Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another brilliant solution to life's persistent problems

The problem, people: churches all worship at the same TIME.

argal: we can never go visit other churches.
Sometimes we get a brief opportunity in the summer, when one church goes to an early service, and another doesn't, or if you church has "special services" or retreats or whatever that you can escape. Sometimes churches get big, and go to multiple services. But if (like me) you prefer small churches to big ones, and you've committed yourself to preaching, singing, teaching, greeting, or just BEING at a particular church -- there goes your ability to be friendly or ecumenical on Sunday mornings. Believe me, it's a problem, because you also don't find out about the wonderful things other churches are doing, or the problems they're running into (and maybe you could help), or encounter their faith and have it test and try and strengthen your own.

okay confess: the real problem is that I have a church-crush. As loyally and deeply in love as I am with the church I serve, there IS this other church in town, full of young exciting fun people, and they DO really kick butt at singing in harmony, boldly, loudly, and on some of my favorite sacred harp tunes, and, well, I'm a little smitten.

Now the solution to this problem. I've thought long and hard about it for about ten minutes and I know what we should do. I may not be the most pragmatically-gifted person around but I sure can whip up a crazy vision.
We should have church on a rotating schedule. You can still observe a day of rest, or hiking, or gardening, or whatever it is you do to reconnect in a special way one day of the week, but this is how it will go: Our church will worship on Monday mornings, and you will worship on Tuesday afternoons, and someone else will take Wednesday evenings, and between the gazillion churches (and house-churches and fellowships and what have you) in this county, we can all go around worshiping until our voices fail in exhaustion. I'd still have a home-church, but I'd know I'd be welcome to go drop in and participate with you. This would also solve the problem of pastoral burnout (because as it is on Sundays, we never get to just relax and be led in worship, we're always leading and working) and it would help us in our ecumenical efforts to be Church instead of churches.

Okay people, for serious -- it's Pentecost today. This is a holiday that is all about breaking down the barriers of language and tribe. I was very happy to participate in an evening hymnsing that united several churches this evening. But we should do it more than every blue moon (every "fifth Sunday" as it happens to be). And I think sharing more bread, more wine, more songs, more TIME with each other is the direction to go.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Farmer Talitha has some opinions

What I know about agriculture can probably be retold in about ten minutes, total.
I know I hate thistles, and that they (and most other weeds) must be pulled out by the roots or they come right back.
I know how to tell if something like kale or rhubarb is about to go to seed, because they shoot up these long tall central stalks and you have to cut the stalks off if you want the leaves to continue growing.
I know tomatoes die if they freeze, but certain other plants can make it through a frosty night or two. I know you have to read seed packets to find out whether the seeds in question are frost-friendly or not.
Et Cetera. Simple stuff. To tell you the truth I'm not sure if the yellow leaves on my potted indigo plants mean they're thirsty or drowning. I did not grow up on a farm, so let's leave it at that.

But once upon a time on a cheap bus from Boston to NYC I met a permaculturist, he was very cute, with a beard and a shaved head, he looked semi-monkish and was very friendly. We were seatmates for the ride and we talked about permaculture because I knew what the word meant (and you can too! it means permanent agriculture - it's an all-encompassing philosophy of methods of mimicking nature in order to create a zero-waste system and utilize every available resource). My Ugandan kids had just started a project thanks to Permaculture Across Borders and I thought (still do think) it was about the best thing since gluten-free bread (j/k).
Anyway, this cute guy taught me one principle that has bugged me to this day. The principle is: if you leave soil open to the sun, it will lose water and nutrients. It will be sterilized by its exposure. Thus, permaculturers spare no effort in mulching their soil. No manicured gardens for them, they heap the mulch on.

At JuneBug's little backyard farm this morning, she and I hoed, planted, mulched. She'd tilled a whole row by machine ahead of time (no I don't know the correct term for the machine, it's in the tractor family) so we had beautiful black dirt facing the sun. As the sun rose and scorched ME, I certainly gave some thought to the scorching of the topsoil. We wondered aloud about the whole process together. Why do we till the earth up? To aerate it, yes, but also to get rid of the weeds. Why are there weeds in the ground? Because we've left this beautiful uncovered OPPORTUNITY and the seeds in the air just can't help but seize it. Because there are more dandelion seeds around than there are squash seeds (where are the squash seeds? the kitchen garbage, are they not?).
In my little mind, happily uncluttered by previous agricultural wisdom, I looked at this process I was involved in, and it looked like surgery. We're slicing open the ground, sterilizing parts of it as it gets sun-exposure, turning it around and around, breaking it up, removing the cancers, putting tubes and screws in place, re-seeding with the things WE want, and sewing it back up again with a nice top layer of mulch.
I don't think surgery is good health care. It's a useful resource and backup plan - yes. But I think ultimately good health care is about the everyday behaviors that create or destroy a body's health.
We're trying our darndest to give Mother Nature's earthy body the loving care it deserves -- so how about some preventative care instead of regularly scheduled surgery?

