Friday, December 31, 2010

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

....we hung out at the hotel, because it got up to 72 degrees, and it was good just to relax and not have any goals or purposes.

I exercised.  I sat by the pool.  I wrote a little.

I finished a book called Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. 

I didn't read as many books as I had hoped this year (though I knitted a lot, and that's something).  But one result of having a goal:  I did get some books in that I might not have read otherwise. 

I regret that I stopped recording books somewhere during the year.  I think in 2011 I won't try to have a goal, but I'll try to be better at recording the books I read, which is the most interesting part.  It turns out to be an eclectic list.

Besides Little Bee, I recently read an historical novel called Forge, by Laurie Anderson.  (really recently:  on the plane.)  It's the second of a planned trilogy (at least, I think it will be a trilogy) about young African Americans seeking freedom in the era of the Revoluationary War.  The first book was called Chains, and featured a young girl named Isabel who was promised freedom when her master died.  Her new master reneges on this promise though.  The second book features her friend, Curzon, who escapes and serves with the revolutionary forces in Valley Forge.  I will admit it took me awhile to get into Forge, but by the end I was eager to find out what happens next to Isabel and Curzon. 

And though it hardly qualifies as "reading", I really liked a present I got from my husband, a book called Beautiful Oops.  I grew up thinking it was a sin to make a mistake, so I think I need to keep this book by my bedside and read it every day for awhile.

On the 5th Day of Christmas

We pretty much spent the day at Epcot.

We did not get up in time to get there early, so all of the lines for popular attractions were long.  We didn't ride in the big golf ball, or on the popular Norway ride, which boasts a 70 minute wait.  We have been to Epcot before, with the kids.  We even got in on a few of the Millenium activities ten years ago.  Epcot is my favorite part of Disney, I think.  Probably it's the brief, around the world tour, most of all.

I loved going back to Japan, if even for a few minutes, via a large department store.  Ten years ago we enjoyed the Japanese Taiko drummers, heard the Fab Four in England, and had Chinese food.  This year we heard Old Befana tell her Christmas story, ate Moroccan food, and heard Mariachi singers.  We walked and walked and walked, seeing the Norwegian Stave Church and the Eiffel Tower and the Seine.  We heard a man on a cell phone, saying, "We're going to Africa," and we laughed and laughed.

No, it's not like really going to another country, or countries.  Yes, it's really artificial, in many ways, and there is something unsettling about that.  No, it's not how I envision spending Christmas, though, to be honest, it is nice to get away from the cold for a few days.  But I love hearing all the different languages, and I love the music.  I think we are going back again.  Maybe we'll get on a couple of rides this time.

On the 5th Day of Christmas I heard many different languages.  I heard many languages all in the same place.  Some of them I recognized.  And though it was really a result of the triumph of capitalism, to me, it was a gift.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

....which was two days ago, but who's counting....

We arrived here, rather late in the evening, with our baggage.

In the morning, we finished laundry and packing.  We shoveled a little more snow.  Odds and ends. 

At noon, we dropped Scout off at the sitter.  Gave her the vet's number, just in case.  On Tuesday, though, when we left her, Scout did not look lethargic or sick in the least.  In fact, she looked like her usual happy self, despite having eating a whole bunch of cookies, some of them with raisins.  Let's all hope this comes out okay...

In the afternoon, we set out.  My husband said that the best thing about the plane ride is that the person in front of him did not spend the whole flight trying to make their seat recline.  She tried it once, realized that the seat wouldn't go back, and lived with it. 

My husband is a tall person, and his knees usually come right up to the seat in front of him.  Sometimes (more often than not, truth be told), he has to endure someone in front of him who tries, off and on for the whole flight, to try to put their seat back.  The person seems never to make the connection that the immovable force behind him is someone else's knees.

It makes me consider how this is such a small thing, but part of a larger thing:  how we seldom see a picture larger than ourselves.  The person on the plane doesn't think about anything bigger than their desire to recline.  We see our own situation, our own seat, but not the people our lives affect, or who affect us.  Why is that? 

On the fourth day of Christmas I think about my own spot, and how I don't live in isolation.  When I push, I might hit someone's knees.  Or not.  Maybe when I push someone else gets the right to sit down on the bus.  When I push, I make things better or worse for people around me.  It might be good to look around, acknowledge that I'm a part of other people, and they're a part of me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas

....I began packing.

We are leaving tomorrow, not so early, actually in the afternoon.  So I began packing today, but I did not feel the urgency to finish.  I packed a couple of pairs of socks (the handknitted ones in the carry-on), but didn't get a whole lot further than that.

I got a call this morning from the church office.  An elderly man from the church had called because his wife was in the hospital.  So I went over for a little while.  Her son and daughter in law relayed this conversation:  Hospital worker:  how long have you been married?
Wife:  66 years.
Hospital worker:  What do you love about I.? (her husband)
Wife:  I love.... I love.... I just love I..

I went over to the church, to tie up some loose ends.  I hope I tied them up good!  Called new parents, made a couple calls about a memorial service when I get back, sent out an email and a letter. 

When I got home, I found out that Scout had eaten almost a whole tin of cookies.  Unfortunately, some of them were raisin cookies.  So she and I were at the vet for awhile this afternoon.  They think she's going to be okay, but they can't be sure.

My throat still hurts.  Sometimes I don't want to talk.  so tonight I'm taking the cure suggested by a bartender, sipping a little blackberry brandy.  I'll let you know how it goes.

I think I'll pack a couple more odds and ends, maybe a book.

On the third day of Christmas it doesn't even seem like Christmas any more.  What happened?  All of a sudden it is just December again, cold, with big snow drifts (I shoveled), a possibly sick dog, and a little blackberry brandy, a suitcase.  How can I remind myself that even though it's an ordinary December day, in God's time, it isn't?  

Right now the possibly sick dog is on her back, with her paws in the air, playing the "shake my paw" game and wagging her tail.  Maybe she will be okay. 

It's the third day of Christmas, and God is among us. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the Second Day of Christmas

....I got a sore throat.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

On the second Day of Christmas I got the day off.  I am sort of, unofficially, on vacation.  The interim Senior Pastor decided that I would preside and preach on Christmas Day, and he would preside and preach today, and we would each get the other day off. 

On Tuesday I will be officially on vacation.  But, since I was off today, I went to church with my mom, who doesn't get to go to church with anyone usually, since my dad is in a nursing home.  Before that, I got up early to make blueberry pancakes for my husband, who was going to play for three churches at his church.  I watched the movie Pollyanna, which is coincidentally one of my dad's favorite movies.  There was a great line that I hadn't noticed before, when the townspeople go to the pastor for help when no one else will speak up, because, as Pollyanna says, 'no one owns the church.'  It seems to me that this is still one of the big responsibilities of the church, to speak up when no one else will, because 'no one owns the church.' 

On the second Day of Christmas I heard the Pollyanna sermon, and I heard a great sermon at my mom's church too, all about the Incarnation as God's deep presence in the suffering of the world.

My mom and I visited my dad in the nursing home.  We put up a little Christmas tree with a few small bulbs, listened to Bing Crosby and looked through a memory scrapbook my mom is making.  I saw a picture of my dad with his army buddies for the first time.  He remembers a funny picture of me when I was little, would like a picture of that in his scrapbook. 

Later on, I came home, started the fourth pair of cable footies (I still have all this yarn and presents I didn't get made).  I do think I need a new project, though.

And tonight, as I'm getting ready for bed, and getting ready for "official" vacation, which starts on Tuesday, I realize that my throat hurts and I'm a little achy.

On the First Day of Christmas....

... On Christmas Day, I didn't write a blessed thing.

Well, that's not exactly true.  I got up very early to amend my Christmas Day sermon, to delete a story, and to insert a new story that I had read in the local paper a couple of days ago.  I wondered about the wisdom of making this last-minute change, since I had been up rather late Christmas eve watching a DVD with the stepsons (who really wanted us to experience "Family Guy Star Wars.")  But during the sermon, I saw a few nods of recognition from people who had read the story, about reconciliation between enemies.  (the link is here.)

It was a small attendance for Christmas Day (it always has been so), but big voices, and the handbells played "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming", which was wonderful.   And since Christmas Day was Saturday, we shared the building with a large group of Hispanic 7th Day Adventists, who were also celebrating Christmas on their regular holy day.   Right before I went into worship, I saw a large group of small children, dressed up like angels.

I hurried home, and discovered my husband and his two boys had been doing some incredible jamming while I was gone.  I got in on just a little of the music before we went over to my mom and dad's house for dinner, presents and a mean game of Scrabble.  We all got CD's of Christmas music from my nephew, a talented musician, and it was great to spend some quality time with his girlfriend, too.

I got two (count 'em) two gift certificates to my favorite yarn store, Linden Hills yarn.  So, Now I'm thinking:  do I spring for the yarn and really attempt a sweater?  Or....

