Thursday, March 31, 2011

How to Get Young People Into Church (reprint plus one)

This article is reprinted from the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona.  I thought it excellent.

One of the most frequently asked questions I face as I visit parishes is, "How do we get young people to come to church?" I thought this week I would allow a genuine young person to answer that question. Tamie Fields Harkins served for four years as our chaplain to NAU Episcopal Canterbury Fellowship. Last week she had this to say about that question on her blog, which I share with you here.


Here is a step-by-step plan for how to get more young people into the church:

1. Be genuine. Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.
2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.

3. Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else. Seriously. Stop it.
4. Stop arguing about whether women are okay, fully human, or are capable of being in a position of leadership.
5. Stop looking for the "objective truth" in Scripture.
6. Start looking for the beautiful truth in Scripture.
7. Actually read the Scriptures. If you are Episcopalian, go buy a Bible and read it. Start in Genesis, it's pretty cool. You can skip some of the other boring parts in the Bible. Remember though that almost every book of the Bible has some really funky stuff in it. Remember to keep #5 and #6 in mind though. If you are evangelical, you may need to stop reading the Bible for about 10 years. Don't worry: during those 10 years you can work on putting these other steps into practice.
8. Start worrying about extreme poverty, violence against women, racism, consumerism, and the rate at which children are dying worldwide of preventable, treatable diseases. Put all the energy you formerly spent worrying about the legit-ness of gay people into figuring out ways to do some good in these areas.

9. Do not shy away from lighting candles, silence, incense, laughter, really good food, and extraordinary music. By "extraordinary music" I mean genuine music. Soulful music. Well-written, well-composed music. Original music. Four-part harmony music. Funky retro organ music. Hymns. Taize chants. Bluegrass. Steel guitar. Humming. Gospel. We are the church; we have an uber-rich history of amazing music. Remember this.
10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
11. Learn how to sit with people who are dying.
12. Feast as much as possible. Cardboard communion wafers are a feast in symbol only. Humans can not live on symbols alone. Remember this.
13. Notice visitors, smile genuinely at them, include them in conversations, but do not overwhelm them.

14. Be vulnerable.
15. Stop worrying about getting young people into the church. Stop worrying about marketing strategies. Take a deep breath. If there is a God, that God isn't going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.
16. Figure out who is suffering in your community. Go be with them.
17. Remind yourself that you don't have to take God to anyone. God is already with everyone. So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing. Go be evangelized.
18. Put some time and care and energy into creating a beautiful space for worship and being-together. But shy away from building campaigns, parking lot expansions, and what-have-you.
19. Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7. Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.
20. Listen to God (to Wisdom, to Love) more than you speak your opinions.

This is a fool-proof plan. If you do it, I guarantee that you will attract young people to your church. And lots of other kinds of people too. The end.

My one addition would be this:

Stop speaking and acting as if all young people believed and acted alike. Stop thinking that all young people are progressive, or conservative, or whatever it is you think.  Especially stop thinking that all young people like and will be attracted by contemporary music.  My suspicion is that young people will be attracted by authentic worship, practiced by people who actually believe in what they are doing. 

Start listening to actual young people.  Consider that God may be speaking through them.  Make space for that.

It was not long ago that a young person I know said to me she was looking for this kind of church, "A traditional liturgy, but a progressive sermon."   She is just one voice.  Listen to more.  Consider that God may be speaking through them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Inscribed On the Palms of God's Hands

On Tuesday, I had a funeral for a woman who had Alzheimers.  In the past, she had been very visible around church, active and opinionated and doing a lot of things.  But for several years, she had been living in a nursing home and didn't know anyone.  Someone told me, though, that she had a church directory and perked up whenever someone pulled it out and started paging through it.

For some reason, I decided to use a short passage from Isaiah 49 for one of the readings.  Israel is complaining that God has forgotten her.  God replies, "Can a woman forget her nursing child?  ...Even these may forget, but I will never forget you.  You are inscribed on the palms of my hands."

Even if you forget (and we do, even if we do not have Alzheimer's Disease), God will not forget you. 

Even though this woman didn't remember any more, she still had friends who came to visit her, who paged through the church directory with her, who sang hymns to her.  They reminded her of God's promises, promises that she had forgotten.  And they remembered for her, when she could not remember.

