Monday, March 30, 2009

Mental Health First Aid

So today I got trained (i guess i might be certified, of a sort, inasmuchas i got a certificate) in "mental health first aid" which is what to do when you're the first person a mentally ill person contacts (or if you contact them). Very useful for future clergy. Avert disaster, listen compassionately, give information and support, and steer them toward appropriate help. Anxiety, depression and suicide, psychoses, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-injury. All in two day's work!
This blew my mind: only about 3% of the population gets diagnosable eating disorders (do you mean every family doesn't have one of them, or three, or seven??)
Also: schizophrenia was the only disorder mentioned in two days of training that I don't have real experience with (i mean close contact in family or friends).
Hi, my name's Talitha, and I'm mixed up in a lot of peoples' proverbial shit.
A few years back when I complained about how many crazy/addicted/etc folks were coming to confide in me, my wise little sister snapped back at me "God's sending them to you!" and I meekly shut up and kept counseling. Which I suppose I will continue doing, now with more training. But seriously, folks, these are not fun things to be well-educated in. Why couldn't I be an amateur expert in, say, fashion design?

Alabaster Sermon

READ FIRST: the scripture lesson is from Matthew 26:6-16

My sermon: with thanks to the worship committee, because we really did co-plan this worship service and the sermon was subordinated to the rest of the worship, especially the offering.

This story, of the woman who anointed Jesus with ointment from an alabaster jar, is a very important time in the Gospel story. We’re reading it out of order here, because chronologically it happens after Jesus actually entered into Jerusalem on a donkey, with palms and people shouting... Next week, on Palm Sunday, we will read that story, and if we were reading along with the gospel, we would find that this story happens sometime in the early part of Holy Week. So, when this happens, Jesus is getting into greater and greater danger. He has marched into the temple in Jerusalem and overturned the tables and pronounced doom on the Pharisees and scribes. People are looking out for a way to kill him. But also during this week, whenever Jesus is alone with his disciples, he has gathered them in to give them his very last lessons. He tells them parables about the end of the world and about how to be good leaders until the end comes.

Unfortunately, even though Jesus is teaching them privately, the disciples are getting farther and farther away from understanding. They never were the brightest bunch of disciples, but it gets worse now. By the end of the week, Judas betrays Jesus, and Peter denies him, and by the time Jesus is dead and buried ALL TWELVE of them have deserted him and run away. They don’t get it. When Jesus got arrested, Peter took out a sword and cut someone’s ear off – as if protecting Jesus so that he could break free. Peter probably thought that it was the moment of truth, when Jesus would finally show all his power and set up his kingship on earth, once and for all. In our Bible Study we even discussed if Judas thought he was doing the right thing when he made arrangements to hand Jesus over to the authorities. Maybe he thought that Jesus was ready for a big confrontation, and that the time was right for everyone to find out who Jesus really was – the king of Israel.

Can you imagine how surprised they must have been, later in the week, to find out that Jesus was NOT going to call up an army of angels and establish his kingdom right away?
And at the beginning of that week, can you imagine how lonely Jesus must have felt, as he realized his twelve closest followers STILL had no idea what was going to happen in Jerusalem that week?

So that’s the bad news: Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it.

The good news in this story, though, is that SOMEBODY understood. Somebody realized that Jesus was not a military king, that folks were out to get him, and that Jesus would not fight back when he was arrested, and that the only place this kind of behavior could lead him was into prison or to his death. Somebody saw that Jesus was the Lamb of God headed meekly for the slaughter.
This somebody has no name. John identifies her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, but Matthew never says anything about them. And Luke talks about another woman, a sinner, who pours ointment on Jesus’ FEET, but that might be a different person. We really don’t know who she is.

