Saturday, July 31, 2010

In the Old Days, we Used to Have Poetry Parties

Here's a poem that's been haunting me for quite a while:

Muted Gold

For Abraham Rich

My father died just as my plane touched down.
He taught me journeys don't happen in straight lines.
I loved him wihtout ever needing words.
Is memory a chain of alibis?

He taught me journeys don't happen in straight lines.
His father sailed  Odessa to Boston Harbor.
Is memory a chain of alibis?
The story I choose a net of my own desires?

His father sailed Odessa to Boston Harbor.
Dad worked beside him in their corner store.
The story I choose a net of my own desires?
I wish I'd known to ask the simple questions.

Dad worked beside him in the corner store.
They shelved the tins of black beans, fruit preserves, and almond cakes.
I wish I'd known to ask the simple questions,
he'd have stayed with me and gossiped over toast.

They shelved the tins of black beans, fruit preserves and almond cakes.
What colors did they wear, what languages were spoken?
He'd have stayed with me and gossiped over toast,
now he's smiling but I can't summon the thoughts he's thinking.

What colors did they wear, what languages were spoken?
Was it a muted gold, a world of shattered feeling?
Now he's smiling but I can't summon the thoughts he's thinking.
I pack his clothes away, mark them for Goodwill.

Was it a muted gold, a world of shattered feeling?
What good will it do to dwell, I hear him say.
I pack his clothes away, mark them for Goodwill.
but I hold fast to one old T shirt, butter-smooth, and brilliant.

What good will it do to dwell, I hear him say.
He much preferred to glide along life's surface.
but I hold fast to one old T shirt, butter-smooth, and brilliant
and tell a story by moonlight, to try to keep him with me.

He much preferred to glide along life's surface.
I love him now with images and words,
and tell a story by moonlight, to try and keep him with me.
My father died just as my plane touched down.

-Susan Rich

Beloved on the Earth

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why Interim Ministry is Good, Mostly

Though we haven't chosen an interim minister yet, our congregation is going to use the services of an interim minister while we go through our current pastoral transition.  And I think this is a good thing, mostly. 

I think of two situations that illustrate the pitfalls inherent in calling a pastor without a time of interim:

1.  A beloved pastor leaves suddenly for a new call.  The congregation is heartbroken, and angry and confused, and maybe feels betrayed.  There is perhaps a knee-jerk reaction that the church needs to get someone just like the pastor who has left, to replicate the experience which they thought was so good for them.  It's not difficult to imagine the problems this could cause, as no two pastors have exactly the same gifts.  As well, the church which loved the pastor may not have dealt with their feelings of anger and betrayal, and might take them out on the new pastor.

2.  A pastor leaves a pastor call where there has been conflict and dis-ease, or where the congregation is foundering.  A knee-jerk reaction on the part of at least some of the congregation might be for the next pastor to be the EXACT OPPOSITE of the one they just had.  If the congregation has a little more time to think about it, they might realize that this wouldn't be the best idea.

A good interim period forces the congregation to wrestle with the mission God has given them, to consider their own leadership, and not just the leadership of the pastor.  Effective ministry requres a partnership between clergy and lay leadership, and an understanding of the uniqueness each.

HOWEVER, I recently read this post over at the blog 8th Day Planner, and am pondering that there may also be pitfalls in interim ministry.

It seems to me that congregations in interim might get the mistaken impression that there is a Holy Grail of Pastoral Leadership, That Perfect Pastor for them.  Also, a period of interim might be mis-interpreted as a period of internal reflection, and give the mistaken impression that a congregation needs to have Everything Worked Out Internally before they can turn outward to their community and the wider world.

But a healthy congregation is one that is doing what God calls it to do:  loving their neighbors, doing good in their community, doing justice, loving kindness.  You can't get healthy and then reach out.  If you are a congregation, you get healthy (at least in part) BY reaching out. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When In Doubt, Sing

(Thanks to Jane Redmont for title)
(I wrote this to be read at a funeral I could not attend, because I was on vacation.)

Long ago, I read an article by a man whose son was seriously ill.  He recounted keeping vigil by his son's bedside many evenings.  He didn't know what to do.  He didn't feel he had the words to pray.  In fact, he admitted that sometimes he didn't think he had the faith to pray.  So, he sang.  It surprised him, he said, that he found himself singing, and that he found it comforting to sing.

