Friday, February 26, 2010

Something there is that seems to love a wall...

I teach a Saturday morning men's Bible study on Saturday mornings. We're reading Luke now. When I say "teach", I mean this rather loosely. Though I have been known to hold forth on occasion, for the most part this is a conversation rather than a lecture.

And we do venture off-topic once in awhile. A couple of weeks ago, for example, one of the men brought up an article he had read about one of our more well-known (and conservative) congressional representatives. He said he learned the term "cognitive dissonance" for the first time, discussing the term and the congresswoman with his son. I believe that the issue at hand was that she was against funding for programs from which her family benefitted, as they were parents to several foster children.

Basically, the writer of the article did not understand the Congresswoman, something our table discussed. One of the men ventured this opinion as to why not, "Liberals think that all charity should come from the government."

Now this statement was jarring at first for several reasons: first of all, I was sitting right there, and I consider myself rather liberal, although not in such a way as to insinuate that those not of my political persuasian could not possibly by Christians. And I'm pretty sure that I don't think that "all charity should come from the government." So I wondered why this gentleman should think this way. I do disagree with this gentleman's politics, although I consider him to be (of course) a brother in Christ. I'm sure he does not get this opinion from his conversations with me. I can think of plenty of private charities I endorse and even contribute to.

So, my first thought was, it must be all those conservative authors, the ones with names I won't even mention (why give them any more P.R.?) If he talked to me, he might find out what I really think, which has less to do with ideology (I thought) and more to do with a program's effectiveness. Some people think that a private charity is always more effective; others think that a public/government program is always more effective and appropriate.

Why is it that he might be more interested in his opinions about liberals from conservative authors rather than a real liberal?

Why is it that I might be more interested in getting my opinions about conservatives from entertaining liberal authors rather than a real conservative?

Those were my first thoughts.

Then I went a little further, and considered the word "charity". I also considered, if we really had a deep and respectful conversation with one another, that he and I had different ideas about the line between "charity" and "justice." For example, I think some government help for the poor is really a justice issue, not about charity, because I think that there are many cases where the playing field is not level, and some people start out with a disadvantage, and there are others who definitely start with a big advantage, who benefit from the system the way it is. He might be absolutely certain that anytime there is help for anyone, it is charity, not justice, because justice means that those who work hard get to reap the benefit.

I'm not sure that this is ever a divide that can be fully bridged.

However, the Bible's idea of justice might be a place to start. I suspect this justice (and this mercy) might challenge both of us.

"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

things that make you go hmmmm....

Before I posted a couple of Mondays ago about the ELCA's policy regarding gay and lesbian clergy, I had 73 followers in Google Reader.

The day after I posted, I had 72.

It's not a big deal, it's only one Reader, but still, it gave me pause.

It's February here. Still. Which means that even though it was slushy and warmish for a few days last week, it has dipped below zero again and will be cold all week. I don't know why I am always fooled by the early thaw, but I am. And the older I get, the less patient I am. I want it to be Spring.

We saw a lot of birds yesterday. I didn't get a close look, but I think they might have been mallard ducks. Also, our dog's hair is coming out in tufts. So there are two sure signs that spring will come.

In a couple of weeks, we'll be going to Arizona. In the middle of Lent. I can't believe that I'm doing this. But, I kind of like it.

I have a lot on my mind lately. I want to post more often here, and more deeply, but I often feel that I can't quite get my whole mind around my thoughts.

Here are some of the things I've been thinking about lately:
1. Being in the desert during Lent.
2. The Centered Life- our Lenten Wednesday series.
3. What does it really mean to have a Passionate Spirituality, a la the "Natural Church Development" definition?
4. Why conservatives and liberals prefer to hold on to pre-conceived prejudices rather than talk to each other.
5. just how brilliant Jesus' answers to the devil really were....
6. the big political battle between the governor and the legislature in my state over General Medical Assistance for Poor people. I am wondering if people in other states are following this at all....

Saturday, February 20, 2010

God is Still Creating...

