Monday, December 22, 2008

Where Have I Been?

I can't believe I haven't posted anything on this blog since August! Maybe it's because I stay so busy keeping the church website up to date, posting my sermons and adding new photos constantly. And maybe it's because I just have so much else to do that personal writing keeps taking a backseat. I'm not even showing up at RevGalBlogPals as often as I used to, not even on Saturdays for the 11th hour preacher party!

I would blame it on Christmas busy-ness, except I definitely wasn't working on Christmas stuff way back in August. And yet, here I am, wondering where I've been all these months. Oh, yeah, I've been starting a new congregation at my church - a recovery oriented congregation meeting on Saturdays. That is what's been taking up so much of my time. Silly me. And here I thought I wasn't spending much time with the new congregation.

I've made new friends in this new journey - transgendered folks and lots of people involved in the Anti-Prop 8 movement here in California. My new friends aren't coming to the new church as they are all already involved with one congregation or another, but they are encouraging me and helping me to know that nothing is impossible with God.

Time to get ready for this afternoon's Bible study. I hereby make a promise to myself and anyone who's been looking for me: I will at least cross-post my sermons, and try to post here at least once a week.

Blessings on all in this Christmas Season.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Labor Day Friday Five

RevGals provided these fun questions.

Here in the USA we are celebrating the last fling of the good ol' summertime. It is Labor Day weekend, and families are camping, playing in the park, swimming, grilling hotdogs in the backyard, visiting amusement parks and zoos and historical sites and outdoor concerts and whatever else they can find to help them extend summer's sun and play just a little bit longer.

It is supposed to also be a celebration of the working man and woman, the backbone of the American economy, the "salt-of-the-earth neices and nephews of Uncle Sam. With apologies to those in other countries, this is a Friday Five about LABOR. All can play. Put down that hammer, that spoon, that rolling pin, that rake, that pen, that commentary, that lexicon, and let's have some fun.

1. Tell us about the worst job you ever had.
I worked as a temp in a company that tested water quality. The people were nice but between the long chemical formulas I kept mis-spelling and the allergic reactions I had to some of the testing materials I didn't last very long.

2. Tell us about the best job you ever had.
The one I have now, of course. Pastor a small congregation. It can be crazy making but I love it.

3. Tell us what you would do if you could do absolutely anything (employment related) with no financial or other restrictions.
Go back to school, get PhD and teach preaching while serving a congregation that can't afford a pastor.

4. Did you get a break from labor this summer? If so, what was it and if not, what are you gonna do about it?
I took a week off and collapsed on the couch. Does that count?

5. What will change regarding your work as summer morphs into fall? Are you anticipating or dreading?
I'll get busier with a new weekly worship service on Saturdays, which means two sermons a week. I really look forward to it and as far as who can fill in for me on vacations and such, I'll just go all Scarlett O'hara and "worry about it tomorrow."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Where is that, exactly?

I was reading an article in Christian Century in which the author relates his experience of being attacked (there simply isn't any other word for it) by otherwise perfectly rational friends when he spoke of his faith. They asked what he really believed - is Christianity is the only true religion, was Mary a virgin, is Jesus present in the bread and cup? He had a hard time answering or maybe he just had a hard time giving them the answers they were expecting. It's hard to live in a place and time when "Everybody" believes all Christians are alike. They hear the TV preachers and they hear the folks who show up at their door and they hear the news about what "Christians" say on this issue or that one, and they believe that this is what ALL Christians agree on.

Where is it, exactly,where it says in the Bible that everyone will believe everything in exactly the same way? Acts and pretty much all of the epistles speak loudly to disagreements on theology and practice. Jesus spends his ministry arguing with Jews who don't believe the same things he believes about God and Torah and Messiah. If we have Biblical evidence that our predecessors didn't agree, why should we be expected to?

I understood when a Moslem friend asked me, in much pain, "Why do Christians act the way they do?" He'd been on a soccer team and when it moved from the park to a church yard, the priest said he couldn't be on the team anymore because he followed Islam and if he was on the team there would be religious arguments. (No, it doesn't make sense to me, either. He'd been on the team for years and all they argued about were fouls and goals, not Jesus and Mohammed.

Where does that, exactly, that Christians aren't allowed to socialize or play games with persons of other faiths? Or that we should reject folks based on their beliefs. How can we attract others to our faith if we reject them from our circle of friends?

And I keep hearing from my friends statements like "They need to go to counseling. They can't get the help they need from the church." Worse, I hear church members telling me "I'm not ready to come back to church yet after going through this hard time. No one seems to have even noticed that I'm not there."

Where is it, exactly, where the Bible says once you join the church you're on your own. It's as if folks say "We'll be happy to see you Sunday, but don't bother us with your problems. Maybe you could talk to the pastor - that's her job, not ours."

I keep looking for these instructions, but I can never find them. All I can find is love your neighbor as you love yourself. and They'll know you are Christians by the way you love each other. and God so loved all the world that he sent his only son.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Willing to Change Matthew 7:1-5

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s* eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbor,* “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s* eye.

