Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sermon: Before the Triumph

I have always wondered why we don’t celebrate Easter with a little more fear and trembling. Why we don’t enter the church in silence and darkness, and why we don’t greet one another whispering “have you heard the news? Could it really be true?” I’m not saying to get rid of the trumpets and the lilies, but just to spend a little while shaking in our boots to remember how the disciples must have felt.
When we talk about Easter we use words like “bright” and “triumphant” and “joyous” and “festival.” We say those things in hindsight. We look back now, knowing what we know, and Easter is probably the happiest day of the year. But the Bible tells us that the first Easter day itself was a rather scary day. In the story I just read, from Luke, these are the adjectives used to describe the women and men who encountered the resurrection:
 … And that wasn’t just the initial shock at the graveside. These feelings apparently lasted well through the day, into the evening where our story took place. Even though the disciples had been told of the prophecies, that Jesus would rise again, they didn’t know what to think. Because there was an empty grave, but what did that mean? Where was Jesus? They still hadn’t seen him. Thomas said he wouldn’t believe until he touched him.
And what was going to happen next? Would someone else find the empty tomb? Would the disciples be accused of grave robbery, and arrested too?
What should they do? Should they tell other people? It seems that their first response was to hide it, and keep it a secret.
According to Luke, in the story we just read, some of them started walking away from Jerusalem, headed toward Emmaus where it would be safer, and, when Jesus found them, it says, they were “looking sad.” One of the other gospels, John, says that the disciples all went to a house together and went upstairs and locked all the doors. The first and shortest Gospel, Mark, says that the women “left the tomb, and didn’t say anything to anybody, because they were afraid.” Suffice it to say, when the disciples heard the news on Easter morning, they did not immediately feel like putting on their best Easter clothes and having a parade through town with trumpets and banners.

 No, we need to remember that for the first disciples, their joy was not quick or easy. Easter soon came to have a sense of triumph, but at first it was mixed in with a deep uncertainty about the future, some doubt and disbelief, and a very solemn sense of wonder and awe.
 The image that comes to mind for me, is of young parents with their first baby. Maybe the baby was born in the hospital, a little premature, with a emergency C-section, and the mother is still in pain as she recovers. After a few days the doctors have cleared them to go home, and the mom gingerly walks to the car while the father straps the baby into the car seat. They’ve never done this before. Is the baby buckled in right? Is the car seat secure?
When they get home, they barely know what to do next. They just want to spend all their time staring at their beautiful new child, but they are terrified they’ll do something wrong. Should they wake the baby up to feed him? Should they let him sleep all day? He’s too tiny for the baby clothes they’d bought, and they feel bad dressing him in big baggy clothes. All their friends keep calling to congratulate them, and they always say thank you, but really, they don’t feel excited as much as they feel overwhelmed, and exhausted. They ask over and over – is it really going to be OK?

 We look back with hindsight, and we say those were wonderful days… because we know now that they were the beginning of new life. We look back on big changes in our lives and see the beauty in them. Whether it was a new baby, a new love, or a new home, we remember the first days fondly, because it was the beginning of something wonderful. But often we forget how we cried ourselves to sleep the first night in a big empty house, far away from our family and friends. We forget the anxiety of meeting someone new, or the tremendous responsibility of caring for a newborn. Entering new life is often very difficult. In college I spent a semester abroad in Prague and I must say I only truly remember the second half of it. I probably just repressed all the earlier memories of stumbling through learning the language, asking for toilet paper when I meant pencils, and not knowing how to use the phone. Today when I think of Prague, I think of the city I came to know and love, not the city where I got hopelessly and repeatedly lost.

I believe it must be the same for Christians, looking back at Easter, and that’s why I wish we could spend more time remembering how the early disciples felt. We jump quickly from the devastation of Good Friday to the Easter joy. It’s as if we were all in a sports car seeing how fast we could accelerate from zero to sixty. What with Easter Egg hunts on Holy Saturday, and Easter baskets being sold in the candy stores since February, we are so busy anticipating the joy that we skip the grief. We may take just part of a day, Thursday or Friday night perhaps, to remember Christ’s Passion. We observe it, nod at it, and then we fast-track to the triumph, the trumpets, the victory and the joy. By Easter morning, our fear and trembling is completely forgotten.

