Monday, May 30, 2011

You Are My Sunshine

Yesterday, after church (baptism at the second service, and visit with the woman who fractured her skull), my husband and I went to visit my dad at the nursing home where he lives. 

When we got there, he was sitting in his wheelchair in the main room, napping.  We woke him up and I grabbed a chair from another table, which upset one of the women who was sitting there.  She started talking very loudly.  I decided to avoid further upset by taking the piano bench instead of borrowing a second chair.

My dad is not the sparkling conversationalist he once was, for a lot of reasons.  Besides his Parkinsons, he hasn't had his hearing aids for a long time, and yesterday it appears he (or someone) had mislaid his glasses.  After a few minutes I got out the riddle book and the scrapbook with all of the pictures of his days with the Swedish Male Chorus.

I started by asking him some riddles.  "Why did the fireman wear red suspenders?"  (He didn't know that one.)  "Oh, to keep his pants up!"  I answered.  However, he still knew the answer to "What's black, and white, and red (read) all over?"  'The newspaper', he answered.  One of the first jokes he ever told me.  He also remembered a few knock knock jokes.

We took out the big scrapbook and started looking at the pictures.  He picked out the pictures of my mom, as she went along on a couple of their tours.  I noticed that in one of the pictures, all the members of the Chorus were wearing red suspenders.  "Hey!"  I said.  "Why did the Members of the Swedish Male Chorus wear red suspenders?"

"To keep their pants up," said a man at the next table.

I noticed that in the Male Chorus Scrapbook, there was a singalong book.  So I took it out, and tried to find a few songs we could sing together.  One thing my dad could always do --  he could always sing.

Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me
Home, Home on the Range
Don't Fence me In
You are my Sunshine

A woman came up to me and asked me if I could help her with her zipper.

"Why do you want help?"
"So I can take this shirt off."
"Oh, I don't think you want to do that here," I said.  As she turned around, I noticed that her shirt did not have a zipper.

So my dad and I went back to our singing:

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away.

What's black and white and red all over?
--The newspaper.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vacations with Dogs

Some people may ask, "Why would you want to take your dog with you on a vacation?"

It's a fair question.  There are limitations to things you can do when/if you bring your dog with you on vacation, and there are logistical issues that you have to deal with.

First of all, not all hotels will let you bring your dog, especially your rather large dog (but often, any dog at all).  We have found three hotels (so far) that we really like because they welcome our dog, and they are actually quite nice.  One hotel we used to just stay over at overnight while we were taking our son back to college up north.  We remained loyal to this hotel during some major renovations, because they were so unfailingly friendly whenever we walked in the door with Scout.  And, we have a lot of fond memories of this hotel, one of the nicest being the time Scout escaped one wintry Easter after we had taken her outside for bathroom duties.  She ran around the hotel in circles several times before just running back inside through a door left open.

Second, you are not able to bring your dog into fine dining establishments with you.  I realize that some people will leave their dog in the car sometimes, but we are leery of doing that, since we once left Scout in the car briefly on a very cool spring evening, so that we could get a little bite to eat.  Someone came into the restaurant and said in a very loud voice, "Hey!  someone left their dog in the car!  I'm calling the police!"   So when we take Scout on vacation with us, we usually eat at places where they have outdoor dining, or get sandwiches, or eat in our room.

Third, if you are going to visit, for example, Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minnesota,  they do not really want you to bring your dog with you.  Most retail establishments forbid dogs (with the exception of a few antique malls), so we either 1) don't shop, or go to Split Rock Lighthouse, or 2) take turns going in, or waiting outside with the dog.

So, if she's so much trouble, why take her along?

Of course, there are times when we don't, times when we expect we will be spending a lot of time on subways, or at museums, or in other places that we don't think Scout will enjoy.

But there are advantages some advantages to traveling with your dog.

For example, just looking in the back seat and seeing her there, with her head on my husband's guitar, with her eyes open or closed.  (I do get annoyed when she tries to sit between us in the front seat, because there's NOT ROOM.)

Or, let's say you are just minding your own business, taking your dog on a walk because you can't go into the toy store, and while you are walking you happen to run into three llamas!  How much more fun is it to run into llamas if you can see your dog's reaction to the llamas, and the llama's reaction to them!

