Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation Day or not

We're Lutheran, so today it was Reformation Day in my congregation.  I suspect this was so at a few other Lutheran churches in our neighborhood.  When you're Lutheran, you celebrate Reformation Day by doing things like singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", and perhaps a few other hymns attributed to Martin Luther.  Perhaps you'll have a sermon that allude to "Justification by Grace alone", or you might make reference to the date in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses regarding the Sale of Indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.

We pulled out all the stops this year.  We had someone dress up as Martin Luther, and retold some of the highlights of his life.  We had a replica of a German church door up in the chancel area, where Martin Luther nailed his Theses.  Then several people from our congregation also nailed a faith statement to the church door, saying "Here I Stand."  (Luther supposedly said this at the Diet of Worms in 1521, when he was asked to renounce the things he had written.  It turns out that maybe he didn't actually say it, but if he didn't, he should have.)

We say that Martin Luther is not just the father of the Lutheran church, but the whole Protestant Reformation.  But I suspect that it was mostly Lutheran churches that commemorated Reformation Day today.  And I'm wondering whether our "Reformation Sunday" celebrations are soon going to be extinct.

In part, there's a kind of stigma attached to "Reformation Sunday".  It seems so "Lutheran" after all, and even Martin Luther told us that we should call ourselves Christians, not Lutherans.  In the past, sadly, (though I would hope the distant past), Reformation Sunday preaching sometimes took the form of Catholic-bashing.  And there's also the 500 year old baggage attached:  the historical context of the Reformation is so different than our time and place, in so many ways.  Sometimes it seems hopeless to try to preach about it.  I myself am sort of a history buff, but I'm aware that many others are not.

I think of all of the churches these days that have exchanged stately services with liturgy and hymns for praise and celebration services with a band and a more conversational sermon.  Luther's "Mighty Fortress" seems so out of place in these venues.  (On the other hand, Luther himself was reported to have asked, "Why does the devil have all the good tunes?"  Maybe he wouldn't have minded some of our praise bands.)

So, on  the one hand, I wonder if "Reformation Day" services are becoming a thing of the past, and I'm thinking that perhaps it's not such a bad thing. 

But on the other hand, I think that it's not such a bad thing to have a "Reformation Day" service, if for no other reason than to remember that the church needed reforming in the past, and that the church probably needs reforming now, and that the church will need to be reformed in the future.  Don't get too comfortable.

You never know when it might be you, or your ideas, that will end up needing reforming.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friiday Five: Comfort Media Edition

Kathrynzj over at Revgalblogpals offers us this Friday Five:

I don't get to watch that much tv anymore, but I actually wrote today's Oprah show down on my calendar. Why? Because she is hosting a Sound of Music cast reunion!!! Those of you who know me may be surprised that I would care so much about such a stereotypically girly flick, but I love it (although admittedly fast forward through the Reverend Mother's rendition of Climb Every Mountain). I can watch this movie over and over and over again.

It seems no matter how many new movies, tv shows or books come down the pike I still have my ol' stand by favorites that I can watch/read over and over and when I do they actually bring me comfort - like an old sweatshirt or a favorite food.

Today's Friday Five is an opportunity for you to list five of your favorite 'go-to' movies/tv shows/books. You can use images, links, explanations or netflix.
Gigi (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Strictly BallroomWhen I lived in rural South Dakota, I picked one movie that I would watch over and over in the winter, particularly when I was snowed in.  Three of these comforting movies that I watched over and over were:

1.  Gigi

2.  Strictly Ballroom (a great Australian movie, by the way)

3.  My Fair Lady.  In the interests of full disclosure, I need to let you know that I actually played Eliza in a church production of My Fair Lady, and used to put the Sound Track on while I was driving in the car and sing at the top of my lungs. 