But the fact is, it took the disciples a lot longer to get out from their hiding places. I wish I had a historical microscope so I could go back and look at things. I wonder how long it took the disciples to set aside their fear and trembling. A month? A year? A generation? How long does it take to forget the struggle and to only remember the triumph?

This is important because not all of us are feeling entirely triumphant today. Some of us are, by the grace of God. Others of us may have come recently from a family funeral, and aren’t ready to let go of that sad feeling. There are people in the hospital today receiving news they hoped they’d never receive. Many people, today, are facing their struggles and can’t see their way to victory. For many people the empty grave may not be a consolation but an additional sadness. It would be easier to go to the tomb and find the body, to hold a funeral, to weep and cry and tell stories in Jesus’ honor. If you’ve ever been unable to attend the memorial of a loved one, you know what this means. Finding the grave empty has cut their grieving short.
For some people, even today, Easter cuts them short, because you’re supposed to stop grieving now and get on with the victorious rejoicing. Put your black veils away and join the Easter parade, right? Well, what if I’m not ready???

If we can learn anything from the disciples, these blessed men and women who passed on their experiences of faith, let us learn that it is OK not to feel triumphant yet. It’s OK to feel scared and sad, even on Easter. I would say that especially on Easter, it’s OK to feel our hearts burning within us, burning with deep sadness and longing. It is right for us to wonder and weep, because all is not well with this world, and because they have taken our Lord away and we don’t know where to find him. We can’t even find the remains.

 And. At the same time. We still get to have hope. Because our Lord is walking beside us, even when we don’t recognize him. Sometimes we don’t recognize God right away. Probably more often than we’d like to admit, we realize in hindsight that God has been walking alongside us the whole way, and we never knew. Our consolation comes to us before the triumph, when we are still lost in grief. God does not hold back, watching at a distance and waiting for us to snap out of our grief and start celebrating. God is gently walking alongside us, helping us to be ready for the celebration that is already prepared for us. We can take as long as we need to. We know that some of the disciples took longer than the others. We still get to have hope, even if we haven’t managed to get on that zero-to-sixty fast track to joy. Remember that it was at a walking pace that Jesus accompanied his disciples. He probably spent all afternoon walking with them.

But by now we have had many centuries to tell and re-tell this story, and I think it’s also time to learn from our hindsight too. Looking at the whole story from beginning to end tells us that it’s OK to rejoice when we see even the smallest sign of hope. The disciples were overwhelmed with very real worries and confusion, but hope and joy were able to break through the fog. We may be overwhelmed with other things, whether it’s learning to live in a new place, or trying to figure out what a tiny baby needs. Yes, all these stresses are happening, but at the same time we see signs of hope. We see a kind smile from a stranger, or a peaceful sigh from the child, or we hear about the great mystery of an empty grave. It is good and right to rejoice fully in these things, even though they are just the beginning.
 No parent takes a baby home thinking of it only as a squirming bundle that needs diaper changes. They hold and cherish the child thinking of their future, the books they will read to him, the games they want to play with her, and the hope that this child will grow up to achieve her dreams. It is good and right to rejoice in the whole, even when we see only a part. The beginning is enough cause for celebration.

 Easter is a celebration of this great mystery of new life, the Resurrection. On this day we celebrate our redemption from the power of death, and in so doing, we also join in celebrating every blessed thing that is springing to life around us. God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, and God can raise us too, from death, from hopelessness, from despair and grief. Every sign of new life around us echoes in the chorus that sings of God’s triumph. And because of this, every good and new thing is cause to celebrate. We can look at a new situation and see all the potential it holds. We can enter into a new phase or space in our lives and see not the worries but the vast possibilities… looking not at what is left behind but what is opening up. Changes in our lives often involve grief, just as the disciples grieved for Jesus. But what we can learn from the disciples is to allow ourselves also to be overwhelmed by joy.