We have been doing a lot of singing these past few weeks.  And praying.  Since hearing of K's diagnosis, perhaps there have been times when we didn't have the words to pray.  I know I have felt that way.  But the Spirit helps us in our weakness, with sighs, and sometimes with songs.  Some of the songs you sang for K lately were Blessed Assurance, Children of the Heavenly Father, Beautiful Savior.  Perhaps you sang in harmony.

I thought I knew K. pretty well.  After all I've been K and D (her husband)'s pastor for twelve years.  I knew she was a tireless advocate for VEAP (a food/clothing/housing agency).  I knew she played the bells.  I knew she had a quiet strength and grace.  I knew she and D loved music, because once in awhile I would run into them at a concert at Orchestra hall.  I knew she was a leader in our congregation, admired by many.  But I didn't know that she was the first woman to be the President of our congregation, that she loved to knit, that she liked to sing the harmony parts on all the hymns.

She liked to sing the harmony parts on all the hymns.  There's something about knowing this that lifts my heart.  today there is singing in harmony, and there is praying in harmony, because the Spirit helps us in our weakness, with sighs and with songs too deep for words.  Today we commend K. to the loving arms of her Savior, the one on whom she has relied for her whole life.

I will miss you today, but I'll imagine hearing the bells play, and I'll imagine hearing the organ soar, and I'll imagine you all singing.  In harmony.  I hope you do.  Because at just such times as these the Spirit helps us in our weakness, and our songs become our best prayers.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Knit Together

"For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb."

I said these words at a hospital on Tuesday in the late afternoon. We said these words because a baby had just been born, and his mother was holding him, and his father was standing over him, and his grandparents and his aunt were in the room.

The baby had died before he was born. No one knows why. He was beautiful, and all along the doctors had said he was perfect.

That afternoon we named him, as we also prayed and read scripture. We loved him. His mother and his father and his grandparents and his big sister and his aunt had loved him before his was born, as he was being knit together and as everyone was marvelling at his growth, and anticipating his birth.

The ones who loved him, they were also being knit together, they were knit together in their common love for one another and for him, in their anticipation and hope. Now they were knit together in grief as well.

On Friday many people came together in a memorial service. We prayed and sang. The baby's big sister danced during "Children of the Heavenly Father." There were families and friends and people from work, and people from our church, all being knit together in love and hope and in grief.

Some people in our church have known this family, this father and mother, since they were children. They have walked together, learned together, worshiped together, served together. They have sponsored refugees and taught English and served meals. They have rejoiced with them, and now they are weeping with them. Did they know, all these years, that they were being knit together into the body of Christ? And did they know that this would cause both great joy and grief to them someday?

We are being knit together by love and anticipation, by joy and by grieving. We are being knit together as we anticipate the reign of God and live now in this reality. We are being knit together, and sometimes this causes us unbelievable joy, and sometimes almost unbearable sorrow.

Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Naming Ritual

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you." The name Jesus was given to the child of Mary, the Son of God, as a sign of salvation for all people. the naming of this child reminds us of God's care for him and helps us remember this child's coming among us.

Then, addressing the parent/s, the leader asks:
What do you name your child?
Parent/s respond: Her/his name is _____________.
Parent/s or others may comment on the significance of the name.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God: and that is what we are. The reasons the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do knowi s this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

God, our creator, you called into being this fragile life, which had seemed to us so full of promise. Give to __________, whom we commit to your care, abundant life in your presence, and to us who grieve, courage to bear our loss; through jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Heavenly father, your love for all children is strong and enduring. We were not able to know this child as we hoped. Yet you knew him growing in his mother's womb, and he is not lost to you. In the midst of our sadness, we thank you that ______ is with you now, and with you forever.

Merciful God, you grant children an abundant entrance into your kingdom. In your compassion, comfort those who mourn for _______, and all who mourn the death of children. Be gentle with them in their grief, and reveal to them the wideness of your mercy. Deliver them from all despair and guilt. Grant us grace so that one day, united with _______ and with all your children, we may stand in your presence in the fullness of joy; for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. AMEN

_______, Child of God, we entrust you to the arms of God's mercy.

Almighty God, who formed us all out of the dust of the earth, receive you in peace.

Christ, the Good Shepherd, enfold you with his tender care.

God the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, bear you to life in God's new creation.

May you dwell forever in the paradise of God. AMEN

(From Evangelical Lutheran Worship, When a Child Dies before or at Birth)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Small Stuff

So we're finally on vacation here in the Cool Bay City -- and we've seen some of the Things That Everyone Should See -- been to City Lights Bookstore, Grace Cathedral, The Presidio near Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown...