But we do know that she arrives on the scene just as the twelve disciples start turning tail. She is bold – she enters a gathering of men, apparently uninvited – and she is devoted. She is making it clear that she supports Jesus and will follow him even to the death. It’s interesting that she is a woman, and that through the week while the male disciples fall away, the female disciples grow closer to Jesus, and the women are the ones who find the empty tomb. It’s not about who’s male and who’s female – what’s happening is that one group is straying away while another comes closes during this time of conflict. This woman, who brings the alabaster jar, has a little confrontation with the disciples, although she never says a word to them. By her action she shows them that she understands what they don’t. She knows that Jesus is headed for the grave, not for a royal throne. And she acknowledges this with her whole self – she pours out an offering of perfumed ointment that is costly, extravagant, poetic, and deeply meaningful. It is a beautiful action she does, and Jesus praises her.

But! The disciples object, and they do have a good argument. Anyone who’s ever balanced a budget knows, poetry doesn’t pay the bills. Hungry people cannot make it through the day on prayers and perfume. Jesus had taught his disciples how to generously feed the hungry, and once Jesus even told a rich young man that in order to have treasure in heaven, he had to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. The disciples had been with Jesus for all of this, and they had learned to be efficient careful with money, and certainly never to waste it. Now Jesus seems to change his whole mind by accepting a useless and expensive gift like this. Her action is not efficient or cost-effective at all!

My sister and I went through an argument a little like this, when we were serving an orphanage in Uganda. We had raised some money to spend on the children, and we had made a decision to ask the older children what they wanted or needed. Most asked for pencils, shoes, underwear, and other sensible things. One girl asked us for a pillow. Now this was a rather efficient orphanage. They spent money on the basics: food, soap, medicine, blankets, school supplies. None of the kids had real pillows, but some had pillowcases and they’d bunch up a sweater in it and sleep on that. My sister took one look at that request and said “no way. That’s a waste. Notebooks, pencils, books, books, books – no way does she actually NEED a pillow. We can’t afford it.” But I fought back and said “I want us to be extravagant and just really show her that she’s loved.” And when we did decide to buy that pillow, and then lined it up with all the other sensible things we were giving out, we both felt a little bit sheepish, because it looked really out of place. It was a really different kind of gift. It wasn’t useful. It was extravagant. (but lest you think I’m an easy spender, let me tell you that my sister and I switched roles when it came to the argument over whether or not to give the little kids candy. I got really strict on that one.)

Many of us in this church would side with the disciples – at least financially. If you were running an orphanage, or a church, or whatever, you would run a tight ship and never waste a thing. You’d shop at the secondhand store even if you could afford to buy new, and you’d make exactly enough food to go around. This perfume would be seen for what it is – a luxury item, a waste, and who needs that??

But when the right time comes, let me just point out that some of you here in the church really are extravagant with giving money. You give generously beyond what you are asked. The capital campaign can testify to that, right Dale?

Others of you might claim not to be extravagant. And financially you might be correct. But there is more than just one way to be extravagant. For example, taking on foster children is an extravagant expression of your time. Foster parents devote lots of time and lots of love to children, even when the children might be taken away at any time. And some of you give non-financial gifts to others. A hand-knit prayer shawl is a very extravagant gift. Sure, it is useful, to keep someone’s lap warm, but it is more important than its use. At the core, a prayer shawl is an generous outpouring of hours and hours of prayerful knitting. If we were more efficient we’d buy a blanket, for less money than we spent on the yarn, and then we could spend those hours working instead of wasting our time slowly knitting. But that’s not what the gift is about. When we give, our generosity does not have to meet efficiency standards. And even if we generally live a very efficient life, it can be a gift to temporarily drop our efficiency standards, to make time for someone in need.