 I wonder what God might be bringing to each of you as new life right now. Maybe a new person in your life, a grand-child or a new friend or neighbor. Maybe a new idea or inspiration. Maybe a new reality that does not look like a blessing as all – if your hearing is beginning to fail and your other senses have to work harder for you. We know that even in hard times there is a blessing to be found, as in Christ Jesus even death has been overcome. I wonder what new life you may be experiencing right now. For me, the season of Lent has brought me new lessons in grace and forgiveness. It’s never easy to learn something like this, and to take a look at how badly you need it. But the prospect of facing life with more grace is new life indeed, and liberation from my old ways.

I want to take a few minutes to turn it over to you with that question. What new life is God bringing to you, this Easter? You can answer in a word or a phrase, lifting it up like we do the prayer requests. The story of the walk to Emmaus told us that the disciples realized afterwards, their hearts had been “burning within them” as they heard Jesus explaining the scriptures to them. Somehow they knew that the Lord was near, but they did not know just exactly HOW near he had been the whole time.

Each of the words you have lifted up - and the ones that weren't spoken - represents a little story in your life. I pray that each of these stories - what you are experiencing today - may be a sign of new life for you in hindsight. That you may someday look back and realize that your hearts had been burning with the nearness of God, in fact that you might know Christ was walking with you all along and guiding you although unseen. This is our great hope and our deep joy; that Christ is risen and is with us.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Remodeling sermon

Remodeling the house

Today we are talking about houses. I’ll begin with a disclaimer – by “house” I mean any living structure. The word “house” in Greek and Hebrew had a more expansive meaning, and could cover anything from a family unit to a cottage to a palace or even a temple. So we’re talking about living spaces, our places of shelter.
I’d like to start with a show of hands. How many of us have ever moved?
How many of us have ever remodeled a house?
Has anyone ever lost a home – to fire or flood or another accident?
And how many of us have ever been without a home – even if it’s temporary?
They say that these are some of the greatest stressors a person or a family can face. Remodeling a home seems like a luxury problem, but it is right up there with stressors like losing a job or even marital infidelity in terms of putting pressure on a marriage.
Raise your hand if you have ever experienced extreme stress – over your home.

I’ve only ever been involved in one remodel, and I was 12 at the time so I didn’t take on much of the stress. My most important job in this process was picking out the paint color for my new bedroom. It was an exciting time for us. We had lived for ten years in a tiny NYC apartment, with me and my two sisters stacked like logs – bunkbed, bunkbed, loft. But now, we had finally found another apartment big enough for all three girls to have their own rooms. Granted, one of those bedrooms was, at the time, a closet, so we did have to do a lot of work before it was ready to live in. But it was fun work, at least from my preteen perspective. I remember an adventurous trip all the way out to New Jersey to go to Ikea and pick out cabinets and tiling and a beautiful stained glass lamp for the kitchen. I remember scraping old paint off the closet walls until I found dark wood underneath. And I remember on moving day, how I carefully packed our pet fish and frogs in small containers of water and hand-carried them over to our new home.
But even as young as I was, I remember the stress of the transition too. I remember eating casseroles that the new neighbors brought, and not particularly enjoying them. I remember the strangeness of these new neighbors and wondering if I could make friends with them. And I remember how scared my little sister was. She had never had a room of her own, and she was used to having her sisters within arm’s reach if she had a nightmare. Now she’d need to call for our parents or even get up and walk down the hall to their room. She was the youngest and so the whole experience was harder on her.
All in all, my family didn’t have it bad. Despite the stress, it was a pretty joyous process to move from a tiny place into a bigger place. But we have all heard horror stories of the remodel gone wrong, and we know that a lot of people don’t always move onward and upward, as it were. Many moves go from a bigger place to a smaller, especially these days, pressed by the economy, when folks have to let go of their dream home or even move in with their parents. And the ultimate insecurity, homelessness, is on the rise as well, as it always is during tough times. No, there are many situations in which the stress of moving would be the least of your worries.