Or, let's say you are visiting antique stores.  50% of antique stores we visit allow Scout to shop with us, and some of those establishments actually welcome her, and say nice things to her, and tell her how beautiful she is.   Some people even ask which antiques she is most interested in.

People of all ages want to talk to us because we have a dog.  Well, actually, they just want to pet our dog, or wonder what kind of dog she is.  They often ask about the ears.  And we are frequently mistaken for Fine, Upstanding Citizens simply because we have a friendly dog along with us.

It's kind of fun to be offered dog treats when you go through the drive through (though we eschewed the ice cream with a milk bone sticking out of it).

There's nothing like relaxing in your hotel room with your husband and dog at the end of a long day of hiking, sight-seeing, eating at picnic tables, and (possibly) meeting strange animals.  You should try it.


Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rapture and Tornadoes

So, the world didn't end on May 21, 2011.  Jesus didn't appear, and those who followed him were not raptured away from this world on Saturday, never to face pain or evil or suffering again.

On Sunday, tornadoes devastated Joplin, Missouri, and destroyed homes and lives nearer to me, in Northeast Minneapolis.  Not the apocalypse, but for those who experienced it:  close enough.

To me, the most disturbing thing about believing in the rapture is not the propensity to choose exact dates. It's the idea that some followers of Jesus believe that they will escape great suffering while the majority of the human race goes through the tribulation.  There sometimes seems to be an unseemly glee when some recount the misery that others will encounter after they themselves are raptured.

First of all, there is plenty of evidence that followers of Jesus are going through, and not escaping, tribulation, every day.

And second, I would hope and pray that in the event of tribulations, in the event of disasters, the last thing that followers of Jesus would want to do is escape. I would hope and pray that followers of Jesus would follow Jesus:  more deeply into the suffering, into the tribulation: to bind up wounds, to heal, to comfort, to rebuild, to make peace.   I would hope that followers of Jesus would want to be in Joplin, Missouri, in Northeast Minneapolis, as well as in chemotherapy wards, in hospice care units, on battlefields, showing the mercy of God, showing the face of the love of God.

Until the real last day.  Whenever that is.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's NOT the End of the World

After the second service this morning, someone came up to me and said, "I didn't think you'd be here this morning."  I found this a singularly puzzling statement; I couldn't for the life of me figure out why she thought I wouldn't be in church.  (I'm on vacation now, but did she think I was on vacation last week, too?)

It finally occurred to me:  the Rapture.

Though it has been on my mind here and there for the last couple of weeks or so, by this morning I was so totally over the presumed Rapture that I wasn't thinking about it at all.  Instead, I was thinking about my children's sermon (would I find some kind of blocks to use, or not?), the installation of the call committee, the reception of new members, the fact that Confirmation was last week, and Sunday School ended last week, and so the crowds have already thinned out a little.  I was thinking about the list in the back of my mind of things that I needed to do before I could leave town this afternoon.  I was thinking about presiding and preaching and making sure both services were lively and meaningful and that I could still stand up afterwards.

Oh yeah, the rapture.

So, there were no references to the rapture in my sermon, no prayers, and no little jokes about how we're all still here.  (though I heard that at my husband's church, the youth director preached, and he mused, "what if we were all still here, and all the people at all the other churches are gone?")

Me and the end of the world:  we go way back, at least to the 8th grade, when my dad first read the book The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsay.  I also read, or at least skimmed, the book at that time.  I remember as an 8th grader, that I was adamantly opposed to the end of the world.  At thirteen, there were rough spots in my life, but, hey!,  I had a future, and nobody was going to tell me otherwise.

So I've never been attracted to "end of the world coming soon" theology.  Ever.  Even in my most fervent, college-era, tongue-speaking, charismatic era, I was agnostic about the rapture.  And I had read enough (Lutherans had published a rebuttal to Hal Lindsay called The Future of the Great Planet Earth) that I had becoming a dedicated amillenialist.

I have to say, however, that while I'm not looking forward to the end of the world,  excited to be raptured or worried about being left behind, I do think there's something to be said for living expectantly.  Perhaps my hope and expectation is somewhat different than that of the ones looking forward to the rapture.  But I do confess and expect the reign of Christ, a time of justice and abundance on earth, a time when there will be no more crying and no more pain, where the lamb will be the light.  So much as those rapturists who thought May 21st would be the day, I expect a new world, and I have to say, from the outside this hope seems every bit as foolish as the hope of the followers of Harold Camping.

