Sunday, May 31, 2009

Every Time I Feel the Spirit

Romans 8:18-27
18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Pentecost is my favorite church holiday. It’s the day when the church was really born – the day that 120 disciples were given the ability to speak the good news so that everyone could understand. It is also the anniversary of my first sermon as your pastor. I had spent two weeks carefully crafting a sermon, agonizing over every word. But when I woke up on the morning of Pentecost 2003 I realized that what I really needed to do was throw that sermon away and speak of my hopes for our future together. Every Pentecost since then I’ve had the same experience. I have something prepared and I wake up with something entirely different in my heart – usually something that doesn’t lend itself well to being written into a manuscript. I wonder sometimes why I even go through the motions of writing for this Sunday, when I believe that whatever I write will end up in the trash on the day. Chances are excellent that what is written here is not what will end up being preached.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples for the first time, opening their hearts and minds, moving and working in them, leading them to do things they’d never considered before. They’d had to wait for 40 days after Jesus ascended into heaven, and they weren’t sure how long they would have to wait or even exactly what they were waiting for. As we all know, people just don’t wait very well. We’re not all that good at being patient and living in the moment. We’re always looking forward to the next thing that’s supposed to happen and anxious for it to get here. If we’re doing something new we want to see results right away, and are disappointed if nothing seems to change when we’ve only been doing the new thing a short time.

According to this portion of the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome about 25 years later, the entirety of creation was eagerly waiting for change to come. All of the world was groaning in labor pains, heavy with anticipation for the day when everyone and everything will be free from the bondage of our past and ushered into a new way of being in Christ. It had become clear to him that Christ was not returning immediately as they had all believed, and that everyone and everything was going to have to wait for that time to come. And so he spoke of the difficulty of waiting for change to happen, when the change was something as eagerly anticipated as the transformation of the entire world into God’s kingdom on earth. Almost 2,000 years later, we’re still waiting.

On Thursday evening twenty-some church leaders, teachers and theologians from a dozen or so different denominations were gathered at the Claremont School of Theology to discuss Contemporary Theology for Social Action in Churches Today. The audience asked a number of tough questions which the forum participants then addressed.

There were a few things they said that really struck me. Sort of examples of what the Kingdom looks like when it is being lived. One spoke about Incarnational Compassion – not a feeling but action. Compassion that is embodied and acted upon person to person. For example, the Anglicans in Palestine operate schools and hospitals open to all, regardless of religion, culture, language – if someone has a need, they will be served. Another reminded us that we are all related through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to like each other in order to work together as was proven by the many who showed up to help in aftermath of Katrina and every natural disaster. And yet another said that, since we can all work together to serve God’s children in times of crisis then we can work together always. One even quoted Rodney King, asking plaintively, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Another reminded us that laws do not equal justice. True justice is always a result of love.

One challenged us to do ministry in places we do not want to go. She was talking specifically about prison and military chaplaincy, but we each have a place we don’t want to go. What would it mean to us to do ministry in that place?

They spoke about new ways of being church, and of doing church. Ways to reach those who somehow are not drawn to our churches, but want to be. They talked about technology and education and ways of being Christians in a world that seems not to care about other people or the environment, a world that puts laws before justice.

It seems to me that this is the same kind of world Jesus did his ministry in, the same kind of world the disciples preached to, and the same kind of world Paul traveled through and warned the new churches against. And that world is still waiting, groaning in labor pains, for the change that is to come – what ever form that change is going to take. We have hope for the future even though we have no idea what that future is going to look like. We do know that the world will not change, justice will not prevail, because laws are passed, or because the rationale and logic for making change is inescapable. The world can only change as hearts are changed through faith, and that is the work of the Spirit. So we wait, and we pray, and we carry the Good News. We teach about the justice that love brings. We speak of God’s purpose in the world, which is always shalom, peace and care for each other. And we try to act always with love and care, so that we can help make those changes that bring God’s glory into the world.

God is waiting, as patiently as only God can wait, for each of us to hear the words, “Behold, I am about to do a new thing . . . . through you.” God is waiting for each one of us to become open to the Spirit so that we can learn what new thing God is going to do through us. The Spirit shows up at unexpected times and moves us in unexpected ways, and it is up to us to listen for what she has to say, whether those words come as a still small voice or a shout. Let us seek and find the quiet center of our selves that we might hear the Spirit of God telling us about the new thing that God will do . . . through us.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Social Networking – a New Thing?