But moves and remodels DO have an inherent insecurity to them, no matter whether you’re upgrading or downgrading. Home is ideally the place where we feel safe, where we have some measure of control, and where we can – to the best of our ability – make sure that things are as they ought to be. A house protects us from the outside world. If we are lucky enough to be able to decorate as we like, we might even have a home that nurtures and inspires us, and reminds us of the people and things we love. Homes hold our memories and make space for our future. And so, losing, changing, or remodeling your home involves far more than a moving truck and some paint. It is a process that affects our whole lives. My grandparents built their own house from the ground up, and my grandmother stayed there for sixty years. Moving out, to a retirement home, was a hard transition for her and the whole family. It was not just a house that they had built, but a family and a life.

Both Bible lessons today spoke about building a house for God. To a modern mind this may seem primitive and simple. God doesn’t need a bedroom, of course, or a kitchen, or a closet. We believe that God is found in all places and all things, and as the globe turns through night and day God is always active. God doesn’t need to sit down and rest, or to seek shelter from the rain. And yet we build houses for God, or at least, for our thoughts about God. We build churches to hold our finest art and our pipe organs; we build enormous arching roofs, under which a hundred people can gather, out of the rain, and talk about God. We contribute to the upkeep of church buildings that are over a century old, because they hold our memories and our hopes for continuity in the future. At home we build little shrines, maybe a creche scene on the mantel, maybe a mezuzah at the door, maybe a corner that’s designated for prayer, maybe a prayer mat or shawl. We use material things to remind us of the ultimately intangible presence of God, to firmly anchor our memories in case they wander and forget. We leave stones stacked on one another in the wilderness, a reminder that something sacred was once here. What would we do without them? When life gets tough it is so easy to forget the God who has brought us this far. We need to build houses – inadequate though they may be. They may not tie God down to a particular place and time, but they can root us and ground us, lest we forget.

Both bible lessons (I Samuel and Ephesians today spoke of building a house for God. They also spoke of not building houses for God, and behind the text there is a lot of remodeling and unbuilding, and rebuilding, and even destroying our houses for God. Between the two we can cover the whole range of options. The texts frame two very important moments in our sacred history. The first passage, from Samuel, takes place before the first Jerusalem temple was built. And the second passage takes place one or two generations after the second temple was destroyed by the Romans. So the span between these two texts covers the time when Israel worshipped in a tabernacle, then the building of the temple by Solomon, which was destroyed eventually, and then rebuilt, and then destroyed again.

All of these events are probably about a hundred times more significant than any of our experiences with moving or remodeling our houses. But I believe we can really relate, because it carries a lot of the same emotional resonance. The temple – which is God’s house – symbolizes security and safety. It is the one place where everything is right in the world. It is the place where you ought to be able to know that God is in control. When that gets torn down an entire nation is left wondering where they could be safe, and whether God has abandoned the controls. It doesn’t hurt to realize that the destruction of the temple was associated with widespread destruction in the surrounding lands as well, and with a political takeover by foreign powers. The temple-less nation became a homeless nation, a nation in exile. And the book of Ezra tells us that when the exiles returned, their first priority was to rebuild the temple. Having a temple was more important to them, than having a king or a palace.

But our first text goes back before the temple was even built. Let’s review just a bit. It’s a funny story because it has some divine word-play. King David comes up with the idea to build a house for God. The tent is just not majestic enough, and David would like to honor God by building a proper house. Of course this would also give David some honor, too… it would be right next door to the palace royal, visually emphasizing that God is on David’s side. A temple would increase Israel’s political reputation in the area and would centralize its religion. All of these would be politically smart things for David to do.
BUT God replies kind of snappily, I don’t want a house; did I ask you for a house? It sounds like a familiar situation, where someone might give you an excessively generous gift that you didn’t actually want and then you’d be socially indebted to them... No, God is not about to be indebted to David. No, no, no, God is going to give DAVID a gift. God says “I will build *YOU* a house.” And that’s the wordplay, right there. God won’t build David a house of stones and wood, but a household - more specifically, an ancestral line, and a throne guaranteed forever. Looking back on this several centuries later it was a very important promise. David’s son Solomon DID build a temple, but then it was destroyed. And prophets reminded the people of Israel that even if the house of stone and wood was destroyed, the house God built – that is the houseHOLD - was not destroyed as long as there was an heir to the throne of David.

