Thursday, May 29, 2008

Visible Invisible Friends

Although I haven't been writing about it, because of all the sick-kid-birthday-party-going-back -to-work drama around here, the Festival of Homiletics is still very much on my mind. It was, of course, great (although, I must say, not great enough to go to every year, especially when it's a gazillion miles away in Hotlanta).

The coolest part was getting to meet all you formerly invisible friends. Now, you'd think, wouldn't you, that - since we CAN over the internet - that we'd put our very best selves out here. I mean, who would know if we were exagerrating our good bits just a little?

But to a woman, the invisible (now visible) friends that I met in Minneapolis were actually COOLER than their blogs would have us believe.

Take Inner Dorothy or Cheesehead, for example. You might not guess that in real life, they are like the epitomes (um, how DO you pluralize that?) of glamor. They both have great hair AND kind personalities. I mean, how often do you find both of those in one person?

St. Casserole, for another example, does NOT, as you might erroneously think from her blog name, wear those sweatshirts with the fake little collars and the cardinals appliqued on them. Instead, she walks around in these gorgeous flowy outfits, looking like Meryl Streep going on safari.

Peacebang, for another example, is not only a TV star. She's also a great chick to have a beer and a conversation with.

And, Magdalene, for even another example, is like just as super smart and as totally warm (and how often do you experience THAT in the same person?) in person as you'd think from her blog, but even MORE so.

I really enjoyed dinner with the revgals (oh! the abundance of a couple dozen of us all in one room!). J and I sat near Backwoods Rev and Pink Shoes and She Rev. Even if I dont read their blogs regularly, I felt in a funny way like I knew them -- it was sort of like having dinner with friends.

Well, it's probably not a good idea to name some bloggers, because there is the risk, I guess, of leaving out some others (like Diane or By the Sea or Little Mary or Singing Owl or...). But whether you read your name or not, I'm just so grateful for each of you, and so impressed.

Thanks for becoming visible.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blogging about blogging

Jeff used to work with this guy named Bob who wanted to start a blog. Every day he'd walk home from work and think of great things to write about, but when he got home he could never get around to it. "I already thought it," he'd say later, "why blog it?"

Tonight we had a hilarious conversation about the nature of suffering, sermon writing and housework. Really, J and I were totally cracking up from how funny we were. But when I went to blog about it, it didnt, you know, translate on the written page. There was something very not funny about it once it was written down.

We already said it, I guess. Why blog it?

The Real Deal

Several months ago, an uninteresting house in our neighborhood was sold and the new people made a Japanese garden in the front yard, complete with a giant (by which I mean three feet high or so, and too big to wrap my arms around) statue of Buddha. I was so intrigued by the kind of people who would put their faith so out there like that, especially in our neighborhood of little ranch houses, that includes, for example, across the street from the Buddha house a fence made of honest to God wagon wheels.

On my morning walk, I sometimes go a little out of my way to visit the Buddha house, because I'm always hoping to catch whoever lives there. This morning I saw a for sale sign on the house. "Ohhhhh. It's a FLIPPER."

After we'd lived here a while, we realized that flippers sold us our house, which explained mysteries like why the bathtub was actually dusty when we moved in.

For some reason, I'm sad about this. I've been walking by the Buddha house and imagining it populated by real BUDDHISTS, not just a couple of guys trying to sell a house (for 20,000 more than we sold ours by the way). No matter how long I live, I seem to keep expecting things to be what they appear to be.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Not as planned

I'm thinking about six years ago today.

I woke up early that morning from a dream -- that I was going into labor a month early, but my living room was full of people who would. not. leave. and my husband would not wake up -- to discover that I actually was going into labor a month early. And J DID wake up, as quickly as I've ever seen him do that, and the doula came even though we hadnt had all our meetings yet, and good friends helped get us settled in the hospital and my mom flew 1300 miles to arrive 12 hours later and meet her grandson, born by then after a day of labor that was both more and less difficult than I had expected.

We had prepared really well. We had researched hospitals and midwives. We had taken a class. We had an excellent birth plan. And I knew all about babies from years of loving other people's kids. And I had absolutely no idea that nothing was going to go according to plan.

It took me about three years to get over the shock.