THIS IS MY VISION and I really think my naivete is fun here -- I just don't know all the "why you can't do it that way" things and so I'm free to imagine --
my vision is that if we understood what plants want and need, what makes them thrive, and even more importantly what makes the SOIL healthy underneath, we wouldn't need to slice it all open, scratch all around, poke at things, and overwork our aching backs in the process. A really good surgery might be needed to set things at the desired equilibrium -- but then stop. Hands off. Let Momma Nature do her thing. Take the seeds out of the kitchen garbage and throw them LIBERALLY - all over the place. Some will get eaten by birds, but they'll scratch up and fertilize the ground in the process.
Restoring Eden that is what I want to do. Reverse the curse.
...You can call me Johnny Squashseed...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

socialization report

Part of this whole internship-in-the-middle-of-nowhere deal is an experiment in LIFE, grand terms, big scheme, wide picture, all the messiness.
The question in point is: living alone -- can I do it?
My life history can't quite settle the question, as I've spent an total of five weeks living alone, count em: 3 weeks between roommates in Prague, and 2 weeks in my aunt's house in Boston while she vacationed. That Is All. On the flip side, I used to live quite literally stacked on top of my sisters in a tiny crowded shared bedroom, and I once did a 6-month tour with twenty some odd Ugandan kids - I got about twenty-four hours alone time during the whole shebang, and they'd barely leave me alone to use the bathroom.
Now it's me knocking around in this big old house, twice the size of the apartment I grew up in. Talking to myself? check... and to my potted plants? check...
Don't get me wrong. I get a lot of socializing in. I go to parties and dances and concerts and all. My bassfriend gets me invited a lot of places. Also I spend a lot of my pastor-time talking to people, visiting them in their houses, chit-chatting before we talk about the important stuff, or maybe sometimes the chit-chat is the important stuff... I get plenty of time with people.
But what I *miss* is none of that. What I miss is cooking together, cleaning together, bugging one another about their choice of music or food or temperature in the shared environment. My potted plants don't talk back about those issues. And as for inviting friends over, well, "wanna fold laundry with me?" isn't the most exciting invitation, for some odd reason.

And this is why I quite joyously accepted a request to work extra hours today, in the sun, in the flowerbeds in front of our church, digging and mulching some new flowers into place, with a constant good-natured banter between the traditional rancher and the hippie flower child and myself on gardening philosophy, color placement, the use of RoundUp, and where all these darn rocks in the flowerbed came from anyway.

I JUST LIKE BEING WITH PEOPLE. I don't care if we're charming and well-dressed or witty and sarcastic or performing in any way for one another -- nor whether we really touch those deep issues or make pastoral progress with someone -- I just want to relax, focus on something else other than that delicate construction of some kind of relationship between us, and just BE with you.

I love it, I miss it, and when I go back to the Better Life of a big contentious covenantal community house I will probably wax poetic while we're washing dishes, and you won't even necessarily listen, but that'll be okay, because I will be very grateful for the little shared things between us, and I will know how rare and precious they could be.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

one more thing

about how awesome my church is...

after the big dinner last night, there were a bunch of churchfolks in the kitchen washing up. And as a dinner guest left, one of them called out an invitation to come to worship some Sunday morning. She hemmed (for just a bit, not long enough to start hawing too) and said, "well, I'm a sinner."
And our WHOLE little kitchen crew piped up and said "oh me too!"