(This post is my article from the June issue of our church newsletter.)

There is a lot of buzz about the internet phenomenon known as social networking. People with common interests get together on Facebook, My Space, Twitter, etc. to carry on conversations, voice opinions, show off photos, share recipes and do pretty much everything else you do with friends. I’ve heard of long lost friends and family members finding each other on these sites. In fact, a seminary friend I’d lost track of found my blog the other day. (blog: an electronic journal I’m willing to share with the rest of the universe.) I learned how the recent earthquakes affected my friends on Twitter. The biggest difference between these internet friends and my other friends is that I might never meet some of these new friends in person. One of the questions people are asking is “Does our obsession with on-line friendships keep us from forming and/or maintaining close relationships with ‘real’ people?”

When I thought about this question I realized the only thing that makes today’s social networking unique is that it is done electronically. People have been forming long distance friendships, sight unseen, ever since writing was invented.

Paul never met a lot of the people he wrote letters to and yet he considered them beloved friends and family. He spent much of his time concerning himself with them and what they were doing, even though he wouldn’t recognize them if he fell over them in the marketplace. Paul was the “webmaster” of a social network that linked the mostly Gentile church with the church in Jerusalem, with Jesus as the link that brought all these friends together. This first century social network consisting of his letters and the Gospels continue to bring Jesus to life so that we may make and maintain a close relationship with Christ, with God, and with the many friends we gain as members of the Body of Christ– even the ones we’ll never meet.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Inequality Wins

I am so frustrated at the decision the California supreme court handed down. On the one hand, the 18,000 couples who were married in that brief period of time between the last court decision and election day are still married. That's good. I just keep seeing joy on the faces of Linda and Lucina when I pronounced that they were married after over 20 years together and multiplying that 18,000 times.

On the other hand, the court decided to uphold injustice and inequality for some. This is so wrong. I am angry and determined to continue to fight for equal rights (and rites) for all Americans.

There are some ministers who have decided to protest this decision by refusing to sign marriage licenses. They will continue to celebrate the service of Christian Matrimony for all who come - gay or straight - but will advise all brides and grooms that they must have the license signed by an official of the county in which they are being married until such time as all persons may be legally married. After much prayerful consideration, I have decided to do the same.

It is important to me that I keep praying for everyone involved, that God's love might invade every heart.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In the Interim Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

It’s a kind of strange time for Jesus’ disciples. Just a few days ago Jesus ended their 40 days of instruction, told them to go to Jerusalem to wait for the one who would baptize them with fire, and ascended into the clouds. So here they are, 120 of them, waiting. They don’t know how long it will be until the Advocate comes or even really what that means. They’re in a kind of waiting time, like those few days between the end of classes and actually receiving your diploma, or between getting hired and the first real day of work. It’s an uncomfortable time, and since humans really don’t like to wait, we tend to try to fill that time with some constructive action. So while they were waiting, they felt it was important to use this in-between time to get as ready as possible for whatever was to come and part of that preparation was to bring the number of apostles back up to the number Jesus originally selected.

And Peter stands up and says, hey, you know there are only 11 of us apostles right now, and there are supposed to be twelve. So let’s pick someone to replace Judas in the leadership. The only real qualifications for the job was that the person had been one of the followers of Jesus from the beginning, “from the baptism of John.” I found that beginning point a little odd, as none of them began following Jesus quite that early. Remember he went out into the desert for forty days before he began teaching and healing. But I guess that was the simplest way to name when the ministry began. They would all have understood what Peter meant.

So two were named as potential apostles; Matthias and Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and the selection process began. When we select leaders we automatically think in terms of democracy and we vote. A committee selects the people who they believe are best qualified, and we usually choose our leaders from among their recommendations. Of course we are quite aware that our votes can be swayed by a number of things – gossip and spin, personal likes and dislikes based in the way they look or speak. We like to think that doesn’t happen when we are selecting church leaders, and in reality we usually only have to ratify the suggestions of the nominating committee for church leaders. But the possibility of human ego, prejudice, popularity and politics getting involved in any kind of nomination and election process is pretty high.