This morning I had six fourth graders and their parents for a class on the Apostles' Creed. It's a lot to cover in an hour and a half, and I think the Holy Spirit got short shrift (she nearly always does), but we had a good time, starting with the name tags.

Everyone wore three name tags. We talked about different names we have, nicknames, roles we take, and how we are not three different people. We talked about different uniforms we sometimes wear at different times, a sports jersey, a school uniform, a suit and tie, a bathing suit. We talked about how God comes to us in different ways, too.

Everybody got an apple, and the parents cut it in half. The young people tried to think about the parts of the apple, and also the different "persons" of God. They got to imagine that God the Father is like the ______ of the apple because_______________. There were no wrong answers, just good imaginations.

Afterwards, we got to eat the apples.

There is a beautiful piece of art in the room where we met, an artistic rendition of the Apostle's Creed. We stood in front of the art piece for awhile, reciting the creed, and talking about some of the words we didn't understand.

We drew pictures of stories from the Bible about Jesus. We each drew a picture of a story about something Jesus did that ISN'T in the creed.

My favorite part of the class, though, just lasting a few minutes, was when we talked about God the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

What are some of the things that God created?

bears, snakes, giraffes, flowers, cats,

"Us," one little girl said.

"yes, us," I said. "God didn't just create along time ago. God is still creating, and when you look in the mirror, you can see...."

".....a creation of God."

When you look at a snake, when you look at a bird, when you look at the grass, when you look at a star, when you look at your sister, when you look at your brother,

When you look at yourself, you can see.... a creation of God.

And you know what? It was a sermon to me, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

a Belated Update Regarding Reading

Early in January (while I was still on vacation, to be specific), I reported that I had dispatched my first two books of the year rather quickly, the final Maisie Dobbs mystery, Among the Mad, and The Art of Racing in the Rain.

While lying on the beach, I also read The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, a lovely book which is a combination memoir and history of bookstores. You would not think that bookstores had a fascinating history. But they do. I also read The Florist's Daughter, by Patricia Hampl. Ms. Hampl is a rather famous (locally) memoirist; this is I think, her best. It is framed by her mother's death, and deals in what is means to be the child of her particular two parents, her Irish mother and her debonair Czech father. This book made me really think about what it would be like to write a memoir of my own. (The TV Repairman's Daughter?)

Then I had a colossal failure: I did not finish reading our January book club book, The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. I still feel bad about that. It was slow in places, but after our discussion, I think I will try finishing it, someday. (It's a literate Dracula novel.)

Then I treated myself to the latest Spencer Quinn mystery, Thereby Hangs a Tail.

Finally, I re-read the book we'll be following during Lent: the Centered Life, by Jack Fortin.

I'm working on Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult, right now.

so. 6 1/2 is my official count, so far.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Taking Out the Garbage as a Lenten Discipline

This morning, Ash Wednesday, when I got up to take the dog out for her morning walk, I realized that we had forgotten to take the garbage out last night.

What a coincidence. This is Ash Wednesday. It is also garbage day.

In the wintertime, taking out the garbage involves a few more steps than it does at other seasons of the year. For one thing, I often have to kick the garbage can a couple of times because the lid freezes shut. We also have to wheel the garbage can through the snow past one or two cars parked in the driveway. I have become an expert at the graceful "swoop" down as I wheel the can past the rear view mirror.

This morning, I spent a little extra time going through bags, deciding what else could be "garbage" and what I might want to save. There are a few things that are clearly useless. There are a few things that "might come in handy." There are a few things that should not ever be considered garbage.

So, this morning, as I was kicking the garbage can to loosen the lid, and as I was sorting stuff and considering what was valuable and what was not, I considered as well that this was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

What would be a good Lenten discipline this year?

One friend of mine has an exercise plan in place. It sounds guaranteed to change her life, or at least help her lose a few pounds. A teenager I know always gave up soda. Another friend refrains from chocolate. One year I gave up buying (not reading, just buying) books. The Mayo
Clinic Diet book, which I recently bought, sounds positively Lenten to me these days. The very beginning pages tell about 5 New Habits to Develop and 5 Habits to Drop. Sounds exactly like the twin disciplines of Lent: giving up something (fasting), and taking up something.