You don’t need to be rich to be generous. And you don’t need to waste your money to be extravagant. My time in Uganda was a very rich time of giving and receiving, so I’m going to tell you another story from there. This time I was on the receiving end. It was my last day out of a five month stay there, and I was busy to the gills all day long with packing up, cleaning my room, organizing the projects I hadn’t had time to finish. The school had called for a parent-teacher meeting all day long, so I thought I was lucky and I’d just skip off and do my own stuff alone. But they called me in and made me sit at the “high table” – meaning everyone was watching me and I couldn’t so much as fidget – for the whole morning while they gave speeches in Luganda and I barely understood what went on. Then at the end of the day they formed a receiving line, and the parents – or uncles, brothers, grandmothers, or whoever served as “guardian” for the orphan children – all wanted to thank me for what I’d done to help the children. None of them were rich. Most of them were subsistence farmers, and many were single parents, taking care of large families at home, or even taking in other orphans from the neighborhood as well. They lined up and gave me little baggies of peanuts, some popcorn kernels, or a basket of eggs, or some avocados they had grown, and some of them had made straw mats for me, weaving them completely by hand. These small, hand-made gifts were so expressive to me. Jesus was right with what he said about the widow who put two pennies in the offering – that she actually gave MORE than all the doctors and lawyers who donated large amounts of money in.

But don’t be mistaken. I’m not here to argue about perfume or pillows or prayer shawls or orphanages, or on how we choose to waste our money or waste our time. Whatever your philosophy on waste is, this passage is not just about extravagant giving. Money is a touchy subject, as we all know, and it often brings to light what is hidden underneath the surface.

And here, what it brings to light is the question: Who do you say that Jesus is? And THIS is the real gift that the woman gave. At a time when the twelve disciples were getting pushed and pressured, and probably getting confused, and beginning to fall away throughout this week, SHE stood up boldly and said with her action: I know that you are the REAL king even though you are going to die, and I support you in that. This is the gift she gave, and this is a gift we can give, by confessing with our words and with our lives who Jesus is to us. Whatever you do, at work, at home, or out in the community, you can make into an offering that states clearly who Jesus is for you. He is the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace, the king of heaven, our companion and friend – he is many things to many people. He also has told us that whatever we do to “the least of these” we do to him.

Today we will take a special offering. Instead of placing things in the basket we will come up and put our gifts on the table in the center of this sanctuary. This table is the center of our worship; it is where we give our gifts to God and where we receive from God in the Lord’s Supper.
Some of you will give generously of your money. I don’t mean that you will give a lot, but that you will give with a glad and generous heart.
Some of you may not feel that you can give much money, or even any money, right now. Remember, this is not what it’s all about. Someone in this church told me about times when he had no money to give, and when the offering plate came around he would hold the plate in both his hands and pray a prayer to dedicate himSELF to God instead. And any time when you don’t have a check to put in the offering plate, you are welcome to just reach out and touch the plate as it passes you by, or to take it in your hands and put a prayer on it.

Today let’s put whatever we have on the table, whatever can express our love and gratitude to Jesus and to the church, which is Christ’s body. No one is too poor, too weak, too sick, or too ANYTHING to have something to offer. If you’re unemployed, you can take that free time that you’re probably not too happy about having, and dedicate it to God. If you’re sick, you can take the hours you spend being miserable in bed, and give those hours to God asking God to help you through. You can offer your prayers. Or on the other side of things, if you have no free time at all, you can offer your work, your busy-ness, to God.

You can do this by writing something down and putting it on the table. If you don’t want other people to read it then simply fold it up. If you have an object that can represent your gift, please feel free to bring that up too. And the children are doing the same thing downstairs, so right after we ordain and install our new officers we will call the children up to join us in the offering.

Let us pray:
God of all, you treasure each one of us and see the best in us. Help us to give our best to you. Give us assurance in our hearts that we are worthy and that you accept our gifts. Help us to proclaim with our lips and with our lives the wonderful name of your Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. AMEN.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I am so dazzled by the community here. It's amazing -- everyone knows everyone else! We had a dinner at our church last night, with what seemed to me a good portion of strangers, but our designated welcomer told me of all the people who came in, only two were strangers to her.

