Monday, November 30, 2009

And Easy Way to Pray? Sign me up!

This in my inbox from Barbara Crafton.
Would you like some encouragement for your own daily prayer practice? Every Advent, I offer readers a chance to receive the greeting "Let us bless the Lord!" from me every morning. As you may know, it is the way in which many worship services end, a signal to venture forth from prayer back into the world, refreshed. When you receive my greeting, you answer back with "Thanks be to God!" That's it. It's not rocket science, but sometimes just those few words are enough to put you in mind of receiving the gift of prayer God wants to give you.If you'd like to receive "Let Us Bless the Lord." just ask, in email to
Remember Barbara? Love her. She was the one who once said something like "if you want to know God but dont pray, you're like a person who needs a hammer but refuses to go to the hardware store." So I'm gonna try this, before someone has to go get the hammer for me.

Advent Retreat - Right On Time

"A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to." Gandalf

It's 7:15 in the morning, and I'm already feeling late. With the RevGals, I'm co-facilitating an advent retreat today and it's already been going on for hours and hours - Mompriest and Songbird have already posted their thoughts on Advent, mine will come up in a few more hours.

So I'm beginning the day by breathing and pushing back the feeling that I'm already late - late for the day, late to the season, late to understand what is going on somehow. This is an old feeling, and a tired one, the feeling that Everyone Else Gets It,and somehow I do not. Yesterday, I told my church "It's about you, but it's not ONLY about you," and I remember those reassuring words today. Advent arrives, and then the Christ Child whether I am awake or not, whether I am ready or not, whether I understand or not.

It's Monday morning, and there are a few things to do. I just woke up from a vivid dream which makes me think there is someone I should visit very soon. There is breakfast to get and Bible study to prepare. I am not too late. Neither are you. Wherever you are, whatever time zone you are in, it's time to arrive in your day.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Today's Sermon

I'm never sure if these really translate, you know, as written documents. But for those of you interested in these kinds of things, here's today's sermon.

Many years ago, in an art history lecture, I heard something that has stayed with me for all the years since: “The way you can tell the difference between classical art and postmodern art” the lecturer said, “is that classical art is a window through which you see the world and postmodern art is a mirror into which you look at yourself. In postmodern art, what you notice is not so much what the piece is depicting, but how it makes you feel, what it makes you think, how it changes you. (Thanks Dr. Arnie Klukas, wherever you may be these days.)

It’s because of this one statement that I think of Vincent VanGogh’s painting Starry Night created in 1889, as one of the first postmodern paintings. At first glance, it might seem to be a “window” painting. After all, it IS the view from the window of the sanatorium where VanGogh was staying at the time. But, although it is a picture of a night sky, it is a work which he painted from memory, during the day. (This and other information about Starry Night from Wikipedia. Awesome idea of connecting this scripture to this painting from Feasting on the Word.) So, it’s not exact replica. Rather it’s a reflection of VanGogh’s night-time state of mind, as remembered by him during the day. It’s not a window, it’s a mirror. Rather than showing you something exact, by viewing it, you have a window into VanGogh’s mind, heart, soul; and your own too.

So, with that in mind, I invite you now to take a moment with the painting, Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Look at it, rather than looking at window, instead as if in a mirror. When you look at it, what does it make you think of? What does it make you feel? What does it remind you of?

It might be helpful to consider today’s passage from Luke in the same way – as less of a window than a mirror. Rather than hear these words as a picture painted of events that will happen exactly as depicted, think of these words instead as a mirror. It is helpful to spend time with words of scripture like this with the same questions we asked of the painting. (Starry Night was painted by the way, when VanGogh felt “a terrible need for religion” and which shows a sky in as much turmoil as the sky in the scripture passage. )

Now, here’s what I believe. Rather than a grand final judgment, in which Jesus will return to terrorize and amaze the world, I believe that the kingdom is being revealed all the time, every day. I believe not in one cataclysmic event, but in the everyday unfolding of the Reign. What then does a passage like this - in which the planets provide signs so terrifying and absolute that people faint from fear - have to say to we who believe in this way?

Well, first, it might be helpful to remember what it is that people who believe in apocalyptic actually believe."Apocalypticism is the religious belief that there will be an apocalypse a term which originally referred to a revelation of God's will, but now usually refers to belief that the world will come to an end time very soon, even within one's own lifetime. This belief is usually accompanied by the idea that civilization, as we know it, will soon come to a tumultuous end with some sort of catastrophic global event such as war." (Quote from Wikipedia) In other words, a big, one time event.