(Good little Calvinists with our total depravity and sola gratia!)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Best Mission Project Ever

At an outreach team meeting earlier this year someone declared that she'd like to feed everyone. As in, the whole town? Or whatever, really, she just had this vision of the church as a place where people went to get fed, no strings attached. She always plants an enormous garden because she likes giving the produce away. This is a step beyond.
Well, we tried once in March. It was fun. We made twice as much food as we needed, though, and the only people who came were directly invited by church members. Not QUITE the expansive vision we'd had in mind. We decided to keep trying, though.

and... TONIGHT
we filled all the tables twice
we ran out of chicken and ran to buy more
we had strangers stop in off the street
And the unobtrusively placed donation basket (all for the food bank) filled up to the tune of the auspicious (and ridiculously high) number $222.21 to which I will add a penny tomorrow for the sake of rhyme.

So there were a few things going to make this "more successful." For one, the people that came on direct invites last time (first degree of separation) came again with others this time (two degrees of separation). For another, someone at the newspaper thinks we're awesome, and wrote a great article last month and placed this month's calendar announcement well and with a photo. People know what it is and aren't afraid to just come in...

I just LOVE it though. I mean, I love people - vague amorphous crowds of them - strangers interacting in a place that is not strange to me. I love providing excuses for people to get together.
And I love entertaining them. With music from John Denver to Cat Stevens to plenty of gospel bluegrass... to Old MacDonald by special request... our four-piece band expanded to six later in the evening before cleanup efforts tore it apart.
I love feasts, they remind me of the feeding of 5,000, or of heaven.
I love the fact that another pastor was there and wants to "steal" this idea for his church too. And my mind went there -- we could have all the churches doing it on a rotating basis -- there could be free meals every Friday night of the year -- I dream big. We could have festive not-quite-Eucharistic meals every week at different places, providing not just food to stretch those tight grocery budgets, but also support to people who need friendship and discussion, and perhaps even a little extra joy where it's needed.

I repeat - Best. Mission Project. Ever!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I am going to be a Tentmaker

The Apostle Paul supported his own missionary efforts by making tents. He was careful not to impose on those he served, even to the point of (as the unsubstantiated legend goes) preaching all day and making tents all night.

Whatever the actual reality of Paul's life, the phrase "tentmaker" has come to be known as nearly synonymous to "part-time pastor." With the other part of your time, you make tents, or raise children (or kids, or lambs I suppose), or clean bathrooms, and otherwise occupy yourself meaningfully in the secular world.

I don't know why everyone doesn't think this is the best idea ever!
For one - you get to share the incredible richness of the job of pastoring. You get to be facilitator, leader, trainer, or whatever, and to push other people to discover the wonder of preaching good news to the poor, binding up the broken-hearted, releasing the captives, and whatever else your church does on a daily basis.
(assuming you have that generosity in your heart and WANT to share this awesome task)
For two - you get to de-burden the church. We're very careful about this when we go on mission trips (we bring our own tools, finance our own work projects, and sometimes even go so far as to eat only our own food) so why not on the home front? Why not give that vote of confidence, "I believe you can do some of this on your own," and free up funds (half a salary worth of funds) for local mission and church development?
(assuming you want to see mission over maintenance)
For three - you get out of your IVORY TOWER for half a day and get to interact with the rest of the folks in the world like other people do.
(assuming you see some value, some respect or self-respect, or some social advantage to having such a status)

Right. I know I have a tendency to overwork and so I'd actually have to listen to those spirituality lessons about self-care if I attempted such a feat. I know also that the stresses of two jobs might not always coincide nicely (getting a light load of work on the secular front during Holy Week, for example), actually, who am I kidding, they'd probably attack one another head-on and I'd be the battleground. But I'm still very attracted.

Finally: APPARENTLY -- according to my sources --
out of 13,615 active pastors in the Presbyterian Church of the USA,
forty two are tentmakers.
FORTY TWO!??? in numbers, that spells 0.3% of our pastors.
And there are tons of churches which need a part-time pastor and cannot afford a full-time one. (exact number not available...)
So look at it through these eyes:
When I'm all ready for a call, you know, post-seminary and after I learn a valuable and portable skill like making tents...
I will have my PICK of all the tiny rural PC(USA) churches that want me. I'll find an awesome one, empower the people, watch God's mission proliferate, and sell my tents from a roadside stand.