And yet, I can't help thinking about taking out the garbage as a Lenten discpline, starting at the beginning, with kicking the can. Sometimes you have to do that, you know. Sometimes your life is just frozen shut, and nothing new can happen unless you kick it a couple of times.

Then the discernment begins; what is valuable in my life, and what is "garbage"? What things "might come in handy someday" and why do I think so? Is it true? Where does the true value of my life lie? And in the midst of it all, I remember these words:

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

During Lent this year, I will throw away, or somehow get rid of, one thing every day.

I'll let you know, occasionally, how it's going.

How about you?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Dog I Love

This picture is not Scout. No, this picture is of a dog with, I think, an eerie resemblance to Scout. Her name is Pink, and she is a lab-husky mix. Notice how one of her ears stays up and the other one flops down?

Pink belongs to the trainer who I believed "saved" Scout. As many of you know, when Scout was a puppy she had aggression problems. She was possessive of her food bowl and also of items that she "stole." She even bit me once. We took Scout to the Humane Society, and to many different kinds of training. I was very worried that we couldn't manage this behavior when Scout grew up, we would not be able to keep her, because she wouldn't be safe. When we went to Maureen, she gave us some training so that we could be better leaders. And she wouldn't give up. And although Scout is not perfect (and this is more our deficiency than it is hers), she does not protect or guard items any more.

The first time Maureen met Scout, she told me I needed to go to her website and look at Pink. I did, and thought they could be sisters. They are the same age. Scout used to board with Maureen every once in awhile, and so go to know Pink as well.

I just found out that Pink, this beautiful dog, the same age as Scout, has Stage V Lymphoma.

Please keep Pink and her people in your prayers.

I've learned so much from them. I can't even tell you how much right now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sunday Sermon


“Holding On to the Glory”
Luke 9:28-43, mostly

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our creator...

I don’t know how many of you watched the Super Bowl last week. I didn’t, not even the commercials, but I’ve been intrigued by a story I’ve heard since then. It’s a story about the team’s coach, Sean Payton, and about how he slept with the Vince Lombardi trophy next to him on Sunday night, after the victory. He said he rolled over it a couple of times, probably drooled on it. But that’s ok. “There’s nothing like it.” And who can blame him? The Saints had never even been to a Superbowl before, much less won one. Who can blame him for wanting to hold on to the trophy, hold on to the glory, for just a little while. I have friends who live in the New Orleans areas as well, and they were saying how much the victory meant to them, to this place which had experienced so much death and destruction. “It’s not just a football game,” they said. “It’s a sign – it’s a sign of the re-birth of our city.” And who can blame them for wanting to hold on to the glory, hold on to the glory for just a little while longer?

Who can blame him? That’s a question I ask about Peter, as well, Peter who is so taken with the sight of the glory of Jesus, standing there with Moses and Elijah. Who can blame him for wanting to build three dwellings for them? “There’s nothing like this,” he seems to be saying. “This is it! We’ve arrived! And it’s good for us to be here.” He just wanted to hold on to the glory of the moment, the moment when Jesus’ face shone, and when he was speaking to the great patriarchs of the faith– speaking about his upcoming journey to Jerusalem. He just wanted to hold on to the glory – and perhaps he was thinking (like the people of New Orleans) “This is a sign from God! This is a sign of victory! We are winners!” And who can blame him? After all, Peter is a poor fisherman, living as a Jew in the Roman Empire. Most of the time he does not feel glorious, or important at all. And he’s staking all of his hopes on Jesus, this carpenter, this healer, this preacher – and for a moment, there it is, the glorious truth. Jesus is the Messiah. And he wants to stay in this moment forever.