So this is part of the Holy Spirit's work in us, and through us:  to remind one another of God's promises, to keep saying and singing and praying:  "You are a child of God. " To keep tracing the sign of the cross on each other's foreheads.  To hold each other's hands, and say, "this is what God's hand feels like."

Remembering is holy work.  But we don't just remember with our minds.  We remember with our eyes and our ears, our hands and our feet. 

Jesus' whole life is God remembering us.  Jesus' whole life, his death, his resurrection is God, inscribing us on the palms of his hands.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Woman at the Well, and all That

Maybe it was a wave that started yesterday when I met with seven of the 5th graders who are preparing for first communion.  One of them is also preparing for his baptism.  Two more young people are preparing on their own, as they were out of town this weekend.  They got some materials and started studying on their own.

I walked into worship and saw one of my old worship professors sitting in a pew.  "What are you doing here?" he asked me.  Seriously.  I've been serving here for several years.  He was here to observe our interim organist, who's in a degree program at our local seminary.  All of a sudden I was all in a dither, more nervous than usual, even though I wasn't being observed. 

So, worship today:  I preached.  My sermon title:  "Give me a drink," and how Jesus' request becomes the woman's request, his thirst reveals our thirst.  It's such a great story, and so rich, I wanted to keep the sermon pretty simple.  I hope I succeeded. 

At the second service, I had the children come up and told them about wells and water jugs.  One of my points was that a water jar would have been heavy.  So I had a big pitcher filled with water, and had them try to pick it up.  I myself thought the picture was pretty heavy, but the five year old boy who tried it thought it was not heavy at all.  Oh, well.

I seriously underestimated the time it might take to give every child a small cup of water (after all these years!), but thought at the last minute to just have the people start singing the song, and continue pouring water.

At the second service, I poured water into the baptismal font during the last paragraph of my sermon, while I said,

"If you had known the gift of God, and who it was that was asking you, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water -- gushing up to eternal life, running down over your face, running down into your life.  He is the water that covers us, that gives us life, day after day.  He is the water that refreshes us at the top of the day, that cleanses us, that makes us new.  give us a drink."

During communion at the second service, the congregation sang the chorus "Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord" while our Spirit Singers choir sang the verses.  I can't even describe the sense of well-being I felt from hearing that.

(after worship I bought popcorn from the Boy Scouts, met with a couple preparing for their wedding, visited my mother-in-law in the hospital). 

Taste and see, taste and see the goodness of the Lord

I keep thinking about the people who were there, and the people who were not there.  I know that some people are on spring break, and some people are traveling, and there are many reasons for not being around on one particular Sunday or another.  And I know that some people come to worship and they find it a place where there is bread for the journey, and the water of life, and others think it's boring, or perplexing, or a waste of a perfectly good Sunday morning.  I take that seriously, by the way. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

"I Don't Know", part II

So, I just finished reading (rather quickly, I'll admit) Rob Bell's book, Love Wins.  In his short, passionate book, he entertains several questions:  what is the natural of eternal life?  Who is going to be saved, after all?  A few? Many? All?  Only those who have explicitly given their lives to Jesus and can name the date?  What does the idea of billions of people suffering in hell for ever have to do with the reality of God's love?  Does "Love Win"?  These questions, I gather, are pretty controversial.   I just read that a Methodist pastor got fired for expressing some doubts about hell.

Is Rob Bell a Universalist?  That is the question.

First of all, I have to say that I consider there to be (at least) two kinds of universalism.  The first kind says that there are many paths to God, and one is just as good as any other.  That view may be respectful to the various forms of religous beliefs, or it may not be, lumping together different and unique ways of expressing devotion to God as essentially interchangeable.  There is another kind of universalism, though, which says, that God has revealed his love for us most perfectly in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that somehow, through this action, all people will ultimately be drawn into this love. 

That being said, I'm not sure that Rob Bell is a Universalist, really.  He just expresses doubts about Hell, and he expresses a universal hope that all the people God loves will end up embracing God's love.  He has questions.  He doesn't have all the answers.  And I'm not sure what is wrong with that.

"I don't know."

I don't know what God will do in the end.  I know that God loves the whole world, the whole suffering, insufferable world, the whole mean and compassionate world.  But I don't know what God will do in the end. 