On the first day of Christmas I thought back to Christmas Eve a little bit, how it looks to gaze over the congregation, sitting in the dark with candles glowing.  It's an incredible view.  And I thought about what it was like to light the candles on the aisles while everyone began singing Silent Night.  I heard one man singing it in German -- all three verses.   On the first day of Christmas I thought about all the glimpses we get of the light shining the darkness.

They are glimpses, and sometimes they don't seem to be enough, but then again, they are.  Just hearing Silent Night in German, or seeing the small sharp points of light, just hearing the carols or singing them with shaking voices,  just that small piece of bread in our hands, somehow, it's enough.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What I'm Thinking About

It's the night before the night before Christmas eve.  We bought a little food for the simple Christmas eve dinner tonight.  A little earlier, while I was at church, a man walked in with a bag of hay for the manger. 

This is my office right now:  boxes and wrapping paper, some old sermons, a stack of books of stories, three illustrated books of carols on the floor, files of worship materials, notes paper-clipped together, a pair of shoes shoved in the corner.

This is my house right now:  the angel is on top of the tree, but the coffee table needs to be cleaned off.  The stockings are hung by the chimney, a poinsettia on the small dining room table.  There's an old bill that needs to be paid right away.  Junk mail.  A creche.

Some things are settled.  Other things will be settled, in some way or another, whether to my liking or not.  Some things will never be settled. 

For some reason this year, I found a few of my old Christmas sermons.  I re-read them, perhaps in a fit of nostalgia, perhaps looking for some fresh inspiration.  I don't really know. 

You know what struck me? 

Despite all the changes in the world in the last several years, many things don't seem to change.  Lately, bubbles have burst, and unemployment miseries are high.  The future is uncertain.  We are at war.  Some people are grieving, others are rejoicing.  Common themes:  tears, joy, children, straw. 

The well of human misery is deep.  I am always struck by this.  Perhaps there are a few people who sail through life without experiencing much hardship, doubt, or loneliness, or failure.  But I haven't met many of them.  Start listening, really listening to people, and you hear stories:  stories of all the ways people can be broken, stories of all the ways people can stumble.

And yet, I don't think this is what life is all about.  The well of human misery is deep, and that experience binds us together, but it is not who we are. 

It is the night before the night before Christmas eve.  The future is uncertain, except that in two days, ready or not, the baby will be placed in our arms, the angels choirs will sing, the shepherds will shade their eyes.  In two days the weary couple will find shelter.  In two days people will be singing Silent Night in the dark, clutching a candle.

That is who we are.  The well of human misery is deep, but this is who we really really are:  we are the ones who sing in the dark, who clutch candles, who hold the baby in our arms, and look into his eyes.

Christmas Letter

I have not written a Christmas letter for many years, but if I wrote one, this is what I would say:

Dear friends and relatives,

Merry Christmas to you from snowy Minnesota!  It is only December 22, and I am already worried about where I am going to put more snowfall.  There are snow mountains in this prairie land, and it's going to be white for a long time.  I suppose when I think back on 2010, that is one thing I will think of:  it was "the Year it Snowed Too Much."  I don't know about last January through March (can't remember back that far), but this last snowy month of the year has qualified this as one of the year's headlines.  What would be the other headlines for me, of the year 2010?  It was also:

The Year We Went to Mexico
I had never vacationed in Mexico before.  This was just five days in January, but it was different than anything I had done before.  (Well, it was little like our one-and-only cruise back in 2001).  We left on New Years Day and came back on Epiphany.  It was nothing I ever expected to do, but a suggestion from someone else.  And sometimes an idea that I didn't think of but someone else's suggestion turns out to be the very best thing.  (See:  Paris.)

The Year I Learned to Knit Socks
Yes, I finally made a pair of wool socks with size one needles.  I have wanted to learn to knit socks for about 30 years.  There was some barrier to learning in me, and now I am making other knitting projects too.  I have also knitting two lacey scarves, 3 pairs of mittens, two baby blankets, three pairs of cabled footies, and one hat.  I am wondering how to apply the lessons of knitting to other areas of my life.  Because there are other barriers too, that I would like to break down.

The Year of the Lonely Summer
My colleague retired on June 6, after 42 years of ministry.  Throughout June, July and August, I served as the solo pastor of the congregation.  An interim senior pastor arrived right after Rally Sunday.  I learned a lot during those three months as solo pastor.  I learned some gifts that I didn't know I had.  I took some risks in preaching, and I learned how important pastoral care can be, done right.  I am still learning lessons, and wondering how the lonely summer will make me a different, and a better pastor.

The Year I Got Published
I got a two-page article published in Word and World magazine, a quarterly journal from my seminary.  I also got two blog posts recognized by the Christian Century blog.  cool.  How can I do more of that?

The Year of Vacations
Each time away was short, but besides Mexico, we visited Arizona, San Francisco and the North Shore of Lake Superior.  oh yes, and three days in Atlanta.

A year of light in darkness:
In a time of transition in my congregation, I was amazed at the great attendance at three midweek advent services.
I rejoice in new babies born this fall.
I recognize new challenges and people who will help me rise to the occasions.
I connect with young adults who have not given up on the church.
I give thanks for the talents and gifts of my husband and two stepsons:  musicians and deep and thoughtful thinkers.  The world is a better place because they are in it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Baby Watch": a sermon for Advent 4

For the past couple of months, I’ve been engaging in a sort of unusual activity for me – but one somewhat appropriate to the season, anyway.
I’ve been waiting for some babies to be born – three to be specific.
I was told, earlier this year, that three young women from our congregation were going to have babies.
Coincidentally, all three of them were due at just this time of the year.
One of them, in fact, was supposed to have her baby on Christmas Day.
(By the way, she had her baby just this past week.)
I was especially interested because I was the officiating pastor at all three of their weddings, and – let’s be frank,
I was also interested because of the timing: Christmas! – what a great time for a baby watch!

I remember 18 years ago when my niece was born on December 23, two days before Christmas.
I remember visiting her in the hospital almost right after she was born, and how she came home on Christmas Eve, a tiny tiny baby who fit in the crook of our arms.
Both parents got violently ill during the holidays, so the rest of the family took turns caring for her, holding her, watching over her.
It gave new meaning to the word “baby watch” for us.

But I digress – for the words “baby watch” usually refer to the watching and waiting before a baby is born, which is our situation right now, a few days before Christmas.
We are watching and waiting for a baby to be born, aware both of how much there is to do before Christmas, and how much is out of our control.
It seems that before a baby is born there is so much to get ready – there are all the ways that we prepare for the coming of a new baby into our lives, our homes, our hearts.
There are cribs and diapers and clothes to buy, there are books on parenting to read, there are parties to attend.
And there are so many things that, no matter how much we prepare, we are never ready for, and we can’t control.
Two out of three of those babies that I have been waiting for have now been born – and I am mightily resisting calling up the third prospective mother and asking parents grow to hate, “Well? Have you had that baby yet?”
In fact, Once a mother-to-be with a good sense of humor referred all of her well-meaning “baby watchers” to a web site: “”
Just so you know, the answer is always, “Nope.”

It is the 4th Sunday in Advent – just a few days before Christmas, and here were are, on a different kind of “baby watch.”
But I can’t help thinking that there are some similarities between waiting for a baby to be born and waiting for Christmas to come.
There is the same watching and waiting, there are the hopes and joys of anticipating new life and promise – and there are the worries about whether we will be ‘ready’ as well.
I remember one year one of our worship coordinators was lighting the 4th candle on the advent
wreath, and telling me a secret story before the services.
She said, “You know how there are four candles on the advent wreath and they have names?”
“Yes,” I said. “And sometimes the names are: “Hope” or ‘Joy” or “peace”? Yes, I said.
“Well, there’s another name for the 4th Sunday in Advent. It’s called ‘panic Sunday.’”
We both had a good laugh about that, how as Christmas comes near, the time is shorter and the list is longer, and – sometimes a sense of panic does set in.

Will we be ready? Will we have a ‘good and meaningful Christmas?”
will we get the right presents? But ready or not, Christmas always comes.
Ready or not, God comes down ... the child in the manger.

It is the 4th Sunday of Advent now, Both our Old Testament and our Gospel reading are about a certain kind of “baby watch”
– although there is a different slant in each case. The prophet Isaiah speaks to a king and tells him that God will give him a sign.
The prophet actually is inviting the king to trust God – to trust God as he is in a spot, threatened by invading armies.
But this particular king isn’t interested in signs, or in trusting God.
He already knows what he wants to do.
The prophet gives him a sign anyway: “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
And the meaning of the sign, “God is with us.” God goes ahead and gives the sign anyway.