Who can blame us – on this day, if we just want to hold on to the glory? It’s true of all of us, isn’t it? Whether our glory days were just yesterday, or whether they were decades ago, we all want to hold on to the glory. We want to look at those pictures of us when we were young, and say, “That’s the real me, not the one that I look at in the mirror every morning – and I’m getting older.” We want to hold on to the images of the time we graduated with Honors, that contest we won, that speech that we gave, the award-winning chocolate cake we baked. We think back to the time when we were the biggest church in town, or when our denomination had a lot of clout. And who can blame us – if we want to hang on to the glory? Who can blame us? For it’s a sign – isn’t it – that we are winners, really, deep down inside, even if right now we can’t see it and right now we don’t feel like it. We’re winners. We want to hang on to the glory.

But what happens? What happens on the mountain there when Jesus shines and Peter wants to stay? It’s a moment of glory, but almost as soon as they figure it out, they are overwhelmed by a cloud, they hear God’s voice: (This is my son.... Listen to him!) (I think it’s so interesting that Jesus does NOT say “look at him” but “Listen to him”). And Jesus is alone. The three patriarchs are gone and Jesus is not shining any more.

And then what happens? They go back down the mountain, back down the mountain and the first thing that happens to them is LIFE. The first thing that happens to them is a child possessed by a spirit, and this seems to be a particularly difficult case. The disciples can’t cast it out, which makes Jesus sigh and wonder if people will ever ever get it. You can see why they wanted to stay on the mountain even more now, can’t you? They go down from the mountain where everything was clear and they KNEW Jesus was the Messiah, to a place where there were people who were hungry, people who were dying, people who were sick, people who needed good news, people who needed healing, people who needed to be set free from evil and sin and oppression. And they were responsible, and sometimes they failed. That’s what happened. And I’m sure when that happened they were more than tempted to wonder if the glory on the mountain was just a mirage, if they had been asleep and dreamed it.

But here’s also what happened down in the valley: The child was healed, despite the disciples’ failure, and “they were all astounded at the greatness of God.” Up on the mountain, with the shining – no one was saying that, because the only ones who saw the vision were Peter, James and John. Sure it was a vision, but it was a private vision, and no one else but them saw it. But after they came down, and met the awful reality of life, the brokenness, grief, fear – and Jesus healed it – ah! Then, there began transfiguration, there began the transformation – not just the transfiguration of Jesus, but the transformation the boy who was healed, and the transfiguration of the disciples – “from one degree of glory into another,” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians. “And all were astounded by the greatness of God.”

Don’t get me wrong, the shining is true: it’s a glimpse of the victory of Jesus, the one who was crucified, but lives. It’s a glimpse of his life, his resurrected life, that they saw. It was a true sign, a sign of the truth; the one who was crucified lives. But when the disciples listened to the voice of Jesus, went down the mountain, tried to heal the boy but couldn’t, somehow in that mess, in that mess, which everyone saw, “all were astounded by the greatness of God.” They had to be willing to fail, and fail big, but in the process they were being transformed, bit by bit, degree by degree, into the image of Jesus, into people who also healed and spoke and set free captives, who brought hope and lifted hope and lifted others up.

Pastor Heidi Neumark served as the pastor of a church in the South Bronx, called – appropriately enough “Transfiguration Lutheran Church.” They were a mission congregation back in the 1920s, I believe, and had once flourished with immigrants from Puerto Rico. But those glory days were well behind them when pastor Neumark arrived. There were just a few people left in the congregation in those days, and they kept their doors closed and locked most of the time, fearful of the problems and pains of the community. But somehow, they listened to the voice of Jesus, and they began to open the doors and go out into the world, go out into the community, bearing nothing but Jesus’ love. And The church was transfigured, re-born, by this experience, “and all were astounded by the greatness of god.” It’s true. But let me tell you, this was not an instant happening. Pastor Neumark served as Transfiguration for 20 years. Loving and serving and showing Jesus to the community was hard work, and I’m sure they failed a lot. But in so doing they also showed forth the face of God in their community. They showed the heart of God to their community.

Who can blame us for wanting to hold on to the glory? But when we come down from the mountain, Jesus is still with us – his power, his healing, most of all his love. Jesus is still with us. We follow him, though his face no longer shines, and his clothes no longer dazzle. We follow him as he sets his face toward Jerusalem. He is determined to heal, to embrace, to love – the whole world.