Our Ephesians passage comes from a radically different context but it has some similar themes. First, the writer of the epistle says that God has broken down the dividing wall between Gentiles & Jews -- abolishing the law. This is not something that could have been said in Jesus’ time. It must speak from a later generation, in the wake of the destruction of the temple itself, and Christians beginning to distance themselves from Jews. But as much as they would like to cut themselves off from the Jewish temple, they can’t quite conceive of a totally homeless God. So where one structure has been torn down, another is being built... with Jesus the cornerstone. I’ll repeat those verses: “you are members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

We are called not to build but to BE God’s house. This is a wonderful blessing. For one, it’d be hard to destroy us. We spread out, people join us, we are everywhere. This is important because everything material is fragile. We may not have a foreign army invading and taking a wrecking ball to our church building, but we have fires and floods and things crumbling with age. Take our church buildings away, and, although that would certainly stress us and strain our community, it could never put an end to us.
And we move and change over time… We do not have to remain as we started. If the Gothic-style church building that seats 400 people in long rows of pews doesn’t suit us anymore, we can form a small community that worships in a basement. We are not tied to our buildings – we are only tied to one another.

But it’s a challenge, not necessarily to be God’s house in the abstract, but to be God’s house for one another. Not just to be a temple in which God resides alone, but a temple that other people visit in order to learn about God, to be reminded of God, and to glorify God in praise. The challenge is twofold. One: Can we treat other people as temples in which God resides… can we approach them with humility and respect… can we be open to whatever revelation from God may come through them? We need to really honor one another if we are to meet God there.
And Two: can we remember that other people come to us in the same way? No matter how trivial our encounter, it may be the only way they encounter God today. In our good deeds, we are to express God’s wonderful love, and in our less than good deeds, we are to embody God’s gracious forgiveness. This is a tall order but also a great privilege. We are the walls that shelter and protect one another. We sculpted and painted in beautiful and different ways, to reflect God’s glory. And we hold so many memories… the stories of God and God’s people, the stories of our own experiences.

We need to be God’s house for one another. We have been reminded especially strongly this week of our need for safety and shelter. Homes across the country are being devastated by fire and flood. Neither our houses nor our church buildings are safe from these dangers. Neither are they safe from violence. Our schools are safe, our airports are not safe, and even our movie theaters are not safe.

We need to build up the walls of God’s house. They are not stone and wood, but you can still touch them. A hand held, a shoulder to lean on, a casserole delivered in a time of crisis. We are the walls of God’s house. And this is what we do. We shelter one another. We protect one another from the storm outside. We give our best art, and music, and any offering we can give, to encourage one another and to tell of the glory of God. We are building up the walls of God’s house. May it be so.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Livestreaming General Assembly

Warning: Presbygeekery about to commence. Abandon ship ye polity-haters.
I swore I was a polity addict, but when push came to unemployment this year, I decided a summer job for 10 weeks was more important than attending General Assembly for 1. Some day I will have a job that sends me or at least excuses me to attend such festivals of relationality and Robert's Rules, but the guys at the air conditioning manufacturer where I am temping didn't seem to consider it work-related. harrumph.
But while they may not be related, GA and temping are compatible... BECAUSE, for most of the 8 hour day I'm generally waiting for phones to ring or for someone to ask me to do an errand. Thus, the livestream addiction was born. General Assembly broadcasted all the plenaries live, and with the addition of, twitter, and the various news sources I managed to keep a pretty close connection all week long.

