Monday, April 30, 2007

Which kind of Mother Church do you hope will adopt you?

Here's something of interest from The Rev. Jon M. Walton, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, NYC:
Christians have always struggled with two images that describe the church: is the church the Virgin Mother, pure, unsullied and unstained? Or is she an Earth Mother gathering her wayward children to her skirts? In the church of the Virgin, no eye is pure enough to see God, no tongue clean enough to speak God's name. This church is vigilant in covering her children's ears and tries to keep them from seeing or touching the world's impurity. Its clergy are a model to the flock in morality, goodness and self-control.
In the church of the Earth Mother, however, the dirty hands and unwashed faces of her children are a delight. . . . This church's children gather to her like Ma Kettle's kids come in from the barnyard, frogs in their pickets and grass stains on their jeans. What they lack in cleanliness, they make up in joy. Her clergy are earthen vessels.

First off, I'm pretty sure that Walton did not have the Catholic/Protestant divide in mind. I think this "choice" is very evident within Protestant churches. Can't speak to Catholicism.
Secondly, on some level, don't all children want their mothers to be virgin mothers? It reminds me of what a friend told me. He was one of a large Catholic family and he says when he was a child and someone asked, "How many brothers and sisters do you have?" He'd say - "Seven. We're Catholic." He said, "You always added "we're Catholic" because otherwise they might think that your mom liked sex."
Even when you think of the church, I wonder if the deep down feeling is - "Earth mothers - it's a nice idea. But I'm proud to say MY mom isn't one of those!"
And finally, (whew! I hear you say!) the only people who need the Earth Mother church are those who have frogs (and worse) in their pockets and stains on their clothes, and we would rather think of ourselves as well mannered, good kids. It takes a lot of reflection to see ourselves as we really are.

Monday Morning

The day has gone really fast. And the chores that were on my "to do today" list are not done. Maybe before the sun goes down or before the boys come home . . . and, realistically, maybe not.
I am reading a book about "coaching" for ministry. It was written by one of the co-pastors from First Pres. Charleston. One of the things it says is that there is a rhythm of reflection/planning/doing and drifting in every one's life. And today was one of my drifting days.
I went to lectionary, where one of the ministers said that he was plotting out worship for the whole year. (Sounds so wonderful! I feel like I've planned ahead if I can put a seasonal series together.)
The scripture for Sunday is in Acts 11 - about how Gentiles got included in the church. Hearing the story this morning, I was shocked at how easily things could have gone the other way. The whole thing unfolds with a dream (two dreams, actually), a crazy coincidence, and just the right synapses firing in ol' Peter's brain. Amazing that God would rely on such unreliable means to do what has to be done! Sort of comforting, though.
And I went to the hospital. And answered some phone calls. And made some appointments. And am now reciting Scarlett's affirmation of faith. You know what that is, don't you? "After all, tomorrow IS another day."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ultimate Shepherd Sunday text

Imagine that you are a Christian living in Iraq or in Sudan. Everyday you are threatened and harassed and worse. Many friends, some uncles, a parent, and even one of your own children have been savagely murdered. Your life hangs by a thread. This book is for you.

Revelation 7:9-17 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
The Great Multitude in White Robes
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
10And they cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb."
11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying: "Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
13Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?"
14I answered, "Sir, you know."
And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore, "
they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

In my (humble?) opinion, Christians who live in comfortable circumstances such as ours can only hear God speaking through Revelation if we put ourselves in our persecuted brothers and sisters' shoes. We twist everything to pieces when we look at this strange writing as some sort of map for the last days. In fact, I personally find Tim LaHaye and Tim Jenks (?) "Left Behind" series theological pornography. (And I should know, I couldn't put the first two down!) Cheap and easy and degrading. Just makes you want to go shower in holy water. That's what that so-called Christian apocalypse does.