And we can’t hold on to the glory, but the truth is that the glory holds on to us. Jesus in his suffering love, Jesus in his healing love, Jesus in his forgiving love holds on to us, surrounds us, and lifts us up. So we too are being transformed, one degree at a time, into his image. We are being transformed, so that, as we go out, and even in our failures, God is working through us, the glory of God is shining through us.... “and all were astounded by the greatness of God.”


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Not A Good Day

We went to visit my dad Sunday afternoon, after church and after our regularly scheduled naps. It's been awhile, and more awhile than it should have been. When the car got smashed, the trip to the nursing home got moved back a couple more days.

I told my mom that we would probably be there around 3:00 or so, but I overslept, and we didn't make it until almost 4:00. My mom and dad were down in the visitor's lounge playing Yahtzee. They were almost done. Both of them had gotten Yahtzees. It looked like a pretty good game.

I don't think my dad really knew who I was, at least right away. He was very confused and crabby. He kept asking what we were doing next, by which he meant, something interesting, not going to supper or watching Lawrence Welk.

He wanted to go to California.

And he thought my mother was being very very unreasonable because she wasn't packing their bags right away.

Writing this now, it seems kind of funny, but actually he was being kind of mean about it at the time. He kind of accused me of being "on my mom's side." And he said a lot of things that didn't make sense at all.

I've done a lot of visiting in hospitals and nursing homes through the years, and I'm used to people who are having trouble with reality. I can go with the flow in conversation with the best of them. I did that some, on Sunday.

But I'll tell you, it's not the same when it's your dad.

When he told my mom and me he wanted us to leave the room so that he could talk to my husband alone, I was figuring he thought there was some kind of great big conspiracy against him. I was pretty sure he thought my husband was someone else, perhaps a representative of the nursing home, or someone who could help him in some way.

I don't really know what to say sometimes, when people ask me, "How's you dad?" He does have good days, and he has bad days. My mom said that my neice was visiting about a week ago, and they had a really good time. So, I hope there are more good days on the horizon, more days when we can sing or tell a joke, or remember something from the old days. I hope there are a couple of times left when I'm not the enemy, when I see the old smile and the twinkly eyes and know he feels all right.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Regarding Whether We Have "Done our Homework"

There has been a lot of hand-wringing in the ELCA these last few months regarding the decisions about gay and lesbian clergy that we made last summer. Was this a top-down decision orchestrated by a few elites? Or was there actually too much lay involvement? Are certain Lutheran Theologies which focus on radical grace suspect (on one site, Gerhard Forde was mentioned, although he would certainly have been against these changes). Or perhaps, this was a slippery slope made inevitable by the fact that we did not really "do our homework" before ordaining women back in the early 1970s.

So. Some people are pretty sure that the decisions made to ordain women really were decisions based on theological and biblical studies. Others suspect that cultural and political feminism played a part. Well. It's true, political and cultural forces like feminism probably did influence the decision to have the discussion in the first place. Cultural forces, like it or not, do affect our faith. It also happens the other way around. Faith influences culture as well. We don't exist in a vacuum.

I happen to think that we did do our homework before ordaining women. I talked to professors at my seminary who read the scriptures and actually changed their minds about women clergy.

But here's the thing we don't like to admit: people often don't change their minds because of political forces, and they don't change their minds because we "did our homework" and now have the right theological justification for our position. They change their minds for Another Reason, and we can't stop it from happening.

I heard Garrison Keillor on the radio from Lake Wobegon recently. He was telling a story about a small mythical town somewhere in the Middle of Minnesota where they would not have woman pastor; they had never had a woman pastor, and they knew it was Wrong.

Until, somehow, it happened. And, he said (something like this) "they knew it was against the Word of God, but... the hell with it. She baptized their babies, and she visited them in the hospital, and she taught their children, and she preached the gospel. They liked her."