What did I think of it? I had to pinch myself and remind myself that good things happen at GA regardless of votes, because most of the big votes moved in the opposite direction from my hopes and dreams. Divestment was struck down, gay marriage was denied, and many things were denied because of funds... that is to say, the assembly tended to be both socially and fiscally conservative. I also had to pinch myself when anti-choice issues were raised by conservatives yet AGAIN, notwithstanding decades of Presbyterian history supporting women's reproductive rights. But if I were in the opposite kind of boat I probably would do the same for gay rights... and that is what we will do, raising the issue year after year as a faithful practice of engagement. I do hope it is not many more years before gay marriages are allowed. The hard thing is to believe that the arc is still slowly swinging toward justice, even though it was stopped in its tracks.

Divestment: This issue really rankles me. The Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pensions and all those people that take care of large sums of money have tried to engage Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard regarding their business in Israel and Palestine, specifically regarding the use of their products to further the occupation of Palestinian territories. By agreeing to do business in Israel, Caterpillar indirectly demolishes the homes of innocent Palestinians, and in the rubble, Motorola and HP indirectly construct the technological walls which block freedom of movement even in local neighborhoods. Yes, it's indirect -- BUT THEY PROFIT FROM THIS USE OF THEIR EQUIPMENT. Our Presbyterian money-people tried to engage them on these issues and were ignored. We have sent stern letters, etc. The only remaining option, if we want to impress on them the gravity of our concern for the Palestinian people and our disapproval of their profitmaking on non-peaceful measures, the ONLY remaining option is to divest.

PC(USA) failed to do so by only 2 votes out of 660. Not surprising considering how heavily they had been lobbied (commissioners were offered free trips to Israel in an attempt to sway them) and how they had been threatened, as if the respect of the entire Jewish community rested on the results of this vote. Believe it or not, "Jews" are about as united as "Presbyterians," generally speaking, which is to say, they disagree sometimes too. Make some friends with the Jewish Voice for Peace folks and you'll learn they are as vehemently opposed to the Palestinian occupation as anyone could be.

So, church, we haven't divested. We did agree to boycott products MADE in the occupied territories (Ahava cosmetics and King Solomon dates... man, boycotting rare items is pretty darn easy). And we decided to INVEST in peaceful pursuits in the area.
Pause for ironic silence.
Have fun investing, people. Maybe by the next general assembly we'll understand why investing doesn't work. Invest in an olive oil company, and watch the olive orchard get seized because of "improper permitting." Invest in a hand-craft company, and watch your precious investment get buried under rubble pushed down to build homes for Israeli settlers. 94% of building proposals submitted by Palestinians are rejected, while Israelis have no such problem. Invest in a company that can't build a shop, and send them materials that will be blockaded and never arrive. Have fun trying.

If, like me, you despair of that task, jump on over and join the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction). If boycotting Ahava cosmetics doesn't hit close enough to home, boycott all products made in Israel. Those of us who do not regularly buy Caterpillar equipment can turn away from Motorola and HP. I have an HP printer and am going to commit to buying those ghetto non-HP ink cartridges until the day I replace the printer. Make it real. Israeli cous-cous in Trader Joe's is the other item I will avoid, but SODASTREAM is on the list in case you were looking at a big purchase, and you could spend all day reading more information here:

And to put a positive spin on things... the Church refused to add funding to an HIV/AIDS competency program at Johnson C Smith Theological Seminary. It would have been pennies per person, but it would have added up. So if you disagree with the church's refusal to fund, go over here and donate your pennies (or dollars, if you want to pay someone else's fair share too). Designate it!

Thus ends my General Assembly roundup at least for now. But next GA I am going to remember how much I love these crazy contentious assemblies, and I am going to do my darndest to be there. Also, I'm going to make BINGO cards.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Sometimes I don't know whether I'm reading ancient medical theory, or current politics. In both, women are seen as essentially a uterus, and valued for their childbearing properties. LOVE THAT!