I lived in Japan for a few years many years ago.  My work was to teach English as a second language.  My work was also to share the love of God in Christ as well as I could.  In my three years two or three people were baptized.  And, in all humility, I don't think the failure of masses of people to suddenly become Christian is because they are worse people and more deserving of hell than people living in the United States.  I don't think that most of the people who were swept way in the tsunami there deserve hell more than I do. 

I'm not sure that I am a Universalist, but I do have a universal hope -- I hope that in the end, love wins over destruction, that all people will be embraced by the love that embraces them.  And why is that a bad thing? 

"I don't know."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene is stopping by for services tomorrow, at our 8:00 a.m. Matins service, and at our 7:00 p.m. Evening Service. 

So, I've been thinking about Mary M, her checkered past, the conceptions and misconceptions people have about her, what we know about her, what we don't know.

For centuries, most of the church has thought of Mary Magdalene as a reformed prostitute.  There are a lot of reasons for this, not all of them so bad.  Repentant sinners, like Matthew or Zaccheaus the tax collectors, well, they make good stories.   Also, it seems like to the (mostly male) leadership of the church, when you think of a woman sinning, you think of a certain particular kind of sin.  Don't know why. 

But, I digress. 

Now, the church has looked back over the scriptures more carefully and many of us are saying, "hey! Mary Magdalene wasn't a prostitute!"  She was conflated with any one of a number of women in the Bible.  At least one is an unnamed woman in Luke chapter seven who is identified as a sinner, and who washes Jesus feet with her tears, and wipes them with her hair. 

Mary Magdalene first appears right after this story, but there is no evidence that she is that unnamed woman. 

Jesus cast 7 demons out of Mary, and then she followed him.  She was one of several women who supported his ministry.  But we don't hear much about her in the Bible, except in two places -- at the cross, and at the empty tomb.

She is there, with Jesus mother and the beloved disciple and other women, standing at the foot of the cross.

And she is there, weeping at the empty tomb, when Jesus calls her name. 

It seems to me, in the scheme of things, these are the two most important places to be.

At the cross, and at the tomb. 

The place of deepest sorrow, and the place of deepest, most inexplicable joy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Belated Happy Birthday to my Dad, including Songs

My dad's 82nd birthday was actually on Friday, March 11 of this year, but we moved the big celebration forward a few days to yesterday --- the first day of Spring, March 20.  My brother was gone the weekend before, and my mom had time to put together a special afternoon.  She reserved the community room where she lives, and brought my dad home from the nursing home for the afternoon.  We had crackers, meat and cheese, potato salad and pasta salad, chips and other snacks, and of course, cake and punch and coffee.  If you're Scandinavian, you have to have coffee.

My mom invited a few family members -- my dad's sister and her family, my mom's sister and brother and a couple of my cousins.  Their pastor showed up at some point, which I thought was really sweet.  He had his "Gustavus Adolphus College" sweatshirt on.  He's Swedish, too.

Also, my mom invited the Swedish Male Chorus to come and give a little mini concert for my dad. 

My dad sang with the chorus for several years.  Of course, he had to be egged on for a few years by his friend, Ralf.  My dad has always loved music and singing.  I'm prejudiced, but I thought he sounded a little big like Bing Crosby.  He didn't sing in choirs much, though, until he finally broke down and joined the Chorus.

My grandparents emigrated from Sweden back in the early 1900s.  My dad grew up in the Cedar Riverside and Seward neighborhoods of Minneapolis, both enclaves of Swedish immigrants back then.  In fact, it was either Cedar or Riverside which was nicknamed "Snoose Boulevard" because of the cheap tobacco that the immigrants chewed.

So the men came, in their suit jackets and all wearing their blue and yellow ties, and they sang for my dad, there in the foyer.  They sang "They Shall Have Music" and "Sverige" and other songs in Swedish and in English.  And, sitting in his wheelchair in the front row, my dad sang along. 

The chorus invited everyone to sing along on the last song, "Halsa Dem Darhemma."  (Greet those at home.)  I remember learning and singing this song as a little girl.  It is supposed to be sung by a girl as she is leaving her home in Sweden to go to America.  She sees a swallow, and asks the swallow to take a message to her family back in Sweden for her.

I remember singing this song with my sister, singing for my grandmother, and seeing her cry when she heard it.  I remember once that my sister and I sang the song into the phone to her, though I don't remember why.  We lived in town, not far away.  Maybe she was sick, and we just wanted to cheer her up. 