(if you join me we will make a community out of it and start a revolution.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sermon -- Mother God

Disclaimer: this is the sort of sermon you want an intern to preach. It shakes things up in a way that the head pastor can't really do. I had many strong positive and strong negative reactions, and apparently I didn't quite spend enough time telling people that by quoting from The Shack I was not endorsing it, and that it's FICTION NOT DOCTRINE. The problem on that is, my worship committee is (by happenchance) quite a bit farther to the left of the rest of the church, and when I asked how they thought such a sermon would go over, they shrugged and said "go for it."
Right. Next time, more careful. But, although I did have negative reactions, there were such strong positive reactions too! I had some full-body hugs from people who aren't really the huggy type.
And my favorite reaction came from an old rancher with a twinkle in his eye:
"welll, we'll let you git away wit' it because yer from New York City..."

Mother God
Isaiah 49:14-21

Although I’ve always been the one to preach without a joke, we’ve got an exception today! Ready for the sermon? Here we go!
So two old friends are visiting with each other. They were close friends in high school and thereafter but they haven’t seen each other for about twenty years now so they have a lot to catch up on. And one is telling the other about some health problems he’d had. He says “I was really pretty badly sick, and those doctors did a tremendous job. But I did get very near death. You know, I was in the dark looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, and all that….”
His friend says “wow! Tell me about it! What did you see?”
And he says “well I got through to the light, and up to heaven, I guess, just for a short while, yknow I thought I was there to stay but I wasn’t. I even got to meet God before I got pulled back to the hospital and came conscious again.”
And his friend is REALLy interested in this now and asks “so tell me! What was THAT like?”
This guy hestitates for a second. “well… it wasn’t quite as I expected… okay, there are a few things about God that surprised me. For one, she’s black.

How does it feel to be surprised with a different image of God?

Is it confusing? A little bit uncomfortable? Most of us at some point got used to the image of God with a flowing white beard, as he is pictured on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He’s old. He’s white, and male. When I was a child, I thought God was kind of like – grandpa. This worked because my grandfather was a nice person, but he had already died when I was young. So grandpa was in heaven, just like God was in heaven, and both grandpa and God were generally nice, lovable people, with white hair and wrinkles. This is an image that worked well for me.
But what if your grandfather was not so easy to love? What if he was depressive, or violent, and didn’t like children? The image of God as a grandfather that worked so well for me might be a terrifying image to a child who is afraid of their earthly grandfather. The image that works for one person is harmful to another.
We find the same problems when we try calling God our Father, or our Mother, or calling Christ our brother, or our King, or our lover, or our friend. All human titles we can use are tainted by human sin, and failings, and the pains we experience in this life.

I’m wondering how many of you read this book. Can I have a show of hands? (The Shack, by William P Young). For many people this is a deeply meaningful book because it shows us a different image of God. But it’s also very difficult in some ways, and definitely controversial. It is completely surprising.
Just to give you a sketch of what happens in this book, the main character Mack gets an invitation from God to visit a shack where his youngest daughter had been murdered. There he meets the Trinity. There are three people waiting there for him, and he asks which one of them is God and they all say “I am” in unison. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Jesus is pretty identifiable - he looks like a middle eastern carpenter. But the Holy Spirit is a small Asian woman who is half-invisible and keeps disappearing. and the Father God is called Papa, but she takes the form of a woman. Mack is completely surprised by this. Listen to just an except of how Papa greets him when he comes:

Mack decided to knock on the door and see what happened, but just as he raised his fist to do so, the door flew open, and he was looking directly into the face of a large beaming African-American woman.
Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him around like a little child. And all the while she was shouting his name – “Mackenzie Allen Phillips!”—with the ardor of someone seeing a long-lost and deeply-loved relative. She finally put him back on earth and with her hands on his shoulders, pushed him back as if to get a good look at him.
“Mack, look at you!” she fairly exploded. “Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again.

If we encountered God in such a suprising, overpowering, in-your-face kind of way, I bet most of us would do just what Mack did in this book – he stood there, with his jaw gaping wide, while God practically ran circles around him in her excitement to see him. This is a funny image of God. It shakes us up. It’s not what we expect to happen. If we expect God to be majestic, slow, deliberate, and reserved, what are we going to do when God breaks our expectations and our social conventions? If we expect to bow on the floor in front of God and worship him, or maybe kiss his feet, what are we going to do if he picks us up and hugs us?
But God’s love comes to us in many different forms. God will use any method available to get a message through to us, and this is what is ultimately important -- getting across the message of God's love. In the Shack, both the Holy Spirit and the Father God chose to be seen as a woman for Mack because they knew he had had a bad experience with fatherhood – both in that his father treated him cruelly, and in that he felt he was not a “good enough” father to his own children. So since Mack had trouble with fatherhood, God appeared as a woman. It wasn’t a problem for her. She was happy to appear in any way that would help her communicate to Mack with nothing in the way.

