Thursday, April 28, 2005

Something sad and beautiful

In honor of Earth Day Week.
Bill McKibbon is just so smart. And wise, too.

Jesus really IS really big.

If only I'd read this before I preached last Sunday, I could have had the real data.

Monday, April 25, 2005

sermon from Sunday

Well, I've been trying to figure out how to do that thing where I show you a little teaser paragraph of this, and then if you really, really want to see it all, you can click on a link and see the rest. But I can't. Shucks. So here is the whole darn long thing. Anyone who knows how to do that trick, can you let me know?

Listen to the singing
Preached at MUCC
April 24, 2005

John 14:1-14

I cant think of a scripture passage I feel more ambivalent about than this one.
On the one hand, I lean into the lovely reassurance that “in my Father’s house are many rooms”. On the other hand, I wince at those 8 words that have done so much damage to our brothers and sisters of other faiths and of no faith – “no one comes to the father except through me.”

One thing I DO like about this passage is that it really really gets me talking to God. From the minute I read these words in preparation for today, I was in dialogue – “Really Jesus? NO ONE comes to the father except thru me? really?“
In my first reading of it, I just could not believe it, mostly because I personally know so many Godly people – including some of you here today – who are not all that sure about Jesus, about who and what he was.

When I get stuck on a line of scripture, as I did on this one, it really helps me to hear what other people have to say.

First I remembered my ordination service last fall. I know a few of you were there, who would remember my dad’s charge to the candidate – the part of the service in which an older, wiser pastor passes on some words of advice and encouragement to the ordinand. I cant rmember all of what he said as he held both my hands and looked into my face and spoke with his eyes full of tears, but I do remember this. Christianity, he reminded me, is your mother tongue, and it is mine. But Christianity is not the only language God speaks or the only language God understands. So I carried that with me into my study – the sure knowledge that God speaks in countless faith traditions.

To get the context of the passage, I first did some historical reasearch. These are pastoral words, to a community who is desparately in need of of some comforting. Seated as we are in this lovely building, our involvment in this community causing us no real danger, it might be hard to remember the real fear of the early Christian community, the small secret gatherings at friends’ houses.

These were not mainline Christians - these were not mainline anything. They were desperados - just a few of them, their leader gone, oppressed by the forces of Rome on one side, the temple authorities on the other. They were, in the words of Peter, the stone that the builder had rejected. It was hard to remember the second half of that passage – that they would become the cornerstone.

I kept reading, uncovering what these words might mean to us in the here and now.
Even though we DO call ourselves “mainline christians” these days, I do think this passage – and the one we heard earlier – reminds us that our Christianity has to mean something – has to help us stand apart.

In fact, if I can think of one theme of all of the guest speakers we’ve had the opportunity to hear during the last 3 months of Cathy’s sabbatical, it is this:
A challenge to live a Christian life in a way that makes you stand out. Claim christianity, live it fully and you will be changed and so will the world. Remember?
Sandy Brown – turning faith into action
Bill Bailey – life of service to the church
Philip – reminder of the importance of growing and changing in our worship life
Tanya Macovna Barnett – care for the earth and what each of us could do
Lou Taylor – being fully alive so God’s work could be made manifest in us
Jennifer Russell – taking our message of love and service out to the whole world
Shayne Flowers – living lives based on radically risk-taking faith
Kerri Berlin – reminding us, that given a faithful chance, each person can succeed

All of these were about setting ourselves apart, reminding us that we are a holy priesthood, (as Peter would say). NO so that we are better than other people, not so we are above other people, BUT the other way – so we can with all humility remember what God has called us to do and be in God’s church.

Welll, even after all my reading – my understanding that this scripture was comfort for a small community, and a call to live counter-culutrally STILL “no one comes to the father except through me” kind of stuck in my craw.
When I talked to a friend about this scripture this week she said, gently, “Honey, I think you need to ask what Jesus meant by ME – how big is that me, anyway? Jesus and Christ are not the same thing at all, you know.” She reminded me that Jesus was a guy, a guy who walked around and had a LIFE and Christ is the annointing of that very particular guy. Jesus was full up of Christ, lived Christ every single day. And so by looking at Jesus, we can see what it’s like to be totally full of Christ, and then we can learn how to live from the Christ within each of us, to recognize the Christ in each other a little bettter. And by knowing what Christ is like, we can know a little bit what God is like.