(apologies to G. Keillor for not having the means to get thie quotation exactly right. I heard it on the radio.)

But, that's the way it happens, most of the time: not by some insidious cultural force and not by "doing our homework" (or not), but by the experiencing of knowing a pastor who is a woman, or a gay or lesbian Christian, someone we love and respect. It's having a gay son or daughter, a close friend, a colleague. A retired pastor friend of mine surprised me recently by welcoming these changes; knowing his piety, I would not have suspected his views. Lately I learned that one of his children is a partnered lesbian. The woman from my congregation who went to the Churchwide Assembly voted for the changes simply because, as she said, she knew gay and lesbian people. I also suspect the people from our congregation have no idea which way she voted. (Neither did I. While debriefing the experience with her, I just came out and asked her.)

I'm not sure yet how to end this essay. All I know so far is that faithfulness requires honesty: honesty about our theology and what the scripture says; and honesty about who we are and our own stories, our own experiences.

Since I'm not sure yet how to end this essay, I think I'll leave it unfinished for now. I'll leave it unfinished, but with a commitment to remain in conversation, to keep hearing the scriptures, to keep hearing stories.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sunday Sermon

draft of one, anyway

Sermon for Epiphany 5, 2010
Luke 5:1-11
“How Jesus Wrecks our Life”

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace ....

I’m going to start right off today by admitting that I don’t have a lot of experience with fishing – with the exception of a couple of memorable fishing trips as a young girl. My uncle was – and still is – a fanatical fisherman. This is not an uncommon breed here in the upper midwest. He liked to take a couple of us out in the boat sometimes, at sunset or at sunrise – the best times to catch fish, he said. I remember these times because on at least one occasion only one of us caught anything and it was – you guessed it – me. I caught the prized northern pike, and it was big enough to keep. But no one else caught a thing, including my accomplished uncle. I couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, I wouldn’t have been caught dead putting the worm on the lure, but I was the one who reeled in the prize. Not fair, but it certainly made my day.

So the scene before us in our gospel today is not a really familiar one to me. In fact, there are many strange things going on in this story, but it helps to consider that the scene itself would have been a very ordinary one – a scene out of ordinary life, ordinary commerce. People are going about their daily lives, making their living for the day, and oh, by the way, there is a large crowd gathering to hear Jesus teach. Imagine if you will if workers were going about their business stocking or cashiering at Walmart, and at the same time a crowd was gathering to hear Jesus, as he steps out of the aisle and onto a ladder so that people can get a better view. They were not in the temple, as Isaiah was when he saw the incredible vision of the seraphim, and heard the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” They were by the lake, working, just like every other day.

And the disciples, unlike my uncle, were not engaging in a passionate hobby. They were working, like the clerks at Walmart, like the busboys at your favorite restaurant, like the people who sweep the floors and vaccuum offices at night – they were working to earn their daily bread. They were good at it, of course, they knew that some days you caught a lot, some days you might get nothing at all. When Simon heard Jesus say, “put your nets out”, it might have occurred to him to think that Jesus should stay out of the fishing business and stick to religion, which is something he knew about. “Lord, we’ve been there and done that,” he might have said. Well, actually, he did say something like that.

But Simon humors Jesus and casts his net out into the deep water anyway, and we all know the rest of the story: the incredible, amazing, abundance of fish, Simon’s strange reaction, “Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man”; Jesus’ call: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” We all know the rest of the story, but do we really? When I read this story with a Bible study group on Wednesday, I focused on the incredible abundance of fish. It was as if, I told the group, they had won the lottery of fish! After all, fish were their living, and here they were flooded with them. It was as is they got the phone call, “You have already won!” Abundance was theirs, beyond their imagining! No wonder Simon falls on his knees: he knows right away that this abundance has really NOTHING to do with his ability as a fisherman. It was all Jesus’ doing. It was “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.... that saved a wretched like me...” It was “grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved....” Grace, grace, amazing, astonishing, abundant grace.

