Monday, March 28, 2016

Bluebonnets, Easter, and Faith

Today, the day after Easter, my husband and I had a mission:  we wanted to find bluebonnets.   Bluebonnets are the Texas state flower; I have seen pictures of enormous fields of them, but had never seen an actual field of bluebonnets.

For the last couple of weeks that was one of the main topics of conversation.  "You have to see the bluebonnets!"  "Have you gone to see the bluebonnets?"  It was Lent, and then Holy Week, and I had not taken time to go and try to find bluebonnets, but I knew that I wanted to take the time as soon as I got through the Easter services.

People gave me some ideas and suggestions about where to look, but they also assured me that it would be easy for us.  "Just drive west and they are all over the place!" they said.  So that it what we did, this morning.  We drove west, toward a beautiful historic town just over an hour away, and we kept our eyes peeled all along the highway, searching for bluebonnets.

We found some pretty impressive bright orange flowers (which I discovered later were Indian paintbrush.)  There were some bright yellow flowers too -- whole field of them.  But I was not terribly interested in those.  There were some delicate pink flowers, and there were some occasional dots of purple.  But where were those enormous fields that I had heard about?  Were they legends?  Was this a bad year for bluebonnets?  (I had heard that some years were not as impressive as others.)

We had been driving around for awhile, and I was about to give up.  We actually stopped in an Antique store in town and asked about where to go to see them.  The owner said she didn't know, except that there was a very small clump on the corner of her property.  It was not what we had been expecting.

We turned around and were about to head home when my husband shouted, "There they are!"  Our first clue was that there were two other cars stopped along the highway.  There were two women who were taking pictures of each other sitting in the bluebonnets.  They spoke Chinese.  Three other people with British accents wandered around taking pictures as well.   Bluebonnets are an international phenomenon.

I was about to give up, and there they were.  Not an enormous field, but beautiful enough.

I am thinking about the empty tomb, and Jesus standing in front of Mary Magdalene.  She had given up, and then suddenly, there he is, standing there, alive, the most impossible thing to happen.

I am also thinking about all of the heavy news of the world, the terror in Brussels and in Pakistan, none of which can be fixed by seeing a field of bluebonnets, and by taking pictures of yourself standing among them.  Bluebonnets can't do anything but remind you that beauty is in the world.

They can also remind me not to give up.  Keep going.  Keep doing good.  Keep living as if the promise is true, as if Jesus is risen and the power of unending love will finally triumph.  Keep standing up for the weak and the hungry and the stranger.

Don't give up.  I may not recognize him, but Jesus is standing right in front of me.  Fields of bluebonnets are just around the corner.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bystander

Yesterday was Palm Sunday.  In my congregation we waved palms, we processed into the sanctuary, we heard the passion story, interspersed with a hymn, and parts for the congregation. I had a short meditation instead of a sermon.  It was a dramatic monologue, entitled "Bystander", about a bystander who followed Jesus during his week in Jerusalem.

After the first service, we had an adult study time.  The  subject of our conversation was worship.  What is worship?  Is it only what happens in church?  Is it an individual activity, or the activity of a community?  What does it mean for us?  What is meaningful about worship?  Why do we worship?

One thing we talked about was our experiences in worship as children as opposed to those we had now, as adults.  Someone said that his favorite part of worship as a child was the benediction.  Others mentioned that they came with their parents, and were there because it was a family activity.  Someone else said they grew up on a farm, and it was an opportunity to go into town and be around other people.

Some people said that, as adults, they appreciated the opportunity to give back:  to sing in the choir, or be a part of worship leadership.  Another person said worship is okay, but she really likes Sunday School, this time of conversation and reflection.  I suspected it was because this is more interactive, people sharing ideas as they look up Bible passages and bounce possible theological ideas off each other.

And then one person said it:  "As children, we were bystanders."

I thought it was brilliant.

For the past few months, we have started to lift up the idea of intergenerational worship and faith formation, of cross generational activities.  We have done a couple of service and craft projects with all ages together.  We would like to do even more.  I want everyone to be a participant in the body of Christ, not just a bystander.

The two words people often use to describe worship are that it is either "traditional" or "contemporary."  Those are fine words, as far as they go.  But they might mean different things to different people.  And I can't help noticing that those two words divide people more than they unite.  I have also noticed that people might be participants or bystanders no matter which kind of service they go to.  I have been a participant in traditional worship, and a bystander in a contemporary worship.  It has happened the other way as well.

But what if, instead of traditional and contemporary, we cared more about whether was engaging and participatory?  What if the question we were always asking was whether everyone was active.  Were there any bystanders today?  Or was there a place for everyone:  to move, to pray, to sing, to be a part of the story?

I don't want the children, or anyone, for that matter, to be a bystander in worship.   I want all of us to know that we are a part of the story, a part of the body, a part of God's mission in the world.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Palm Sunday now

It is coming up on Holy Week.

Sunday will be Palm Sunday, the Sunday that Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.  There will be Palm branches, and we will have a celebration and remember that there were crowds adoring him that day.

I have been going to church on Palm Sunday since I was a little girl, loving the Palm Branches and waving them, shouting Hosanna with everyone else, and hearing sermons that reminded me that the crowds were fickle on that day.  Jesus was not popular for many days.