One of the things that frustrates me no end is the comparison I keep hearing between 12 Step Programs and Christianity, which rarely speak well of Christianity. I was at a workshop one time and the keynote speaker said that the most successful “religion” he knew of was Alcoholics Anonymous. He went on to say that, even though AA is specifically not a religious program, people who work the 12 steps are making an effort to change their lives, to become people who seek to do God’s will. Just last night I heard a woman share that the Christian recovery program she had been through taught them to avoid the use of alcohol and drugs and to pray, but didn’t teach them how to share their pain and let God heal their souls the way Narcotics Anonymous does.

Yet if we read our Bible we find that are continually given instructions for how to behave as God’s people. We see here in Matthew clear instructions to make changes in our lives. We are told to look at our own defects and remove them, which sounds suspiciously like Step 6: “We became entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character.”

First, of course, we have to recognize our defects. We have done that in Steps 4 and 5 when we made a moral inventory of our selves and shared it with God and another human being. Our faults and our virtues are all listed, and another person now knows us as well as we know ourselves.

Another way to recognize our own defects of character is to look closely at our judgments of other people. Over time I have learned that when I find myself judging someone else or disliking another person, more often than not I am finding fault with some part of that person that reminds of the things I don’t like about myself. That speck I can see in their eye helps me recognize and put a name to the log in my own.

Some years back I was complaining about a friend. It really bugged me that she was always trying to be in complete control of her family. It didn’t matter where she was, she’d yell at her husband unless he was doing things exactly as she wanted them done. He had the job she wanted him to have, wore the clothes she wanted him to wear, volunteered for the things she thought were important. The friend I complained to simply said “When I point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at me.” My immediate response was to say “No. I’m nothing like her!” But I’ve learned to listen to the suggestions that are made to me, even when I don’t agree. So I looked at my life and realized I was doing the same thing but more quietly. I had quietly suggested a job change to my husband so many times that he did change jobs – and was miserable in the new one. I learned about my own control issues simply from looking at someone else’s and had to become willing to make the change – to remove the log from my eye.

But recognizing the defects of character is only the beginning. Once we know what they are, we have to become willing to change. We could liken this to the process of buying a new car. We might think that the first thing we should do is to look in newspaper advertisements or visit dealerships or go online to find the car we want to buy. But in reality, the first thing we need to do is recognize that we need a new car. Then we have to become willing to give up our old car. That may not be so easy. We’re used to the old car. We know where everything is, we know how it behaves going up hills, the radio is set to our favorite stations and we’ve finally figured out how to change the clock for daylight savings time. But you know, it’s starting to break down. It may be using a lot of gasoline. It’s just not serving us as well as it used to.

So it is with our defects of character. They simply aren’t serving us as well as they used to. We are in the process of making changes in our lives, and the behaviors and attitudes that used to serve well are no longer appropriate to the people we want to be – people who put God’s will first in their lives. How do we know what’s not working?

First, we picture our lives as we believe God would want it to be. We can imagine ourselves filled with the fruit of the Spirit – filled with goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

We can imagine what our lives will be like if we do not let go of our defects of character. At best we wouldn’t change at all – we would remain exactly as we are. We would never become better or happier or more at peace with the world around us.

We can think about the pain our character defects have caused ourselves and others. My desire for my husband to have a “better” job caused him to be miserable, until I apologized and told him I would be happy if he was happy, no matter what he earned or what hours he had to work. He went back to the old job and both our lives got better. The consequences of my control issues had made us both miserable, and I was quite willing to give it up. Perhaps we have become estranged from a family member or a friend because of pride or unforgiven resentments. Giving up the pride or the anger could heal the breach. At the least it would keep something similar from happening in the future.

We can ask God to help us become ready to change. We might not want to get rid of all the flaws in our character. We might be convinced that we are who we are and we’re too old or too set in our ways to ever change. But God can help us change this attitude. We only have to ask and then with God’s help, work at changing our ways. We can’t do it by ourselves. It would be wonderful to believe that we could just say “God, please change me,” and miraculously we would become different people. But it just doesn’t work that way. Jesus didn’t say “God will remove the plank in your eye.” He said, you remove it. God will help. But we have to do the work.

One of the flaws I really thought I wanted to have removed was my constant use of bad language. I used to sound a lot like that chef on the BBC program “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.” Probably every third word Ramsay speaks is bleeped. Where he is working, that language is not uncommon. And among the people I used to hang with my language wasn’t remarkable. But when my life changed and the people I spent my time with changed, I realized that it simply wasn’t appropriate any more. I started finding it offensive when other people constantly spoke that way. But at first I wasn’t willing to do anything about changing the way I talked. I thought it was enough to ask God to take it away. It took years and painstaking attention to the words I was using to make the change. When I use those words today it’s usually because I’ve lost control of myself – I’ve allowed myself to lash out in anger or frustration.

To remove that plank from our own eyes, we turn to God and ask for help in becoming willing to change. With God’s help we become ready to give up the attitudes and behaviors that separate us from God and from our brothers and sisters so that we might become the compassionate, loving persons God desires us to be.

Step by Step, let us learn to walk in God’s ways.

Monday, July 28, 2008

On the 2nd day she rested

What a week it was! I realize that today (Monday) is technically the 2nd day of the week, but the last 8 days have been so emotionally up and down, draining and exhilarating, that I feel as if I am resting even though I'm in the church office right now and have lots to do. But at least the stuff I have to do is regular church stuff . . .