Of course Judah was not a democracy. It was a theocracy. God was at the head of the government. They didn’t even think of voting in a situation this important. Rather, they chose the twelfth apostle by lot, which was a lot like throwing dice. Although casting lots sounds very chancy to us, it was the approved way of letting God make the final decision. It was the way Joshua figured out which of his soldiers had disobeyed the instructions not to keep anything of the Canaanites. It was the way Saul was chosen as the first king of Israel. It was even the way the soldiers at the cross decided who should got which of Jesus’ belongings. It seems that there wasn’t much difference between Matthias and Justus. They both fit the qualifications and I imagine everyone respected both of them about equally. So casting lots seemed like the fairest possible way to choose between them, the one way they could be certain that God would be in charge of the selection and not humans. And Matthias won.

I’m not all that sure that being an apostle was such a great job. The apostles would be the most highly visible of the Christ followers and likely the first to be arrested or otherwise persecuted by the powers that be. The apostles would be the ones settling disagreements, dividing the food among the hungry poor, and taking on all the responsibility for leadership in the early days of the church. And they would do all these things without getting any real recognition or compensation at all. We never hear of Matthias again. In fact, we don’t hear much about most of the Twelve. Anyone know anything Bartholomew did after the resurrection? How about the other Judas? I don’t. We know about Peter and James and Thomas. We know about Paul, who wasn’t one of the Twelve. And we’ve heard of Stephen who was the first martyr, but was also not one of the Twelve. In fact, we’re not totally clear on who exactly all the Twelve were – the Gospels don’t even agree on the names.

So it seems that being one of the Twelve didn’t guarantee that you would be well known. It certainly wasn’t a job that paid well, or at all. There were a lot of responsibilities, but none of the kinds of rewards that we typically think of when we select leaders. It was, in fact, a lot like being an elder in our churches today. The elders lead in worship, praying and serving at the table yes, but that’s really the smallest part of their job. They are the spiritual leaders of the congregation. They visit the homebound and the hospitalized. They reach out to the folks who haven’t been around for a while. They are available to any of us when we are in need of prayer or guidance. And when I say any of us, I mean that very literally. Part of the job of the elder in a Disciples congregation is to be available to the professional ministers of the church for prayer, support and spiritual guidance. The elders of Disciples churches are the true leaders of the congregation, as were the Twelve. In many cases they also serve without recognition, as Matthias did.

Think about the people in your lifetime who have given you spiritual guidance. Think back on the people who taught you about the Good News, about God’s acceptance and forgiveness and unconditional love. Yes, hopefully we have learned some of this from the “professionals”, the acknowledged leaders and teachers, ministers and Sunday School teachers. But very often we learned the most from those unexpected, unrecognized, anonymous people in our lives. Very often we learn the most, not from sermons and lesson plans, not from books and conferences and retreats, but from just watching men and women quietly doing necessary work. The ones we all count on to set the tables for a pot luck and bring in cartons of food for the hungry and cook at the picnics and repair things that break. The ones who write the encouraging cards and prepare the coffee and welcome the visitors. None of these do this work for recognition. They do it because it needs to be done and they are able. They do it because it is a way they can serve God and God’s people.

Very often we learn the most from people who just take the time to be with us. A friend of mine still tells everyone about a woman from this congregation who, during fellowship time a couple of Super Bowl Sundays ago, took the time to teach her enough about football that she didn’t feel completely left out at a Super Bowl party later in the day. Did that woman teach her about beliefs or other church stuff? No. But she did teach her hospitality. She did teach her about reaching out to help another feel part of instead of left out. She did teach that it is better to be loved than important.

Consider Matthias again. He was part of the group who had wandered the land with Jesus, sleeping where ever, eating what ever, doing whatever they were asked to do. He would never become well known outside the group, but we know he was respected inside the group. We know that he was and is loved. I came upon a poem this week that I’d like to share with you, written by Erik Doughty (2009).
Matthias, patron saint of
tailors, carpenters, alcoholism, and Gary Indiana--
well, here's the day he gets chosen
to replace Judas the betrayer
and then there's no more
about Matthias, except mystery.

Meanwhile we eavesdrop on your prayer, Lord,
asking protection for your loved ones,
sending them out into the world;
they must have been confused at all this.

Not all of us are the big names
upon which you build your church;
some of us wonder if we're more Judas than not
and others feel like Matthias, fading into
the background. Even so,
Sew us together into one great piece;
One holy, whole home
for sinners and saints alike.

The story of Matthias’ selection to the Twelve doesn’t say, but I suspect he didn’t volunteer for the job. I suspect he was perfectly happy to serve in the background, to be anonymous in his service. Not all of us are the big names, indeed. Hardly any of us are, in fact. And yet each of us through our words and actions serves as an example to someone else’ understanding what it means to be Christian – and it is to be hoped that our example is the kind that attracts. Each of us is or can be that background worker, that Matthias in someone’s life, whose example leads another to better understand God’s love. Each of us is or can be, that one who helps lead another to believe that God loves and accepts each of us, just as we are.