So I guess it is fitting that things did not go as planned today, in celebration of the most-definately-no-longer-a-baby's birthday. He's still sick, with the kind of stuff that used to take him back to the hospital pretty regularly when he was smaller.

But after a little waffling and phone calling for advice today (thanks Erin!), we decided to go ahead with his party. I called everyone and warned them he was sick, and only the son of the opera singer from E's class at school decided to miss it. And you cant blame him for that, since anything larygitis-ish must be like a Return of the Bubonic Plague in the house of an audtioning baritone.

There were 8 kids plus a baby, which seemed just about right. We ate tacos and sang happy birthday and had a cake from Safeway with "Lightning The Queen" on it from the movie Cars and the kids ran around and pretended to shoot each other with the ends of their fingers and played E's new board games. The kids still go for Sorry and Uno, it turns out. It was fun, even though we had to be indoors (for some reason, I did not plan on the rain. Doesnt it ALWAYS rain on memorial day?). I made them go outside, which lasted for about 15 minutes during which they kicked balls into the bushes and picked slugs off of the side of trees and tried to drown them in the birdbath.

After the party, we celebrated with a trip to urgent care to make sure there was nothing in his lungs (there isn't) and to get refill of his albuterol prescription (but "since you say I dont need them, no antibiotics, thank you very much," I had to say three times).

Then Star Wars again (cause really, you cant watch it too many times) and cheese pizza and putting up new shelves in E's room. And now he's sleeping and peacefully - not all sweaty and coughy like he has been lately. So the party didn't hurt him, I don't think

We have tomorrow all planned. I'll go to work and J will take him to school if he's well enough or stay home and watch Star Wars again if he's not. After 6 years we've finally learned that things probably will go differently than we have planned. And if they turn out anything like E himself, they might even be better.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Fact #1:
Nobody at Casa Juniper slept last night.

Fact #2:
(From the Mayo Clinic website. Emphasis mine.)
Croup has an unmistakable sound — a harsh, repetitive cough similar to the noise of a seal barking. Attacks of croup often jar children awake and leave them frightened and gasping for breath. Croup can be scary for parents, too, but it's usually not serious. Because children have small airways to begin with, those younger than age 5 are most susceptible to croup.

Fact #3:
On his birthday tomorrow, E will be 6 years old.

Fact #4:
A date he smiled as he remembered it out loud this morning at 5:43 am, between rounds of puking and coughing.

Speculation #1:
Guess he was trying to squeeze in everything possible while he was still 5, huh?


The scene:
While Mommy unpacks two weeks worth of wrinkled clothes and papers, E (for the millionth time) plays guitar along withhis new favorite song.

Mommy (shouting to be heard over Joan Jett): Hey! Can you help?

E: I am HELPING this song to be AWESOMER!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Festival Blogging

J and I are now installed in our Minneapolis hotel. I'm conferencing and J is relaxing, maybe taking some pictures, stuff like that. And, E is at Camp Grandma with his two other 5 year old cousins. They are going to have an awesome time. J and I are a little bereft with missing him already, so last night, we dealt with our feelings by eating from the vending machines and watching TV.

Eating from vending machines = not all that satisfying, although there is a certain nostalgic pleasure from indulging in one of St Paul’s Own Pearson’s Nut Rolls.

TV = still overrated. Except for How It’s Made: TV for Nerds. And Seinfeld, of course. And dont worry, Seinfeld is on all the the time.

HDTV = really, really overrated. Who wants to see everyone all wide like that?

But what you REALLY want to know about is the conference, right?

2 great preachers already -Tom Long (Who is a rock star, although he said my least favorite preacher thing "the disciples just did not get it..." which is a sermon I've heard too many times already. About which more later, maybe) and Anna Florence Carter (who is a rock star, too, but like one who used to live next door to you and babysit your kids when they were little). I've loved Carter's book, in part because I thought it was probably written just like she talks, and it turns out that it is.

Before that, there was a choral music concert and I'm wishing I would have gone to dinner instead of that– there’s a certain kind of choral music that I don’t need to hear all that often. I’m not exactly proud of this, just recording the facts, ma'am.

However, if you've ever wondered what hymns should really sound like, try to get 6000 or so preachers (according to some Big Dude, "more clergy per square inch than anywhere else in the world") and get them to sing right out of the Lutheran hymn book. And you will get goosebumps, even if you usually dont care about that sort of thing.