Like I said, that is always the way I have read this story, focusing on the incredible abundance of fish, all Jesus’ doing. But for some reason, as I looked at this story again, two phrases leaped out at me: “their nets were beginning to break,” and “their boats began to sink.” What do the disciples have at the end of the story? They have abundant fish, that’s for sure, but fish are not like money; fish spoil. It’s not exactly like winning the lottery, after all. And the disciples have broken nets and sunken boats. Today and yesterday and the day before yesterday fishing was the center of their lives and their way of making a living. But after today that will no longer be the case. Their lives have a whole new center. And the broken nets and the abundant fish both have a role to play in this.

With broken nets and sunken boats...this is how Jesus wrecks our lives but at the same time calls us to an abundance beyond our imagining. With broken nets and sunken boats – Jesus exposes to Simon and his friends that the things they counted on, the tools they used to save their lives – are fragile, breakable, insufficient. Our work, our families, our hobbies, our health, all the things we count on, all the things we center our lives on, in the end can break down, sink, and die. None of these things, good as they are, are enough. So Jesus calls out to people who are at the end of their rope, who, in a way, have nothing to lose. “Follow me,” he says, “and I will make you fish for people.” “And,” he might have added, “you will experience great abundance and grace, and you will experience sorrow and brokenness.”

Back in Advent several members of our congregation wrote faith stories. One woman told a story about her father being transferred to a new job in a new state when she was a teenager. She wrote about how difficult that was for her, and how she didn’t want to go, and the pain of being in a new place where she had to make new friends and didn’t know anyone. She might have said her life was wrecked. But at the same time, she realizes now how much she gained from that move, what she learned, new friends she made. Ultimately, she learned to trust God more and more with her life, although the experience was painful for her. She learned, and I think she is still learning, that Jesus really is the center of her life, even in the middle of the wreckage. Another woman told a work-related story about her small business, and how a painful experience with an employee made her re-think the way she ran her business, and really her whole life. Broken nets. Sunken ships. Wrecked relationships. And a God of abundant grace who calls us to follow.

Oftentimes when we hear the word “call,” we think of those who are called to leave a particular kind of work, and do another – like the disciples. We think of a call as a call to live a different life than the one before us. But most often, I think, we are not called to a different life, but we are called to live our lives in a different way – with a new center. Instead of work, or family, or friends, or anything else being the center of our lives, we live and work with God at the center, and with God’s amazing grace and love for us and for all people, at the center of our lives. And that calls us to do whatever we do – whether it is our work, being a parent, being a friend, being a neighbor – in a different way.

I know that several of you have heard the story of Ben Larson, the seminary student who was in Haiti, working there at an orphanage, and who was killed in the earthquake. As I read stories on the internet about relief efforts in Haiti, and about his life, I read these powerful words, from a mother and a woman who knew Ben Larson and his family.... She writes

“Be careful what you teach your children...
When we parents offer our children up to the world, to serve, to give, to go, to heal and teach and dig wells and make justice, we’d damn well be clear about what we are doing.
We are giving them up.
A “brilliant light” and vibrant life has been taken away from this life. He died along with the poorest of the poor, the desperate, precious people of Haiti. A young man whose mother and father taught him to love and risk and sacrifice has paid the ultimate price for his commitment....
Be careful what you do, moms. Be careful what you do, dads. You give your children to the world and it doesn’t always spare them...
We share our children, we share one another with the whole world. They do not belong to us. We nurture and guide them along, we encourage and succor’s a good thing. Yes, it is. It is a good thing. To share our lives, our children, our giftrs with the world. It can be dangerous. It can be deadly. But it is right.

I do the same with my own two girls. Send them off, send them out. To change the world, to take risks and perhaps live dangerously. For the sake of love.

She closes by saying, “life comes from death. Every time. One way or another. Every time. Life comes from death. And it will now, too. It will.”

Quote from Jan Erickson at Palm Tree In Poland

I wonder, in the midst of her grief, how she can write such powerful words? “Life comes from death. Life comes from death.” Perhaps it is because she too has held broken nets and been in sunken boats. Perhaps it is because she knows that, in the midst of the wreckage, the God of abundant fish, abundant life, abundant love, is also the one who is broken for our sake. Perhaps it is because she knows the one who was wrecked, and who came out on the other side.