On Sunday the Chorus invited us all to sing along, and my dad sang, and I sang.  And we all cried.

We have all come a long way.  But may we never forget where we came from.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Just sitting on the sofa this Friday evening.  I am almost (but not quite) finished with the book I have been reading on "nook", The Latehomecomer, which is a lovely memoir about a Hmong woman who was born in the refuge camps in Thailand and came to Minnesota with her family.  She is telling us about her grandmother now, in lyrical language, describing the stories her grandmother told about Laos, about her family, about her life both hard and blessed. 

Before that, we went to Cecil's for a not-so-Lenten supper.  A great St. Paul deli, though, in a real neighborhood where everything has not gone generic yet.  I thought about how I am not being so intentional about Lent, this Lent.  Last year I threw one thing away every day.  A couple of years ago I fasted from book-buying.  But this giving-up does not come naturally to me, as I did not do it as a child.  We knew it was Lent, but we did not fast.  Just to let you know. 

Before that, we went swimming, not at our regular pool, which is being remodeled.  There is a brief window of opportunity for lap swimming on Fridays at this other YMCA, so we have been doing "Friday evening Swimming Dates" for the past few weeks.

Before that, I had a physical.  I am a little behind on that, but when the other pastor collapsed at worship, it threw a little scare into me, and I decided I would go.   I have a nurse practicitioner now, not a family practictioner, because my doctor decided she wanted to specialize.  It took a little while before I found someone, but I think I will like this woman.  She told me her daughter is a Lutheran Pastor.  She also gave me a piece of good news.  I have lost eight pounds since I met her last fall when I complained about my feet.  In October, I was going to "come right back" and have a physical.  It is now March.  See how that went.

Before that, I wrote the prayers for Sunday, met with one of my volunteers about a special church brunch and fundraiser we are planning, emailed some people, called some people and ended up mostly leaving messages.  I got some details about the Grief Coalition program that is going to take place here in April and May.  I called the Seminary bookstore to ask if they had more books about baptism for Youth and Adults and would they please put five aside for me. 

In my church there is an 11 year old and his grandmother who are both preparing for baptism.  There are not enough materials (in my humble opinion) for this occasion in my tradition.  But I love meeting with these two.  I wish I could do more of this.  I want to pastor a church where 11 year olds and 18 year olds and 40 year olds and  63 year old are getting baptized, along with babies.  I want to pastor a church where people are baptized into the body of Christ and community and realize that they are bound together with him and with other people in mission and in love.  The mission is love. 

Before that, I had coffee.

Before that, I had breakfast.

Before that, I took Scout to day care.

First, I got up early and took her on a short walk in the dark.  I didn't want to let her out in the back yard because I didn't want the coyotes to get her.  (the perils of daylight saving time).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"I Don't Know"

On Friday, an earthquake and then a tsunami hit the northeastern shores of the country I called home many years ago.  The news has only gotten worse after that.  My heart hurts as I keep seeing and hearing and seeing more devastation.

A preacher wants to say something at a time like this.  But honestly, there are some questions that I don't have the answers for.  If someone were to ask me "Why did this happen?", the most absolutely honest answer I would have to give is "I don't know."

That's not true in every aspect, of course.  I know just a little about geology and I know that this earthquake had to do with tectonic plates and fault lines and things like that.  The words "I don't know" also don't mean that I think human beings need to remain wilfully ignorant about the world.  The "fall" in Genesis 3, was not a fall into knowledge.  "I don't know" does not imply a kind of wilfull ignorance, that I think it's better to be 'know-nothings' about the world and how it works.

But theologically, I mean, I don't know why this happened.  Unlike Glenn Beck, I don't know that God was trying to tell us something.  I'm not even exactly sure what Glenn Beck might mean, except that I think he means to sound ominous. 

On the other hand, I don't want to go so far as to say, "God didn't have anything to do with this."  I don't want to say that because it seems to imply that God is absent in the face of tragedy.  And I know that God is not absent from Japan.   God is suffering, dying, redeeming, loving the people of Japan even now.  I believe this, just as I believe that God is present with the man I know who is living with cancer, the woman I know who has forgotten who she is, the man whose funeral we will hold on Thursday. 

On Sunday we heard Jesus reject the devil's temptations to use his power by making stones into bread, by jumping off the temple, by taking over the world.  "I'm not going to take the easy way out and do miracles just to make people believe in me," he seems to be saying.  But to be honest, when I see the kind of destruction I have seen this weekend, I wonder if that would have been so awful.  I am tempted too.