The differences: in ancient texts, doctors were more concerned with the pregnant mother's life than the embryo's, which isn't the case in America anymore, now that doctors are trying to withhold information about life-threatening illnesses during pregnancy if treatment would necessitate abortion.
The issue back then was not the holy Sanctity of Life but the father's property: a potentially boy-producing woman was worth more than a baby of unknown gender who might or might not survive. The Hippocratics didn't bother to treat babies often. Then again, all the abortion methods they knew were as dangerous as a coathanger, so the prohibition against abortion was really also a case of not killing the mother.
Also, here's a fun difference. In ancient medical texts, women who did not have babies frequently enough (i.e. were not subject to husbands) were subject to all kinds of illnesses, hysteria for one, but also virilization i.e. TURNING INTO MEN which was potentially fatal. I don't think we believe that nowadays, but things are changing so fast I'm not sure.
Consider the following Hippocratic text:

In Abdera, PhaĆ«thusa the wife of Pytheas, who kept at home, having born children in the preceding time, when her husband was exiled stopped menstruating for a long time. Afterwards pains and reddening in the joints. When that happened her body was masculinized and grew hairy all over, she grew a beard, her voice became harsh, and though we did everything we could to bring forth menses they did not come, but she died after surviving a short time. The same thing happened to Nanno, Gorgippus’ wife, in Thasos. All the physicians I met thought that there was one hope of feminizing her, if normal menstruation occurred. But in her case, too, it was not possible, though we did everything, but she died quickly. (epidemics 6.8.30).

SO, gentle readers, what is going on in the early church is that there were all these "widows who were not really widows" i.e. they were celibate, single women, seeking to live like the widows did, with privileges of going out of the house and even (gasp) teaching. The risk that they would turn into men was running high. For one, they were acting like men, even if they didn't go so far as Thecla (see 2:40) to actually dress like men. GENDERBENDERS! SCANDAL! So the author of 1 Timothy wants to shut them up and turn them back into obedient wives, so he prescribes salvation by childbearing.

I'm really happy that I live in the modern world and not in the ancient, because with irregular menstruation throughout my teenage years, I certainly would have been "cured" of this "malady" by an early marriage and swift entry into motherhood. I would probably have five kids already, the oldest ready to be married herself. And that's not my choice, I'd rather read and write and preach and all kinds of other intellectual pursuits formerly reserved for men. I'm happy to live in the modern world... I just can't wait until the rest of my country catches up to the times.

Monday, April 2, 2012

How to write a thesis

For a year I tried to write a thesis while I had a job, and I did about a minute of thesis work a day. Losing that job meant winning the thesis, which is now my sole delight both day and night and so I spend most of my time thinking up new ways to motivate myself.
My topic is (of course) every woman's favorite Bible verse, "She shall be saved by childbearing" from the wonderful 1st epistle to Timothy. I'm looking at childbirth through ancient medical texts, which means I get to read about a lot of menstrual blood and bile and phlegm and primitive means of contraception (jump up and down seven times after intercourse, then sneeze). Fun stuff, I tell you. MOTIVATION IS KEY. So here are the top ten motivating methods, tested and tried, they work.

1) Give yourself all day (duh)

2) Don't give yourself all day!! Within the constraints of actually giving yourself all day, you have to convince yourself you don't have all day. Set deadlines. As much as I hate 2-hour parking limits, they work wonderfully because you simply must WORK FASTER before you have to leave, and it's not some makebelieve deadline, you're actually threatened by Lovely Rita Meter Maid who is going to fine you an arm and a leg, and it would be hard to write your thesis without your arm.

3) Along the lines of the above. Make a pie and put it in the oven and you have to get an hour's worth of work done before you're allowed to get up and get the pie, and if you work too slowly the pie will burn.

4) Uninstall Angry Birds.

5) Make a list of all the pieces you can work on without using the internet, and leave your laptop at home.

6) Leave facebook and blogs and pinterest at home without leaving the laptop at home - use the library of a school you don't attend, because they sure as heck won't let you on the internet there. Or write in a cafe where they charge for internet. Who charges for internet these days??!? Gaylord's on Piedmont, that's who.