In our gospel reading from Matthew Joseph has received unexpected news.
And at first, the news is not altogether pleasant either. Joseph is reminded of that promise long ago – and still good -- “A baby will be a sign.”
Mary is on a “baby watch” – and he does not know what to make of it. Poor Joseph.
This is not what he expected.
This is not what he had hoped.
But he is a compassionate man. To his credit, he doesn’t even consider calling her out and letting her be stoned by the community, which he could do, within the law. Instead, he decides to ‘divorce her quietly.’
Then he gets the message about the baby. The baby is a sign – an unexpected and not entirely welcome sign from God – “God is with us.”
He is to trust God and take Mary for his wife.

And he does.
He takes Mary for his wife, not knowing what it will mean for them, for him, for their lives, simply trusting God’s promise: “God is with us.”

You know, we don’t know very much about Joseph.
We know that he is descended from King David. We know that he worked as a carpenter, so he was a poor man.
We know that at least twice, in dreams, he heard God’s call.
And we know that he was a righteous man.
He took Mary for his wife, even though it might mean that other people would think he was a fool, that he had been taken advantage of.  He took Mary for his wife, despite his fears, his misgivings, his own hopes and disappointments.
And he trusted God’s promise, “God is with us.” –

“Baby watch.” As Christmas draws nearer, it is good to remember that we are on a
‘Baby watch’ – watching and waiting and preparing for the child who changes our lives.
“God is with us” – that is the meaning of the sign.
But it is good to remember as well that this is an unexpected sign – Joseph did not expect God’s promise to be fulfilled in this way.
Jesus is an unexpected blessing, and like every baby, his coming will change our lives.

Anna Quindlen wrote a book several years ago called, simply, “Blessings.”
The central character is a young man who lives in a little apartment and works for a wealthy family.
Late one night, a newborn infant is placed on this young man’s doorstep.
Though he knows nothing about caring for babies, he takes this newborn into his life – and as you might imagine
– it turns his whole life inside out and upside down.
Suddenly his life has a new center and he has as new purpose for living.
There are many complications in his life because of this unexpected gift.
For one thing, he tries to keep the baby secret for a long time, which is not an easy task.
There are many twists and turns, but it is a fact that this baby changes his life, changes his life direction.

And friends, as Christmas approaches, it is the same with us.
The coming of this little one we are watching for – changes our life.
The coming of this long-expected unexpected one changes us.
He doesn’t make our lives less complicated.
He doesn’t make our lives trouble-free.
He doesn’t make us prosperous or “rich” in the eyes of the world.
In fact he turns our lives inside out and upside down.

For he changes the focus in our life.
It’s just like the pictures I’ve seen of one of the families with their new baby – everyone is looking at the baby – they have fallen head over heels in love.
Suddenly the focus of our life is not ourselves – but the little one
the focus of our life is not ourselves but the Little One
The one who came unexpected into our lives

God with us
not just in our joys but in our sorrows, not just in celebration but in grief and loneliness
God with us
the great God of heaven and earth
who became little for our sake
Who loved us so much
who loves us so much
is willing to live in this complicated, cold, lonely world with us.
To live with us, to die for us, to live in us.

“Baby watch.”


Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Five: Christmases Past

Jan at Revgalblogpals gives us this simple Friday Five:

Share five Christmas memories.

Here goes:

1.  When I was very little, we went to spend Christmas on my grandparents' farm in Southwestern Minnesota.  I was so little then that my mother's younger sister was still living at home, in the big upstairs bedroom that all of the girls shared.  I was also very worried that Santa Claus would not find me way out there.  I remember that I slept in the bed with my aunt, who told me scary stories and warned me that I'd better not try to get out of bed and check on Santa Claus. 

2.  One year, my sister and I got a joint present from my grandparents on Christmas Eve:  the game Twister.  When it was time to go to bed and wait for Santa Claus, we of course had the hardest time going to sleep.  We counted to 100 a few times and told a few stories, and then decided it must be close to morning.  So we quietly got out the game, turned on the light and started playing.  We thought that we were being pretty quiet, but pretty soon my mother appeared in the doorway, looking bleary-eyed, and she proclaimed:  "Santa Claus has NOT come yet.  And he won't come if you don't GO TO BED."

3.  When I was in 9th grade, my father's business failed, and the next year at Christmas, he worked stocking merchandise at the Big Store with the Red Circles.  (He eventually got a sales job at a big department store.)  I remember being very happy that I got a Supermax Blow Dryer as a Christmas present that year.  It's not bad to have simple tastes.

4.  When I was living in Tokyo (where I didn't have a car, and I didn't know about any Christmas Tree lots), I bought a little potted fir and made little paper decorations to go on it.  I played all of my Christmas music on our boom box.  All of us missionary-teachers-in-training went to our churches for a Christmas program, meal and later a Christmas eve service.  I looked around at the rest of the people in my church, and realized that this was their Christmas:  no huge family reunions, no turkey, no big stacks of presents under the tree.  When we came home, we opened presents with the family who lived next door to us.  It made me realize that "Christmas is all about spending time with you family" is nice, but not really what Christmas is about.  Christmas is about Jesus coming into our world. 

5.  My first Christmas in my little churches in South Dakota, I told the story about my Christmas in Japan on Christmas Eve.  I was invited over to a parish member's house.  Their traditional Christmas Eve dinner was soup:  oyster soup, chicken noodle soup and chili.  I had brought presents for them, but it turned out that they didn't exchange presents on Christmas eve.  I remember going home, wrapping packages and finishing my Christmas Day sermon, and packing the car so that I could leave straight from church and get home in time for some Christmas with my mom and dad, and my brother and his two children.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snow Day, or "Why Do I Live Here?"

They kept saying, this will be the biggest snowfall since the Halloween Blizzard in 1991.  People around here scoff sometimes at rumors of blizzards, because there are times that the promised snowfall turns out to be rather underwhelming.  Besides, we are hardy folks, and a few inches of snow does not bother us. In fact, we laugh (hah!) at a few inches of snow.

However, this time they were correct.  We had about two feet of snow here in one day yesterday.  It started at about 10:00 Friday evening, took a short break during the wee hours of the morning (but after five or six inches had already fallen).  It started again at about 7:30 a.m. (or so), and kept snowing until late afternoon.  It was that light, fluffy snow that is easier to shovel (although after the first foot or so, who cares?), but is also easier to drift.

I didn't have a real harrowing day yesterday, as I did not end up going out so much.  I went over to the breakfast Bible study early in the morning, but no one showed up, so I went back home.  I did a bunch of phone calling when I got home, because our Children's Christmas Program was cancelled for today.  No way they could hold the pageant without a dress rehearsal.  There were a few other details to be worked out with cancellations for the day and evening.  And there were regular forays out to the driveway to try to keep up with the snow accumulations.

Not such a dramatic day.

We did have an idea in the early afternoon that it might be good to get out for a little while.  We backed the car out of the driveway and down the block on the way to a local bookstore.  But when we approached the intersection, there were a couple of other cars at suspicious angles.   We slowed down, got stuck, discovered that we couldn't back out, and spent the next forty minutes trying to get one another dug out of the end of the block.

One thing about Minnesotans:  we do stick together in blizzard.

After this we pretty much had a quiet evening at home.

Some churches did cancel their services this morning; we operated services on a skeleton crew, and with fewer than normal attendees.  Some reported that the roads were fine; others thought this was not the case.  As I was very tired and sore from shoveling snow, I can't find it in my heart to judge too harshly those who might have been able to show up, but didn't. 

Tonight the temperatures are going waaaay down.  The 17-20 odd inches of snow we got is not going anywhere, for the rest of the winter.  That's life in Minnesota. 

So, why do I live here?

Good question.

My brother moved to San Diego when he was a young man.  At the time, he reported that "Minnesota is uninhabitable", and I'm sure that a few people agree.  But he moved back here a few years later, and I think he even bought mittens (possibly after his car stalled at work on a cold winter night).  I've never asked him why he moved back, but, I'm glad he's here.

Why do I live here?

There are a few down sides.  For example, it's going to get below zero tonight.  And tonight is not the only night that it will go below zero.   And while I do think the snow is beautiful (I really do), right now I am wondering where to put it.  I'm not sure if people who don't live around here even understand what I'm talking about, but I'm serious.  When I'm shoveling approximately two feet (but who's counting) of snow out of the driveway, I start wondering just how high I can pile it.   The wall of snow becomes a depressing metaphor for all obstacles to success, external or internal.   And, to make matters worse, I'm not a big fan of any winter sport, really.  I'm not a skiier or a ice skater or a hockey player. 

Why do I live here?

Well, for one thing, I like sweaters.  And thick wool socks.   I like scarves too.  I am not ashamed to say that wool does not bother me a bit.

I think that summer and fall are exquisite here, and I appreciate them when they arrive.