It is He – Jesus – and he casts his life, his love into the deep water, because his love is so wide, and his mercy so deep... for us. For us.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"It Could Have Been Us"

On Sunday afternoon, my husband and I took a brief getaway to a Small Historic Town near here. We stayed in an historic inn, had the bed and breakfast special, shopped a little, and had a swim. Then we started home. There was pretty, light snow falling.

As we neared home, traffic slowed, and we saw up ahead what had happened: a car was sitting at a right angle to the road, facing a pole. The roads were starting to get slippery. My husband turned to me and said, "it could have been us." He reflected on what a good idea it was for me to shop for just a few minutes longer at the Scandinavian gift shop.

We returned home, unpacked, did a little laundry, took naps. We heard the message machine beep: it was a call from the pastor at my husband's church, saying that it was his call whether he would come to the Monday night service that evening.

It was still snowing.

My husband thought we needed to go out to pick up our dog at the sitter anyway, so we would leave early and go to church.

Almost immediately after leaving, we thought that might have been a mistake. The streets were very slippery and traffic was stopped on the freeway. We saw another traffic backup and another accident. We had hoped to leave earlier, but now my husband was glad. "If we had left a few minutes earlier, that could have been us."

It was beginning to look like we might not arrive at the church on time. We considered, more than once, just forgetting about church, and continuing on to get the dog. We took an alternate route, since our normal route to church was, again, deadlocked traffic.

It looked like it was going to be close. We might get to church with two or three minutes to spare. But in the end, we made a left turn into the church parking lot at five minutes before the church service.

Just as we were turning left, the car behind us hit us, on the driver's side. There is a cracked taillight, a dent on the left bumper, and the driver's side down. Also, the driver's side door will not close.

After the police report and the exchange of insurance information, we had to drive home with a rope to hold the door closed. (yes, we did pick up the dog.)

Did I tell you, my husband was driving, but it was my car?

I'm trying to put the best construction on this (many people at the church offered to help us, we are glad no one was hurt, etc.) but I'm not totally succeeding.

Monday, February 1, 2010

faith in community, again

(adapted from my church newsletter column)

In about the last year, I've experienced a renaissance in knitting. You can ask my family and friends: I've knitted scads of scarves, a couple of pairs of fingerless gloves, and my first ever pair of mittens! (currently: to knit, or not to knit a hat: that is the question.)

To be fair, I've known how to knit ever since I was in junior high. In seventh grade, my teacher patiently taught me the garter stitch, even though I was left-handed. In 10th grade, I stayed hom from school with a bad cold for several and taught myself to purl and cable stitch. I gave it up after a hat done in something called "popcorn stitch" looked very pretty, but had absolutely no stretch and wouldn't stay on my head. (I think I had a problem with gauge.)

On and off, I've tried and abandoned projects when the directions got too difficult for me. I taught myself to knit in the round but could complete no projects with it.

Then, suddenly, something changed. I stopped into a little knitting store one day and asked if they had any classes, particularly classes in how to make socks.

"Can you knit and purl?" they asked. "Come in and we'll help you."

It seems to me, lately, that our life of faith can be much the same. For years we can be going along, just knowing how to "knit and purl", so to speak, but not really knowing what to do with our faith, not really knowing what to make. For years, we can be going along, wanting to make something beautiful out of our lives, out of our community, and not really knowing how. Then, suddenly.....

So what makes the difference?

Community. Particularly, what makes a difference is a community of faith where we can dare to ask for help, and people who will say, "Come in and we'll help you."

I even begin to wonder if those classes we like to teach (particularly in larger congregations) aren't so helpful for the knowledge of the teacher who stands in front and "knows everything," but because they make connections between people who can then ask each other for help, as they grow in faith, as God makes something beautiful of their lives.

Two beautiful phrases in the vocabulary of faith: "Can you teach me?" "Come in and we'll help you."