Oh! And I saw some people - a guy who's married to a woman a used to work for a thousand years ago, the pastor who married me and J in Seattle who we both love, and several cool bloggers (no time for links now, but you know them and love them, too). So that part is really fun.

Ok, off to be homiletical. More later.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Opposite Land

Last night I had a dream in which I was doing a really great job at ministry. I preached a really exciting sermon that involved balling up pieces of paper and throwing them at the congregation, which for some reason was theologically relevent and also very compelling. Then, I announced that I'd be hosting any glbt folks who wanted to get together right after the service, and there were like a dozen people there I'd never seen before at the meeting who were amazed and delighted when I told them that, yes, they could be both gay and Christian. I woke up with tremendous feeling of lightness and satisfaction.

This is the opposite of the dreams I usually have about church, in which I am always talking and talking and TALKING and I cant find my papers, or my papers are in a mess and no one is paying any attention to me at all and I wake up with a headache or a sore throat. After these dreams, everything actually goes just fine.

Which makes me wonder if, now that I've had a reassuring dream, disaster will actually strike.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

random bits of randomness

-The young couple who are house-sitting for us came over last night and they were complaining about their bosses. Like you do, when you're, you know, not the boss. I kept wanting to plead on their behalf. Because now that I actually am a boss, I can certify that it is hard. In fact, I'm of the opinion these days that it's much harder to supervise two or three people than it is to pastor a flock of 100.

-We're watching our godkids tonight and I carried Eight Month Old in his little carrier until he fell asleep. I forgot about the sweetness of that belly-to-belly carry, and the comfort of feeling those little sighs they make in their sleep.

-I also forgot about those little ten minute naps that trick the ones this age into thinking they've slept all night. Now he's awake again and playing in his drawer (measuring cups, whisks and what have you) while I type on the counter.

-The big kids seem to have settled, though. One thing I do remember is that they outgrow everything. Given enough years, they all sleep through the night.

-I saw a new bumpersticker on the walk that made me laugh out loud: "I (heart) wood." I mean, who doesn't?

-We leave on Friday for a tour of upper-midwestern cities - Duluth! DesMoines! D'Rochester! (it's my blog and I'll alliterate if I want to) - before heading to the Festival of Homiletics. So I'm expecting posting will be spotty in the next couple weeks.

-I mean, not like I'm regularly posting or anything, usually. So maybe I should say "spottier than usual." But then I start to wonder, "Is spottier a word?"

-Although I do have a fantasy that I'm going to start another blog for the church folk (instead of this one, which is for whom, exactly?) and then I'll blog the Festival. We'll see.

-I'm enjoying getting ready to go out of town, mostly because it involves the kind of shopping I like best - snacks in individual packaging and separate magazines for everyone and personal care products in tiny bottles. When it comes to traveling, I'm like an environmentalist's nightmare. And I'm not even counting plane tickets and hotel rooms and the gas guzzler we'll be driving once we get there.

-Not as much of an environmental nightmare as Coach M, though. "The best way to get your uniform clean is to throw it into a washing machine with some bleach and some ammonia and slam the lid as fast as you can. I was surprised when I took chemistry and they told me not to mix them. I was like, 'how do you get grass stains out of your baseball uniform?' "

-We have now progressed from drawer emptying to book chewing. Oh, yeah, I kind of forgot about the book chewing, too. "Mmmm, you are right, baby. Joe Lash is DEEE - LISH."

Sunday, May 04, 2008

sermon for today

8:15 am Sunday morning and this is still not feeling done to me, but Spirit is going to have to take it from here...

While Blessing
Ephesians 1:15-23 and Luke 24:44-53

For the next couple of weeks, I will not be worshipping here with you. J and E and I will be flying to Minnesota on Friday to visit family for a week. And then I will be, for the next week, at the Festival of Homiletics. When I told the guys in the office this week how thrilled I was that I would be spending a week listening to people preach, and talk about preaching ALL DAY EVERY DAY, they didn’t think that sounded as exciting I did, for some reason.