In the winter, I don't think anyone here labors under the delusion that we don't need our neighbors.  And I think, in the winter at least, that very few of us labor under the delusion that we don't need the big trucks that come by to plow and salt and sand the roads.  (You know, the trucks that our tax dollars support.)

Whether it's neighbors with their shovels digging each other out, or the big trucks coming to plow the streets, it's all about community. 

That's why I live here, I guess.  This is not just a collection of individuals.  It is a neighborhood, a community, and we know we need each other.  Especially in winter.

Don't we?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent Pause

So, it is the second week in Advent already, and I have some confessions to make:

1.  I have not put up an advent wreath yet.  (not sure where it is.)
2.  I just put out an Advent calendar in my office, and opened 7 windows at once.  (This is the one I bought at The Cloisters a couple of years ago (3?) when we were in New York).
3.  I haven't done a lot of Christmas shopping yet, although I am making a couple of presents.  Clearly, I should have gotten started earlier.
4.  I don't know for sure what we are doing on Christmas eve, or day, who we are entertaining, and therefore have not planned any menus yet.

Arg.  That is my very profound thought.

The first week of Advent kind of got away from me, to be honest, and I'm trying to slow it down a little, now that I'm practically in the middle of the second week of Advent.  Maybe it's not too late to find the wreath and light a candle or two and pause for a moment and consider not just my headlong attempt to check everything off the list by December 24.  Maybe it's not too late to light a candle and pause for a moment and consider where God is taking us. 

Tomorrow, I am supposed to do a devotion for a short Matins service that we have every Wednesday.  Usually I am not at a loss for themes for short reflections, but I was scratching my head this morning, and trying to think about what to say.  I looked up some verses in the daily lectionary, and one of the suggested Scriptures was the story of Ruth.

And what is Ruth telling me in this season of Advent?

The book of Ruth is a love story, but not just in the ordinary ways.  Of course, Ruth is a Moabite who marries an Israelite.  That's one part of the love story.  But after her husband dies, she decides to go to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and live among strangers rather than with her own people.  That's another part of the love story.  And then there's the part about Boaz, and Ruth finding a new husband.  That's yet another part of the love story.  And then there's the fact that the foreigner Ruth gets into the geneology of King David, and Jesus. 

That's part of the love story, too. 

Love stories.

So I light an advent candle (or two), and consider that advent is a time of waiting, of longing, of exptectancy.  And the sighs I hear are the sighs of love.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Five: December Survival Edition

Kathrynzj over at Revgalblogpals offers us this Friday Five:

Whether a RevGal or a Pal most of us in this cyber community have enhanced responsibilities during this time of year. We also have traditions - religious and secular - that mark the season for us in a more personal way.

For this Friday Five please let us know five of the things that mark the season for you.

And the bonus? Tell us one thing that does absolutely nothing for you.

Five things that mark the season for me:

1.  Music.  Especially good choral music.  True, they play the Christmas songs a little too early, and a lot of the renditions you hear are especially schmaltzy elevator arrangements, but I live for hearing some good choral music in Advent.  It does get me through the season.  And though I love "O Come O Come Emmanuel," there are sooo many good Advent songs that I wish were well-known:  "Fling Wide the Door," "Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers," "Savior of the Nations, Come," "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus", "Hark the Glad Sound."  Well, you get the idea.

2.  Getting Christmas Cards.  I'd say sending them, too, but I haven't sent them in a long time.  I do miss sending them, but I love getting Christmas cards, still.  I used to like to write letters, and I miss the absence of any form of personal mail.  Except at Christmas. 

3.   The annual Christmas program -- given by the children.

4    Decorating the Christmas tree.  with all of the different ornaments accumulated over the years and in many different places.  (putting it up is a big hassle, but decorating -- calms my heart.)  I don't need to have lights up on the house, but I do like to have a lighted tree in the window.

5.   Snow.  My relationship with snow is complicated, and it doesn't make my life easier, but truthfully, it would not be Christmastime, at least around here, without it.

6.   Having family around.  I feel especially peaceful if I know my husband's stepsons are going to be with us, and I enjoy finding one small, but unique gift for each of them.

And I can live without....

.... most of the baking.  Unless it's a team effort.  Then, we'll talk.

It Starts with a Stump

I want to remember that.

I've been reading that passage from Isaiah 11 all week, off and on.  It's a wonderful, soaring vision of the Messiah, and also of the new world, the reconciliation he brings:

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

and then:

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear -- but with righteousness he shall judge the poor...

and then:

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid... a little child will lead them..." 

But it begins with a stump.

We read this passage at this time of year because we believe the shoot from the stump is Jesus, our hope and expectation, the one we are waiting for, the one who came, though at the time, hardly anyone noticed.  Can we say that?  He came, but at the time, hardly anyone noticed.    But during this Advent time, waiting is our game, so to speak, and we remember that we aren't just waiting for, and hoping for the baby in the manger.  We aren't just waiting for the presents on Christmas eve, we aren't just waiting for the family to gather for a great feast, we even aren't just waiting for that great Christmas eve services where we light the candles and sing our favorite songs and hear the angels sing.  We are waiting for what God has promised in the end, when the whole world will be set right, and they will not hurt or destroy on God's holy mountain, for the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

But it begins with a stump.

And that is why today, we have John the Baptist, appearing in the wilderness, shouting out "Repent!" and saying things that are not designed to attract new members, such as "You brood of vipers!" and "Who warned you to flee?" and "Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees."

Because it begins with a stump. 

Which is to say, It begins with repentance.  It begins with turning around.  That's what it means to repent, to turn around.

I don't know about you, but I do feel stumpy right now, and from time to time.  I read these words -- the words of John and the words of Isaiah -- between funerals.  I had one yesterday, and I am preparing for another funeral tomorrow.  I am serving a congregation in transition, which means we are wondering what our direction for the future will be.  And I live in a community in transition, by which I mean a community which is changing, a community which has new challenges as well as new possibilities.

Here's the deal in Advent:  God promises life from the stump.  There's this shoot, Jesus, and the Spirit of the Lord is upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 

And here's another deal in Advent:  God promises this same spirit, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord -- to us, in our baptism.

But it begins with a stump.

Now, I have to go and write a sermon about that.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent, Day 2: Wondering and Wandering, again

Today I must admit, I did not wander, much.  I didn't wander as much as I do on a normal day off, when we are flitting around getting errands done and pursuing fun.  We try to do some of each on a day off.

Today I laid pretty low, surrounded by mounds of kleenex, blowing my nose and sneezing and drinking tea.  I did go out, briefly, but knitted and napped mostly.

It rained and rained and rained all day, a cold cold rain, which I hear will freeze sometime tonight.  I did go out, briefly, to meet a grieving family and to plan a funeral.  We shared memories of a woman who loved to make hand-made gifts, who advocated for children in her school system, who teased her husband relentlessly, and who died too soon.

And today I wondered this:  I wonder what it means for our lives, for how we live our lives to know the truth that nothing will separate us from the love of God.  I wonder what it means for how we live to know that love is stronger than death -- which means as well that love is stronger than hate, and love is stronger than injustice, and love is stronger than prejudice. 

What does it mean for us to believe this?

One thing it means:  we sing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent, Day 1: Wandering and Wondering

This year our congregation has taken our midweek Advent theme from the carol, "I Wonder as I Wander."  Every week we will offer a reflection based one, "I wonder about...."  This Wednesday, we will wonder about hope.  Next Wednesday, we wonder about love, and for the third week, we will wonder about joy.  (I know, there is a 4th Wednesday this year, but we will just have 3 advent services, as usual.)

During the days of Advent, I thought I would try to reflect, as much as possible, on the theme.  I won't promise you every day (though I'd like to), but I will reflection on where I wandered on this Advent Day, and what I wondered about. 

Today I wandered over to my mom's house, as I took vacation days over Thanksgiving.  My mom and I went to her church together, St. Barnabas Lutheran in Plymouth.  It's a great congregation. 

I drove up the highway this morning, taking a much different route than usual on a Sunday morning.  I am usually presiding or preaching right in my own neighborhood.  But today I got out on the road, listening to the radio station that someone else had tuned in the other day. 

There was Christmas music on, already.  I am usually opposed to such things, but I kept the station on, and my eyes got blurry, a little, as I listened to a piece by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, based on Pachelbel's Canon.  I remembered that my dad and I sang Christmas carols on Thanksgiving this year, because it seemed he knew the words to more Christmas carols than Thanksgiving hymns. 

I enjoyed everything about the service this morning, singing with my mom (even with my stuffed-up nose), listening to the sermon, hearing the "witness moment", and how the choir came from the congregation to the choir loft as part of the offering, sang their piece, and returned to their seats. 

After church my mom and I made lefse all afternoon.  She had prepared it beforehand, so when I say that we "made lefse", she had done most of the work, although we worked as a team on the rolling and the flipping of the lefse.  She could do it by herself, if she wanted to, but she'd rather have me there with her.