Last Sunday we had Children! in church, and it was wonderful. The not so wonderful part is that on Tuesday the father of several of those children called to ask me a favor. He told me they had lost a child 10 days earlier. He was 4 months premature and lived on machines for just 2 days. The funeral was to be Thursday morning. He had just learned that the person scheduled to do the service had cancelled. Would I? Of course I would (while mentally disemboweling the person who cancelled! Who cancels on a baby's funeral????) We planned to meet on Wednesday to talk about the service. Wednesday evening the wife called from the emergency room - her husband and 3 sons all had food poisoning. Could they meet me after they were released? When the husband called later, I told him to go home and rest - everything would work out. I had spoken with the funeral director, knew where to go, and knew that only a graveside service was planned. As Disciples don't have anything like a Book of Common Prayer, I was busy thanking God for the Chalice Worship and the resources in it.

The morning of the funeral was a beautiful, sunny Southern California day with minimal smog as I drove through LA on my way to the cemetery. Everything went pretty well up to the end of the graveside service. Then . . . the hole was too small and had to be re-dug. The chains around the tiny casket and vault got stuck and had to be yanked out of the grave. When the front-end loader showed up to dump dirt into the grave, I walked away to be near the parents, who had walked away some few minutes earlier. How hard it is to be comforting to the family when what you really want to do is snatch up the funeral director and shake her until her teeth rattle!

Friday was entirely different. I was blessed by the opportunity to perform my first same-sex wedding. Two women who had been living together faithfully for 25 years were finally being joined together in the eyes of the state. I believe God had been blessing their relationship for a long time. There were some challenges with the wording of the service, and the standard Certificate of Christian Marriage I had in my desk had to be completely re-designed. Rainbow Pastor of Revgalblogpals was a great help there.

Then came Sunday. A wonderful celebration as my congregation burned our paid-off mortgage, preaching by our Regional Minister, a pot luck dinner that couldn't be beat, and LOTS of children! In the evening I had a speaking opportunity at a 12 step meeting.

Not surprising that I feel whupped. And blessed. I am blessed by the opportunity to be there for a family in pain, and by the opportunity to bless the union of 2 faithful Christian women. I am blessed by the words I heard preached, by the love of my congregation, and especially, by the work I have been called to do by a loving God. Where else could I get so many opportunities to share my love of God and my faith in the healing power of God's Word with others?

So today I "rest." And plan worship for Saturday and Sunday, and return a bunch of phone calls and and and . . wait to see what God will bring me this week.

Monday, July 21, 2008

There are Children Here!

My congregation has been pretty much children-free since the two families who had young children had to relocate for their jobs. We've had one young man, recently turned 5, as a regular congregant for the last year or so, but that's been about it.

Imagine my delight, then, when Sunday morning worship included 3 adults and 4 young boys who had just moved into the neighborhood! Imagine also my quickly scrambling brain figuring out where best to place a Children's Moment in the morning's service. Having decided that (after the anthem, before the sermon) I started thanking God for RevGalBlogPals Saturday 11th Hour Preaching Party, where a number of Children's Sermon ideas were posted for the very passage I was using.

When the time came I invited all the children big enough to walk to the front of the church under their own power to come join me on the steps. We talked about playing Hide and Seek, and how easy it is to hide successfully from the seeker - and how hard it is to find someone who doesn't want to be found. Then I asked "Where can you go to hide from God?" One of the boys said "You can't - God is everywhere, and always knows what we are doing." Another said "God always finds us so he can protect us."

Who needed a sermon after that? I preached anyway, but those two boys grasped the point perfectly. If only all Children's Moments could turn out so well.

I anticipate that the families will return. They did enjoy the service and the fellowship and one of my members went to them and offered to take the children and teach them in another room during worship, which really made the parents happy! I also anticipate that I will then become one of those preachers frantically seeking an idea for a Children's Sermon at the 11th Hour Preacher Party.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Where have I been?

I can't believe I haven't posted anything to my blog since May 3rd! I've updated the church website "religiously" every week. I've popped my head in at RevGalBlogPals on Saturdays for the Preacher Party. But I haven't kept up my blog. I've been busy doing other things.

I find that's the way my life goes. I'll start doing something really good for me and be diligent about it for a while. But then I get sidetracked by some other interest and whatever I was doing before just seems to fade away. The thing I don't understand is why it's always the things that are good for me that fade away? I'll journal for a few months, then stop. I'll read a daily meditation for a few months, then stop. I'll be positively obsessive about self-care for a little while, and then stop. Not just get a little less obsessive but stop altogether.

My relationship with God seems to follow the same pattern. I'll spend time in prayer and meditation daily, asking for guidance for the day for months on end. And then something happens to disrupt my schedule and suddenly I find that I haven't sat on the patio with God and the bunny rabbit in weeks or months - just kind of go feed the bunny and start doing something "important." And of course, when I'm not doing that, my life suffers. Tiny problems are magnified. My relationships with other people falter. All the other self-care stuff I want to be doing stops being done.

I feel a little like Jacob, who when awakening from his dream of the ladder, said in surprise "The Lord is present in this place and I didn't know it." Jacob was used to thinking of God as being in the place where his family was - where they prayed and made sacrifices. He may have even felt that when he ran away and left his family behind, he was also leaving God behind. The Lord is present in places other than my patio - but if I'm not spending time out there, I feel as if I'm not spending time with God.