But I am excited about it. And as I’m getting ready, I’m remembering another conference 10 years ago at which I heard a lot of preaching. One of the sermons was very memorable, maybe as much for the faithful confidence evidenced in the preacher, as for the message itself. The preacher spoke of a healing passage of scripture, one in which a man with a withered hand is healed by Jesus, in the synogogue, on the sabbath. And what I remember, all these years later, that this preacher spoke so lovingly and carefully of scripture. It was almost like each word was a beautiful diamond and as he preached, he held each word up to the late afternoon sun that slanted through the windows, so we could see how the light shone through it in all directions. I remember being convicted of the preacher’s deep faith in God, and his confidence that the church could be the place where that faith could be renewed, his confidence that the church could be the place where the people of God were healed, his confidence in the church as a center for justice and inclusion of everyone.

That preacher was named Jeremiah Wright, and I remember being so moved by the words he spoke and the way he spoke them that I turned to the young woman sitting next to me, a gentle Lutheran seminary student, and whispered “Wasnt that WONDERFUL?” and I heard her say “I wish he could have said all that without, you know, shouting so much….”

It was in that moment, on that day when I first heard Rev. Jeremiah Wright preach, that I realized how words, and the WAY that are delivered could be received completely differently by two different people. For me each word was a shining jewel, for another, the meaning totally lost because of discomfort with and unfamiliarity with a style of delivery – a enthusiastic style traditional in the American black church, that included invitations to the congregation to talk back, or stand up and shout, a style that to my friend sounded too much like shouting.

In case you are not following the news about him – the preacher I was so moved by a decade ago is the same Rev Jeremiah Wright who is a pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, the same who has been much in the news for the last couple of weeks, since a few small snippets of his sermons hit the airwaves and were played in seemingly endless loop, until other stories crowded him out.

If you are following it, you have watched as the same thing that happened to me at the conference years ago happened in our whole nation. You have watched as some have turned to their neighbor with a “wasn’t that wonderful?” and you have watched as their neighbor responded with “I wish he could have said all that without, you know, shouting so much.”

Have you been hearing FROM Wright or just about him? Have you seen him interviewed in an interview on PBS with Bill Moyers, have you watched a speech he gave to the NAACP? Did you see his lecture and interview by the press club? And have you paid attention to the press that came out afterward – the press that by and large has been negative?

What exactly is Jeremiah Wright accused of? Of racism, of fearmongering, of violence… And yet, his words, the words I actually heard him speak at that memorable sermon 10 years ago, and then again this week in 3 separate events were just the opposite – they were about reconciliation among people of all races, they were about hope, they urged peace, they called God’s people to work for justice.

How did it happen, that some of us heard one thing from Jeremiah Wright and others of us, hearing the same words told in the same way, heard the opposite? There are many pieces to the puzzle – Wright’s connection to the election and our nation’s fascination with any minute thing that might hint at scandal in any of the candidates, our own barely concealed suspicion that there are racial divides in this country that have never been healed, and that aren’t getting our much-needed attention because we are too ashamed or too in denial to deal with them, our grief and confusion about a war that was started by events beyond our understanding and that continues in our name for reasons we understand even less, a nation’s surprise at hearing a progressive Christian voice in the media which is so used to sound bites from televangelists – little pieces of faith made bland and palatable - that it doesn’t know how to handle a big meal, with all it’s nuance of taste and texture.

Or maybe it’s just that we are looking for someone, anyone to blame for our persistant dis-ease. A headline on this week cries that 70% of Americans say things are going badly. Really? Does that mean that 7 out of 10 of us believe that things are going badly? Or that all of us believe that things are going badly 7 days out of ten?

If it’s true, in a time when people believe that things are going badly – with the economy, with war - we do tend to look around for someone to blame, and we lash out at that one. “Here’s a preacher spreading hateful talk, let’s blame HIM…”

Ten years ago I heard this remarkable sermon preached on a short text about a man with a withered hand who went to the synogogue, where he encountered Jesus and was healed. In Matthew 12 and Mark 3 and Luke 6, that story is followed by this short, chilling line “and after that, they plotted how they could destroy Jesus.” That healing, which broke the rules of convention by taking place on the Sabbath was the first step on the road to Jesus’ destruction. Why? Because he dared to point out a broken place, because he dared to welcome an outcast, man with a withered hand who in his time would have been considered only part a man into a temple (a place of power) and because he dared to speak words of healing and inclusion for all people.