So Jesus is not using his power to stop tsunamis, or even swoop down like Superman and save people from them.  Once in awhile you hear of a miraculous cure for cancer, but most of the time Jesus does not swoop down then either.  But still,  He is there, yesterday, today, tomorrow.  Jesus is there in Japan, Jesus is at the funeral, walking among the people, touching them, loving them, weeping 

And I know that there is a miracle in there somewhere.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I am tempted by apple strudel, warm, sometimes with ice cream.
I am tempted by those doughnuts that are on top of the refrigerator.
I am tempted by the bag of cashews that I keep in my office.
I am tempted to eat two palmfuls of cashews, instead of one.
I am tempted not to go for a walk, not to go swimming, not to move around.

I tend to gravitate to things with bright colors:  scarves, socks, pieces of art, crayons, even book jackets.
I want to buy a book when it would be just as good to borrow it from the library.
A part of me believes the ads for moisturizers that will make me look younger, and lipstick that will make me prettier.
I do suspect, at times, that clothes really do make the woman.

I am tempted to consider myself not that important, in the scheme of things.
I am tempted to give up, sometimes.
I am also tempted to think I am special, and gifted and Always Right.

I am tempted to hide from the troubles of the world, worrying only about my own family and my own work and my own life.
I am tempted to work too hard.  And I am tempted to think that how hard I work makes me a better person.

What are your temptations?

Friday, March 11, 2011

So Long Ago, It Seems it Was, and so Far Away

It was September 1 of 1981 that I remember stepping off a plane at Narita Airport in Tokyo.  I arrived with three other young people, all of us training to be short-term missionaries and teachers, set to go (eventually) to various places in Japan.  I arrived with three pieces of luggage, new wine-colored Samsonite soft-side luggage, quite a fine purchase for my family at that time.  I had also sent ahead a trunk.

A missionary couple from nearby Mitaka met us at the airport and helped us navigate the maze of customs and find out way to our Tokyo home at Hanegi-cho.  They arrived back the next day to give us lessons in reading train and subway maps, in navigating our neighborhood, letting us know when our first day of language school would be.

We found out where to get groceries, how to order noodles or rice in the restaurants, how to change money.  We located the public baths.  We were told that the first thing to do in the event of an earthquake:  turn off the gas.  We learned to use ohashi (chopsticks).  We were assigned to area churches, and got to know the parish members.   We went to a sumo match, took the train down to Kyoto, found the huge Kinokuniya bookstore (five stories high!) and the statue of the loyal dog at Shibuya station.

We took Japanese conversation classes every morning, where we practiced making mistakes.  I remember once, after having experienced a very slight earthquake, being in class and learning a sentence construction, "I hope that...."  So, I made the sentence, "I hope that there is not a big earthquake while I am in Japan."

The teacher smiled and replied, "But it is all right after you're gone, then?"

My sentence construction was awkward, but I realized the self-centered nature of my sentiment right away.  It is the human temptation, I suppose, to consider everything only from our own perspective. 

So today I am watching the news, seeing images of the country and the people I learned to love so well so many years ago.   I have wished to return many times, because it has become a faded memory for me -- walking the narrow streets, buying skewered meat from vendors, learning Japanese from the children, walking to church with two young women whose names I have now forgotten.  

I am praying for you, Japan. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

So, "how was your day?", you ask

It was Transfiguration Sunday, did I mention that?  Today was the last Sunday before Lent.  Wednesday is Ash Wednesday.

Since we had a big bash last Sunday as part of our transition process, "Remembering the past,", it was a little low key for the last Sunday before Lent.  We had the choir at the first service, and sang "We are Marching In the Light of God" at the end of the contemporary service.  Also, we had a baptism at 10:00, which is always a little like a mountain top experience for me.  Really, I love baptisms. 

The choir sang at 8:45; they had a wonderful arrangement of "Lord of All Hopefulness."  I was presding, not preaching.  The interim senior pastor had preached this morning on "Mountain Top Experiences", and how worship is sometimes like a mountaintop experience for us, but that we need to come down from the mountaintop. 