“So what IS God like? God is like Jesus, who will sit down with five thousand strangers -- prostitutes and Pharisees, Greeks and Jews, peasants and priests -- to share a meal handed from hand to hand, with no opportunities to check the purity of the kitchen where the bread was baked or the cleanness of the countless pairs of hands that got the food to you. God is like Jesus, who was reviled, persecuted, tortured, and executed, and yet spoke words of forgivenesss to his tormentors. God is like Jesus, who taught us that the kingdom of God would be ushered in not with the political and military muscle of kings and generals, but quietly raised from mustard seeds of touching the unclean, feeding the hungry, healing those bound by disease, inviting the outcast, reconciling enemies.” (thanks Sarah Dylan)

This week, I had a meeting in Wallingford, and afterward I went for a walk by myself in Gasworks park. I was still chewing over this scripture – puzzled and frustrated – even after all that I read and lots of good conversation. I havent been to gasworks in years, so I took my time, walked around the big old rusty gas works and the grafitti, crunched on rocks and broken glass down the concrete steps toward the water.

The sun was dancing on the water so I got dizzy with looking at it and I was praying hard. After all I had read, and all my conversaion, I still wasn’t sure. If it’s true, I prayed, true that the “me” is so much bigger than we’ve been taught - send me a sign.

Now, I’m not much of a sign-demander in my prayer. Usually, the whole idea that God would send ME a personal message seems to domesticate God, to make God small and understandable in a way that I think it not only wrongheaded, but also dangerous. There seems a fine line between “send me a sign” and “I know just what god was thinking” and then another fine line between “I know God” to “you don’t know God.” (Which is the very thing I was trying to pray my way out of!) So I don’t usually pray for signs, but this scripture weighed heavily on me, and seemed to call for some dramatic action of faith.

Send me a sign, I prayed, that when you say “no one comes through me” – you mean a “me” much bigger, much wilder, much MORE than we can ever imagine. Send me a sign that this passage, words of comfort spoken to a small anxious community can have some meaning for us here and now at Magnolia UCC.

And this is what happened next.

I could see kites dancing at the top of that little hill that has the path winding around and up, so not really thinking, I wound up and around too and there they were, the kite flyers. Not children, as I had supposed, but two older gents, grinning up at the wind and the sun.
“Hey,” said one of them to me, “I bet you could see this kite from a long way away!”
“Well, I don’t know” I answered truthfully, surprised, “I was a little blinded by the sun.”
“Have you ever heard a kite string sing?” I shook my head. He was still grinning and he leaned into the string, so it rested on his shoulder.
I couldn’t hear anything but the wind at first, but then I bent closer, and then I COULD hear it – soft and high and sweet.
Still grinning, “Listen to that, will ya? Just listen to it sing.” And he made a big wide sweep with the arm not holding the kite – a big wide circle that took in everything – the string, the kite, the water, the sleepy college students stretched out in front of their books all over the grass, the boats and and the sun and little dandelions poking up everywhere. Listen to that, will ya? Just listen to it sing! And it wasn’t just the kite string he was talking about it – it was all of it, all of us. Then I knew for sure – knew that little “me” meant something HUGE.

Now, I don’t know much about prayer, about why some prayers are answered and why some float away like a kite freed from its string. But I do know this – that was an angel right there in gasworks park. There was my question and then there he was, grinning like the cheshire cat, holding a kite and asking every stranger who passed “can you hear it? can you hear it singing?

Christ’s “me” is big. Christ’s song is deep and wide. Listen for it - in the bible, yes. And at the park, in the new-born child, in the old old woman’s face, in the sun dancing on the water. Listen. Listen to it singing.


Not as yucky as before

I did that stupid thing this week, where, in trying to re-organize something to be better for me and my family, I actually spent so much time and effort, and dragged so many people into it who didnt need to be, that it would have been less hassle for me just to do the original thing, which had seemed in impossible but which probably wasnt.