 It's also true that I get so distracted by things like:  the installation of the call committee, finding some blocks for the children's message, calling the pianist with next week's songs, that I lose sight of the things I really hope for, and the signs of Christ's coming, and Christ's presence right now.

So, May 21st has come and gone.  So what?  As for you, what do you hope for?  We do not know the day or the hour, it's true, but I hope we are ready, all ready, to catch a glimpse of him when he comes.

Every day.  And in the end

Saturday, May 21, 2011

You Are....a sermon for Easter 5

1 Peter 2:2-10

When I was a little girl, there was a pretty solid line between the kind of toys boys got to play with and the toys girls got
– for example, my brother got trucks – we got dolls – we got the Easy Bake Oven, he got the chemistry set.
But every once in awhile, my brother got something that I kind of envied, that I wished someone had gotten for me, instead.
One of those presents was something called a “Rock Tumbler.”
This was a contraption, or a machine that promised to make plain ordinary stones into beautiful shiny agates.
You just put the rocks into the machine – more than one at a time, of course, and you put in something called “grit”
– and you turned on the machine and the rocks went round and round and when they came out – magic!
– they were changed, they were beautiful, they were something you might want to put on a necklace and hang around on your neck.

“Come to him, a living stone.... and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.....”

So. Last week we were sheep.
This week we are stones. Living stones. That is what you are, according to Peter.
You are.... living stones being built into a spiritual house.... Last week, you were sheep who need a shepherd.
Perhaps you thought it was a little insulting to be called a “sheep” – if you know very much about sheep, it’s not the most flattering comparison, believe me.
Sheep are not the brightest animals, and getting lost, and getting into trouble is something they are very good at.
But consider what it means to be called a stone. A rock, if you will.
What words come to your mind when you think of the word “stone”?
Stones are — inert, they are unmoving.
They are usually quite plain, they are, you might say, personality-less, or boring. That’s what we are called, though. Stones.
Living stones, but still – stones.

So, what does it mean that Peter calls us “stones”?
What is the significance, perhaps?
We might consider a couple of the stories in the Bible where stones figure.
First, there is the story of Jacob in Genesis.
You remember Jacob? Son of Isaac and Rebekah.
Tricked his brother out of his birthright and his blessing.
He’s running away, having tricked his brother Esau. And when he is exhausted and he has to finally sleep, he uses a stone for a pillow.
I can’t imagine anything more uncomfortable, but Jacob is on the run and has to take what he can get. In the night he sees a vision of angels climbing up and down a ladder, and the next morning he’s convinced that “God is in this place, and I didn’t know it.”
He makes an altar right there, and pours oil over the stone, and calls the place “Beth-el.” Which means, “house of God.”
Where those plain old stones are. The house of God.

Or, there’s the story of the Israelites while they are finally getting ready to go over into the promised land.

Each of the twelve tribes is encouraged to find a stone to carry over with them from one side of the Jordan to the other side.
This stone represented something from the past that they would carry with them into their future. Fair enough.
But the stone was something from a very specific past – they were to carry mementos from their forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
The stones weren’t just for fond memories of their successes back in the good old days.
The stones represented how God kept faith with them in the wilderness, even as they were about to cross over into the promised land.

And then finally there is this stone, the stone that the builders rejected – Jesus, the stone that would become the cornerstone of ourfaith.
Come to him who is also a stone – a stone that most people looked at and threw out, a stone that was rejected,
a stone that was considered plain and ordinary and even worthless, maybe even worse than worthless – you know,
as in, “get rid of that stone hanging around your neck – it’s only weighing you down” –

there is the stone who is Jesus, who is, by the way, the cornerstone, the foundation of a new community, a spiritual house.

Last week, you were sheep. This week, You are .... stones, plain old stones.
Plain old stones, but the house of God
Plain old stones, but mementos of God’s presence in the wilderness.
Plain old stones, but being built into a spiritual house.
But not without some rock-tumbling, and some grit.

You are..... You are....
if we’re honest, you hear a lot more different kinds of endings to this sentence, many of them not like Peter’s.
You are.... you are one small person, and what you do will never make a difference.
You are.... you are... consumers, defined by your wants and your desires.
You are .... trying to make it on your own. You are popular, you are not, you are successful, you are not, you are rich, you are poor, you are liberal, you are conservative, you are what you eat.
You are....