I have always imagined that there were great crowds on that day, following Jesus.  But it was not until recently that I realized that there were really two parades in Jerusalem that day.  One of them was the one that the scriptures recount, the one that we remember all these years later.  The other one is not mentioned in the Bible, but it is just as real.  Pontius Pilate would also have been entering Jerusalem that day.

There were probably crowds with him as well.

So really there were two processionals -- two parades -- into Jerusalem that day, representing two different kinds of power, and two different kinds of hope.  I suspect, however,  that even the people who were following Jesus and waving palm branches did not realize how different Jesus' kind of power really was.

But on that day there was a choice:  which processional would you follow?  Who would get you allegiance?  Jesus, or Pilate?

It seems to me that the choice remains:  what do we hope for?  who do we follow?  what processional are we in?  which king is ours?  Do we even recognize him?

He comes to us in the outcast, the stranger, the lonely.

It is coming up on Holy Week.  The Palm Branches are ready to raise.  The processional is ready to start.  But I wonder who we think we are following, and where we think he is going.

Even today.

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

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday Night With Scout

Tonight is the eve of the 5th Sunday in Lent.  I just got done setting my clock ahead for the dreaded spring forward.  I am not looking forward to the morning darkness, no matter how many times I remind myself about the longer evenings.

It is a lovely evening.  It is dark now.  Tomorrow night at this time it will still be light, I think.  I want someone to remind me to sit on my patio and pay attention to it.  Perhaps someone will.

Earlier this evening, I fed my dog Scout, and then almost immediately afterwards, opened the patio door to get that nice breeze in.

Almost immediately she looked up from her food bowl and went out to the patio.  She must have sat there for fifteen minutes, her food half-eaten.

This is a dog who is usually single-minded when it comes to food.  I wish I could read scripture with the sort of attention she gives to her food, which is ALWAYS the same.  She attacks it with vigor, and doesn't stop until everything is gone.  It is inspiring.

But not tonight.  Tonight something else that caught her attention.  I can't imagine what it was.  My senses are not as finely tuned as hers.  But in those minutes that she sat there, meditating (as I imagined it), I did begin to hear the birds, songs I had not paid attention to.  They are different birdsongs here in Texas than the ones I was accustomed to in Minnesota.  Perhaps it was the birds.  Or perhaps it was smells -- Texas is covered in pollen now.  I can see it, the yellow layers on my car, sliding off in the heavy rains this week.  Maybe Scout can smell things that I am not able to.

There are smells in tomorrow's gospel reading.  I am not paying attention to them.  There is the smell of death and the smell of the costly nard, poured over Jesus' feet.  Scripture says that the smell filled every corner of the house.  I wonder what it was like.

I wonder what it was like, sitting at table with Jesus, just being together.  It is not long before he will be crucified.  They have this moment together, to savor, to be together, to pay attention, to be aware of his presence with them.

Sometimes you have to stop what you are doing, what you thought was so important, and just be present, be in the presence, know that, whether you can sense it or not, God is in the room.

Or dog.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Stranger in a Strange Land

Just the other day I saw a byline on my blog, which reads, simply, that I am a "Lutheran pastor in Texas."  I am struck by this odd fact.  Until last year, I was a "Lutheran pastor in Minnesota," which was a description I could understand.  Now I am a "Lutheran pastor in Texas" which seems to me on some days like saying "an orangutan in the arctic".   There are other Lutheran pastors, but we are not all that common.

Anyway, it feels odd to me, as if being in Texas is my one claim to fame.  Perhaps it is.  Right now I am wondering what else I would like to put in a byline.  "Lutheran pastor who lives with her dog Scout, in Texas" is one possible byline.  Scout helps me in my ministry by giving me places to go, and things to talk about with strangers.  Because of her, I have been going to a local dog park on occasion.  We go for an hour late in the afternoon, where I admire Scout and all the other dogs, and where I watch Scout go from person to person, soliciting pets.  I have brief conversations with strangers, mostly about dogs and places to go shopping.  It is what it is.

Just the other day I was walking with Scout in the parking lot of my apartment.  A woman spotted us and came up to meet us.  She thought my dog was pretty.  Scout decided to play hard to get, but we struck up a conversation anyway.  She has lived here four years, she said, and she likes it.  I have lived here just over six months.  She asked me if I ever went to the dog park.  I said yes.  Perhaps we would run into each other there.  I told her my dog would be instant friends with her if they met at the dog park.  I told her I was pastor at a Lutheran Church in town.  She did not ask what a Lutheran was.  She told me she went to a small anglo-Catholic community in Cypress.  She is very committed to her church.  She drives an hour to get there. She cooks for them, she said.

"Lutheran pastor who lives with her dog, in Texas."  I suppose that could be my byline, my claim to fame.  I wonder what else I could use.  "Lutheran pastor who writes haiku prayers" (something I used to do), or "Lutheran pastor who is not very good at directions, but who is finding her way around a very small area of Texas."  Or maybe it should be "Lutheran pastor who is finding herself, somehow, living with her dog, in a very small area of Texas."

That's who I am, for now.  It is not what I will be, but that is true for all of us.  We are strangers in a strange land, with bylines that suit, or don't quite suit us.  "Lutheran pastor in Texas" is not all that there is, but it will do for now.