I wondered a little whether that is the way it is with God, as well.  God has done most of the work, and, to be truthful, I suppose that God could do it all without our help, if God wanted to.  But that's not what God wants.  God wants us on the team, partners in doing justice, showing mercy, making the world more beautiful.   It's not an imposition, it's a privilege, working side by side with God, helping people know Jesus, know God's love, believe they are God's children, and walk in that light.  It's a privilege, not an imposition.

If I thought I had to make the lefse by myself, I would probably be depressed.  If I thought I had to shine God's light in the world by myself, I would give up.  But I don't.  You don't. 

And the best part?  Somehow, the light shines in us.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Every two years since just before we were married, we've been able to spend Thanksgiving with my husband's sister and her family in Chicago.  This year, for the first time, we are not able to go.  There are just too many conflicting schedules to juggle.

The first time we went down, someone in the family asked me to give the blessing.  (I suspect this may have been because I'm a pastor.)

In order to take a little of the heat off of myself, I decided to ask everyone to name something they were thankful for in the past year, and then design a prayer around our real "thanksgivings."

This year, here are some of mine:

-I'm thankful for my family.  I'm especially thankful that my dad can be with us at Thanksgiving.  My mom is taking him home from the nursing home for dinner.
-I'm thankful that my husband didn't break his wrist when he fell on the ice on Sunday.
-I'm thankful for all the talented people in my family:  especially my nephew the musician, my stepsons who both are talented musicians, my sister the artist, my niece who draws manga and plays the violin
-I'm thankful for people in my congregation who get what it means to be part of the body of Christ, who pray for one another, weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice, and dream big dreams
-I'm thankful for the hope we have in the gospel, especially when I have to preach a funeral sermon
-I'm thankful for singing, and for the songs that we sing
-I'm thankful for chicken chili, popcorn, old movies, artichoke pizza, blueberries
-I'm thankful for babies who babble during the worship service
-I'm thankful for my beautiful, sweet, lovely dog Scout
-I'm thankful that I saw someone from my office wear the scarf I made for her last year. 
-I'm thankful for grace. 
-I'm thankful for these smells:  cardamom, cinnamon, peppermint, garlic, ginger, balsam fir.
-I'm thankful the broken sewer pipe finally got fixed.

What are you thankful for?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Sermon: "A Different Kind of King"

A couple of years ago on this day – Christ the King Sunday – the end of the church year – I had the children’s sermon.
I had some of the children come up, and I asked them to think about what they knew about kings.
What do kings look like?
What would a king have?
Kings rule, so they thought first of all, that kings must have a kind of a staff for ruling, called a scepter.
So we got out a scepter, and we had someone carry it.
Then they thought they had seen pictures of kings that were wearing beautiful, and plush robes.
So, of course, we had to get out a robe of our own, and have someone wear that as well.
Finally, we thought that kings should have crowns.
Luckily, we also had a crown available, and we had someone put that on, too.
Then we had a real king standing in front of us! All dressed up and ready to lead his people.
What a good way to begin Christ the King Sunday!

Except for two things: That king didn’t remind us very much of Jesus.
And of course, we had to admit, no one had seen anyone dressed up like that lately, with a robe, and a scepter and a crown.

The main problem with this day – “Christ the King” – is really that we don’t have that much experience with kings
– real kings, that is.
There are a few modern kings, we may know about them vaguely – except in the case of one (possible) king – Prince William, who has recently gotten engaged, I hear, and who will someday be King of England.
I think he will wear the robe and crown and scepter then, but only on special occasions.
So what does it mean for us to say that Jesus is a king, that he reigns in our lives, or in the world?
What difference does it make?
We could try being more modern by trying to say “Christ the President”
– but  as soon as I say it, you know that wouldn’t be right.

Of course, there was a time long ago when everyone had kings.
All the best countries had kings, which was why Israel – God’s people – wanted one too.
They wanted a king, just like all the other nations!
The wanted a king, because having a king meant that you were and Important Nation.
Kings provided security for the people.
Kings fought battles (although they were usually the ones giving the orders, not the ones fighting and dying).
Kings made decisions.
Kings made you important. Kings were powerful.

And then you have Jesus.
We say he is a King.
We believe that he reigns.
But if you really pay attention, you will see that he’s a different kind of king
– a different kind of king than the modern figureheads we know
– a different kind of king than the those in ancient times
He doesn’t wear a robe, or a crown, or have a scepter in the Bible stories – except when people are making fun of him.
He says impractical things like “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.”
He does provide a certain kind of security, but not the kind we usually think of, or prize.
He provides the security of knowing that our lives are in God’s hands, but not the security of knowing that we will win every battle.
And of course, if it’s a feeling of Being Important that you want, you might want to check out Jesus, down on his knees, washing his disciples feet.
Doing the dirty work.

So today – on this last Sunday of the church year – and on the Sunday when we are also going to have our annual meeting
We have the story of Jesus on the cross, between two thieves.
People are calling him a king, but they’re making fun of him.
Except for one person, and I think this is really remarkable.

There is one person who recognizes that Jesus is a king, a different kind of king and who wants to live in his kingdom.
It’s that second thief.
He says to Jesus, the king hanging on the cross,
“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
He says to Jesus, “When you are king, and where you reign – that’s where I want to be.”
I wonder why. Why does he say, “Jesus, remember me...”

I can’t help wondering if it’s because he heard Jesus’ other words from the cross, those other strange, unusual words Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus said these words to the soldiers who were crucifying him.
“Father forgive them, forgive them.... for they don’t know.”
To be forgiven, to forgive – is not so common in this world.
It’s more common to hold grudges, to keep score, to get even.
A friend of mine told me long ago, “I’ll forgive someone once, but after that... forget it.”

But what would a world (a kingdom) be like where forgiveness was abundant, where mercy ruled, where kings washed feet, where the hungry were fed, where captives were set free?
What would the world be like?
No wonder he said, “Jesus remember me,”

“Jesus, remember me.” Can this be our prayer too, on Christ the King Sunday? “Jesus remember us, because we have tried to manage the world and our lives and most of the time, we just made a bigger mess. But Jesus, remember us.
Remember us when we die, and remember us right now, in the middle of our messed up lives. Help us to see your kingdom, among us.
Help us to love our enemies, and our neighbors, and to be your people
Even – especially – in the middle of our annual meeting, because we want to be your people, your disciples.
Jesus, remember us, when you come into your kingdom.

One Sunday I told the children, “Jesus was a king.”
But then I asked them: did he have a crown?” “No!” They answered. “Did Jesus have a robe?” No! They answered.
Did Jesus have a scepter? “No!” they answered.

What did Jesus have? I asked.

“Love,” one child answered.

I was going to say a cross.

But I liked their answer, better.


What You Missed

For the second week in a row, we have had Winter Weather Issues here in the upper midwest.  Last night and this morning it was freezing rain.  In the middle of the night, one of my stepsons was unfortunate enough to be out driving, watching cars who couldn't get off the freeway ramps because of the ice, and many many accidents.

As you might imagine, church this morning was a smaller crowd than usual.  We had a few adult children call their parents and tell them not to come to church.  But enough people ventured out to have worship, a few more at ten than at 8:45.

Here's what you missed:

1.  The hymns.  We sang a lot of good hyms, including Lift High the Cross, My Song is Love Unknown, Just as I am, and Jesus Shall Reign.  I love the third verse of "Jesus Shall Reign."

People and realms of ev'ry tonge dwell on his love with sweetest song;
and infant voices shall proclaim their early blessings on his name.

(there was a young couple with their 10 month old baby at the Saturday evening service.  The baby sang along, appropriately, during this verse.  And here's one thing I love about being a pastor:  during that verse, I caught the eye of the young father, and he caught my eye, at the same time, and we both smiled.)

2.  At 10:00, one of our older elementary students read the lesson from Colossians.

3.  The children's message, where all of the children present got Burger King Crowns.  Since there was no Sunday School today, several of them wore their crowns when they came up for communion.  I got to bless them by saying.  "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is your king."

4.  Even though it was a small crowd at 10:00 a.m., the worship felt lively and life-giving to me.  There were people of every age group present, from little kids to teenagers to parents and grandparents.  During one part of my sermon, our talented pianist played "Jesus, Remember Me" softly underneath.

5.  In that small, eclectic crowd this morning were my mom and mother-in-law, who ventured out, and two of my former confirmation students (one of them lives in Shakopee now).

6.  You missed my sermon too.  I'll post that a little later....

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Five: Unexpected Thanks Edition

Jan over at Revgalblogpals has this Friday Five for us:

With the American holiday of Thanksgiving being less than a week away, I tried to think of some questions for Friday Five that could be connected to this, but in a new way. So here is my one try:

Name five things that were unexpected in your life that you are now grateful for.
1.  My husband.  After 41 (or so, but who's counting) years of singlehood, I got married.  Very unexpected.  But very good. 