In seminary, in university Christian fellowship, as a camp counselor -- over and over I've been taught to "create community." We do this with get-to-know-you bingo games, with "trust falls," ropes courses, deep confessional discussions, prayer partners, etc. We work hard to build our connectionality. This is one missional expression of who the church is called to be - community-builders. In an urban setting or in immigrant populations it is crucial because our sense of community is a fragmented, broken scrap of what it "used to be" in the golden days before we relocated ten times.

Tonight after a show I was talking to a friend and I brought this up -- how for all the "community building" skills I've learned, there is much more to learn here on the ground from how people already interact -- Christian or no. The community seems intact here; it hasn't been broken apart; they still know one another.
At this point I was interrupted by another: "oh, come work with me a shift in the E.R. You'll see plenty of brokenness, it's just hidden."
With those words I was humbled and realized again what I learned in Uganda: newbies always romanticize their surroundings. We see the positive, especially the positive that is foreign to us, and leave the negative unseen. In Uganda I did it, and then I got better, and I watched other people do it. I can't tell you how sick I got of short term "mission" "workers" spewing off romantic gibberish about "how happy the orphans were" and how hospitable everyone had been to them.

Yes. That happens. We get dazzled. It happens regularly, and is diagnosable as "travel magic." We take forty gigs of photos on our extraordinary two-week mission vacation because we feel "more alive" and then document the rest of the mundane year with a dozen photos and some newspaper clippings. That's my photo album, at least, and I bet it's not the only one of its kind.

So I confess I've been here for two months now and I'm still romanticizing my surroundings. The girl who grew up in the big city pointing and laughing at tourists has committed the crime of cultural naiveté. But on the bright side, "travel magic" tends to wear off at the three month mark, so I'm getting closer! Stick with me, folks, I'm busy learning...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You'd think I'd get tired of fundraising

I am NOT TIRED of fundraising even though i've sent oh, a couple hundred facebook messages in the past few days. My kids in Uganda - both the group in the orphanage I served, and the tour performers I traveled with - are so dear to my heart, and I can't think about them without starting to feel ferociously protective. They are great kids, growing out of childhoods of squalor and desperation into mature, confident, educated and healthy young adults. And if I can't be there to check that they polished their shoes, washed their hands before they ate, and understood their homework, at least I can send messages and emails, and post links and blogs, and ALL THIS TIRESOME BUSINESS online -- to make sure that there's money for food this month (Africa never really got out of that "food crisis" that got so much press before our economy tanked -- we just stopped hearing about it in the media) and that their overworked teachers get at least a fair salary.

ahem. that said: there is a fundraising challenge on, and the organization with the most donors ($10 is all we ask from each!) will be awarded $10,000. We are in fourth place and it's growing exponentially. Please, gentle readers, consider a small donation to the cause:
Donate Now

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Centrality of Sacraments!

oh people, people, people!!!! I am SO so SO happy right now that I am not the pope. Not that there's a risk of it, really, me being female and all, but what I mean is -- I'm so happy that I'm not a top-down leader who tells people (in a very efficient manner) what to do or how to do it or what to believe about it. I'm very happy that I'm a powerless little intern in a bulky, inconvenient, slow-to-change committee-based church structure. And this is why:

Remember when (not too long ago) I went into fits over the Lord's Supper and how it needs to be celebrated more deeply and more reverently and more often? If I were pope (or bishop, or The Boss) I would have clamped down and instituted more Lord's Suppers.
But since I couldn't, I didn't, and instead I started a Bible Study where I ask people questions and let them talk.
Today was class #3 on the Lord's Supper. We've discussed social issues that show up when we eat together, and we've discussed the Body of Christ / body which is for you / flesh of Christ (what is it? transubstantiation?) and today we discussed Passover and remembrance. And with barely three hours of discussion behind us, the class spontaneously started saying things like "The Lord's Supper needs to be more central in our church" and "We should celebrate it every week" or "we should save it for more special occasions" or "we should do it differently" or "we should do it the same every time" and even (!) "we should have an entire meal with it."
I.E. PEOPLE STARTED CARING or at least SHOWING that they have always cared.