But the power of this heavenly vision to restore hope to the hopeless is incredible. And even comfortable Christians feel hopeless sometimes. What a blessing it is at those times to have this vision of the Lamb on the Throne, who will wipe away every tear from your eyes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Gazelle among the Sheep

It's funny that this text about Dorcas/Tabitha is also part of the Shepherd Sunday lectionary. She's a gazelle! You'd have to be a pretty fast shepherd to herd a flock of gazelles.
This is the one I'm going to preach on. I'm going to do "Revival" as one of the Marks of the Easter Church. But this woman/disciple who does acts of kindness/sews custom made clothing for her fellow widows . . . This is a woman I really like.
I also really like the realism of the scene - the women standing around, talking about the deceased and appreciating her (probably more now that she's dead than when she was alive.)
It's like funerals in my family. The only thing missing is a shoebox lined in waxed paper and filled with pimiento cheese sandwiches.

Acts 9:36-43 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
36-37Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, "Gazelle" in our language. She was well-known for doing good and helping out. During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died. Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.
38-40Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over. Peter got right up and went with them. They took him into the room where Tabitha's body was laid out. Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning. They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them. Peter put the widows all out of the room. He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body: "Tabitha, get up."
40-41She opened her eyes. When she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive.
42-43When this became known all over Joppa, many put their trust in the Master. Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More Shepherd Sunday text

The Gospel lesson for this week is John 10:22-30:

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem.
It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense?
If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe.
The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.
No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Here are some things I learned about this passage: The Feast of Dedication is "Hanukkah" - a feast celebrating the fact that, for once, the Jews had defeated an enemy and gotten the Temple back.
Solomon's porch, where this takes place, is the sunniest, warmest spot on the temple grounds during December.
Jesus makes several points that should provoke some thought:
For instance, he says that what He does shows who He is. What we do shows who we are, too. One commentary I read had a funny story about the encounter between an old Amish man and a door-to-door evangelist. The eager evangelist greeted the old man and asked if he had been saved. "Are you a born again Christian?" he quizzed. "Why are you asking me?" answered the old man. "Here are the names of my barber, my hired man, my wife, banker. Go ask them if I am a Christian."
If I were preaching this, which I'm not, I'd go with the defiant "No one will snatch them out of my hand" as my text. No matter what. We are held in Jesus' hand.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Looking to Shepherd Sunday

The fourth Sunday of Easter, in more liturgical churches, is "Shepherd Sunday". We've celebrated it a couple of times here at Philo Pres. The best thing I ever did on Shepherd Sunday was to invite a young friend to bring her 4-H lamb for the children's sermon. It was magic. (Afterward, in Fellowship Hall, one of the kids was overheard telling another one, "It wasn't a REAL lamb, you know!" )

Anyway, the texts for the week are so beautiful they bring tears to a person's eyes. You could look them up, but I think I'll post them here for the next three days and think of each one in turn.

The 23rd Psalm -

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;

he makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley

of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil;

for thou are with me;

thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

thou anoinest my head with oil,

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall f0llow me

all the days of my life;

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord


Friday, April 20, 2007

How I spent my Friday

I spent most of the day at a Synod meeting. I'm not a delegate, or commissioner, or whatever. I'm just on a committee that they have to have - the Committee on Representation. It's supposed to make sure that minorities are asked to serve on Presbytery and Synod committees and panels. As you can imagine, in a denomination that is 95%+ Caucasian, this is not an easy assignment. And the Committee on Representation members get a little weary and dispirited, and begin to lose their fervor for the job.
So the national office sent us a resource person to jazz us up. And she talked and talked and talked, as religious sorts do, and kept telling us how brave we would have to be to confront the good ol' boy network and entrenched racism, and discrimination against people with disabilities (the latest, and easiest minority group to locate in a Presbyterian gathering . . . ) and so on, etc.
And it was impossible to get a word in edgewise - and even if I could have, I'm not sure I have the heart to do it - but she completely missed the point that the reason our job is so hard is because the vast majority of minority people are out doing something more challenging and important to them than serving on a committee of a predominantly white church.

