Who is a saint but one who trusts that Jesus goes with her, even and especially to the graveyard?
And Who is a saint but one who trusts that Jesus goes with him to the graveyard, to the cross, bringing life?
"I am the resurrection and the life," he says, to us, as we stand in the graveyard, or on the prairie in the bright sunlight.
It’s as if he were pointing at an ancient headstone, or perhaps a petroglyph out on the prairie and saying, "Can you see it? I am here, raising the dead. Trust me. The images do show up more clearly at sundown."

I used to say that I got to know a lot of people in my parish after they died, and it still is sometimes true.
It’s not that I never got to know them, but I often heard different stories, stories I never would have heard, and saw different pictures, pictures I never would have seen.
I remember one picture, a young woman in wire-rimmed glasses and a starched nursing uniform. She must have been all of 22 years old, and she was getting ready to cross an ocean.
She served as a nurse in England during World War II, although she never talked much about it.
Her son told me that her unit held 1,000 beds. Can you imagine?
I’m sure she saw many tears, suffering and death. And yet, "I am the resurrection and the life," she believed.
She went to a place where there were graveyards, where there was death, trusting the one who is the resurrection and the life..

This day as we remember and grieve, we also name and commend to God those beloved to us, beloved to God: saints..
We weep as our savior weeps at tombs, we believe and we doubt as Martha and Mary did,
but in the end, and each day, even though we don’t see it, Jesus comes to us, where-ever our tombs may be, and raises us up, and gives us life.
Sometimes, however, the images show up more clearly at sundown.
"Do you believe this?"
AMEN