I LOVE communal process.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I love my Presbyterians

I was all mad this afternoon, because due to a tight schedule I was not able to do EVERYTHING i wanted to do. I got to watch 95% of the MODcast but I had to leave during the praying because the church's Trustees Committee was meeting with the Eastern Oregon Presbytery Trustees Committee (can you believe all these Presbyterians had better things to do than watch our moderator talk to a computer?) (also, try imagining how guilty a Calvinist would feel about signing off just as the prayers begin).
So I arrived at our joint Trustee meeting huffy and a little resentful. Besides, this meeting was a resentful business to begin with. The Lostine church people arrived at Presbytery last month with a request for a loan so that we can finish the construction of a handicapped-accessible ramp. The paperwork had not gone through all the right venues, and we were publically chastized on the floor of Presbytery. Harrumph.
But oh, goodness, did my attitude change. It was great to hear our church people talk about the project, and how we were consistently under-running our budget by 50% due to the great amount of volunteer input (we have a friendly contractor who will consent to direct volunteer laborers). Then, it was great to hear the positivity in our financial reports. This church is not ailing, at all, and seems to be up-swinging. The county is less affected by the current recession than other counties (possibly because we never really emerged from the last recession, and people got used to being unemployed)
THEN the Presbytery Trustee Chair asked two particularly heart-opening questions and my attitude shift was solidified:

1) How does this construction project aid your mission as a church?
(YES, WE BELIEVE that handicapped accessibility is a ministry, and that inclusivity is a virtue, and that the elderly deserve to attend our chili feeds just as much as any other community member to whom we are reaching out.) (it's just good to re-state, re-claim, and AFFIRM that belief)

2) How can Eastern Oregon Presbytery support or help your church in your mission?
(Pray for us, and talk to us, and help us get out of ourselves -- to encounter outsiders, get out of our county, re-vitalize our own spirits by meeting yours -- Come visit us! as you have done -- encourage us to go to conventions -- connect us)

AGHH i just LOVE seeing the rubber hit the road. It might seem stupid, ridiculously encumbered, circuitious of us to have committees overseeing committees (if we were a Catholic congregation, the bishop would just rubber-stamp the deal and get us the money) - but then we get together! and the prayers and connections and support and communal discernment process just SHOW us that God is with us, and in us, and among us, and between us.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

expanding vocabulary

Last night in a storm I learned a new phrase. Old as the hills, actually, but new to me.
"slicker than snot"
as in: "careful driving, those roads are slicker than snot."
vivid, ain't it?

For fun

Hi folks
in case you are worried -- i really am having scads of fun here, not just splitting firewood and feeding the stove.
Take last night. I went to the Blue Mountain Old Time Fiddle Show. The County Fair Board served a dinner ahead of time. June signed herself up to play and we rehearsed in the "powder room" (yes they called it a powder room). The evening then proceeded in an orderly fashion, with a jovial MC and a lot of guitar accompaniment. It was all anchored down by a few family members and old friends who passed instruments around on stage. Each fiddler would come up and play their three tunes, and someone would play the bass, and all the others would be on guitar or mandolin. Everyone knew all the tunes. June and I broke the pattern, and let the others leave the stage while we played Irish tunes with minor chords in them, but everything else was G, D, or A. Some entries stretched the definition of "fiddler," but no one fussed. An ancient woman played three waltzes in a row on an out-of-tune piano. An elderly "hall of famer" had died recently and was buried that morning, "or else," they said, "he'd'a been here playing tonight." My favorite performers were the Prairie Creek Girls, three teenagers in matching plaid shirts who played Dancing Bear and Little Brown Jug in nice tight harmonies.

Speaking of really cool teenagers, a few weeks ago my inner teenage geek was ECSTATIC to find a monthly square dance at the "Odd Fellows Hall" in the next town over. Over the course of that night I jumped in and out of the band, trading with the other bassist, and next time I'll call some dances too. Half of the band members were younger than thirty, and the dancers were even younger by far. I have a deep (primal) memory of being a teenager at square dances populated by old tired people, longing for more of my peers to come dance (but they were too "cool" for that.)