Today I think I'll remember that the Lord is present wherever I am, and not just on my patio. And I think also, I'll go spend some time outside enjoying the bounteous beauty with which God blesses us daily.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Groping for God

Acts 17:22-31
22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

The Greeks worshipped many gods – some if them may seem familiar to us. There was a god in charge of drunkenness and serious partying. Gods who were known for lust and manipulating others into satisfying their sexual urges. Gods who were quick to anger and getting even. Gods who tricked people into doing things they normally wouldn’t do. Gods who insisted on being in control of everything and everyone around them. And if they weren’t properly worshipped they’d turn on even their most devoted followers. Paul saw how religious the Greeks were but he also saw that they had a yearning for something different, because in their temples there was always an altar to the unknown god. So he set out to teach them about that god they didn’t know.

Paul said that people were expected to grope for God, and that makes a lot of sense to me. Because this God that other people talked about – a loving, caring, forgiving God who actually wanted good things for me – was totally unknown to me! The first time I approached Step Two, my sponsor asked me write down what I believed about God right now and then to write down what I would like God to be. They were VERY different lists – the one I believed in was judgmental and hateful and punishing and unforgiving. I was less than a bug under his metaphysical foot. Even the loving God I hoped for then was a pale shadow of the God I have finally come to believe in.

You will have noticed that Paul said that the unknown god they yearned for didn’t live in temples. God wasn’t present in statues. God didn’t need the gifts people took to the temples to keep their gods from being angry with them. God didn’t need anything from us, because everything that exists came from God in the first place.

That’s all true. God isn’t here in this building – at least, not any more or less than everywhere else. For many who are newly coming to believe in a power greater than ourselves, we find God in each other. We look to the combined knowledge and experience of those who know more about God and about how to live to teach us and to lead us forward. Eventually we are able to find that unknown God, but we still rely on the others we know and trust to help us continue to grow, and to understand what God’s will for our lives might be. We rely on others who believe as we believe to strengthen and sustain our belief. We come to this place and other places like it to be with those people, and to study together the teachings found in scripture that can help us grow. Even to argue – in loving care, not in anger – with each other about what God said about how to love each other.

And once we do believe – really believe – in that God we’ve been told about, we can make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to God’s care. We can begin to trust that we will find the guidance we need to go in the direction God desires for us.

It’s fairly easy to turn the big things over. The state of the world economy, the question of whether our economic impetus checks will actually be delivered to the right address – these are things we know we have no real control over. It’s easy to let God handle them.
But there are all those little things . . . math tests, family members, situations at work . . .

I don’t like to travel. I like to be other places, I just don’t like the getting there part.
I flew to Indiana this week, and while I was on the plane I wrote down some of my travel quirks. The more I wrote, the more I had to laugh at myself!

I don’t trust myself to pack properly or hang on to a boarding pass
Don’t trust the security people to guard my belongings when they’re out of sight
Don’t trust the baggage people to get my stuff on the right plane
Don’t trust the pilots to do what they’re trained to do
Don’t trust the mechanics to take care of the plane
It seems like I don’t trust God to take care me at all!

It’s one thing to make sure I have all my things taken care of, that I’ve taken the necessary steps to do whatever it is I have to do. It’s another thing altogether to worry myself into an anxiety attack about things I have no control over. That’s what God is for! One person I shared my anxieties with shared her fear of flying and said she just keeps telling herself “No matter what happens, I’ll be fine. God’s in charge.”

Paul reminds us that in God we live and move and have our being, for we are God’s dearly loved children. All we have to do is remember that! Making a decision, every day, to turn our will and our lives over to God’s care is how we remember it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

This is Our Father's World

Acts 17:22-31 (New Revised Standard Version)
22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

When I was in high school I attended a religion class at church every Wednesday night. One night I asked the priest “How do we know there’s a God?” It’s not that I didn’t believe there was a God. I just wanted something I could hold on to. His answer was “You must just have faith.” When I told my father about it, he said if I was being taught by a Jesuit instead of a Franciscan I’d have gotten a better answer. His answer was to take me outside and walk with me around the yard. He pointed out the perfection of the leaves on the maple tree and the enticing aroma of the roses, and said “none of this could have happened by accident. There must be a God who created all this and put us in the middle of it.” From that time on, when I wanted to be really close to God, I went outside. I still do. In the mornings, really early, I go out on my little patio and sit with my bunny rabbit, surrounded by lots of potted plants. I know a lot of people who seek God in nature - who grope for God in places where the human presence is a little less overwhelming. If we think about it even for a minute, we know the truth of what Paul said to the people of Athens. God is not in shrines built by human hands. God is not in images of gold or silver or stone, images formed by the art and imagination of mortals. There are even places in the Old Testament where God says (and I’m seriously paraphrasing here) “When did I ask you to build me a temple? All I want from you is your love and obedience.”

Paul said, While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent. If the hand of God is indeed to be found in nature, then we know just from looking around us that it is truly time to repent our disobedience and our ignorance.