My Fair Lady  
As I reflect on my choices for "comfort media", it seems to me that an "Ugly Duckling to Swan" theme seems to emerge.  This may explain as well my favorite of the Little House books:

These Happy Golden Years (Little House)
Finally, (though it is hard to choose), I have another favorite movie discovered in the last few years.  It's called The Major and the Minor, directed by Billy Wilder, and with two of my favorite actors:  Ray Milland and Ginger Rogers (why do I like Ray Milland so much?) 
The Major and the Minor (Universal Cinema Classics)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Telling Stories

Just the other day I was sitting in a room with a notebook and two sons, and I was listening to them tell stories.  They were telling stories about their almost 90-year-old mother, who had just died after a short illness.  I had known their mother for years, but the stories they were telling me were new to me.

It is often the case that no matter how well I think I know someone, I find out something new when we are planning a funeral.  I wonder:  is it just that I don't ask the right questions, or listen for the right things, when I visit someone, or in all those years of shaking their hand after worship, or serving meals or being in Bible study or serving on committees?   I sometimes feel like I have gotten to know someone a lot better after they died.

Perhaps it's hearing stories from somone else's perspective:  a husband or wife or a son or a granddaughter's perpsective on what's important can be so different than our own.  So last week I heard a story from two sons about the one time their mother was fired from a job. 

It seems that she was working, for a time, at a Variety Store.  Her boss gave her instructions that she was to follow "certain types of people" around when they were in the store; those "types of people" would steal things, if they got the chance.  But, she wouldn't do it.  She claimed that she couldn't tell who "those types of people" were, and would not follow anyone  around the store.  So, she got fired.

On her membership card, someone had written, simply,  "Housewife."  But it turns out that, in the late thirties, this woman had gone to business college and had worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency.  At one point she had just jumped on a train and come to Minneapolis.  She ended up editing the first Pillsbury cookbooks. 

I thought she was an ordinary person. 

I remember visiting an old woman in a nursing home for several years.  She had been an invalid since contracting the flu in the epidemic in 1918.  After she died, a relative presented me with a book of poetry that she had written over the years.

And there was the unassuming man in my community who had been secretly giving money to several people in town when they were having hard times.  I found out about it after he died.

Sometimes the truth can only be revealed after a person has died, like the secret generosity of the man from my church.  But more often it's simply a matter of perspective, of hearing a different perspective, the same story in a different voice.  It's like a person is held up to the light, and I hear a different perspective and see something sparkle. 

Of course, sometimes the perspective I hear is a different one altogether.  Sometimes the person I know as upstanding and an earnest Christian, has caused their loved ones pain that I never knew about.

As a preacher I often think of myself as a story-teller.  I tell stories from life and I tell the stories of faith.  I try to be a witness of what I hear and what I see. l I hold people's lives up to the light and try to show another perspective.  Turn the story another way, and the dull begins to shine.  Turn the story again, and the Pharisee is revealed as broken.  And turn the story yet again, and the broken is redeemed, redeemed by grace and in the Light of another story.

As a preacher I often think of myself of a story-teller.  But first of all I am really a story-hearer.  I hear the stories of saints and the sinners, the stories of the Pharisees and the publicans, the stories of the wise and the foolish.  And then I hold them up in the Light.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Prayer and Justice

I'm behind, I'll admit it.  I haven't been preaching much lately, and I've had a little mini-vacation, to boot.  So, instead of thinking about this Sunday's readings, I'm thinking back to last Sunday.

We are in Stewardship season already in our congregation, so we haven't been preaching on the texts.  We've been talking about generosity and giving and why we should pledge and our congregation's mission and ministry. 

But I caught myself listening to the texts, and especially the gospel, with special interest on Sunday.  I listened to myself reading the story about the unjust judge and the persistent widow in light of our visit to the Martin Luther King Center last week.  We toured the old Sweet Auburn neighborhood, the house where Rev. King was born and raised, checked out the exhibits about the history of the civil rights movement.  (Among other tidbits, I learned that, as a child, Martin hated doing the dishes.)