Also. I heard some girls from Future Farmers of America give a presentation on the re-introduction of wolves to Oregon (posing as a debate between environmentalists and ranchers). This was part of The Big Read (community reading programs) which, here, focused on The Call of the Wild this year, along with other Jack London or wolfish literature.
Full Disclosure: being from, ahem, New York City, I had never encountered FFA before, and when I first heard of them I thought it was a joke. No, these kids are good at what they do, and they speak publically with great confidence and expertise.

All in all, this wouldn't be a terrible place to be a teenager!

Monday, March 2, 2009

This morning I learned...

okay, so on Monday mornings (time-honored and traditional pastors' day off) I take a yoga class, in a farmhouse. It's actually one of the prettiest yoga studios i've been in -- curtained off from the rest of the building, and with enormous picture windows looking out on fields and hills.
Annnnnd before class the ladies were all chatting. So, I learned: a cow can get "beached" like a whale, if she falls upside down in a ditch. If she's very heavily pregnant she doesn't even need a ditch, she can get beached in a little hollow in the ground. And she'll die from her organs compressing her lungs if you don't hook a tractor to her back legs and pull her out.
THESE ARE IMPORTANT THINGS THEY DON'T TEACH YOU IN SEMINARY. Field ed in a field was the best idea ever.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The joyful feast

Today in church we had a minor mishap, of the sort that shouldn’t really trip me up – the pastor missed a hymn that was in the bulletin, and by the time the mistake was caught it was too late to go back and sing it (we were running quite behind-schedule, and it wouldn’t have made sense to sing a “gathering” song as the last element of worship).
Minor mishap. Sad, but not too much can be done – (in another person’s world). But I don’t live in that reasonable world, and missing the song TOTALLY bent me out of shape. I grieved for it like a child.
So here I am now, two hours later still hung up about it, and I want to make this point for myself and for you: The Lord’s Supper is central.
And I can’t force a congregation to see it like I do, but if I keep making this point in a strong, joyous, non-anxious manner in Bible Studies, my congregation may come to understand it, and might even care about it, and might start focusing so heavily on the LS that such mistakes won’t happen.

Some congregations celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly. Some denominations are wont to do it daily when they can. I’ve occasionally triple-dipped when I could go to the Episcopalian evening liturgy on Thursday nights, Presbyterian chapel Friday morning, and any old church on the first Sunday of a month. In Uganda I used to kneel in the early mornings with scads of small children in a Catholic mass of which I understood snippets, simple bits of the foreign language and a few particularly holy words they’d borrowed straight from the (pre-Vatican II) Latin Mass. Obviously I wasn’t getting much of the comprehensible worship experience. But I was being fed, and it sustained me well.

Jesus broke bread and said – whenever you “do this” remember me, and it’s too bad we invented sliced bread because breaking a bread loaf apart is no longer part of the daily experience. But even before this innovation, we had separated it, so that “doing this” was the churchstuff, with token small bits of bread and wine (because feeding everyone would be so expensive and complicated!!!) and “eating” was private life.

* it’s fully grace. We don’t deserve it, we get it anyway. You can never say that enough.
* we are incomplete, hungering, hungry people and God has something that could fill us if we’d stop talking long enough to open our mouths and accept it. We could be nourished, and strong, and formed into the likeness of Christ.
* we are re-member-ing the body – re-constituting the Body of Christ as we are members of it, and we must act like a living, breathing, eating body to do so.

So this whole fit of passion about the LS I’m having now is more than convenient – seeing as on Wednesday I begin a series of Bible Studies on precisely that, which will last until the crowning event of Maundy Thursday, and which will include soup dinners. We will eat, and talk about eating, and remember Jesus ONCE A WEEK for 40 days. I’m pleased as punch about this arrangement, and suddenly a little intimidated by the enormity of my task.

by marty haugen, STF 2236