The good news is that we don’t have to be important to be loved. We already have all the name recognition, title and position we need, for we are all God’s children, and God loves us just as we are.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Drawing a Blank

How strange it was this morning to look at my calendar and realize it had nothing on it. No appointments, no meetings, no planned phone calls. Nothing. There are no items on my To-Do list that are overdue, or that I need to catch up with. No one is using the church hall, so it's quiet in my office. Even the construction workers remodeling our education wing didn't show up today.

I can do anything I want to! I can study in preparation for Sunday's sermon, or write the prayers for the afternoon service. I can curl up on the couch in my office and read something from that stack of books waiting for my attention on The Pastor's Bookshelf (posted below). I can call people I really want to talk to but never seem to have time to call. I can blog or twitter or update the church website. I can write some "thinking of you" cards. My day is a tabula rasa, with so many possibilities.

So why did I spend over an hour drawing a blank? I just couldn't decide what to do first. I couldn't decide whether to do what is "most important" or what would bring joy to my heart. Then it came to me that while I really would like to do something that brings joy to my heart I always feel that I am not being "productive" unless I do something that is more easily quantifiable. You know, the kind of thing that sounds like "work" when people ask what I did today.

The fact that I writing this means I have opted for doing the joy-bringing creative things that I usually put off until all the other things are accomplished. Maybe later I'll do something "constructive" but for now I'll spend some time feeding my soul with study, contemplation and writing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Preaching like Peter

Acts 10:44-48
44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

You know the line in “There is a balm in Gilead” where it says “If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the life of Jesus and say he died for all.”?

THIS is the preaching they’re talking about! This is every preachers dream! The Spirit broke in while Peter was preaching, poured out on even the Gentiles and they started speaking in tongues. Everyone was converted and convicted in the Spirit. Everyone in the household wanted to be baptized! So, what is it he said that had such a powerful effect?

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

This is it. This is the entire Gospel – all of the Good News. That God sent Jesus to preach peace, to do good and to heal those oppressed by evil. That Jesus died on the cross and God resurrected him so he could teach those closest to him, who were then sent out to preach that Jesus is judge of the living and the dead, and to testify to the forgiveness available to all who ask it in Jesus’ name.

There’s no complicated list of things people had to believe. No doctrine of the Trinity, no virgin birth, no creed, no statement of required beliefs, behaviors or actions necessary to receive God’s forgiveness. All of those things would become part of Christian belief hundreds of years in the future. In the early days of the church it was just this, that God sent Jesus to teach and to heal and to tell everyone about God’s love and willingness to forgive. The apostles and disciples preached this same thing over and over, in all kinds of places and situations. They began with the assumption that the people they were preaching to knew about God – the creator and sustainer of the universe who had chosen Abraham as his own many centuries before, and who had been guiding the descendents of Abraham through prophets and messengers ever since. The people of Cornelius’ household, although Gentiles, were believers who worshipped in the temple but had not yet been circumcised. Like the Ethiopian eunuch we heard about last Sunday, they weren't allowed all the way into the Temple, they weren’t fully accepted in the Assembly of God, but they did know about God, the Law and the Prophets.

Later Paul and some others would go out to preach among the Gentiles who had no prior knowledge of God, but that won’t happen for a little while yet. This event, the baptism of Cornelius and his household, would pave the way for Paul’s ministry.

Did you notice? Last week the Ethiopian eunuch listened to Philip preach the very same Good News and asked “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” This week Peter preaches the Good News, the listeners are filled with the Holy Spirit, and Peter asks “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” In these two events, separated by time and distance and with entirely different people involved the same thing happened.

So, what is it in this preaching that is so powerful that a houseful of people were filled with the Spirit. It was like Pentecost all over again – powerful preaching and conversion and amazement by those who were listening that God’s word was being spoken so that everyone could understand it. At Pentecost thousands were baptized. Here the number was smaller but what happened was the same. God’s word filled the hearts and souls of everyone who heard Peter speak.