This has happened before. It’s not about whether God is male or female, or black and white, or anything like that. It’s about using a new image to really get our attention. There are many times in the Bible, in the Old Testament writings especially, where God drops the usual images of Father or Master or King in order to make a very important point. When God people are particularly stuck, or suffering, or being oppressed, God will come to them in a different form.
Take a few examples.
In the book of Hosea God appears as a husband, with the nation of Israel his faithless bride. This is written at a time when Israel was particularly unjust, with the rich oppressing the poor, and people worshipping false gods. To deal with this, God appears as a husband and uses the images of intimacy to try and try and try to draw the people of Israel back to a righteous life of justice, promising them the love a person would reserve for their spouse. Times of injustice call for strong images of love and desire, coaxing, wheedling, trying to seduce the nation back into walking in justice and faith once again.
And another time, when the rulers of Israel were oppressing the people, God promises to come not even as a human but as an angry mother bear. Hosea writes: “I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs. I will tear open their breast.” Talk about using a vivid image! This is not an image of comfort, but of vengeful protection. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that mother bear, but you probably would be pretty well off being one of her cubs who is being protected.
When God was preparing the people of Israel to come back from a long hard time in exile, the people were reluctant and afraid. They didn’t believe that God would help them get back to the land they had left. They may have thought God would bring them back to the land and abandon them there. So God says through the prophet Isaiah (42:14) “I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” With this God expresses how hard he will work to give success and prosperity to the returned exiles.

When God’s people are in real tough times, feeling a real struggle, the prophets and poets who speak for God have to use extra vivid images. The regular words just aren’t strong enough to cut through.
Today we read a lesson from Isaiah, which gave us a vivid image of God as a mother. Let me read just a bit of it again:
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

What’s happening here is that God’s people are afraid, or cynical, or just for whatever reason they don’t trust God. They say, “he has forgotten us.” God sends a prophet and says “I will not forget you.” Has anyone ever been there? Afraid of the future? Not going to trust God? Accusing God of forgetting you? Yes, I have been there – we have been there.
We say “our master doesn’t care.” God says “I care – I care more than you know.” And to try to get it across to us, God compares himself to a nursing mother.

How many mothers here have nursed their babies? If you were to leave your baby with someone else, how long do you think you could forget about it? (ten minutes? I don’t know, I’ve never been through that)
At the risk of being indelicate, I have to say that nursing a baby is different from giving it a bottle. Anyone can administer a bottle. You can leave the baby with a sitter or a relative and just pack up enough bottles to keep the baby happy… and forget about him or her while you have a nice evening out. But if you are nursing, you can’t do that, even if you have made up an extra bottle ahead of time, even if your baby is perfectly happy with the sitter. You can walk away from your baby for a little, but then: your body starts reminding you that you left a baby behind. You have milk building up inside you, with no child to drink it and bring you relief. Even you men, if you have not experienced this first-hand you probably have seen animals separated for a time… the baby will get hungry, yes, but the mother animal also will be uncomfortable. She can’t think of anything else.

This passage from Isaiah tells us that if God had a body, we would be “written on the palms of her hands.” Talk about unforgettable! Hands are the MOST visible part of someone’s body except maybe the face. Our names would be tattooed right there. In bold black ink. If God had a body, it would have given birth to us, and we would be in such a close relationship of sharing that God’s body would hurt to be away from us. God would experience pain at our absence. How could God forget us? Not like a human mother who can suffer through the pain of abandoning a child and eventually walk away. God will never do that to us.

So that is the message today: God loves you. God misses you. God cannot forget you. And God is willing to use any image to communicate that to you.
What is getting in the way between you and God today? God wants to love you, and care for you, and to give you direction and help you live a righteous life. Is there something in the way?

First is probably the question, do you believe that God loves you and cannot forget you? Can you imagine God sweeping you up in a big, exuberant, embarrassing hug? Can you imagine God walking around up in heaven with your name written on his hands? Even if you have known abandonment and rejection in your life, know that God is not faulty like we humans are. God is not like a human mother; She is a divine mother who WILL take care of you. It’s written all over this book of ours. (bible) In so many ways and in so many different images God has tried to get our attention to tell us how much he loves us.