When I began the preface, I thought that it was odd that he sat down.  Usually we remain standing for the preface.  In the middle of chanting the preface for Transfiguration Sunday, I heard an awful gasp.  The senior pastor was slumped in his chair. I paused and then went on, as a retired doctor and a couple of people from the choir came to help him.  I saw him sit back up again.  They took him out the back in a wheel chair.

Before the second service, I checked as the ambulance driver did tests.  I saw the baptismal party in the Heritage Room getting ready.  I kept thinking, "I have everything but a sermon."  Our traditional service ends at 9:45.  Our contemporary service starts at 10:00.  No time to think, or, not much time anyway.

The baby cried during the baptism; her uncle poured the water in the font.  Several children stopped to say hello to their new sister in Christ, as they were on their way to Sunday School.

We sang "Shine, Jesus Shine."

And then I preached.  I said something.  I said something about the Mountaintop experiences, and getting this deep connection and not wanting to go home.  I said something about the transfiguration of Jesus, and how some people think that it's really a resurrection story in the wrong place, but I think it's in the right place, a glimpse of glory on the way of the  cross.  I don't think I was so eloquent, and I don't remember everything I said.  I remember something about connecting the words "This is my beloved son" with Jesus' baptism, and our baptism, too.  And I'm pretty sure that I ended with the words that He promises to be with us always, to the end of the age.

I will say that I noticed a first grade usher jumping up and down to "Marching in the Light of God" at the end of the service.  Also though the crowd seemed a little light after the big bash last week, I noticed there were several babies today.

After the service, we took some baptismal pictures, and then I had a meeting with a grandma and grandson who are interested in baptism.  (He's 11.)  I showed a short video of baptism that I really like and then they asked questions they had about baptism.  It really was a video, not a DVD, and I had a little trouble remember how to hook that old contraption up.  But it was a great conversation.  They asked really good questions:  why we don't do immersion, what is the baptism in the Holy Spirit, things like that.  I felt privileged to be a part of this conversation.

Then I took the other pastor's jacket and coat to the hospital.  He is doing all right, but will be staying overnight, just to be on the safe side.

And for some reason, now I am very very very tired. 

And a little numb.

And oh, I totally forgot to remind people that next Sunday begins Daylight Saving Time.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Last Hurrah before Lent

I suppose that's what you could call Transfiguration Sunday, if you wanted to.  Pull out all the stops, sing your heart out, go up on that there mountain and see visions.  Have a loud organ and a good band and some glory, too.  And you can also have a feast, and a party, with too much food and a lot of noise, but that is optional.

So, it was a pretty productive Saturday, starting with the Gospel of John, chapter 8, at 8:00 a.m. (there was a slight digression to check with the man who was reading on his Kindle).  At church, I tried to tie up some loose ends so that we could take a brief break after church tomorrow.  Sent out mail, email, copying, boring stuff like that.  Also visited two people in the hospital, where I squeezed a hand in intensive care, and had a pre-baptism meeting with the cutest baby ever.  Peeked in on the small group who were diligently writing a mission statement for our congregation.

When I got home, we went out to the yarn store (as I call it, "I would like to go to the yarn store today").  I wanted to get some advice on the sweater I'm attempting and I also just wanted to look at the yarn:  all the colors, the textures, the possibilities.  Luckily, I do not have to rip out what I have already started.

Then we went in search of food.  It was mid-afternoon already and we found ourselves in a little Italian deli, eating pasta and sausage and a stromboli.  We looked up at the window advertisement, which read, "Goodbye to meat."  -- and then, underneath, "Carnivale."  Never thought of that before.

The last hurrah before Lent.

Tonight I'm knitting, and watching Pretty woman, and eating popcorn and doing other low-key things.  I suppose I should also be washing nylons, and washing dishes and doing some general straightening. The other day I did a little more book-buying than usual (the last hurrah before Lent?).  I could also be paging through my new acquisitions, too.  But I'm not.  I'm spending the last hurrah before Lent knitting, watching a movie, eating popcorn.

It's far away from the mountain and the visions, far away from the moment when suddenly, eveything makes sense, the fog clears, and the path you must take is clear.  It's far away from the singing angels and the voice of God, but somehow, the voice of God, is here, too, only softer, like a whisper, and I have to pay attention. 

It's the last hurrah before Lent, before the ashes on our foreheads, before the time of darkness, before the fast, before we come down the mountain, if we were ever on one. 