It’s can become almost a joke, this view of the end of the world. You know that guy in the cartoons wearing a beard down to his knees and a tattered robe, carrying the “end is near” sign? How about the recent movie 2012, which one citizen review acknowledged contained “Good cataclysmic Action, but waayyy to much bad kitsch…” It can be kitschy, this view of apocalypse

With these kinds of jokes, what does this kind of scripture have to seriously say to you and to I? Well, it depends on how you look at a scripture like this. If you look at it as if through a window, you are going to start looking for these exact things to happen in just this way.

And on the one hand, this may have been a very real warning to the people of Jerusalem. Jesus is talking in the temple – a place he both loved and challenged, the center of power for his faith and system that has grown unjust and corrupt. He is warning them that things cannot go on in the way of injustice. And it is true that some years later, the temple was destroyed, brought to the ground in what must have been a scene of confusion and terror. A one time event. (Thanks folks at Working Preacher Brainwave for conversation on this, and also for discussing why passages like this do not mean that God is a sadist.)

But what if we look at this passage as if looking into a mirror, not a window? Think again about how it makes you feel to hear those words – the day when the planets themselves seemed out of order, you were confused, the wind and the sea roared.

Look in the mirror – you’ve had days like that.

Because we’ve had times, each of us, when the planets seemed out of order – the absence of a loved one, the layoff, the accident, the illness, the divorce, the unwanted legal action, the death. At times like these it does seem that the roar of the wind is so loud that you can hear nothing else. At times like this, it does seem like the planets have been rearranged.

When Jesus says “this generation will not pass away before these things have come to pass,” it sends window-scripture readers paging through their bibles looking for signs to back up the signs. But for those of us who see passages like this as a mirror, instead, we know that Jesus is saying “this is business as usual – death and accidents, and brokenness and grief happen. In every generation they happen, including this one.”

But that’s not all that happens in every generation. Jesus is also saying, “Business as usual is God’s work too, and the way God comes to us - bold and beautiful and frightening - is business as usual, too."

In hard times, good, well meaning folks will sometimes say something like: “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” or even “God is testing you” like it’s GOD who’s set up the situation which moves your world. No. In times like these, business as usual times, God grieves more than anyone. In hard times, it's God who sends small but life giving reminders of hope in the most hopeless times.

Let me warn you of a little danger. There is a little danger that mirror-lookers might turn into navel gazers. You have to walk this path carefully, because this IS about you, but it’s not ONLY about you. Listen to Jesus when you feel like you might doing just a little too much navel gazing. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they sprout leaves, you can see for yourself and know that summer is already near.”

In that time of interior calamity – of the confusion and the roar – it is the beauty and constancy of the tree’s movement from one season to the next that reminds us that the revealing of the kingdom is not a one time deal, but an every day, every moment occurrence, we just need to open our eyes to see.

When the planets are crashing around us, can we take a moment to pause and look for the barely budding, sweetly opening leaves of the fig tree? Can we dare to find hope in unexpected, and yet expected too, signs of life in creation and in one another?

The apostle Paul expected it. Separated as he was from the Thessalonians, he expected to see them again face to face, knowing that it was their relationship with each other, the love they felt and knew for one another, that would restore loss of hope they had. And you’ve seen it too. In the sun breaking through the clouds. In the phone call that restores a relationship. In the touch of a hand. In a kind word said at just the right time. At a prayer unexpectedly, and yet expectedly too, answered.

And remembering that is what advent is all about. Unlike the retail Christmas season that sends us in a frenzy out to grab the one “must have thing,” in advent we say, “we are people of hope because we know that the kingdom is not going to be revealed in the single cataclysm of being first in line to purchase this year’s must have toy (which by the way is a robotic hamster which rolls around, makes 40 different sounds depending on its environment and comes with quote "tons of accessories" – we hope that tons is not to be taken literally) rather than that one perfect toy – a one time event, we are looking for signs of hope every day, in every small thing.