But. (And this is a big but in my opinion!) She told me one thing I've been waiting all my career to hear: I am eligible for an all expense paid trip to Daytona Beach Florida in October. For training. I have always suspected that this is why people serve on these crazy church committees. And now, I feel my case has been proven AND I get to go to Florida in October!

And it has given me an idea: Maybe I could offer some minority people the trip in exchange for serving on a committee?!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Signs of the Season

Yesterday, I was mowing the grass (it's a glamorous, ethereally spiritual life I lead!) trying to get as close as possible to the electric pole in the back, when I looked down and saw - an Easter Egg! It wasn't one the squirrels had already opened either. It was just lying there, waiting for someone to pay attention and find it.
I've got to be reminded that Easter is a Season, not only a day. The awareness of the Living Christ isn't fully realized in just a day (or two). So I'm going to look for signs of New Life today, as eagerly as the Sunday School kids looked for the eggs on Easter morning. I'm looking everywhere from the hospital to the homework to the good night prayers.
I wonder what I will find.
It would be nice to hear what you find, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I've been thinking about the horror at Virginia Tech. I guess everyone has.
Today the news is reporting that the shooter was practically unknown on campus. No one in the English Dept. knew him. The Korean student community hadn't registered his existence. Even Koren English Dept. students didn't know who he was. A "suite-mate" said he never spoke to the others in the suite.
Is there any clearer picture of alienation?
Now I guess that if you really bought into the myth of rugged individualism, (and most of us do on some level,) this guy might have seemed like the epitome of a self-sufficient life.
But that isolation and silence and solitude: it was evil.
All that we know about God's intention and desire for human beings points to the indisputable fact that God created us to live in loving communities. To be accountable to one another, and honest with one another, and involved with something larger than ourselves.
It's not easy. Sometimes it's not even fun. Ask Jesus.
But it is the only way to live. Any other existence is just death with a heartbeat.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Visiting Other Churches

I finally got a "plum" assignment at Presbytery: A seat on the Committee on Ministry. Of course, I'm the new kid, know nothing that is going on and ask too many stupid questions during meetings. But besides that, I'm really making a contribution (HA!).
One of the things COM, I mean the Committee on Ministry, does (besides learning an entire vocabulary of different initials for papers, processes and people, which I am taking an oath NEVER to use: PIF, CIF, EP, PNC, EPC, etc ad nauseum) is to go visit each church once every three years.
The purpose is to foster a relationship between the pastors and the committee and the church and the presbytery. The unspoken motivation is that when or if trouble strikes, the Presbytery and the Committee on Ministry won't be starting from scratch when they come in to "help" and or pick up the pieces.
So I had my first visit last night. And it was really fun! The pastors were thoughtful and hardworking and committed. The session was pleased and proud of their church. They seemed genuinely glad that someone from Presbytery was showing an interest in them. And I got lots of good ideas about alternative ways of "being church". When I asked if they had suggestions for me to take back to Presbytery, they said "Yes."
They said that Presbytery could help by setting up opportunities for sharing ideas between churches. Have a Sunday School training fair. A building and grounds seminar. A mission sponsor swap. Isn't that a good idea? Do you think, if people thought they were going to get to share their ideas and hear from people "on the ground" in other churches they would participate?
We get so stuck doing things "the way they've always been done" that sometimes we don't even realize that it is quite, quite possible to do them differently.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Men in Uniform