At the gift shop, I bought a book,  No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King.  The book was written by an Episcopal priest called Gurdon Brewster.  I had read a review in the Christian Century magazine about the book, so I looked for that one in particular. 

I ended up reading the whole book on the plane home.

In the summer of 1960, Gurdon Brewster was a seminary student in New York who spent the summer working with Martin Luther King Sr. and his son at Ebenezer Baptist.  He worked with the youth group at Ebenezer, and tried to put together some special events for integrated youth groups.  He had a couple of successes and a lot of setbacks, and some close calls.

He also learned to pray.

When he first got to Ebenezer, he had never said a prayer out loud, except for those written in the Book of Common Prayer.  He  relays his fear of speaking, his stilted language, and his progress in prayer as he gains more and more experience throughout the summer.  In particular, he tells the story of a young teenager who is in the hospital, dying of an unknown disease.  It is as he prays for and with her, that he begins to pray intimately, as if he were in conversation with God.  This dying young girl teaches him how to pray.

Prayer and Justice.

I don't know about you, but for some reason I rarely think about them in the same sentence, or even the same breath.  My friends who are passionate about social justice:  I don't think of them as being passionate about prayer. Social justice is Doing Something, and prayer is, well, isn't prayer just the opposite of Doing Something?

On the other hand, the people I know who are passionate about prayer, for the most part look at me blankly when I talk about social justice.

Prayer and justice.  Those were the two things that Gurdon Brewster learned from his summer with Daddy King.

And, as I listened to the gospel reading on Sunday, it seemed to me that these are more connected than I had thought before.  Is the parable about the widow beating on the door of the unjust judge about persistent prayer?  Or is it about seeking justice?

Yes.  I think the answer is yes.

Persistent prayer and seeking justice:  both of them, it seems to me involve struggle, involve wrestling, involve honest questioning.  When we come to God in prayer, we learn to speak honestly, to ask questions, to persist despite failure, despite silence.  And when we persist in seeking justice, we also struggle, become more honest with God and with others and with ourselves, and persist despite failure.

In both cases, we persist because, somehow, we have learned to trust God.  We believe that God is just, that ultimately, God is on the side of healing, or reconciliation, of the poor being lifted up and the silent finding a voice.  I don't know why we keep believing it, sometimes, but we do.   There's so much failure, so much silence, so much injustice, so much death -- except for that strange story that intrigues us, that we keep coming back to, you know the one:  about the Son of man rising on the third day.  So, despite ourselves, we keep praying.  Or we keep seeking justice.  But usually, not both.  Why not?

Prayer and justice.  If we put them together more often, what an explosion the world would hear. 

In the meantime, the question remains:  "When the Son of man appears, will he find faith on earth?"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


We took a short trip to visit family last week in a lah-di-dah city in the South.  It's a big, flashy, former confederate stronghold, but we were just going to be there a couple of days, visit family, and see a couple of sights.  We ended up visiting the Margaret Mitchell House and the Martin Luther King, Jr Center, which makes an interesting juxtiposition. 

But this post is not about that.

Some of you might know that the airline lost our luggage.  Or at least, they mislaid it, for the duration of our (short) stay.  I remember wandering around the airport, dazed, for about an hour last Wednesday, not really believing that our luggage was gone.  The baggage people kept saying, "Huh.  It came in, and it should be on carousel X."  But it wasn't there.   As they themselves could clearly tell.

I had a few things in that bag, as did my husband.  I liked some of those clothes, and I had a mini-grief session, thinking that they might be gone forever.  To tell the truth, though, nothing in the suitcase was really irreplaceable, except for the half-knitted sock.  (Ah, the half-knitted sock!)  We got by on the trip by buying just a couple of things, which we then squished back into our carry-ons.

This made me muse:  I think that I significantly overpacked for the trip.  I thought that I needed much more than I actually did need. I can justify myself by saying that I wasn't sure about the weather, or some other such nonsense, but the reality is, that I am just used to having more around than I need.  I'm used to getting to choose whether I want to wear the green shirt or the peach shirt.   So I threw in more than I really needed to have.