To anyone who took classes in Homiletics (preaching) Peter’s sermon doesn’t sound like all that. For that matter, it probably doesn’t sound all that impressive to folks who have been listening to sermons for years. There are no examples, no stories, no moral instructions. Peter doesn’t tell any jokes suitable for church or pull illustrations from contemporary life. He doesn’t refer to a book or TV show or movie or the internet even once. He doesn’t tell the congregation how they should behave, or what they ought to feel guilty over. He doesn’t tell them what they need to do to make the world a better place, to bring God’s kingdom to earth as it is on heaven. He just talks about God’s power and God’s love. What’s up with that?

Sometimes we really need to just hear a simple message. What Cornelius and his household heard is this:

God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You don’t have to earn God’s love – you can’t earn God’s love. It’s already there, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, whether you believe that or not.

Forgiveness is waiting for you, all you have to do is ask. You don’t have to earn forgiveness – you can’t earn forgiveness. It is available to anyone and everyone who repents and asks to be forgiven.

And we don’t get to judge. We don’t get to judge other people. We don’t even get to judge ourselves. Jesus is the one and only person ordained to be the judge of the living and the dead.

Is it any wonder that Peter’s preaching was so effective? He didn’t depend on rhetoric to persuade his listeners. He didn’t have to. He just spoke the simple, basic truth of our faith. God loves us. God forgives us. God sent Jesus to teach us and heal us, and to show us the way to be faithful. And after his death on the cross, God resurrected Jesus into new life, just as we enter into new life when we give up our old ways.

I remember when I first heard those things. I remember when I began to believe that they were true. I remember how overwhelming it was to realize that God loves me – even me. That I was forgiven by God and because of that I needed to forgive myself for everything I felt guilty about, and forgive those who hurt me. If God forgives me, after all, who am I to withhold forgiveness? I remember when I began to believe that I am good enough just the way I am, because if I am good enough to be loved by God, who can judge me as anything less?

There are days when I forget the simple stuff – the basics of faith. There are days when preaching like Peter becomes really important because I let everything get all complicated. I forget to keep it simple and let the Spirit in. I let the business of the church take precedence over God’s business. I start giving more attention to theology – to the study of God – than I give to God. I start letting my education in pastoral counseling and preaching and church history and Bible and theology and hymnody and worship design get in the way of remembering to tell folks “God loves you. No matter what.”

God didn’t care that Cornelius and his household weren’t circumcised, that they hadn’t undergone all the rituals that would grant them full membership in the Temple. God filled them with the Holy Spirit, giving them full membership in the family of God in Christ.
And Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” The answer, of course, was no. Cornelius and his household were baptized immediately.

Surely the presence of the Lord was in that place, and just as surely it is present whenever we pray and worship our God with simple faith in God’s forgiveness and God’s love. Let us go out from this place, remembering keep it simple in our faith and in our study of God’s Word so that there may always be room for the Spirit in our lives, in whatever place we may be.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Pastor's Bookshelf

I don't know for sure about the bookshelves in other pastors' offices, but I have to admit that quite a few of the books I have purchased over the 6 years I have been serving as pastor here have never actually been read. It's embarrassing, but there it is. There are even some that I bought in seminary which I have not yet read. In case any of my professors should see this, I hasten to assure you that none of these are texts required for any of my classes.

No, these are all books that I purchased because they excited me when I saw them in the store. "Ooh. I want to learn about that! I need another book about . . . " prayer, evangelism, pastoral care, spirituality, preaching, relationship, Jesus, the Bible . . . the list goes on ad infinitum. Sometimes I buy a book because I know the author or I met him/her once at a conference. In many cases I opened them right after I bought them, read the introduction, scanned some sections with interesting titles, and set them down to read later. When the "to read later" pile next to the living room couch gets too tall, I move them either to a bookshelf in the house or a bookshelf in the Pastor's Study. Some I carry around in my laptop case for a while to remind myself I really really want to read them soon. Moving them to the Pastor's Study is pretty much the kiss of death. I have a few that I consistently go back to for reference, but most of them gather dust . . . sigh.

And Bibles - oh my. I think I have lost count, and I'm sure I have lost track. I have Recovery Bibles, a Green Bible, several Study Bibles, a Women's Bible, a multicultural Bible, a Kwanzaa edition Bible and I don't know what all else. I have NRSV, NIV, KJV, NKJV, Life Application, Message, CEV, Good News and JPS. I have Bibles on actual paper from pulpit sized down to one so small I keep a magnifier in it. I have Bibles on CD and MP3 to listen to and I even have 7 different translations of the Bible (some with apocrypha) downloaded to my iPhone. I have Bibles in English, Greek, Spanish and Korean, the last one in case a Korean speaking person comes to church and forgets his/her Bible. And if you are wondering, yes, I have actually used most of these in sermon prep and my own devotions.