We are always being told who we are by someone or another.

But Peter says, you are stones, and you are being built into a spiritual house, a community.
You are stones in that rock tumbler, and you are God’s people, and you are becoming.... beautiful.

You are stones in the rock tumbler, you are the house of God, which means You are.... something else too.
First, you are .... chosen.
I have a bucket of rocks, a few left, I think, from the stones I found for the children’s message.
I picked them up from around the church after it stopped raining yesterday.
And I’ll tell you something, not one of these stones jumped up into my hand by itself.
All of them I chose, I picked up out of the dirt, turned over, washed off.
In the same way, you are chosen by God, picked up, turned over, washed off.

You are also called, you are called by God to a different kind of life.
Because Jesus is our cornerstone, and your life is built around him.

He is not society’s cornerstone, he’s not our culture’s cornerstone.
In fact, he’s been rejected, again and again, by the powers that be: too plain, too humble, too impractical, to merciful.
But he’s our cornerstone and our lives our built around his life.
And so we are chosen and precious, and we are called, called, called to a different kind of life

And you are... you are not alone

Anna Quindlan was asked to speak at a commencement, to give some advice to those who were graduating. Here’s a little about what she said:

“ here's what I wanted to tell you today: Get a life.

Get a real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house.

Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast?

Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights,
a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you.”
(Source: Commencement address at Villanova University (February 8 1999)

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you.

You know what this reminds me of?
It reminds me of the young woman from our congregation who told me she would rather go on a mission trip to South Dakota than play summer basketball.
It reminds me of the people from this congregation who decided to sponsor refugees, from many different countries;
it reminds me of the people who come out for the funerals of friends, it reminds me of people who have taken time out of their schedules to teach immigrants to read.
It reminds me of people who stick their necks out for people who don’t have a voice.
It reminds me of you, the body of Christ.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love who love you.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is exactly the life we are given in Jesus, our cornerstone.
We are given a life in which we are chosen and precious, in which we are called to live differently, in which we are not alone.
We are the house of God, and surely God is in this place, and we didn’t even know it.
We are the signs of God’s presence in the wilderness, God’s faithfulness in the wildness, on the way to the promised land.

You are.... you are... stones in the rock tumbler, you are the place where God dwells, built around the cornerstone, the one who died, the one who lives.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Riding the Bus

This week I've been (mostly) away at a week of Feasting for preachers called "Festival of Homiletics."  Well, okay, I'm not really "away."  The Festival came to my town this year, which meant that I could afford to go.  I've been spending every day in one of the big gothic churches in our downtown area, listening to eloquent and truthful sermons and lectures, words that uplift and break your heart, alternating between taking furious notes and just sitting and letting the words wash over me.

There has been some pretty incredible music too.

I don't live far from downtown, so every day I've been taking the bus downtown.  I haven't taken a bus for a few years, but long ago, before I was a pastor, I took the bus to work every day.  When I was in high school, I took the bus downtown for piano lessons at MacPhail Center for the Performing Arts (I know, sounds impressive, but I'm really not that good.)  And when I was a little girl, my grandmother used to take me on the bus downtown with her to go shopping, and to the public library.  So, the bus and I go WAY back.

But like I said, it's been several years since I have taken a bus.  I don't know the schedules, and had to google the bus company to find out what the fares are now (2.25 one way).  I started out taking the 18 bus on Tuesday morning.  It's a route I knew a little bit about, since I got on an 18 bus once by mistake long ago and ended up lost.  But from that experience I learned basically where the 18 went.

It's a bus route that takes a basically straight route from where I live to our downtown area, stopping every block to pick people up.  On the 18 you will find mothers with small children, the Somali woman with her head covered, the woman who rides with her carry-on luggage, boys with ipods in their ears.  It's a pretty diverse crowd.

By the next day I had figured out that there was a bus stop less than 1/2 from my house, an express bus that stopped on a freeway exit, picked up people going to work, and got right back on the freeway.  As you might imagine, this bus carries a somewhat different crowd.  (I even ran into someone from my church!).