Here's something I want to remember, though:

We were coming home on the cable car after dinner in Chinatown on Wednesday night. When I'm in Chinatown, I get this eerie feeling that I've been transported back in time and space, remembering a little of what it was like to walk through neighborhoods in Tokyo, peek in small shops, eat small pieces of roasted chicken on skewers.

After we jumped on the cable car, my husband gave up his seat to a woman. I heard her say "yokatta", when she sat down, so I knew she was Japanese.

I kept thinking I would like to talk to her in Japanese, but I couldn't even remember how to ask her if she was Japanese. Finally, I spoke to her in English. Between she and her husband, we could converse a little, and I did remember a few Japanese words. But I was frustrated by how much I had forgotten. I thought, "when I get back to Minnesota, I want to get a book and study up again, at least remember some basic phrases."

Anyway, she and her husband had been visiting Yosemite. They were from Tokyo and were in the United States for about a week. Before we got off the cable car, her husband took a picture of us. I remembered that these sorts of photos are called "kinen shashin."

The only thing I could think to tell her when we parted was, "Ki o tsukete", which means "Take care", or "Be careful."

It isn't often that I think about my experiences long ago as a missionary and teacher in Japan. Most of that time seems like it came from another life. I can't hold on to those memories and make them seem real and close. It's hard to remember that I walked those streets halfway across the world for a time. I am a Minnesota girl, and feel so parochial, so place-bound to the particular geography that has formed me.

Then, for a few moments, a shard of a bright memory will glisten. "I climbed Mount Fuji, once, you know." "I remember Shibuya station; there's a statue of a dog there." "Look -- there's a maneki-neko (a beckoning cat). All of the shops have them. It's for good luck."

"Natsukashii." (There's no place like home.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

I'm on Vacation....

....sort of. Perhaps I'll explain more later.

Suffice it to say that I am in a good place right now. I took a nap this afternoon.

Yesterday after the two worship services, I finished as much as I could of a funeral bulletin. I called three people, and emailed the interim organist. I went to the nursing home where one of my parish members had just died. She was surrounded by her children and grandchildren. We did a short service for Comforting the Bereaved.

A little later we went to the nursing home where my dad lives. We got news Sunday morning that my dad's older brother had died after a struggle with cancer. My uncle had been a pastor in the Evangelical Free Church. He was also a wonderful pianist. When they visited us, he used to play the accordian, or entertain us with "Twinkle, twinkle Little Star" in the style of many different famous composers.

So we had a good conversation with my dad. I got him a riddle book, and he laughed at some of the riddles. When we told him about his brother, he got stoney-faced and didn't say anything.

For supper we tried to eat up the fresh asparagus and the fresh raspberries that a retired pastor from my church had given me. The raspberries were very sweet.

I took Scout to the dog sitter. She ran right into the house, out the back door into their yard and back in again. She does not seem to suffer any separation anxiety. She may not be a "good" dog, but she is emotionally well-adjusted, it seems.

I spent most of the rest of the evening packing. I wrote a brief essay to be read at one of the funerals this week.

We got up very early to go to the airport.

Oh, by the way, I have two more books on my "read" list: both of them are re-reads. I re-read a book by one of my seminary professors, 20. "Where is God in My Praying?" I personally think it should still be in print. I also re-read a book from my youth, 21. Little House in the Big Woods. It's the one I remembered the least. I got an old, worn-out copy with the original illustrations by Helen Sewell.

Now I am reading a book called In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. I'm reading on my nook, which is still a new experience for me. The book makes me want to go to Louisiana.

I will report on this one when I'm done.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Some Random Thoughts on a Saturday Night

I am tired.

I know why I am tired, and I don't know why I am tired.

My feet hurt. It is getting worse lately. I need to be more careful about the kind of shoes I wear, I guess. Right now, they feel a little numb. I stood too much, between the wedding and the church service. The shoes felt comfortable, but I guess there was not enough support.

I have been spending a fair amount of time with a woman who is dying, and with her family. She is dying of a rare disease I hadn't really ever heard of before about a month ago. The disease has progressed so rapidly, it has shocked everyone.

I think about this woman I have known for twelve years: her intelligence, her passion for justice, for mercy, her love for music, her faith. She was the first woman to be president of our congregation. I thought I knew her pretty well, but I didn't know that she loved to knit. I didn't know that she liked to sing the harmony parts during the hymns. I knew that she played the bells, and that she was a strong advocate for woman leaders.

We're leaving for vacation on Monday. It's just 6 days. Not even quite a week. We're going to San Francisco, though. I keep humming songs about San Francisco.