2.  Our Dog Scout.  Before Scout, I was a cat person.  I was the kind of cat person who let my cat sleep on the bed at night.  And I had a cat who loved to curl up in my lap.  But, the first thing that happened was that my husband was allergic to cats.  The second thing that happened was that we met Scout.  Now, we are Totally Bonded.  And I am Very Grateful.

3.  Being a Pastor.  When I was a little girl, women could not be pastors.  I am surprised and grateful that women can be pastors, that God called me, and that a congregation also called me to be their pastor.

4.  New friends.  I am grateful for Fran, Terri, Lindy, Marsha, Stephanie, Jan, Amy (Dogblogger), Robin, etc. etc.  Some of you I have met.  Some of you I still hope to meet someday.  I never imagined that I could be good friends with people I have never met (or met just once).  (sorry no links right now, maybe a little later....)

5.  Knitting.   I've known how to knit since the 7th grade, but I've never made any progress - until the past year.  I'm surprised at myself, and grateful, because my progress is due to patient people willing to work backwards with a left-hander.

What do you do with a Sunday called "Christ the King?"

I ask you.

I'm supposed to preach on the last Sunday of the church year, called "Christ the King Sunday" in our lectionary.

I'm supposed to keep it short, too.  Because our annual meeting is on Sunday, and so is an Important Football Game.  So we hope to have a short annual meeting, with information, a little voting, a good feeling, and an adjournment.  (Also, prayer.  We will begin and end with prayer.)

So, what do you do with a Sunday called "Christ the King?"

I'd like to give a practical message, that applies to our daily lives, but the word "King" does not, in general, apply to our daily lives.  We don't have kings.  In fact, we fought a war a couple hundred years ago or so, just so we would not have kings.

Oh, we keep an eye on the celebrity Royalty of Great Britian, and I'll bet everyone knows that Prince William is engaged -- and to a commoner!

The the words "Practical" and "King" very rarely go together in the same sentence.  For the most part, our knowledge of kings comes from fairy tales, where there are kings and queens, and elves and fairies, and magic wands. 

Of course, there was a time when everyone had kings.  All the best countries had kings, which was why Israel wanted one too.  They wanted a king, just like all the other nations!  They wanted a king, because having a king meant that you were important, and kings provided security for the people.  Kings fought battles (although they were usually the ones giving the orders, not the ones fighting and dying).  Kings made decisions.  Kings made you Important.  Kings were powerful.

At the time, it was a matter of practical necessity to have a king.  Or so people thought.  Now, not so much.

And then you have Jesus.  We say he is a king.  We believe that he reigns.  But if you really paid attention, you will see that he is not the most practical kind of king to have.  He doesn't wear a robe, or a crown, or have a scepter, except when people are making fun of him.  He says impractical things like, "Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you."  He does provide a certain kind of security, but not the kind we usually think of, or prize.  He provides the security of knowing that our lives are in God's hands, but not the security of knowing that we will win every battle.  And of course, if it's a feeling of Being Important you want, you might want to check out Jesus, washing his disciples' feet.  Just like a servant. 

And there he is, on a cross, of all places.  This is not the place you would expect to find a King, even if we thought we needed one. 

and yet, some of us find ourselves singing, or humming to ourselves, "Jesus, Remember me, when you come into your kingdom."    Some of us find ourselves longing to hear the words he said to those who crucified him, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."  We have the sneaking suspicion that we are the ones who don't know what we are doing, that in all of our practical attempts to manage our own lives (and the world) we have botched it up royally. 

Jesus, remember us. 
Jesus, forgive us.

And the prayer, "Jesus, remember me" isn't just a prayer for security when we die.  It's really a prayer that somehow, in the middle of our botched-up lives, we will see God's kingdom,  We will see that impractical, necessary kingdom where the Kings kneel and serve, where the poor are lifted up, the dying are raised -- and where forgiveness is the best, the most precious treasure there is.

On Christ the King Sunday, I pray that even in our annual meeting, we'll serve the impractical King.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Politics is the new Religion

(My husband wanted me to post this, after a short conversation this morning.)

Sometimes I think we confuse faith and politics. 

Faith is about ultimate concerns, and high ideals.  It is about holding fast and not compromising.  Faith is a matter of life and death (although it also gets us through the day).  Faith is "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

Politics is practical, down-to-earth.  It's not about perfection, but it is about improvement, in one way or another.  In politics, there has to be compromise, making deals, getting hands dirty. 

Lately it seems that faith has become practical and politics more ideological.  I'll bet if you go back a century or so, you won't find many sermons that are "practical, and relate to our daily life," as is common now.  Back in the 18th Century, the sermons were called, "Sinners in the hands of an Angry God," (for example) not "8 Ways to have a Happy Marriage."   

Now politics is about ultimate concerns, a matter of life and death.  I'm right and you're wrong.  We can't work together.  No compromising.  In some cases, our political commitments have become our religion. 

I have a friend who proselytizes for the free market.  If he were as zealous for Jesus, I think the whole world would be Christian (or at least his neighborhood.)  He is Very Suspicious of the Social Justice Christians, who, to be fair, are probably Very Suspicious of him.

Practical, down-to-earth, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-things-down.  That's politics.  It's down to earth, humble, sometimes-your-hands-get-dirty work.

A lot of people have observed that Americans hate politics.  There may be a lot of reasons for this, but I suspect this is one of them:  that politics has become the new religion, where people draw lines in the sand and declare those who disagree not only Wrong, but Unrighteous.  Those who disagree are The Enemy.  If you are Liberal, conservatives are commmonly called "Idiots."  Or is it the other way around?  If you are Conservative, liberals are commonly called "idiots."  Or, Hitler.

Don't get me wrong, I think politics is important, and is part of making the world a better place.  A better place, but not a perfect place.  But politicians are not Messiahs, whether the politician is Barack Obama talking about "Hope" or Sarah Palin's with her "Mama Grizzlies" or even Ronald Reagan's "It's morning in America."    If you doubt, imagine even one politician, even the most honorable ,respectable, politician you like best, saying something like "Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you."   Especially in an election year.

So I pray for all of us, politicians, pastors, people who hate politics, to roll up their sleeves and get things done, to make the world better, if not perfect.  And then I pray that the vision of God's reign of love keeps burning in my heart.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Winter's On the Way Friday Five

Singing Owl over at Revgalblogpals gives us this Friday Five:

The picture is of my back deck after the first heavy snow last winter. I am looking at the weather forecast with a sigh of resignation. You see, our glorious unseasonable stretch of sunny days is ending and rain mixed with snow is in the forecast. The weather guy actually said, "This is probably the last nice day till spring, folks..." So, I am trying to plan ahead. Help me out, please. When it is cold outside.

1. What is your favorite movie for watching when curled up under a wooly blanket?
I'm curled up right now, and for some reason I'm thinking of the movie "Roman Holiday."  Don't ask me why.
2. Likewise, what book?
Any GOOD mystery.  I'm liking the Chet and Bernie (Dog On it) mysteries right now, as well as Maisie Dobbs and Clare Ferguson.  Always looking for a new series.

3. What foods do you tend to cook/eat when it gets cold?
Soups and stews.  I love to make Tortellini Soup and Chicken Chili when it gets cold. 
4. What do you like to do if you get a "snow day" (or if you don't get snow days, what if you did)?
We don't get snow days here (we're so used to snow), but when I did, out in rural South Dakota, I liked to watch movies, eat popcorn and pizza, and read.  I didn't like to, but I also used the time to catch up on paperwork.

5. Do you like winter sports or outdoor activities, or are you more likely to be inside playing a board game? Do you have a favorite (indoors or out)?
My favorite sport is really swimming, which is not a great cold-weather sport.  I skate a little, but I'm not a great cold-weather sports person.  Too bad, because this is a great cold-weather sport state.  My favorite board game is Scrabble.  I like to work puzzles.  That would be a great "snow day" activity, I think.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Few Small, Good Things

In the midst of disappointments, I'm not one to put my head in the sand and give up.  But I do think it's all right to take a moment and consider some simple pleasures:

1.  I finally finished the cable shawl.  Well, I haven't tucked the edges in yet, but I have finished everything else.  Aaah!
2.  I swam tonight -- 10 laps!  The fitness coordinator said it's actually better if I can swim earlier in the day, but I say, you have to take it where you can get it.   I don't know why this is, but swimming does seem to reduce my stress level.
3.  It was almost 70 degrees again today.
4.  Mark Ritchie is still the Secretary of State of Minnesota.  I love listening to him talk about how his loves his job and how he loves our state and our tradition of civic involvement.  I don't know where he grew up, but you can just tell he loves the electoral process.
5.  I am looking forward to attending a church "house meeting" tomorrow night with a group of amazing women.  I got some great feedback from the first one.
6.  Our confirmation  lesson tonight was the feeding of the 5,000.  At the end of the worksheet, there was a crossword puzzle.  Most of the answers were pretty easy, but I have to admit, there were a couple of clues that mystified even me:  1.  strange meal where rice and whipped cream may be served in the same bowl; 2. Jesus didn't serve this with the bread and the fish.  As I was leaving church tonight, one of my seventh grade boys came running up to me and said:  "I know the answers!  I know the answers!  'potluck' and 'beverage'."
And 7. (the number of perfection) the boys had their best prayer time ever, tonight.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ministering to My Dad

I went to visit my dad the other day.  My mom is out of town for a few days, visiting my niece, on the occasion of her 18th birthday.  So I wanted to make a point to visit him while she was gone.