A few things about taking the bus after a long hiatus:  You really have to pay attention to where the stops are. Some of the rules (I discovered) have changed about which buses stopped here.  I also remembered that it's good to bring some reading material for the journey.  You are riding together, but generally speaking, people don't talk to each other.

Taking the bus every day has taken me back, in a way, back to a time and place before I was a pastor.  Taking the bus every day has taken me back to a time when I was a little girl, holding my grandmother's hand, and wandering through the aisles at the big public library downtown.  Or back to a time when I sat at a desk every day, typing and answering phones and wondering what was the purpose of my life.  Or back to a time when I didn't have a car.

So, I'm going to this preaching conference every day, and I'm remembering what it was like to be something other than a preacher:  a kid, a student, a clerical worker, someone struggling to make ends meet, someone trying to figure out where God was at in the world, or in her life, someone going home exhausted every day.

And I think, that after hearing all of the eloquent words and wise advise of the week, maybe just taking the bus every day will do something to make me a better preacher.

What do you think?

Monday, May 16, 2011

What I Need

Yesterday was Confirmation Day.  I had the Saturday evening service, three services on Sunday.  The third was a special service for the confirmands.  Afterwards I was invited over to the home of one of the confirmands.  I'm glad I went; we got a chance to talk about the transition at our church.  They asked some questions about the process of getting a new senior pastor, what kinds of things we need to do and to know.

Today I had a funeral. Four women from my congregation were standing together afterwards.  All of them Stephen Ministers.  When I saw them, I called them "The Dream Team."  I also did a little housekeeping, to make sure I was ready to go to my Continuing Education classes.  I got a call on another funeral, which someone else will be handling.

Then I went to the Festival of Homiletics.

I registered and walked around the big downtown church for awhile.

I sat outside in the sun (it is finally sunny here!) and read a little bit of a novel called Loving Frank.

I bought a book in the bookstore.

I ran into a couple of old friends, made some plans for lunches.

I listened to wonderful music by a local group called Cantus.

I sang along with all the many many voices on the song, "Holy God, we Praise Your Name."

I soaked up a wonderful sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor, "Learning to Fall", and a Lecture by Thomas Long.

I stopped at the store on the way home, bought fancy olives (among other things).

I gave my dog Scout a tummy rub.

And I thought, this is what I need.

So simple, really.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Some Good Words for my Friend, Who I Didn't Know was a Gardener

(I presided, but did not preach, at a recent funeral.  The other pastor preached.  Instead, I said these words.)

In this world where there is so much loneliness, one of the best gifts God has given us is one another.

What I want to do today, mostly, is tell you a story.  It's a story I didn't know about H and G and this church, until we met with one another on Friday.  But it's story that some of you may know, already.  It's a story about roses, community, and hope.

I will tell you, I thought I knew H pretty well.  After all, I've been your pastor for a few years now.  I knew H and G as a devoted couple, devoted to one another.  When I see H, I often picture him in the church office, eating lunch with his wife, whenever she was working.  Or, I think of him with a stack of bulletins in his hands, sometimes, standing at the back of the church.  Of, I think of him as a man who loved worship, and especially the liturgy.  I knew that he loved his congregation, and had been a leader in many efforts throughout the year, but I didn't know all of the things he had done.  I also knew that he was attentive to the wider church, the work of the church colleges and the synod.  But I didn't know that he was a gardener, and how much he loved roses.  I didn't know that he had such a green thumb.

So, on to the story:  Several years ago, in the fall, H was out in his garden, covering his roses, getting them ready for the winter.  He was working hard when he had a heart attack, what would be his first heart attack, and was taken to the hospital.  But, the work was not finished.  Not all of the roses were covered.

That's where some of you came in, some of his brothers and sisters in Christ from this congregations.  A whole host of you came over and went to work, completing the work that H had started.  You worked side by side, getting the garden ready for the winter, a community of friends on a common mission.  But, I imagine that it was also fun.

In this world where there is so much loneliness, one of the best gifts God has given us is one another.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we grieve together, we rejoice together, we step up for one another.

One of the things I knew about H was that he was hoping and expecting to get back to the work of the congregation, and that he was disappointed when his energy did not return.  I also knew how much he was blessed and honored by the support and presence of his friends in his life.  This congregation was a gift to him -- really both to him and to G.