I've been making lists and trying to get as much as possible done before vacation. Who needs to be visited? What needs to be planned? Who do I need to call?

And oh yes, what bills do I need to pay?

I'll also stop by the nursing home tomorrow to see my dad.

In a kind of weird way, I love what I'm doing right now, holding down the fort, running the show, whatever you want to call it, the only pastor around.

But, also, I'm tired. I'm not too proud to admit it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Last Funeral

During the past few days I've been thinking about the last funeral where I was the officiant, on a Saturday at about the middle of June.

A. was a gracious, lively, cultured woman who had struggled with cancer for the last several years. I visited her in her home and then at the nursing home where she spent the last couple of years of her life. When she was feeling well, she was a lively conversationalist, well-read, with thoughtful opinions on many of the events of the day. (Sometimes when I arrived, she was watching CNN.)

About a year ago, she decided to quit the treatments she was having for her cancer. They were taking too much out of her, so she and her son talked about it and decided she would not have that kind of suffering any more.

I remember going to visit her then, broaching the subject of what it meant for her to stop taking the treatments. I wanted to talk about the fact that she was going to die, to ask her if she was ready.

I have talked to people in the past who were eager to tell me that they were at peace. (I recently stopped in to see a woman whose first words to me were, "I'm ready.") I've talked to people who want to ask me what I think heaven, or eternal life, is like. Sometimes the conversation is easy.

Other times it is more difficult. Some people are shy, or private. It's more difficult for them to talk about things. But still, my calling is to tell them the truth, in the gentlest way possible. My calling is to help people grasp the life that God wants to give them.

It has occurred to me recently that this is not just true of people who are dying.

My calling is to love people and to tell them the truth. Sometimes this is the easiest and most joyous of tasks, and other times it is difficult. Often it is both at the same time. Sometimes, by the grace of God, I do it well. Other times, I know I have stumbled, and trust the Holy Spirit to use me anyway.

I trust the Holy Spirit to use me anyway.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday five: I Want to Belong to a Church that...

I haven't done the Revgals Friday Five for awhile, but this is a great way to get back into it. Thanks Sally!

Her inspiration is this address from the Eunice Attwood, Vice President of the British Methodist Church.

I want to be part of a church that is prayer-filled -
A church that is resourced and sustained by the Bible,
A church that can offer hope even in a credit crunch,
A church that can live well with difference and diversity.

I want to be part of a church that welcomes the wealthy, those who have power and influence -
A church that knows how to party and celebrate life,
A church that acknowledges death and speaks boldly of resurrection,
A church that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but encourages all the questions.

I want to be part of a church that throws parties for prostitutes -
A church that welcomes those who seek asylum,
A church that longs and yearns for justice,
A church that listens to those no-one else wants to listen to.

I want to be part of a church that believes in transformation not preservation -
A church where all who are lost can be found,
A church where people can discover friendship,
A church where every person takes responsibility in sharing the good news.

I want to be part of a church whose hope is placed securely and confidently in the transforming love of God -
A church that engages faith in its communities,
A church that makes and nurtures disciples of Jesus.

A church where the story of God’s love is at the centre.
I want to be part of a church that offers outrageous grace, reckless generosity, transforming love and engaging faith.
This is God’s story Transforming Love: Engaging Faith.

My prayer is that by the power of the Spirit of God at work amongst us, it will increasingly be our story.

Here are my Five:

I want to be a church that practices generosity -- that listens to other ideas, that welcomes people who are different, that gives itself away, that lives abundantly, even when there is much to fear from scarcity.

I want to be a part of a church that welcomes and values children -- that takes seriously the mission to guide children and to listen to them, that welcomes children, and never talks down to them, and that loves the beauty and diversity of all children, that believes "all children are our children"

I want to be a part of a church that matters in the lives of its members, in the lives of the community where it dwells, in the world. I want to be a part of a church that seeks ways to make the gospel real by implementing justice and mercy for others.

I want to be a part of a church that loves and celebrates beauty -- where artists paint, draw and sculpt to the glory of God, where poets dream dreams to the glory of God, where storytellers weave stories, where musicians sing -- to the Glory of God who walked among us, who does not abandon us in our darkest hour, but goes before us through the valley of the shadow of death.

I want to be a part of a church which dares to fail, practices forgiveness, gets up and tries again to be God's people in the world. I want to be a part of a church that dares, remembering to rejoice not in success, but in the fact that "our names are written in heaven."

What about you? What kind of church do you want to be a part of?

I'm longing to know.

"What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?" Micah 6:8