The first thing I noticed when I got there was that his hair looked kind of funny.  He has naturally curly hair, and it looked kind of fly-away, like he was a mad scientist.  He was sitting with two aides, and when I said something about it, they both got to work re-combing his hair so that it would look better.  It occurred to me that there is more than one reason for a nursing home resident to need regular visitors.  It's good for the workers to know that people will be coming by.

So, they wheeled my dad over to a table with me, and we got re-acquainted.  He asked about people, how they were doing.  He was a little bummed that he couldn't go and visit my neice.  (She's 18; he's 81.  "You have something in common," I said.) I tried to call my sister but she wasn't home.  (He probably couldn't have heard her, but I thought it would still seem like a good connection.)  I had brought my old copy of "Youth's Favorite Songs", which was really his songbook from when he was in Youth Group.  We sang some of those together, including, "Living for Jesus."  I also sang "Children Of the Heavenly Father." 

There was a lady sitting by the window near us, talking to herself.  At one point she started saying, "Sing a little louder!"  I said I was singing with my dad, and she said, "Still, I wish you would sing a little louder."

As often happens, we got into a little theological conversation.  My dad opined that he might die soon.  "You look okay to me," I told him.  "So you think I should keep going?" he said.  I said I thought that was okay.  "Everybody will die someday, but I think you still have some good years."

He expressed some doubts about his worthiness.  He seemed concerned that he was not good enough to be a Christian.  I read some familiar passages from Romans.  "All have sinned and fall short, but they are now justified by his grace as a gift."

"Do you trust Jesus?" I asked him.  "Yes," he said. 

"Well, then, that's all there is to it," I answered.

"You mean it's that simple?"

Sometimes I do try to make things complicated.  I mean, living for Jesus and all that.  I know it's not all about going to heaven when you die.  Living for Jesus means a lot of things for our life right now.

But actually, when I think about it, it really is that simple -- whether you're 18 or 81, whether you're living or dying, doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly...

"Do you trust Jesus?"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Some Fragments of an old All Saints' Sermon

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us...looking to esus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him eudred the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."

A few years ago on a wednesday in early November twelve confirmation students were wandering around in a cemetery at dusk.  It was pretty spooky, as you can imagine -- their pastor had forgotten when she scheduled the field trip that daylight saving time would be over and it would already be pretty dark.  So what in the world were they doing there?  Why did they come?

Well, first of all they came because their pastor made them.  They also came because their parents drove them.

But most of all, they were there because it was All Saints Day -- and they were there to remember some saints, and to help their congregations remember them as well.  They came to the cemetery with flashlights, of course -- it was a good thing they had them along -- but they also came to the cemetery with crayons and big sheets of butcher paper.  They were going to find some interesting grave markers at the cemetery and make rubbings.

As their pastor had imagined it, they would find an interesting name or a Bible verse, or maybe even an interesting picture, and then hold the paper over the stone and rub with the crayon until the name and the verse and the picture came through on the paper.

They wandered around in the dark that night in search of saints.  It was so cold they could see their breath.  They held flashlights for one another, did their work and remembered some of the saints among them. 

The next Sunday they intended to display their rubbings on the walls of the churches they attended, so that the whole congregation could remember with them on All Saints Sunday.

...The author of Hebrews spoke of a specific cloud of witnesses from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Samson and David, all who lived and died believing in God's promises, but not yet seeing Jesus.  Although he remmebers the stories of many famous people, he also mentioned the many who kept the faith but whose names we don't remember, whose stories we don't know.  They too are part of the cloud of witnesses.  When the early church first began the practice of celebrating an "All Saints Day", it recognized this reality:  that there are so many faithful ones, too many to receive their own day, too many for us to name.  The cloud of witnesses is too many to count, even too many for us to remember.  But they all deserve to be remembered, don't they?  Even ordinary saints deserve to be remembered.

....Here's one reason to remember the saints -- their stories tell of God's faithfulness, God's mercy, God's wisdom, God's love.  Their stories tell about how God sustained them on a long sea voyage, thorugh a dusty depression, during times of scarcity and times of abundance, through both companionship and loneliness.  Their lives, whether long or brief, tell of God's tender mercy and love toward them -- and toward us.  their witness says to us -- keep running, it is worth it.

....Finally, we remember especially those saints who have died because they remind us of the place we are running toward, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice and mercy that they hoped for, that God has promised.  They remind us of the hope of the resurrection, the hope we have of a joyful reunion with those we love -- in the presence of Jesus.

...Gerhard Frost once saw a scene at an airport of a young family headed on a trip.  The father held the older child's hand, and the child was bursting with excitement.  "Where are we going?" he asked.  "To grandma's," she replied.  She didn't say, "To Fargo," or "To Billings."  To her, they were going to a person and the place hardly mattered.  Perhaps, Frost thought, heaven is not so much a place as a face.  Of this our saints remind us, for we confess that they are now at home with their savior, and that they see him face to face.  While we work in the dark with flashlights, they worship the Lamb in eternal light.

Those twelve confirmation students who walked in a dark cemetery one night remembered well.  So when the light of Sunday morning dawned, we were surrounded, in those little churches, by the names of those wih whom we had worshiped.  As we sang and prayed together, we remembered the grandparents who had died within a year of one another, the beloved daughter and aunt who died of cancer, the bachelor farmer who was always generous with his family of faith.  We remembvered the invalid who wrote poetry, the older sister who couldn't get to the hospital because of a blizzard, the Sunday School teacher who never had children, but who introduced many to Jesus.  We remembered the handicapped son who never spoke, a gracious mother, a secret giver.  We saw, for a little while at least, a small part of the cloud of witnesses that encourage us.  We gave thanks for their lives.  But most of all, we gave thanks for God's faithfulness to them, God's love which kept them going -- and that keeps us going as well.

So keep running, you saints of God's faithfulness and love surround you as certainly as this cloud of witnesses surrounds you.  God remembers you, and in the end, God will bring you out of the darkness into the presence of his Son, to celebrate together with the saints in light.  Amen

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"To Be Blessed" -- All Saints' Sermon

I have only ever known one person named “Beatta.” – have you?
It’s sort of an old-fashioned name, but unlike some of the old-fashioned names, it’s not experiencing a great come-back of popularity.
I know quite a few “Emmas” these days, and all of them are little girls, but before that the only “Emma” I knew was my grandmother “Emma.”
But Beatta – I haven’t heard so much
– and this particular “Beatta” was an older woman at one of my churches, a woman that I went to visit, and to give communion often.
And, I’m not proud to admit, either, that it took me awhile before I realized the significance of her name – what “Beatta” means.

Beatta means “Blessed.” So this woman was named “Blessed,” which I think is very wonderful thing to call a child. “Blessed.”
But of course, this also got me to thinking about two things this week and one is our gospel reading, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.
“Blessed are you poor. Blessed are you who are weeping, blessed are you who are hungry.”
Then again I also considered the day – All Saints Sunday – and I realized that the word “Beata” also means to be a saint.
So today we gather to hear Jesus words of blessing to us, and to hear the names of the saints, the blessed ones, from among us who have died.

But Jesus’ words to us today, on All Saints Sunday, are not just comforting, are they?
They are also challenging.
Jesus blesses the poor, but then he goes on to say, “Woe to you who are rich. Woe to you who are laughing. Woe to you who are full.”
What could he possibly mean?
Jesus gives a promise, a blessing to the down and out, to the poor, to the suffering – but why does he say those words of woe?

It’s tempting to read the beatitudes, and to consider them as a job description, or a litmus test, for saints.
If you want to be a saint, here’s what to do, and here’s what not to do
– just like in our world today, there is certainly no lack of advise for those who want to be rich, for those who want to be successful, for those who want to be happy.
“Here is what you should do,” the lists say. “Here is what a successful, happy, prosperous person looks like.”
And certainly, read this way, the Blessings and Woes of Jesus can’t be anything but puzzling.
And I can tell you this as well: based on these particular blessings, there would be very few people standing in line to be saints.
Blessed are you when people persecute you and speak falsely about you. What’s going on here?