Yes, I believe there was a mountain, even if we don't remember.  There was that day when we were first called beloved children, when we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, marked by the cross.  And God spoke into our ear, and we saw the candle light flicker, and the saints stood around us that day.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Five: Lenten Edition

Kathrynzj at Revgalsblogpals shares this thoughtful and timely Friday Five idea.

She writes that during Lent, "My calendar taunts me with the schedule I'm supposedly going to keep. There are extra Bible studies, evening gatherings and worship services all crammed into a six week period of reflection and contemplation (ha!). But there are some things I truly love about the season of Lent even if I don't get in as much reflection and contemplation as I would like.

What about you? What are some things you appreciate about the season of Lent? Perhaps you would share 5 of them with us. And for your bonus question feel free to share one thing you could do without."

Here goes:

1.  Any excuse to sing, even though some of the songs during Lent are kind of sad.  And of course, there's nothing like singing Holden Evening Prayer, if that's part of your Lenten worship.

2.  A deliberate attempt to reflect, to be monk-ish, perhaps, reading, and writing and thinking deep thoughts.  I do all the time, but I feel like I have permission to do this during Lent.

3.  Special Holy Week Services, especially Passion Sunday, especially when it includes a real live donkey, and Good Friday Services.  I like how worship during this time often becomes more dramatic.

4.  Not so many cultural add-ons (like Santa Claus, the candy cane, shopping for presents, going to parties).  No Lenten Parties yet, that I have heard of. 

5.  Fasting in order to pay attention to other things:  feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, discovering what really feeds me, and the world, coming face to face with my illusions.

oh, and I like it when there's an extra Bible study, or discussion group, actually.  I had a great discussion group one Lent.  We had a study of the Lord's prayer every week, and closed the study by going into the sanctuary and singing Holden Evening Prayer.   Very simple.  No sermon to prepare.  But a lot of work putting together the discussion each week.

And, what I don't like?
1.  How busy it gets, sometimes.  It seems like there is often more pastoral care during Lent. So I've had all the services and then maybe two funerals in one week, sometimes.
2.  Fasting to Become A Better Person.  Doesn't work for me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

That's the title of our church's Lenten series this year; also, it's the title of a famous gospel song.  I confess to knowing the chorus pretty well, although I'm not sure why.  It's by no means a Lutheran song, and I'm sure I didn't sing it at church growing up.  But, I heard it somewhere, and it's been in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks now as I've been comtemplating the theme for Lent. 

This year we're going to have a series of dramatic monologues on Wednesday in Lent.... Jesus through the eyes of.... Nicodemus (for example), or Peter, or Mary Magdalene.  When they looked at Jesus, what did they see?  And what do we see, when we turn our eyes upon Jesus?  I hope our series will help us wonder about that, too?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of his glory and grace.

You know, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings when I hear, or sing, those words.  Not most of them, actually.  It's just that third line that makes me feel uncomfortable, "and the things of earth will grow strangely dim."  Somehow those words sound a little escapist, as if the purpose of looking into Jesus' face is to escape from the troubles and problems of the world, to find that quiet nest with him, where we don't have to worry about the hungry, the poor, the unemployed, and the sickness and sadness in the world.

So, I struggle with this.  Because I don't think Jesus wants to give up on feeding the hungry, on trying to create more justice, on comforting the grieving, on being healers.  I don't think Jesus wants us to retreat to a little nest and forget about the things of the earth, like kids who can't read, like kids who join gangs.

Sometimes it's a temptation, though:  I'll admit that I get overwhelmed sometimes.  I make the mistake of reading the comment under news stories where people call each other names (like socialist, or fascist, or commie, for example) when they disagree.  I get discouraged when I consider the ever-widening gap between haves and have nots, when I read yet another story about a soldier's death, this time in Afghanistan, when I think of all the people I know that are looking for work, all the young people who don't have a clue why the Christian church is even around.  It's a temptation to give up.

But maybe when the song talks about the "things of earth", these are the things they mean:  the insulting comments, the voices of discouragement, the voices of cynicism who whisper in my ear, "just give up."  Maybe the things of earth are the hopeless voices, the voices that let poverty, fear and grief have the last word.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Look Full in his wonderful Face
And the Things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

Because if we really turn our eyes upon Jesus, what do we see?  We see one whose suffering love was willing to go the distance for us. 

When you turn your eyes upon Jesus, what do you see?