In the weeks to come, we will hear snippets of the Christmas story – we will hear of angels who proclaim good news, of shepherds who are willing to hear and leave all that was familiar, of a young mother who says yes to god, of a husband and father willing to trust, of wise ones following a star. We might be tempted to think of these as one time, cataclysmic events – life changing. We might be tempted to look at the Christmas story through a window, as events that happened once to other people, long ago. But for each of us, if we see the Christmas story as a mirror, not a window, we will see that each day we have the opportunity to wake up and proclaim, to be willing to hear, to say yes to God, to trust, to follow. These are not cataclysmic, one time events, but every day every day every day opportunities. These are the ways in which the kingdom is revealed. These are the ways in which the Christ child is born anew within each of us. Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lifting Rocks

Over at her place, KJ is writing about time management, and that rock and pebble thing where you have to put the big stones in the bowl first, because if you only put the little ones in, the big ones will never fit.

So, the problem as it see it is figuring out which are the big stones. Because some things look real big and heavy, but when you get right up to em and heft em, you find out they're not all that. What I'm finding out is, the less I know about a stone (to carry this metaphor all the way and really probably further than it can bear), the heavier it looks, the more I strain to pick it up and the harder I try to push it into the bowl.

Tonight, I met with the truly awesome Pastor Relations Committee and they helped me see that - some of those big stones I've been hauling around? Pebbles.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday Night Random

- I just got out of last step of bedtime routine ("hang out time" - which E usually does with his dad who uses this time to answer any question he can think of. Last week's question "how does time work?") by asking the boy if he would rather "talk about feelings with me, or machines and space and stuff with your dad?" Answer: "Um, can you go get dad?"

- Really, though, he does need to talk about his feelings. Or process them some way or another. Because there is an awful lot of crying going on around here these days. I think I've heard that's usual for 7. Would you say so?

- Speaking of feelings, I am still feeling the LOVE for the class I'm taking on NonProfit Management, coincidentally skills I'm using in spades these days. I think I mentioned that a coupla weeks ago, I talked to a lawyer, insurance agent, a banker and the fire marshall all one afternoon. Not skills I came into this job with, negotiating with those folks.

-Although I am also seeing a big increase in people asking for help - financial and psychospiritual - this fall. Hard times, man. They are not over.

- But back to my class. I got moderately booed last night for this contribution to class conversation:
Guy: Some study came out that said that some of the companies that are the biggest supporters of the American Cancer Society actually produce products that cause cancer.
Me: Well, does that partnership surprise you? If there was no cancer, there would be no ACS.
Class: Moderate boos and one "wow, cynical"
Me: I mean, just really look at their stuff sometime. It's all cure, cure, cure. But nobody's talking cause, cause, cause.
Someone else: (total change of subject)

-Evidently this is a minority opinion, and probably an unpopular one, so feel free to boo the comments.

-Speaking of being booed for unpopular opinions, I wrote a letter to the editor today. I dont do that too often, because when I was in my early 20's, I wrote one on behalf of the justice group at my church at the time, which made some people mad. But that's not why I'm shy about writing letters to the editor. I'm shy because in the little debrief meeting we had with the mad people, an English teacher who I really respected said, "Well, I don't agree with it, but mostly I'm offended because it was just really badly written..." (Years later, I was redeemed, though, when I went back to that same church to preach, and that guy had a really thoughtful and positive comment. Which I cant remember, of course, because you know how the kind ones dont stick the same way? But I can remember the good, full circle feeling I had.)

-I'll let you know if it gets published. And then you can be the judge of well written or not.

-Trying to think of the funny thing that one of the kids said tonight (besides 26-month-old godson saying PINE-APP-PULL which you totally had to be there for) or SOMETHING, but I seem to be fresh out of funny. So I guess I'll just end this randomness here and twiddle my thumbs for 35 minutes until Glee comes on.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Things To Do

E is gone for a couple of days, on vacation with his awesome Godfamily.

Things I dont want to do while he is gone:
Space out on the internet all day.
Raid his Halloween candy (the non-chocolate ones, natch).

Things I want to do while he is gone:
Way more than is possible, including working in the yard, which I better get to now because the sun is unexpectedly shining.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Language: An Elijahlogue

Boy: I know a bad word. I know what the F word is.
Girl: What is it?
Boy: I think it's foopy.
Girl: FOOpy?!?!?
Boy: YOU said it!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Monday, Monday: An Elijahlogue

It's 7:37 am. First day of Fall Back.

E is saying: My body really doesn't feel like going to school today.

E is thinking: Hmm, wonder if I can get away with it again this week.

Mommy is saying: Well, you're just gonna hafta man up.

Mommy is thinking: Hmm, wonder if I've been watching just a little too much Glee lately.