Regardless of the opinion of some of our political leaders, we know the world is sick and getting sicker, and that we have had a lot to do with that sickness. In large part because of global warming, the largest contributors to which are industrialized nations like the US, weather patterns are changing all over the earth. Our trash heaps will take hundreds or thousands of years to turn back into soil if they ever do, as so much of what we throw away can’t be absorbed into the earth. The air is so dirty that asthma and other lung diseases are epidemic. People are starving where there used to plenty. Bees are dying, and we don’t know why. But we know if they all die, the food situation is going to get critical. And while people in Haiti and Kenya and so many other places starve to death, Americans and Brits are dying in record numbers because of an epidemic of obesity. There is something seriously wrong with this picture. We all know these things – and we all feel a little helpless. What can we do to reverse this?

The answer seems simple. Recycle, conserve, find alternative power sources. Simple. Save water! Stop using Styrofoam! Not using Styrofoam is all good. Inconvenient, perhaps, but all good. Some people say we should stop using paper plates and cups too, so we can save trees. But that also means washing more dishes, using more water, adding more soap to the waste water that will have to be treated chemically. Of course, with melting ice caps we may soon have more water than we want, so maybe using more water is ok. Use corn and soybeans to create fuel for our cars and stuff. But that reduces the amount of corn and soy available for food products and makes the prices go up – a real crisis for those who depend on corn and soy products. Hmm, maybe rethink that one. Buy hybrid cars! Great! But they’re too expensive for most folks, and mostly Japanese. Use cloth bags instead of plastic or paper for our groceries and other purchases. Ok, nothing can be wrong with this! But have you ever lived near a cloth dying plant? I have. The air stinks and the chemicals in the air burn your eyes and lungs. And the “cloth” bags I’ve been getting in the grocery stores aren’t all cloth. Fresh and Easy bags are 100% cotton bags, Vons bags are 100% recycled materials, Food 4 Less bags are 100% polypropylene, an easily recycled plastic. All of them are made in China.

Why do I mention where things are made? Because everything is related to everything –
the dollar goes down, so China stops exporting rice to the US. The price of corn and rice goes up and our mission dollars can’t supply as much food to the starving we want to help, and as the weather patterns keep changing, the numbers of starving keeps going up. We buy fuel efficient Japanese cars because Detroit still wants to sell gas-hogs, and tens of thousands of people lose their jobs. Prices of all kinds of American products and services keep going up, so jobs are outsourced abroad, and tens of thousands more are unemployed. How do they eat the fruits and vegetables they need to be healthy when all they can afford is pasta?

Making the environmental changes that need to be made; addressing economic oppression in our country and elsewhere; even feeding the hungry are all really complicated and inter-related problems. Anything we do to address one problem affects something else, and not always in a good way. The thing is, we can do a good thing, but just because it’s a good thing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing. How do we obey God’s commandment to care for the earth and love our neighbor when it seems like they conflict with each other? What’s a Christian to do?

I don’t have an easy answer. I doubt if anyone does. And, to be fair, I have deliberately chosen problematic solutions to make a point. Each one of us really can make a difference in some small way. As they say on the Treehugger commercials, if every person makes one small change it will make a huge difference. So turn off the water while you brush your teeth, use cloth bags, recycle, and change your light bulbs. And learn as much as you can – According to Paul, it is our ignorance that God needs us to repent of. Learn, so you can see where your efforts will make the most beneficial difference in the life of our planet. Because it’s not really ours, you know. We’ve just been given the job of taking care of it. This is our Father’s world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Like a Child

What an blessed morning I have had! Early on my challenge was to prepare a memorial service for a physically and developmentally challenged woman who suffered a fatal heart attack last week. The majority of the mourners present were going to be her friends and room-mates from the several group homes she has lived in and the day program she participates in. I was faced with writing a message and prayers that would be true to the Gospel, to the celebration of her life and also accessible to those whose language skills in any language were minimal. I also had to prepare the bulletins in both English and Spanish so those who can read could participate in their own language. Thank God for my copy of the bilingual La Biblia de las Americas and I was told to expect perhaps 40 people.

Maybe I should back up. Several years ago a non-profit group approached me about doing some work around our church. Their goal is to teach the developmentally challenged job skills and help them achieve self esteem by being productive. We thought this was a wonderful thing - a win/win ministry in which we got dusting, vacuuming and other indoor and outdoor tasks performed free of charge twice weekly, and the clients had an opportunity to develop job skills and self esteem. Our partnership over the last several years has grown so that now, when the administrators want to have a holiday party they can be fairly certain that we will make space available for them. Over the years I have gotten to know most of the job coaches, the administrators and a number of the clients fairly well. Tanya was one of those clients. When I learned last week that she had passed it seemed quite appropriate to offer to hold a memorial service at the church.

I was at the church at 9 am to set up the sanctuary for the 10 am service. Around 9:15 a dozen job coaches and clients from Tanya's day program had arrived bearing food and photo memory boards. Flowers, more food and more people started arriving, and it occurred to me I should probably have printed the 23rd Psalm and the Beatitudes in Tagalog as well as Spanish. By the time the service was to begin there were at least 80 people in the sanctuary.

There was a place in the service for statements of life. The administrators and job coaches and social workers and group home managers who had worked with Tanya spoke, many from prepared statements. All of them spoke of her innocence and love for everyone she ever met. All of them cried. And then the clients started to come up. Those with sufficient language skills said "She was my best friend. She was always nice to me." Some were only able to say "Tanya, I love you." One took a little while, standing at the pulpit with one hand in the air. Some in the congregation tried to help, shouting "Tanya es en cielo," but he persisted and was finally able to complete the sentence, "Tanya es con Dios."