So, I was beating myself up about that, and told my dad, who sent me this cool photo he took last week, along with a reminder about hanging out in a painful place long enough to learn from it, but then taking off again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A little of everything

We saw Motorcycle Diaries last night and it was so sweet and beautiful that I can't stop thinking about it. I read several reviews that it was a bad movie because it did not acknowledge all of Che Guavera's crimes. First of all, I'm always amazed that anyone goes to a movie, even an arty one like MD, expecting to see the whole truth of something. But even if it IS about the idealism of youth or whatever, that seems like an interesting truth anyway and raises the question - does the lust for power just automatically make people corrupt and violent? Or is it the other way around (corrupt and violent people lust for power...)? Food for thought, but I bet it's too late for me to follow those thoughts all the way down the rabbit hole.

Seems like on several of the blogs I usually read (see links to the right), everyone is talking about being sad. Which makes me wonder if I'm sad right now. Which would be an interesting topic to explore, but what I know for sure is that I'm tired. So I'm going to see if sleep helps.

Potty training update: Dry all day. And poop in the pot (first time). Hey, I guess I"m not sad after all. Who could be?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Good Prayer for Sunday Midnight

From Bob Carlton's blog.

Holy God:
liminal, liminal, liminal.
would that i could
walk through the post-and-beam
into the new unbox
into the next unroom

thy will be done
thy kingdom come,
undo me.

gracefully, though.

and i'd participate
and meld and merge
and rediscover your own you.

i am ready, willing, able, and
unready, faltering, hamfisted.
i am tongue-tied like Moses.

o for loosened tongues .
employ me.

painlessly, though.

could i request a cross
made of popsicle sticks
and velcro?

yet not my will
but thine
be done.

by paul soupiset

Cell Phones

So I got a new cell phone. Well, not a new one, exactly. More like a third party hand-me-down from this guy at Jeff's work who already has burned through two cell phones since he had this one. That link, by the way, shows my phone, but does not reflect it's true coolness, since MY phone is RED. And I have it set to ring at about 500 decibles, so I dont miss the call when Rachel and Nick's baby pops. Which you cant tell from the picture, either.

But the point is, even though I'm sort of thrilled with this new phone, I'm still so deeply ambivalent about cell phone culture - sometime ask Jacob how I lost my temper with him when he made a call while we were on the way somewhere. Let's just say, that in the moment I was not as loving as I could have been.

But now that I can synch my address book, take photos and write a sermon on my phone, maybe I'll become a real cell phone afficionado. (Yikes, can I BE it if I can't SPELL it?)

There's an article in the PI today about people who fake conversations on their cells phone so they can get out of something unpleasant, which reminded me of this guy and his hijinks on the DC subway.

I haven't faked a call yet, but who knows? With my new red phone, the sky's the limit.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Evidently Penelope Leach is a mind-reader

Here's what she has to say specifically about today's manifestation of the Toddler About the House on page 523 of Your Baby and Child.
Children are very hard for adults to live with. In fact, the real reason everyone is so interested in early childhood discipline is not that young children are so bad, but that the grown-up world find them so tiresome. Children are noisy, messy, untidy, forgetful, careless, time-consuming and ever-present.

Yep, he was all of those things today. Have you heard that theory of equilibrium and disequilibrium - which is that toddlers swing between these states every six months or so? If it's true (and I have no reason to believe it's not) then we've been really enjoying equilibrium for the last half a year, which seems about right, and we're headed for the opposite for the next six months. Hmmm.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Just one more

OF COURSE you want to read one more thing about El Papa.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Fire Inside

When it's 40 degrees and after bedtime, but you're out of toilet paper so you have to go to the grocery store and it's raining buckets outside (January weather in April!), that's when you know why they put those fakey, gassy smelling firelogs right next to the door at the grocery store. At this moment, they are impulse items - like magazines or candy bars or nail clippers. So you put down your bag of groceries, dig around in your wallet for another 3.5 dollars and take home the promise of 3.5 hours of warmth and light in a paper wrapper.

And it works, because driving home from the store, the clouds break and you see a little sliver of moon glinting through. And just that fast, the rain is over.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Incompetent? or Inconsiderate?

Occasionally, we like to do something that we wouldn't usually do, so tonight we went to see Carmona Flamenco which was just incredible. It was acoustic guitar and two dancers (all not exactly long in the tooth but definately pushing at least mid-40's and intensely energetic) and this like 19 year old guy who sat on something like a box and drummed on the side of it.