When you called and left the message in the church office, G, I was expecting to hear you say, "H is in the hospital."  I wasn't expecting to hear you say that he had died.  I always thought that I would a chance to have one more conversation with you both.

The promises of Easter, the promises of eternal life, comfort us today.  But God has given us many gifts today, including the gift of one another, the gift of community.  When Jesus rose, he rose to give us life, and he rose to give us one another --

We are bound together, united by a common hope, by a common mission, by our songs and by our prayers.

And by roses.

We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear,
and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.

From sorrow, toil, and pain, and sin we shall be free;
and perfect love and friendship reign through all eternity.  (Blest be the Tie that Binds)

P.S.  at the funeral were several refugees who had been sponsored by this couple throughout the years. I didn't know about them, either.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The First Thunderstorm of the Season

Yesterday we woke up to rumblings in the sky.  It was a dark morning, thunder and lightning, the first spring storm.  Scout was sitting on the rug at the end of the bed -- not too bad yet, although when I asked her to come, she wouldn't.  My side of the bed is near the window, a dangerous place.

Through the early hours of the morning, as the sounds got louder and scarier, our dog got more and more worried.  She paced, she panted, but what she did most of all, what she always does during thunderstorms, is try to find a safe place to hide.  At one point she ended up in our small bathroom (who told her this is really the safest place in the house?), at another time she wedged herself between my husband's easy chair and the end table.  She is also partial to the basement.  There is a bed downstairs she can crawl under.

I try to comfort Scout.  I keep telling her that we won't let the bad storm get her, but she doesn't respond to reason.  Fear is often like that.  You can't reason with it.  You can only be there.

Inevitably, as I watched Scout and as I heard the sky, I considered the disciples, the Easter disciples hiding in their locked room after the resurrection.  They were afraid, the story says, and so they tried to find a safe place to hide.  And why is it that I imagine that room as small and cozy, with not much room for another person, not even a resurrected Savior? 

Despite the resurrection of Jesus, it seems we are often afraid.  The sky rumbles, the world changes, the signs and portents we do not understand.   There are many things going on in our culture that don't seem so friendly.  The things we used to do (at least in church) don't always work any more.  Some people don't come.  Others mock believers.  Some just ignore us.  We can keep saying and saying, "God is in charge.  This is Christ's church," and even know it's true, but still, we're afraid. 

It's tempting, at times like these, to try to find a safe place to hide: the basement, perhaps?  Any small space, where there is not much extra room, will do.  It's tempting, at times like these, to make our expectations as small as the space we are hiding:  to forget that Jesus rose from the dead and is still risen.  It's tempting to find that small space and stay there, with the people we know, doing the things we know how to do.  It's dark and cramped, but it's safe.  Right?

So Jesus walks into that small locked room, and you know what?  he doesn't say, "I'm in charge."  He doesn't say, "I won't let the big bad thunder get you."  All he says is, "Peace."  Peace be with you. 

And then he sends us out, not to do our puny little tasks, but to proclaim and enact his great mission.  He sends us out in the thunder and the lightning, to that dangerous world.  He sends us out to the world not to reason with people, not to tell people facts about God, but to love them.  To be there. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Consumers or Producers

My husband, a musician, likes to talk about different ways people love music.  Most people love music of some sort or another, but they love it mostly as consumers.  In other words, they are listeners.  They turn on a radio, or pop in a CD or love sorting the tunes on their ipods by genre, or creating a nice "mix" of music to listen to. 

There's another way to love music, though, and that is as someone who makes music.  You can write songs, or you can play music, but in either case you are choosing not just to consume but to produce.  You can use your voice or piano keys or a rhythm instrument, you can play a flute or a kazoo, you can be a professional or a rank amateur, but if you play, you are producing something rather than just consuming it.

Both consuming and producing are normal activities.  We do both of them in our lives, although it seems to me that we are beginning to skew more and more toward the consuming side.  If you buy, cook and eat your supper, you're both a producer and a consumer -- producing a nice meal and then eating it.  If you put something in the microwave or go out to eat (and we do this more often than I care to admit) you're just a consumer. 