Then it was my turn. Wiping the tears from my eyes I spoke of Tanya's child-like and constant offering of love, and her unfailing trust that everyone she met would be a friend. I reminded those present that Jesus said "Let the children come to me" and sang "Jesus Loves Me." The clients sang along with gusto. I encouraged everyone to try to be like Tanya, for we are all told we must be as little children if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven. And I dismissed the congregation with the charge to love each other the way Tanya and Jesus loved them.

I have never experienced anything like this before. Pray God that I will experience it again, and that I will remember to be like Tanya in the future.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Out from the tomb

It’s hard to write an Easter sermon before it’s actually Easter. As I journeyed through Holy Week in scripture I found it difficult to move past the events and emotions of each day to the glorious surprise that would greet the women when they went to properly prepare the body of Jesus as it lay in the tomb.

Imagine what that morning must have been like. The sun is just rising as the two Marys arrive. It’s the soonest they could go there without violating the Sabbath – what must Saturday have been like for them? Grieving and yet unable to do the things that help with grieving – unable to wash and anoint the body, unable to look at their teacher one last time. And so they arrive, tired and worn from the events of the week, emotionally exhausted, dreading the work ahead of them and yet filled with a great desire to perform this one last service for their master. When they arrive, there was a great earthquake! An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone and sat upon it! His appearance was like lightening, his clothes as white as snow. His appearance was so unworldly that the guards, military men, fainted from fear! But apparently not the women, for the angel said “Do not be afraid.” If we needed any proof that this was, indeed, an angel, these words alone would let us know. Every time God’s messengers appear that’s the first thing they say “Do not be afraid,” and with good reason. If someone who shone so brightly it was hard to look at him suddenly appeared to me, accompanied by an earthquake, I’d be afraid!

And then his message. “You are looking for Jesus. He isn’t here. He is risen, as he said he would be. Come, look. Then go tell the others.”

Even now, on Easter day, it’s still hard to leave the place of the empty tomb. The temptation is to stay there, and look inside to make sure he’s really not there. To gather some sort of evidence to prove to the others he’s really gone. The temptation is to stay and talk about it, and wonder what to do next. I can imagine myself standing there saying “I know, we’ve been given directions by an angel of the Lord, but really Mary, what do you think happened here? How are we going to explain this? You know the others are never going to believe this!”

They do leave, of course, in great fear and joy. And on their way, they meet Jesus. And they fall to their knees, and grab hold of his feet, and worship him. Probably crying and laughing at the same time. Alternately asking incoherent questions and struck silent by the wonder of the morning’s experiences. And again they hear the words of God’s messengers, “Do not be afraid.” He tells them what the angel has already told them – Go and tell the disciples to meet me in Galilee.

Go back to where it all began, to the place where John was baptizing, to the place where the disciples were chosen, to the place where the water was changed to wine, to the place the first demons were cast out and the first sick were healed. Go, I will meet you there.

We know that Jesus would indeed meet the disciples there – that his ministry hadn’t ended yet. Rather, now would begin an intensive time of study. He would spend the next forty days teaching the disciples the things they needed to know to carry the Good News of God’s Kingdom out into the world. He could have taught them anywhere. But he deliberately took them back to the place where they had first become his followers.

Earlier this week, while trying to understand the message of Easter, I looked up the symbols we use to symbolize Easter. It was a long list including lilies, and eggs, and bunnies, and spring flowers – lots of things that indicate spring and new life. At the very bottom of the list was the butterfly. I found that kind of fascinating, because we’ve been using butterflies as our symbol these last couple of years. The butterfly is a symbol, not just of Easter, but Jesus as a whole. The caterpillar, earthbound and rather ordinary, indicates Jesus’ life, when he lived as an ordinary man for some thirty years. The chrysalis is his death and the time he spent in the tomb, a time when the preparations were being made for transformation. And the butterfly, so delicate and beautiful, but so strong it can ride out a hurricane, is the resurrected Christ.

Have you ever seen a butterfly when it first emerges from the chrysalis? It doesn’t burst out ready to fly. It comes out slowly, with great struggle. It comes out sort of wet and wrinkly and vulnerable and has to sit still for a while until it’s wings are dry and ready to spread.

This is where the disciples were in their transformation. They were changed, but not quite ready to fly yet. They had to go back to the beginning – to the beginning of a new life and a new understanding of the Word. Soon they would be ready to spread their wings and carry the Good News all across the world. But first, they had to prepare. They had to leave behind their old understandings and embrace the new.

What does it mean for us that the same instruction, “Go to Galilee. Jesus will meet you there.” is given twice in this short passage? We know something new was about to enter the world. Something so beautiful and amazing that it would spread across the entire world. But on Easter it wasn’t quite ready yet – the disciples weren’t ready yet.

Perhaps today it tells us to go back – back to the place where we first met Jesus. Back to our early excitement about his teachings, about the knowledge that through him we came to know God’s steadfast love, infinite compassion, and willing forgiveness. Back to that sense of awe and wonder that came when we first believed Jesus Loves Me – even Me!