Every now and then, though, I decide I really should see what one of those books says. And when that happens I am nearly always astounded at how much good stuff is in that book! I almost always say to myself, "Self, why didn't you read that years ago when you first bought it? You could have been using this information all along!" Right now I am trying to read three of Peter Gomes' books at the same time, because they are all fascinating. I've had them for what seems like ages, but they have just sat collecting dust on the Pastor's Bookshelf.

I suspect I am not the only one with a bunch of books that have never had the spine cracked. And I do know better than to say anything like, "I vow I am going to read every one of these books in the next year! I will select one every week and read it through." That might last a few weeks, but then life will get in the way. No, the best I will be able to do is just what I am doing now - grab one off the shelf whenever a title catches my eye and read while I'm eating my lunch. At least I can be assured that I won't run out of lunchtime reading material any time soon.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My new obsession

It's Twitter. I kept hearing about it, and then I noticed that DisciplesWorld and Christian Century and Songbird and other people I like were Twittering. So I signed up, and it's a whole new world! It's like texting to everyone at once, or blogging really short posts. But with the benefit that it doesn't matter if anyone answers my text, or comments on my blog. I know people are reading my stuff, no matter how trivial.

See, the thing about blogging is that I always feel like I have to write something substantial - an article, with some length and some meat to it. Somehow I feel that if I write a blog entry it should be a sermon or a meditation, or at least something spiritual. If I have just a sentence to share, it doesn't feel right to blog about it.

For instance, a few weeks ago while working out with my virtual trainer on wii Fit, keeping track of calories burned on an app in my iPhone, and keeping an eye on the robot vacuuming the bedroom, I realized that I'm really dependent on technology. I wanted to blog about it, but y'know, that's all I had. Seems to me that this kind of reflection is perfect for Twitter, but not so much for a blog. A blog should be a substantial meal, whereas Twitter is a 90 calorie snack pack.

And yes, I'm obsessing on food because I'm watching calories, cholesterol and carbs and because I quit smoking 4 days ago. Twittering is taking the place of the cigarette or the food substitution for the cigarette. It's helping me not smoke, and not eat. Justification of spending so much time checking MacBook and/or iPhone every few minutes? Certainly. Denial that I have a new addiction? Nah. I'm perfectly happy to admit that I'm powerless over Twittering, and that it could make my life unmanageable if I'm not careful. I'll just hope nobody starts a Twitters Anonymous anytime soon.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Friday Five - A bug's life

This week's Friday Five is a magical mystery tour through God's garden of creepy crawlies!

1. Ladybugs or ladybirds? Pillbugs or roly-polys? Jesus bugs or water skeeters? Any other interesting regional or familial name variations?
Ladybug, as in "Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home." I was blown away to learn that what we called Locusts where I grew up are called cicadas pretty much every where else, and that locusts are really big, bright colored grasshoppers.

2. Stomp on spiders, carry them outside, or peacefully co-exist?
It depends on the variety. Black widows die on sight. Housekeepers (Grove spiders?) can stay in the house as long as they stay out of my sight - it's just that they're so darn big! Most others I can co-exist with.

3. Favorite insect?
Crickets. They sing beautifully and they're considered to be good luck in some cultures. Besides, who doesn't love Jiminy?

4. Least favorite?
Anything buzzy-bitey like bees. I'm Allergic. But when I find one in the house I catch it in a glass or jar and take it outside. It's not the bee's fault I'm allergic.

5. Got any good bug stories to share?
I went to seminary in Indiana. Indiana Farmers had imported some South American ladybugs to help control whatever it is ladybugs eat, not realizing that this variety of ladybug hibernates in caves in the winter. There aren't a lot of caves in Indiana. But our apartment had 20 foot cathedral ceilings and ladybugs thought it was a cave. Ladybugs found their way in through the teeniest cracks and crevices until there were thousands attempting to hibernate on the ceiling. Over the next few weeks ladybugs were constantly dropping dead from the ceiling, landing in everything - coffee cups, dinner plates, hair . . . and no way to get rid of them or keep them out. I know it's not their fault, but today I can live without anything that has a ladybug design on it.

Bonus question: share a poem, song, quotation, etc. about insects.
When I was little, my mother used to always tuck the blankets tight around me, so I would be "as snug as a bug in a rug."