My mom sewed a lot of our clothes.  Now I mostly go shopping, reserving my limited sewing skills and patience for hems and mending.  I do find a strange attraction to knitting, partly because, I think, I can produce something for someone else (or me!) to wear.    We used to get most of our books out of the public library, reading the book being the most important thing at the time.  I wrote reams and reams of short stories and poems and one acts plays on lined notebook paper.  A friend and I would read our work to one another.  Now for some reason it seems important to own the book, whether I get around to actually reading it or not. 

Then I turn to worship.  It seems to me that the idea has developed that the clergy and other professionals are the producers of worship, and that the congregation are consumers of worship.  Some people critique congregation members for this, but I think that clergy and other worship leaders can be as much to blame.  If it is true that we are all worshipping, with our voices, with our hearts, with our lips, we are all producers of worship, and we're all consumers as well.  If we "get a lot out of worship," it may be just because we put our hearts, souls and minds into worship.

It's true that we consume the Word which is given to us, something we did not produce ourselves.  But as we chew and swallow and ponder what we freely receive, we do go out to produce, to create, to produce fruit, to create community, to do justice and to love kindness.  We are not simply collectors or appreciators of fine Bible verses, putting them in order by genre. 

Rank amateurs we may be, but somehow we start playing those verses with ours lives, producing melodies and harmonies based on "Love one another as I haved loved you," or "The Lord is my shepherd", or "The Lord has risen."

Tomorrow the bread is broken, the songs are sung, the word comes into our ears, into our hearts.  We take and eat.  We go and live.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What I Want Our Church to Look Like

1)  A deeper spirituality that shows in our love for worship, prayer and one another.

2)  A deeper commitment to our community, caring about the needs, concerns, gifts of our neighbors

3)  To be committed to both personal and social transformation, realizing that personal transformation is a gift of the Holy Spirit, something Christ works in us as we trust his love and forgiveness

4)  To be committed to create a congregation that looks more like our neighborhood and God's kingdom,

5)  To look like people who really believe that we have a God bigger than we are, and a mission bigger than we are

6)  To give ourselves away for the sake of Jesus, and the love of the world.

I want us to worship with heart and soul, to welcome and nurture the children, and to be deeply invested in sharing Jesus with our community through acts of love and justice.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Low Sunday: Before I Forget

So, again I preached on what is known as "low Sunday" in some circles (although never in ours).  To be fair, I did get the opportunity to preach on Easter twice here, for the large crowds that come on Easter Sunday.  This is not an opportunity that your average Senior Pastor shares lightly.

We do not call the 2nd Sunday in Easter "low Sunday" although we do give the choir the Sunday off, and some of the people also seem to take the Sunday off as well.  So, the congregation was not quite as full on Sunday. 

It wasn't so low for me, though.

There was no choir, but there was a wonderful soloist at our first service, singing Handel's "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth."  At the second service we recognized the Sunday School teachers, and all of their students gave them flowers.  Also, the cherubs sang, and jumped around, and they made us jump around too.

We had our first annual Mother/Daughter Brunch after church (four kinds of quiche, salad, fruit, rosemary potatoes...).  I invited my mom to come to worship and to the brunch with me.  When I saw her sitting in the church, I approached her.  She said to me, mysteriously, I thought, "Someone from your past is here today."

I raced back out to the narthex, looking for the mysterious visitor.  No one.  I raced back into the sanctuary (thirty seconds after the worship service should have started) and whispered to my mom, "I didn't see anyone."  She said, "They said they were staying for the church service."

So I had the congregation stand and we began to sing the opening songs. 

Then I spotted them:  two old friends from college.  They had gotten married and moved to Idaho, then to Washington State.  I hadn't seen them for I don't know how many years.   I had roomed with her in college, and, since we both lived in the Twin Cities, we ended up getting together during the summers as well.  We went to prayer meetings together.  We sang together (special music) at my church.  

I did my heart good to see them.

I now have their email address.

Oh, and another thing, before I forget:  the day before 'low Sunday', I was at the 9th grade confirmation retreat.  I was going through the promises that the confirmands make, helping them to know what promises they are making.  I remember backing up a bit when they promise to 'proclaim the gospel,' to ask them, 'what is the gospel, anyway?  What are we proclaiming? 

And I told them that they were part of the body of Christ, and that they had gifts to share, and that we needed their gifts in our congregation, we needed their voices, their ideas, their thoughts.  One of the girls turned to me and said, "Thank you."

That's the other thing that made my day.