But what if Jesus is doing something much different in his sermon?
What if he is not saying, “this is a job description for saints,”
but instead what if he is assuring people that their status before God is not based on appearances, not based on what their life looks like right now, whether good or bad.
So, if you are mourning, if you are hungry, if you are poor, that is not the final verdict that God is against you.
And if you are rich, if you are doing well right now – that is also not the final verdict of your status before God.
In Jesus’ day it would have been assumed that if someone was rich, they were blessed by God, they were righteous.
If someone was not, that was evidence that they did not have God’s favor.
In other words, you could tell by looking at someone, you could tell by looking at someone’s life whether they were righteous, whether they were “blessed,” whether they were saints, or not.

A colleague of mine recently told me that one of his parish members invited him to go a rally with him.
The rally featured a very famous preacher who I won’t name, but who says, among other things,
that if we are in God’s favor, we WILL have material abundance.
So my colleague went to the rally.
Afterwards, the man from his parish looked at him and said,
“Well, God must really hate me, because my business went bankrupt and my daughter died.”.

And Jesus looks straight into the eyes of this man, and every one of us who grieves,
every one of us who struggles,
every one of us who is down and out, every one of us who is weak,
everyone who has nowhere else to go and says, “Blessed are you... blessed are you....”
do not judge by what you see.
Judge by my word, my promises to you. Do not judge by your failure, and don’t judge by your success either.
“Blessed are you....not because you are happy now, or just because your circumstances happen to be good.
That is temporary.
Know that you are blessed because God has claimed you and holds your life, and has called you by name.
“Blessed are you....”

Recently I heard a story about Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador.
On All Saints Day they too had the tradition of naming those in their community who had died during the past year.
They named both those who had died, and also they started to name those who had disappeared, the people whose fate they didn’t know.
And they had one more tradition: After each name was spoken, the community would say, “Presente.” “Present.”
We do not see them, but we believe that they are present among us, we are united in the Love of Christ.
We do not see them, but we trust and believe that we are united by God’s promise to us.
We cannot see it, but we believe that they are now worshiping at the throne of the Lamb of God, just as we are worshiping here this morning.
And we cannot see it, but we trust and believe that we too are called “blessed,” called “saints”– for Jesus’ sake called righteous
– and that someday we will worship together in the new world that God is creating
– the new world where the poor will have enough, and the hungry will be filled, and where the grieving will laugh, because we will be reunited, and we will see the faces of those we name today
– and we will see our Savior’s face.

“Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ,” Paul writes in Romans 8.
Not life or death, not powers nor principalities, not poverty or hunger.
Nothing can separate us.

We are called blessed – and our faith is not based on something we can see, but on God’s word, God’s promise to us.
You can’t tell if someone is a “saint” or not by looking at them.
Only God knows, and our God is merciful.
Some of the saints we name today are well known to us, and some of the saints are not as well known,
but we place all of them in God’s hand, trusting his word, the mystery of his love.

I want to tell you a little more about Beatta, the blessed one, the saint that I used to visit.
She lived with her elderly father, and they took care of each other.
I’m not sure though, who took care of whom. She had a chronic disease, and he needed to care for her as much as she needed to take care of him.
She had never married, never had children, and I’m not sure that she ever held down a job.
So many of the things that we consider are a part of a “blessed” life, she never had.

And yet she was called, “Beatta”: “blessed.” St. Beatta.
And so she was blessed, not because of any specific accomplishment in her life, but simply because her parents named her, and loved her and believed in her.
And, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is the same with us.
Blessed are you who are poor, who trust not what you see, but the promise of Christ, the riches of Christ, the love of Christ – for now and for eternity.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Revgalblogpals Friday Five: It is Well With My Soul Edition

Kathrynzj at Revgalblogpals has this great Friday Five for us:

We lead privileged lives.

True, some are more privileged than others but the fact that we are communicating right now via technological devices puts us in the privileged category.

There are many perks in my life for which I give thanks and then there are some that make everything right in the world during the moment I am enjoying them. I'm wondering what a few of those things - five to be specific - are for you.

To help you along here are just three of mine that I will write more about on my blog: drinking coffee out of a real mug, walking into my home after the domestic goddess has been there, participating in the RevGalBlogPals Big Events.

Here are five "perks" that I can think of, though I'm not sure they make everything right with the world. 

1.  Knitting.  There is so much in my life and in my work that never seems finished.  I preach, and then I preach again.  I visit a shut-in and then I visit again.  I go to the hospital.  And when I think about the justice work I do in my congregation, this is even more true.  We are never "there."  We're always "on the way."  So it does my soul good to see a pair of socks, or a scarf, or a pair of mittens that I made.  Something, at least, is finished.  And, even if it is not perfect, it is beautiful, to me.

2.  Wearing my Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services T-shirt.  It has a small Statue of Liberty flame on the front, and on the back, all of the countries that refugees have come from, starting in 1939 and continuing today.  I love this t-shirt, and feel proud whenever I wear it.

3.  Though I love my computer, writing with one of my good pens, real cursive writing, makes me feel grounded and sastisfied.  Even if it is just a grocery list.  Or a list of names.  Or the hope of a poem.

4.  Having a dog, even a neurotic dog with golden retriever big brown eyes and a curly husky tail and an independent streak, makes me feel grateful beyond measure. 

And this one is just one week old, but:
5.  Our membership at the "Y", which means that now we can go swimming a few times a week.  I have noticed that I already feel calmer.

Finally (and I know, this is more than 5), I feel grateful for all the ways I can connect with friends, so that we can keep each other going.  That means email, facebook, blogging, as well as going out for coffee, lunches, and those essential meetings with co-conspirators/friends who have not given up on trying to make the world a better, more godly, more compassionate, and just place.

Fear Itself

You can't reason with a dog.

During the past couple of weeks, there has been an odd development in Scout's temperament.  She's always been a little skittish when there are thunderstorms or fireworks.  But for the past couple of weeks of so, she has suddenly grown fearful about walking down our block.

It started when we crossed the street one day, on the way to our favorite pond.  We were going along nicely up the street, but there was some construction work going on around the corner, and as we got closer, Scout started to do her famous "walking backwards" dance, which signals not just stubborn "I don't want to go where you want to go"-ness, but actual fear.

You can't reason with a dog.

I know, I've tried.  I get her to stop walking backwards and just sit.  That does work sometimes, but even if I talk to her in a nice, bright, soft voice, and tell her there is nothing to fear around the corner, or just past that car that is running, or past that group of children that is shouting -- even if I tell her all these things -- she doesn't believe me.

In the past couple of weeks, she has started walking backwards a couple of times on our block, which is so disheartening.  I don't want her to become like one of those people who is afraid of everything, who hides in their house.  And though there is no sign of this happening, I certainly don't want her to become one of those dogs who growls and snaps at people because she is afraid.

You can't reason with a dog.

I'm working with her a little bit each day, not trying to force her to go where she doesn't want to go, but trying to increase her comfort, even if we just go a few more steps.  We're working on broadening her circle just a little bit, and hoping that she discovers that she will not get hurt.

You can't reason with a dog.

It starts me thinking about how fear can be irrational, which is not the same as saying that there is nothing to fear.  I certainly think there are plenty of things to fear in the world today.  It's not the great depression, but the economic situation is frightening, and the deficits are frightening, and the both the wars and the terrorists threats are frightening.

To be perfectly honest, though, I'm more frightened about the people running around, calling people they don't agree with "Nazis" or "Marxists" or "Communists."  I'm more frightened of some of the people who are afraid. 

I read a conversation between two conservatives.  One of them interviews the other, saying, "I don't agree with President Obama's policies and I wouldn't vote for him.  But I don't believe it's accurate to call him a communist or a socialist.  Why do you do it?"  The other one says that he's going to keep saying the same thing, because, of course, there's more than one way to understand the word "socialist".   (By some understandings, Medicare is socialist.  Perhaps by some understandings, Public Education is also socialist.)

But the words "Socialism," and "Communism," of course, elicit fear.   And fear can cause us to do many things, including snarl and bite.  You can intentionally make a dog afraid, and then set him loose on a victim.

A long while ago President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself.  I don't think he meant that there was nothing to be afraid of.  There were plenty of things to be afraid of during those depression years.  But if you really want to be afraid, check out what scared, desperate people are capable of.  Over in Germany, someone used a whole nation's fear and desperation to rise to power, to create scapegoats and to murder people.  

In the meantime, I'm going to take a deep breath and admit that I'm afraid, too.  I'm afraid of the fear I hear and see, and the consequences it might have.  But I am trying hard not to snarl or growl, and not to start walking backwards either.   Instead, I tell myself that I have hope -- I believe in the love of God for every person.  I believe that in the end, Love wins.  I believe that hope is greater than fear. 

And I just go a few more steps forward, every day.