I wonder if this is not true about life as well.  Some of us pack more than we need.   But the more we have, the more we can lose.  I thought about that.  The thought of "losing" what we own can make us anxious. 

I was watching my dog Scout the other day.  She has very few possessions, and she's a pretty happy dog.  But this day she had caught a mouse, and she wanted to make sure that she didn't lose the mouse.  Then she displayed a rare fit of anxiety, as she moved the mouse from place to place, looking furtively around to make sure we didn't take it away.

Maybe anxiety increases the more you own.  I don't know.  It's something to think about.

So one thing I discovered last week was that I really didn't need all the things I packed.  I certainly had just as much fun, even though I only had the green shirt, and the black shirt, even though I didn't have the peach shirt and the blue shirt. 

The other thing:  dead mice are only good companions, really, for a couple of days.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Before He Was a Saint....

So, we are in the Big, Lah-Di-Dah city in the South, visiting family and staying at a nice hotel and sightseeing.  And eating.  There is eating involved.

Last night we stopped to see the house of the family member we went to visit.  It's a nice place, we decided.  (Which is to say, we approved.)  He wanted to take us to a fun place for dinner, something that would give us a taste of the  unique "foodie" atmosphere in the city where he lives.  (Have you ever heard of a "gastro-pub?  I hadn't.)

He settled on a place called "Young Augustine's."  On the way over, my husband and I had fun imagining just what sort of place a joint called "Young Augustine's could be.  Because we are both theologically trained, we made a few cracks about St. Augustine, (you know, of City of God fame), and mentioned his prayer, "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet."  We also mentioned about Augustine's mother, Monica (that she prayed for him), I think in part just to show how smart we were.  We were pretty sure that the restaurant wasn't named after THAT Augustine, though. 

It turns out, the restaurant WAS named after that Augustine, as the picture on the side of the restaurant clearly showed, as well as the quotation at the bottom of the menu, "Lord, give me chastity and temperance, but not just yet."

I told said family member (the one we were visiting) that we were having a Theological Experience. 

He smiled.  I am known for saying these things, and for suspecting that God is in gastro-pubs, where young Augustines are eating and drinking, and know more than I give them credit for.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


The Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat Well, Enjoy Life, Lose WeightA while back I bought a new diet book, a serious one:  The Mayo Clinic Diet.  I knew this was was more about developing a healthy lifestyle than about a "get thin quick" method.  I think it was around Lent last year, so I felt somewhat virtuous just buying the book.  I duly noted (in an intellectual sort of way) that the 5 new habits and breaking old habits at the beginning of the book was similar to the Lenten disciplines of giving up something for Lent and taking up a discipline.

I read the first few pages. 

I saw the companion journal in the store, and thought about buying it several times.  But I didn't.

I did try to walk more often in the spring and summer.  In my mind I thought I was going to eat healthier and snack less.  But the heel pain cut into my walking time some, and I don't really have a back-up exercise.

A little later I realized that to keep track of some of the things in the journal, I would actually have to record my weight from day to day.  I didn't own a scale, so I bought one.

I didn't take it out of the box until a couple of weeks ago.

Last week I bought the journal.  I haven't started using it yet.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the doctor.  We were talking about my plantar faschaitis and about my family history of cholesterol.  She said something about the risk of being "pre-diabetic".  There is no diabetes in my family.  This would totally be based on my lifestyle choices.

I've got two pedometers.  I'm trying to find one of them.  I have successfully pushed away a couple of desserts.  And I'm working on exercise, with mixed results, so far.  I lost a couple of pounds.  I gained it back.  That's so discouraging.

I've tried not to think of the "warning" aspect of repentance.  I like to remind people that what we are turning toward is as important as what we are turning away from.  I still think that's true, and that I won't be able to stick to an exercise and diet plan with only the words "pre-diabetic" in my ears. 