The effect of the music and the drumming and the dancing together was indescribable - passionate and sad and joyous and dangerous and sexy and so incredibly fast all at once. But there was sort of a fiasco with the sound, and since we were seated by the sound board, we had kind of a front row seat to the side show of the sound guys bumbling around and talking really really loud to each other about how that annoying buzz was definately a lighting issue and had nothing to do with them.

Jeff (who has spent his adult life in a wheelchair and thus seated fairly regularly next to the soundboard) actually diagnosed the problem, but obviously no one was asking OUR advice, so it took until the intermission for them to get up on the stage and fix it. When they came back, Jeff really kindly said, "Hey, guys, this isnt a rock concert, you know. You might want to keep it down back there. I mean, it sounds like something kind of serious going on, but it's probably a good idea to talk more quietly." All I kept saying was that it was just RUDE of them to be so loud and Jeff was actually expecting them to know what to do about it.

So, in the meantime (it was a long intermission) we were also talking about how people were taking flash photos during the concert. I mean, who DOES that? I kept saying, again, that it was just so rude. You know, it's distracting to the audience and to the intensely concentrating artists. "And besides," this is Jeff again, "it's just stupid. If you take a flash picture, all you get is a few feet anyway, so all you're going to see is the head of the person in front of you."

All of which reminded me of something I've known before but which gets thrown into relief sometimes - which is that I'm always expecting people to be considerate, Jeff's always expecting people to be competent. And we're both astonished when they are not. No wonder both of us walk around in this state of perpetual amazement! Is this a pretty usual men-are-from-mars-women-are-well-you-know thing?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

SOMEONE sure is working all things together

Jan Wood came to church last week to do a spiritual parenting workshop. Her theology is kookier than most UCC-ers I know, but she talks about the work of the Spirit in such a practical way that we all came along for the ride. ("Oh, of course your daughter healed her sister from a terrible fall using prayer...")

As usual, Jan was bursting at the seams with wisdom and good humor. But here are my favorite things she said (good parenting and just plain life advice):

1. Model transparency - talk to each other about what's really going on like ethical questions, difficult decisions, money issues as well as God moments in the day. A couple days later, Jeff told me he tried this with Eli - told him about a hard choice he had to make and Eli was really intent and "his eyes just shone!"

2. Pray about what's life-giving instead of what's life-sucking. In other words, pray with gratitude about what's working, what's lovable in your family instead of all their problems. Which is not he same as a head-in-the-sand-ness about things that are wrong, because sometimes they are. As seen in number three

3. The work of evil, she said, is not to either create or to destroy. The work of evil is to mis-arrange. Then we destroy it ourselves.

Then, tonight, I took Elijah to Monkfish Abbey. Which was too incredible an experience for me to even talk about yet. But Rachelle encouraged us to begin doing the Ignatian examen:
Every day at the end of the day ask yourself, "where did I experience God today?" "where did I feel far from God today?" - no need to analyze those at first, just notice. Which seems like a pretty perfect practice to start noticing how numbers 1,2 and 3 (above) are at work in our life.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Something else

You can check out some blurry, but sort of sweet, photos of my ordination at Flickr.

Something cool

Hurrah for our pals at Keystone United Church of Christ. I just found this great ad in Real Change which they've probably been running for awhile, but I was glad to see it today.

Dang, no scanner. But the ad shows a photo of Jerry Falwell (looking corpulant and smug) and a photo of Jesus (looking spiffy and blonde) and the text is:

"Rev. Jerry Falwell says that God is pro-war.
Jesus told his followers to love their enemies.
We've decided to go with Jesus on this one"

Saturday, April 02, 2005

My goodness...

...January, February and March just flew right by.
Which is a good thing, too, considering.

In the meantime, our great boy Elijah is experiencing a dramatic developmental upswing at the moment.
This week's highlights:

1. Learned to ride a tricycle.
2. Put on his shoes "by self."
3. Drew his first person with all the parts (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, crazy hair and band-aids for the owies on the knees).
4. Skipped right over "why" and now demands "why not" whenever things are not going his way.
5. Said "I love you"