7) Hit prime writing velocity by allowing yourself to include phrases such as "the shit hits the fan here" and "THIS IS A (*#&@)*ing STUPID IDEA but they believed it" and promise to edit them out later.

8) Don't try to write for more than four hours at a time. Take a nice long break, and a nap. Then write from midnight to 2 AM and sleep in the next morning, you can do that because Thesis is your only master, and Thesis knows no curfew.

9) By now you probably need to uninstall Angry Birds again.

10) Create motivational boards on Pinterest such as: when i finish my thesis i shall reward myself by cooking and eating absolutely everything that looks good on pinterest and tell yourself stories about how wonderful life will be when Thesis is finished, filed, published, on the NYT bestseller list, going on book tours, etc, maybe Jon Stewart will want to interview me.... SNAP! GET BACK TO WORK!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Giving Up Martyrdom For Lent

I think I'm well-qualified to discuss the topic of martyrdom. First off, I was a bloody St Perpetua for Halloween a couple of years ago. But then, my qualifications racked up during the 2012 Tour of Light, whereon I did two or three jobs at once plus parenting 3 girls at night, adding up to duties about 25/7. I accomplished this by depriving myself of sleep, of course, as well as eliminating any other thing you might call personal time, such as bathroom breaks or reading magazines or looking in the mirror. I carried around 3 copies of the New Yorker (my favorite) for weeks and read about a page. And I had a dream one night that I was trying to breast-feed 9 babies at once. SO, sometime near the end of the tour it was Ash Wednesday and I didn't have time to go to church of course, but I decided to give up martyrdom for Lent.

Instructions for this spiritual practice:
1) Eat chocolate every day. And you have to like it. This means no semi-chocolate like Reeses or KitKat, but pure yummy chocolate. You can't eat it on the run, or while doing other things. Sit down for a whole thirty seconds and let a piece of chocolate melt on your tongue. (This practice would also apply to good strawberries, or ice cream, or anything else that physiologically cues your body "all is well" and gets you out of fight-or-flight mode).

2) Moisturizer every day. YES it takes a darn long time to take care of one's body. No excuses. Love your scratchy old elbows. Appreciate them. Long baths and washing your hair and taking time to actually cut your toenails also fit in this category.

3) Makeup every day. It feels like penitential ashes as I smudge it on. I hate it, it takes SO long, and besides who cares? Even if I'm not going out that day, though, I have to make myself look good. By skipping the saggy sweatshirts and the self-deprecatingly ripped jeans, I'm doing something against that sinful habit of self-neglect.

4) In true Lenten fasting tradition, you get to skip all these rules on Sunday and do whatever the heck you want to do, even if that means wearing PJs to church. Or not going to church, if that's what your soul really needs.

Friday, January 13, 2012

follow-up to the Ukiah performance

The students from Ukiah wrote us some of their reflections. My favorite: 

   I was at the high point of euphoria. They felt like both friends and family. I was so happy and proud. Someone in the audience kept saying they were having goosebumps during the performance. Awesome.
   They all danced with their heart. I connected with them through their performances. I was amazed that they still keep their traditions.
  I felt they really cherished what they have, so they really appreciated everything they learned. One girl was writing down every Chinese phrase we taught her while talking or walking. It seemed that the knowledge was precious to them. 
  I was really eager to see them. They were really happy to see us. Their performances were really lively. Their dance is gift for us. Their happiness is our happiness. I was happy we were able to give them something equal
  I thought it was cool. There is no difference between them and us. Their dance was really amazing. I want to learn the dance. I felt there is no distance (of strangers) between Ugandans and our students.
   We learned so much about how joyful and carefree their culture is, how full of life and positive. Before, we only learned about the depressing part, the suffering and loss and poverty. But it seemed like they could forget everything when they danced, and just be in the moment. We should learn from them to forget the negative past experiences and enjoy the present.