But there are times when it is necessary to expose the unhealthy, self-centered, unjust, delusional roads we travel on.  There are times we need to step on the scale, or go to the doctor, and hear that part of the truth. 

I think the challenge for me right now is to figure out exactly what I am turning toward, when I turn away from the dessert and the snacks and sitting on the coach. 

Can I keep plugging along even when I get on the scale and discover that it didn't go the right way this time?  Can I keep on a discipline even though I fail sometimes?  Can I get up and try again, and adjust when something doesn't work? 

In a way, it's not such a different question than the the ones that confront me as a pastor, in my ministry.  Sometimes, in my ministry, I'll confess, the scale doesn't tilt in the right direction.  Sometimes when I reflect I think that I may need to change my habits, not only for my own health, but for the health and the future of my congregation. 

 Right now I'm evaluating both my personal health, and what habits I need to have and to develop to be an effective pastor.  Some things will probably remain the same, and some things will probably change.   The question in both areas is this:

"Can I keep on a discipline even though I fail sometimes?  Can I get up and try again, and adjust when something doesn't work?"

Monday, October 11, 2010

Day Off Reading Choices

Today is my Day Off, and I would like to direct you to a couple of new sites worth taking a look at:

Living Lutheran, a blog site that the ELCA has just launched.

Divinity and Beyond, a Minnesota religious news site launched by the formidable Susan Hogan.  I'm still sad about the demise of "Pretty Good Lutherans", and thought it was more than 'pretty good.' 

Finally, I have been really missing the writing discipline here.  I'm hoping to get back to more regular posting.  We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Scout Enjoys Helping to Collect Food for Food Shelf

Wednesday was our first "Service Project Night" For confirmation this year.  I had proposed a couple of weeks ago, that our two seventh grade groups (one group of girls and one of boys) have a scavanger hunt for our local food shelf, VEAP (Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People.)    What this means is that the young people would go door to door, collecting canned and boxed goods for those who had some to spare, and at the end of the evening, we would see what we had collected, and which group had gotten the most.

Just to make it fun, we say that each group should try to get one food group for each letter of the alphabet. 

I'll be honest:  I had been feeling poorly all day, and I wasn't in top form for Service Project Night.  But it was a beautiful evening, and I was starting to feel a little better by the time the boys all arrived.  One of the girls had thrown down the gauntlet:  "I bet you won't be able to collect as much as we will!"  So the boys were raring to go, all talking about how they were going to show those girls, even though the girls had the advantage with their "puppy dog eyes".

I decided that it would be fun to get Scout involved in the project, so we stopped first at my house to get Scout and some bags for collecting.  She followed us up and down the street, sniffing the grass, straining to see who was at the door, occasionally getting to meet another dog, or a small child who would pet her. 

We made sure to stop in at one house where I knew the couple were advocates for VEAP.  I heard the woman say to the boys, "We go to that church!".  She told them she didn't have any extra canned goods but she gave them $20.

Scout had a good time with this family's dog, a friendly golden retriever.  They circled and sniffed.

So, laden down with many groceries, we returned Scout to our house, and drove back to church.  My husband said that, after we left, Scout went from window to window for several minutes, looking for us, excited and hopeful.

And, by the way, the boys got the most groceries, but the girls actually followed the directions, getting a food item from A to Z.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Uncommon Conversation

I remember not too long ago listening with interest to a radio program about -- of all things -- plane crashes.  What fascinated me most about the program was that the studies were dealing with crashes caused (at least in part) by pilot error, and how communication patterns between the pilot and copilot might have contributed to the crash.  Sometimes, the pilot found, the copilot found it difficult to speak directly to the pilot when he found a problem or an error that he had to speak up about.  He either didn't speak about it at all, or spoke in an oblique, roundabout way, trying not to offend the pilot.   Even in a situation of an emergency, sometimes it seemed like it was impossible for the subordinate to speak up.

That was fascinating to me. 

It sometimes seems impossible for the subordinate to speak up. 