Those are the basics. And please, if that’s where you are, don’t leave them. Don’t be ashamed to spend some time really trying to accept this simple message of God’s love. It has made a profound difference in many of our lives, and it can do that for you too. Stay with that message of love, and repeat it until you feel it in your heart, and let it give you peace, and strength, and clarity, and courage. Repeat it in your heart – God loves you - and let it take root in your soul.

But I’m thinking of some others, who have been through the basics before. Maybe this sounds like baby talk to you. You’ve heard it your whole life long in church every Sunday, and it’s no big deal for you. I had a professor at seminary who was getting old and starting to repeat himself a bunch, and one of his favorite points to repeat was “I’m sick and tired of being called the Children of God whenever I go to church! I’m not a child of God, I am an ADULT of God and I’m ready to be treated like one!” I heard that repeated several times during his lectures.
Well guess what. You adults of God – even if you’ve been in church more years than I have been alive on this earth – I can still tell you – you are still under the same call of God. Because it’s infinite. It never ends. God never says, “well, thanks, I’m glad I got to express my love to you, so, I guess I’ll see you in heaven.” It’s every day, every hour, every minute of your life. God wants to see you grow in righteousness, in love, in doing justice, and walking in the particular way that God has appointed for you. God wants to hear your confessions of wrongdoing and help you to do what is right. God is not going to forget about you just because you’re “on the right path,” going to church every Sunday, praying regularly, going through the motions. God has infinite treasures to give us. If we get satisfied too easily we’re in danger of blocking the flow of grace. So, you adults of God, keep opening yourself. As we did in the prayer of preparation today from Psalm 139, keep opening your hearts, and asking God to show you whatever might be keeping you from receiving God’s wonderful gifts of grace. It might be something big… you’ve ended a certain relationship, but God wants you to reconcile. It might be something small… a habit you are clinging to… a cynical belief that’s keeping you unhappy… keep opening your hearts, and ask God – “have your way in me.”
Adults of God… children of God… wherever you are in your journey… God loves you. As we sing the next hymn let’s open our hearts to God to receive God’s love, and care, and blessings. And I am offering you a choice on this hymn. If the image of God as a woman, or a mother, is a powerful one for you today, then on the first verse please supply feminine words for God, like “she” and “her” instead of “he” and “him.” If that doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to. It’s not important. just sing it as written. And the second and third verses will all be sung as written. Let’s open our hymnals to 325, and our hearts to receive God’s love.

This would have been a perfect time to have an altar call and say “come on up, give your life to Jesus, let God love you” but since this is a shy and traditional church with only a few so reckless Teenagers of God we stick to the routine, and sing the hymn and contemplate things from our pews.
You internet people: and my future non-shy church: you’ll get an altar call. STAND UP AND SAY TO GOD: I WANT TO LET YOU LOVE ME HOWEVER IT IS YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE ME. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us unite forever, down whatever paths we are led (and even if there’s an upside-down cross in the way - that’s another sermon). GOD HAVE YOUR WAY IN ME.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wm Blake

The Lamb

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright,
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb I'll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb:
He is meek, and he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee.
Little Lamb, God bless thee.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Happy May!

Well, the merry merry month of May has arrived, NOTWITHSTANDING the hail, sleet, snow, etc that manages to continue. On May Day morning, tradition dictates that young maidens such as I go out at dawn and wash our faces in the fresh dew, to ensure beautiful visages in the coming year. Since the "dew" was actually "frost" I let the opportunity pass, and I'll have to settle for whatever beauty I may get naturally and without superstition.
Tradition also dictates that morris dancers (such as I) ought to be up and be-belled before dawn, dancing around a flowered maypole in a public park whilst bewildered onlookers jog by as if in a dream...
UNFORTUNATELY there are not quite enough morris dancers around here to have such activities. I will settle for an afternoon "May Day" event on the 9th, which looks like lots of fun even though it'll be eight days and ten hours past the properly appointed time for such festivities.

What I DID do on May Day was to attend a Patriot's Ball. It was at a local school and I was invited to call some square dances, play bass, dance, have fun. Let me just say, though, that I was a little culturally curious about it and felt like a little bit of an undercover observer. You see, due to my political alignment I have never before (to my knowledge) been invited to anything called a "Patriots" anything, unless it was a "peace is patriotic" themed something or other. But there wasn't much to observe: once you got past the sign declaring the identity of the dance, it actually took a form that would be quite familiar to a hippie by its similarity to, say, a peace-love-and-flowers-ball. There were more ties worn than tie-dye garments, and I didn't know people would be in bona fide BALL gowns, but the format of the evening was quite recognizeable: we danced, and danced, and danced some more!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A woman seeking ordination

Handel's Messiah, in the rarely-heard middle bits about mission and evangelism, contains a FABULOUS and very rapid little piece which sings about a hundred times "great was the company of the preachers."