Today’s story takes place after that – after Jesus has welcomed, healed, been plotted against, been killed by those who fear him, and risen. The story is called Ascension of Jesus and it might seem a little, I don’t know, embarrassing. It’s a story that’s illustrated in some churches by pictures of a pair of feet dangling from the ceiling, while the disciples look up in wonder as Jesus is whisked away.

We don’t focus on The Ascension all that much in our Protestant tradition. We prefer stories of Jesus’ actions, and maybe we’re a little uncomfortable with these stories that seem to us to stretch credulity, to make us want to believe something that is so difficult to believe. After Jesus’, after his resurrection (more miracle!) and after, the book of Acts tell us, Jesus has been with the disciples for 40 days, teaching and encouraging them. He takes them out of town a ways, and opens scripture to them – leads another little Bible study there on the road as he did on the road to Emmaus we talked about earlier – and then while blessing them he rises up and out of sight.

It is a story about a miracle. But maybe more importantly, it is a story about how Christ leaves his group of followers. his last direction is to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Stay. Stay together – don’t wander apart and let yourselves be divided just because I am no longer here. Stay. Stay in the city -- do not retreat to the relative safety of Galilee, which was home ot many of the disciples, the place they would have been hidden and safe. Stay. Stay in the city, although it may be more dangerous and know that when you speak, more will hear you, and more will have the opportunity to misunderstand you and even attack you. Stay until you have been clothed with power from on high. Stay until everyone will know and everyone can see how the Spirit is working in you and with you and for you. What you are wearing, after all, may keep you warm, may protect you, but it is obvious, it is not a secret.

And then he blessed them. And then he was gone, leaving them, leaving all of us, to work out the details of how to be this new little community, how to be this separatist movement, how to be this band of dissidents, how to heal and teach and love – how to be Christians without his direct, earthly guidance.

How do we know what to do? How do we, in the words of Paul, know the hope to which we are called, know the spiritual riches of our inheritance, know our own collective power, how do we know how to be Christ’s body in this world?

We look for clues, everywhere. And if you paid attention, if you listened to the whole thing instead of the sound bites, here’s what you might have learned from Jeremiah Wright this week:

We are a body, but there are greater racial divides in this country, and in our churches, than we like to acknowledge and than many of us know. 10:00 am on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of week. That divide causes pain for all of us, even if we are not even conscious of it most of the time. As the body of Christ, we have been offered both an opportunity and a responsibility to educate ourselves so that we can imagine and work for a better future.

We are a body, each part distinct and unique, but each working together to form the beautiful whole. Each part is different from the other, each from the other, that our difference is not difficiency, it’s just difference. And God loves all of God’s children, each of whom are made in God’s image.

We, the body of Christ have a legacy to live that is given to us by our Biblical heritage, a story told entirely by people who lived under oppression and occupation of one kind or another. We, who read that story from the position of power in which we find ourselves, have an imperative to speak and act against the forces of imperialism. An imperialism, that for example, creates wars based on lies, created a war that currently has resulted in the deaths of more than 4000 American men and women, as well tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani men, women and children.

We are the body of Christ and here’s what the body is for – in Wright’s words: liberation, transformation, reconciliation, or put another way freedom, change, love. We are the body of Christ and we are to love everyone. Love everyone. Love everyone.

Jeremiah Wright is a prophet, one who dares to name our unhealthy fascinations, our suspicions, our grief, our confusion, our shortcomings and our shallowness. But like other prophets who speak words of correction and challenge, he always speaks those words, if you really listen, pay attention to the whole, along with words of hope and blessing.

It is so easy for our words to be misrepresented and misunderstood, as I believe Rev. Wright’s have been, but the thing of it is, that we need to keep speaking anyway. While he was blessing them, Jesus went from them. While he was infusing them with the holy, the divine, his biggest hopes and wishes, Jesus went from them. He promised them that they would continue to feel his power and then he went from them. He went from them, but he did not leave them. The miracle of our faith is not the feet dangling from the ceiling, the miracle of our faith is that he continues to live on – in our actions, in our words, and in the words and actions of others. He did not promise us that is would be easy, he did not promise us that we would never be misunderstood, he did not promise us that we would never be attacked by enemies. What he promised us was that we would know the holy. And by knowing the holy, we will know how to be his body, here in the world.