I thought of this when I read the story of Naaman from 2 Kings again.  Naaman is a great general but he has a problem -- he has leprosy.  Though he is not an Israelite, the prophet Elisha is called to come to him, so that he can be healed.  The problem is, Naaman is not wild about Elisha's directions:  go wash in the river Jordan.  "Aren't there many fine (actually, better) rivers in my own country?  Get real!" 

We often focus on Naaman, the general who finally sucked it up and went and washed in the river Jordan.  It didn't make sense, but he did it, and he was healed.  But lately, when I've read this story, I've noticed someone else:  Naaman's servants.

Do you know what they did?

They spoke up.

Sometimes it seems impossible for a subordinate to speak up.

You have to wonder about a servant who dares to talk back to his Master.  "Come on, what's the problem?  This isn't so hard.  You just don't want to do it!  What's your problem with the river Jordan, anyway?"  You might even call it an "uncommon conversation", when a servant talks back to his master.

But this was a serious matter, a matter of life and death.  Naaman had leprosy. 

You have to wonder about a servant who dares to talk back to his Master.

Maybe they knew it was a matter of life and death, and that somehow, Naaman's fate and their own was linked.  You have to wonder.  Because, sometimes it seems impossible for a subordinate to speak up.  It's an "uncommon conversation."   Maybe they think, "What do I know?  The experts have it all figured out."  or maybe they think, "No one will listen to me anyway."  Or maybe they think, "It won't make any difference anyway.  People go wash in the river Jordan all the time, and no one is ever healed.  It's just a dirty little river."

In our faith community, we're having some uncommon conversations this fall.  They are conversations about the future of our state and the future of our communities, and even (dare I say) the future of our faith community.  And they are also conversations about race, and about the racial disparities in our state, and I think that they are a matter of life and death.  Our futures are linked, and our hopes are linked.

But we need to speak up, to believe that we can make a difference.  We need to speak up, and we also need to listen:  and to go down to the river Jordan, where God can heal us, where God will give us courage, where God is waiting, waiting for us, to raise us from the dead.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Today I got up early, grabbed a bowl of cereal and went to a stately old Presbyterian church in St. Paul for a one day conference on faith and writing.  I had gone to the same conference last year, and especially was intrigued to hear that Billy Collins and Clyde Edgerton would be there.

When I got there, I remembered the one thing I didn't like about the conference last year:  going by myself. 

I sat in the large, beautiful, somewhat dark sanctuary, and wondered if the pastor of the congregation still really preaches from that high pulpit.  It must seem like preaching from midair.  I noted with interest the different materials in the pews, especially the notepads for kids, and the stickers that visitors are invited to wear.  But mostly, I felt lonely sitting there alone, wishing to share the experience with someone.

The first speaker, Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) was passionate, and I enjoyed her immensely.  I loved what she said about how stories help make us free, and how freedom is something that we don't just "have", it's something we continually strive for.

Two older women sat with me at lunch.  They are in a book group together, and both talked about their church experiences as well.  One sang in the choir, and the other said she grew up Pentecostal, and got enough church for the rest of her life.  They are active in the League of Women Voters organization and told me about a fund-raiser they were planning for a local domestic abuse center:  a pajama party.  I told them I was very interested in having my church involved.

This experience was the highlight of my day.

Clyde Edgerton had a readers theatre version of his book The Bible Salesman.  Hilarious.  really, but for some reason I was yawning, and my eyes filled with tears. 

I drove home, picked up my husband and we both had the treat of going to supper at a nice cafe on Grand avenue in St. Paul and hearing Billy Collins speak.  My husband's favorite poem was the one about the angels dancing on the head of a pin, the one that ends with the angel dancing forever, and the bass player wondering when it will end, because it is late, even for musicians.

Tomorrow our interim pastor will help us remember the importance of listening to one another.  I'll preside, and, in the crisp autumn afternoon, will bless a few animals.  Perhaps afterwards, I'll drink hot cider or cocoa.

It is late, even for poets, or musicians.  Or pastors.