On this Easter Sunday, let us go back to that beginning. Let us leave the empty tomb behind so we can spread our wings and begin life anew. So that we can shout hosanna with fervor and meaning – with tears and laughter – and let that shout ring out into the world. Christ is Risen! (Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna! 222)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Boomerang Prayers

For the last month or so, I 've been signing off all the emails I send with the phrase "May your day be filled with unexpected blessings." Maybe it's because I've been seeing and saying that phrase so much, but lately I've been seeing so many blessings!

The other day I was in line at the McDonald's drive-thru. I'm there a lot - so much that I'm on first name basis with the woman at the payment window. I'd been so busy preparing for all the Holy Week events leading up to Easter and trying to get two weeks work done in advance so I can go on vacation with good conscience that I was feeling anxious and overwhelmed. As I waited for my change Patsy was reacting to the demanding customer ahead of me saying "How can anyone be unhappy during Holy Week? 2000 years ago our Lord was on his journey of love and redemption. There is so much to be joyful about!" I said to her, "Please pray that for me, Patsy. I'm so tired and there's so much more to do." When I pulled away she was already praying. What an unexpected blessing! As the day continued one blessing followed closely upon the next - a worship team member said she'd take care of worship while I was on vacation, a friend sent an email with Erma Bombeck's reminder to take our blessings where ever we find them.

I told my spiritual director about this and several other recent experiences with unexpected blessings. She said that my email prayers for others were acting like boomerangs coming back to bless me.

I plan to keep praying that prayer. If nothing else, it helps me recognize the unexpected blessings in the ordinary occurances of my day. May your day be filled with unexpected blessings.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Limping for Laurie

Wow! What a day it was! It was my first ever time participating in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for Breast Cancer. The day started really early - I was at our team leader's house at 6:40 am so we could get to the Rose Bowl by 7:30. We met up with the other members of the Limpin' for Laurie Team - 19 adults and 2 small children! - and immediately started hitting all the info booths gathering much free pink merchandise. The local Oldie Goldie radio station was entertaining the crowd while we waited for the opening ceremony to honor the survivors. As all those women and 2 men paraded past the other thousands of us waiting to walk there was cheering and applause. A large group of young women from Zeta Tau Alpha sorority seemed to be everywhere, acting as cheerleaders for the walkers, carrying pink banners to escort the survivors, handing out bottles of water and generally making themselves invaluable. Two of my favorite personalities from CBS news were there to make introductions and start us off.

It seemed like we were there forever before we actually began to walk, but once we did all the waiting around didn't matter anymore. The Zeta Tau Alphas were stationed along the route to cheer us on, high fiving everyone who came within reach. Our group of 19 got split up somehow but the road was so filled with walkers that there was no stopping and waiting or turning around! We all kept encouraging each other to keep going and reminding each other why we were walking. OK, it was only 5K but I don't walk. I have bad feet and even standing long enough to preach hurts, but somehow walking with all those people for such a good reason energized me and made me more determined to make it the whole way.

When we reached the end there were crowds of people cheering and taking our pictures. It was good to feel important, but we all knew who the really important people were. They were Laurie, and Allyson, and Katherine, and Gayle, and Stasi and all the other survivors and victims of breast cancer. They were the reason we were there. And they're the reason I'll be there again next year.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Five - Palms

And can you believe that in two days it will be Palm Sunday for Western Christians? Our Lent is almost over, while our Orthodox sisters and brothers, whose liturgical year follows the older Julian calendar, are just starting theirs.

To help you adjust--and enjoy the process--here's a Friday Five about time and transitions....

1. If you could travel to any historical time period, which would it be, and why?

Around the 6th century in Ireland to experience the leadership of women in the church as a thing that didn't make headlines, because it was the accepted way of being Church.

2. What futuristic/science fiction development would you most like to see?

Self-driving, solar powered cars! Good for the environment and auto accidents would be a thing of - well, the past.

3. Which do you enjoy more: remembering the past, or dreaming for the future?

Dreaming for the future while working toward it. I just know there are great things in the future for my congregation and I can visualize them clearly. It's just going to be a lot of work.

4. What do you find most memorable about this year's Lent?

A new sense of excitement about possibilities. The congregation is living through Lent in self-examination, knowing the present is bleak but joyfully anticipating their own resurrection in the not too distant future.

5. How will you spend your time during this upcoming Holy Week? What part do you look forward to most?

Really? I'll spend the week trying to get everything done for two weeks so I can go on vacation at 5 pm on Easter Sunday!

I really look forward to the Good Friday Prayer Vigil, when I will get to spend time alone in the sanctuary with God and not feel like I should be "doing" something.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Week in the Life

A dramatic presentation of the final week in the life of the Christ.

Enter: Dancing, singing Hosana (tune from Superstar), carrying palms

He’s coming! Why are you sitting here? Come On! Jesus of Nazareth is coming! He’s entering the city anytime now. . . Oh - you need palms, here . . .