Why are my encounters with law enforcement always so silly?
The deputy just left. I filed a report (case #S07-????) in the case of the missing flamingos. Our Youth Group Fundraising Flamingos got bird-napped last Saturday night, and after hoping that someone at school would hear who had them, and driving around Philo and Tolono hoping against hope that the thieves would think putting them in some one's yard was as funny an idea as I did, I finally called the sheriff's office. And the deputy came and wrote down all the facts of the case:
32 missing pink plastic flamingos.
Last seen 4/7/07.
Value of $180.
He even wrote down my age. Does that matter, I ask you? Is there an extra penalty for stealing from senior citizens?
And as he left he said "With a little help (pointing up) maybe we'll find them."
He was a lot more helpful than the officer who came (MANY MANY years ago) when I reported a wild animal had chased my 1 year old child around in the yard. I said I thought it was some sort of rabid weasel or something. Big. Like a badger. Frightening. Dangerous. That guy asked if I'd been drinking. Later, someone showed me a picture of a pet ferret. Yep. That was it.
I'm sorry that my need for aid always seems to be so ridiculous. No. On second thought, I'm not. I'm glad.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Lent is Over - Is this Blog?

Thank all of you for reading and/or commenting on this Lenten blog. Lent is over? Shall we continue blogging? Let me know what you think. I'll think, too.

God and Dogs

There's a middle ages vintage tradition that the week after Easter you tell jokes, to remind you that God really put one over on the Devil when Jesus rose from the dead.
Here's one of my favorites:
Did you hear about the dyslexic, insomniac agnostic? Yeah. He stayed awake all night wondering if there is a dog.
And speaking of dogs . . . I've got to get this new book. The author is a Presbyterian, you know:

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Here's a funny

Qualifications for Youth Ministry:

This came from a blog at As we plan our youth mission trip for this summer, I can see how logistics begin to trump high ideals . . .

Friday, April 6, 2007

Maundy Thursday Meal

Two nights ago we had our second attempt at a "Christian Seder" to commemorate Maundy Thursday. The Gospel of Luke is explicit about Jesus' Last Supper being a Passover meal, so it makes a certain amount of sense. And I like many things about it: the story itself, the involvement of the children who ask "the four questions", the symbolic foods, the connection to Jesus' Jewish roots.
But, for the second year in a row, I've been surprised and disturbed when we get to the part where we celebrate the Lord's Supper. Even with the words of institution, and the traditional food, and an elder at each table doing the breaking and pouring . . . as part of a hearty meal, the elements seem out of place. People are talking to their table mates and I wonder if they are paying attention. It's not as quiet as it is in worship, and there is no "mood music" to spur meditation.
I have to remind myself that all of that is much closer to what Jesus and the disciples experienced. No wonder they didn't quite remember every word the same. No wonder they went back to arguing with one another so soon. No wonder they received this great gift and then an hour later couldn't stay awake to pray with the Giver.
We don't get to say, "Wait, Jesus, I'm not ready to feel spiritual and to listen carefully to what you say." All we can do is try to rise to the occasion and hope we get it just a little bit right.

Holy Week/ Cold-y Week

The sudden cold spell this week has certainly put a damper on my Easter mood. Already I'm a little peevish, since my son's spring break is this week, and I can't take him anywhere fun, because of Holy Week obligations. But I might have been able to get over that, had the spring weather held.
There is nothing better to me than waking up early, having a cup of coffee and going out to tour the garden, to check on hostas spearing their way above ground, and peonies lip-stick red shoots. "My" bee balm has spread, after several years, from a couple of little plants to a plot in the garden the diameter of a whiskey barrel. And just last week, when I cut off the tops of my perennial grasses, I discovered that they'd already begun to put on green.
Then, boom! the bottom fell out of the thermometer. Most of what's up is going to have to start all over again.
And, being the one who has to wonder about such things, I have to wonder if folks are going to be in the mood to come to Easter services, when they will have to wear parkas and scarves over their pretty pastel Easter outfits. Grump.
Then I read this wonderful article: about how we sometimes lean on the spring imagery to convey the Easter message, but that in fact "there is nothing natural about the resurrection." (Or words to that effect.) So a cold, rainy Easter of gloomy weather should be no impediment to experiencing and celebrating the wonderful news of Christ's victory over sin and death. Just put on your fur-lined Easter bonnet and come on to church!
For us, no less than for Mary and the others who stumbled around the cemetery on that first, dark Easter morning, something amazing is happening, and we need to experience it firsthand and share it with the other disciples.