There’s another procession today of course. There always is at the beginning of Passover week. Pilate’s coming into the city today too. And the crowds will be lining the streets over there - but THEY won’t be happy. It’s such a formal procession - Pilate and the soldiers . I heard his wife was coming with him this time. Surprising, they don’t much like it here in Jerusalem. Of course, we don’t much like them either. All the power of Rome exemplified in that procession, and opposite that, Jesus, coming in humbly as the prophet said, with the power of God behind him

Things are going to change now, I tell you what. Jesus is coming! He’s the promised one, the messiah, the one who was prophesied to save us from oppression. I’ll betcha that by the end of Passover - by this time next week! - Pilate will be gone and Jesus will be sitting pretty in the governors palace!

“OK, you all stay there. He’ll be along soon. Blessed be the son of David, Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosana! (dance out)

(Come back in singing “Were you there”)

He’s dead. I saw him die! How can that be? God, why did you let this happen? I guess we should have known. . . you just can’t defy the Temple and Rome the way he did without consequences. But we were so sure!

(tell story of the events of the week)
Monday - turning over the tables in the temple
Tuesday - beat the Scribes in debate, told us there are two great commandments that are most important to follow.
Wednesday, things started getting strange - dinner at the home of simon the leper. Woman with alabaster jar. Death prediction
Thursday - Passover meal, a betrayer! Arrest in the garden at Mount of Olives.
Friday - another procession, him on his way to be executed. Beaten and bloodied, so weak. Spikes nailed in his hands, people taunting and teasing him. Got so dark at noon time, Silent until the last moment. “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Centurian “This man is the son of god.” Joseph got permission to bury him. They put him in the tomb just as he came down from the cross, and that’s not right. We couldn’t do anything then, Sabbath was beginning. But after the Sabbath ends we’ll go clean and anoint him, prepare him properly.

We ran away last night, just as he said we would. He knows us so well. And we’ve all scattered, all his followers. We’re worried - the Romans might come after us. We’re going to meet later to talk about what to do next. But everything he taught me, everything he said tells me it’s not all over - not to give up. I don’t know what’s coming, but I know he devoted his life to me, to us, to all the people. So the best I can do now is devote myself to living the way he would want me to live - to follow the teachings he brought to us from God - to offer the gift of my life, my love, to God in honor of Jesus. Lord, Take my gifts and use them for your glory!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What happened to Tuesdays?

Every Sunday afternoon I say to myself, "Self, THIS week you're going to see what all those RevGals are doing with the lectionary this week." And then suddenly it's Wednesday. Once again, I have totally missed Tuesday Lectionary Leanings.

Yes, I can go look to see what everyone else is doing, but that's not the same as participating in the conversation. Tuesdays fill up so quickly, even when my calendar says I have the day free. "Free" only mean no appointments or meetings. It doesn't mean the phone won't ring, or the Sunday bulletin is ready, or the newsletter doesn't have to be put together, or the SouperBowl of Caring folks won't need me to fill out a survey NOW, or a member won't drop into the office to talk "for just a minute," or .....

Oh well. Next week for sure! :-)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Too Busy To Blog?

I know - what's that about? It's just the way life has been lately. I seem to be busy every second of the day. Lots of that time is spent writing, but not here. There's my personal stuff - a journal and scribbles for that book everyone seems to be busy writing. And then there's work stuff - worship bulletin, the newsletter, the church website, sermons and prayers. When I add all the admin work at church, personal meetings and appointments, and whatever chores I manage to take care of at home, there just doesn't seem to be any time left to spend here.

I seem to think of blogging as an extra - something I do when everything else is done but only if I have any creative thoughts left. There are so many things I could be sharing.

Like - Tuesday this week was Super Tuesday in our presidential campaign. Delhaven was a polling place and when I got there at 5:40 am to open up for the poll workers I really expected "the usual suspects" to show up. You know - the elderly ladies who are always there to help people cast their ballots. Much to my surprise and delight, the first volunteer to show up was a 17 year old high school senior. She isn't even old enough to vote, but she felt passionately enough about the election process to spend a 15 hour day volunteering! I thought she was an aberration until the 2nd volunteer walked in - an 18 year old college freshman!

Arriving home I emailed a lot of friends to let them know and all day I got responses from folks who had found the same difference in poll volunteers when they went to vote! This gives me so much hope for the future, after a couple of decades or so of young folks who didn't seem to have much interest in getting involved in the issues of the day.

Perhaps I should commit to putting those random observations and thoughts down here. Not daily, but whenever I am tempted to jot down random notes to use in future sermons and newsletter Pastor Pages. It's an idea - and blogging would be incorporated into what I already do instead of added on at the end. Hmm - maybe I'm not too busy to blog after all.

Friday, January 04, 2008

New Year's Resolutions Friday Five

Well it had to be didn't it, love them or hate them I bet you've been asked about New Year resolutions. So with no more fuss here is this weeks Friday Five;

1. Do you make New Year resolutions?
No. I make resolutions just for today. I can commit to doing a good thing for one day, not so sure about committing to anything for a whole year. Of course, the object of daily commitments is to remember to commit to the whatever every day.

2. Is this something you take seriously, or is it a bit of fun?
I'm really serious about making daily commitments.

3. Share one goal for 2008.
Firing up the congregation to start a recovery worship service

4. Money is no barrier, share one wild/ impossible dream for 2008
Buy a house in So Cal on a minister's salary. Almost did it this year, but financial reality got in the way. :-)

5. Someone wants to publish a story of your year in 2008, what will the title of that book be?
Change is Good