Now this does lean quite well toward misinterpretation, and the several preachers who sang in the choir this Easter did like to congratulate ourselves on our sparkling wit and conversation skills as we stood around during rehearsal breaks....
ahem. Anyway.

I looked up the passage. Where does that come from, anyway? (Psalm 68:11) The Lord gave a command and there was a great company of people who announced it. (preached it)
And I found that many translations skip over what to me is a very very important little detail!
These preachers are women.
Great was the host of female proclaimers-of-the-word. LITERALLY. From the pens (styluses?) of the ancient Hebrews. A bunch of women went out and declared the Word. (the word, in this particular case, is actually "the kings are fleeing!" and basically the gist of it is "yeah, let's go collect the spoils of war!" There ends the resemblance of my Biblical reference to my current-day situation. But Handel treated it lightly, anyway, so I suppose I can just leave it at that.)

Among these Messiah-sing-ing preachers I was the only female. Among the preachers of Wallowa county I am one of two females in significant preaching positions. The other is a commissioned lay pastor, working part time in two churches AND another job, and she's been at it here for about ten years, I think. She told me that when she arrived -- the first female clergy in this county -- members of other churches would go so far as to cross the street to avoid making eye contact, much less conversation with her. She was a scandalous one, too, because she had a barroom ministry, an individual practice she engaged in, of engaging in conversation those who would not darken the doors of a church.

Here I am, a decade or whatever later, and I'm doing fine. I have friends in all kinds of churches and have caught no one crossing the street to avoid me. I have not had to explain my exegetical interpretation of I Timothy 2 to anyone.
Then again.
Maybe it's because I'm young, junior, subordinate, and a determined people-pleaser, that these issues have not come out.
It might be different when I graduate and am possibly called to a solo pastorate with no man but Christ in authority over me. Not that PC(USA) pastors can be very authoritarian; the session of elders rules them directly, even as the pastors moderate meetings of said session.
So here's my vocation statement.
God calls all people. And God is "no respecter of persons" -- God works indiscriminately of gender, age, race, social status, and experience. God calls, equips, empowers, and often gives those who are called a swift kick in the pants. I believe that although God has raised and guided us through the formations of tradition, even Christian tradition, God also works specifically against our expectations, not because tradition is bad but because we tend to rest in it. We need to be woken up, surprised, shaken out of our complacency. And the raising up of female interpretation and authority in the church is one such challenge, shaking, opening of the windows for fresh air to come and disturb us.
As to traditional gender roles and that line "she shall be saved by childbearing"... I do look hopefully forward to parenting -- it's one of the most important things we can do with our lives. And whoever I choose to share my life with will be screened with "how do you feel about foster-parenting a special-needs child, or seven?" ... however, I am sure there is more to this life than raising up the next generation. I hope God doesn't keep me TOO busy during my childbearing years, but there is so much to do! There is a good news of salvation to be preached to the ends of the earth, the broken-hearted to bind up, captives to release, blindness (and complacency) to enlighten and heal. And a lot of stuffy stained-glass windows to open up and let the Spirit wind blow in.
That's my direction.

And beside Huldah, Miriam, all those Marys, Mother Teresa, and Pikea of Whale Rider, here's my role model:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Okay Okay, I get it God...

One of the hardest things for me here is getting used to living alone. I grew up in a large family in a small apartment, and in college I had an apartment full of friends; in seminary I lived with 8 in community (sharing chores and grocery money); in between I volunteered in a Ugandan orphanage, i.e. lived with 200 attention-needy children. And now, little old me in this big house... right. It's an adjustment.
Last week I realized one thing I was particularly missing -- sharing music. I've got my own little musical rut, the things I like, the repeated playlists that I've memorized. Whereas when you live in a big house of people you're always trading inspirations, sharing playlists, putting up with unwanted strange music you unexpectedly find yourself enjoying.
So apparently God thought I had an attitude problem about this. Yknow, one of those "life is so miserable, nobody cares, look at my lame little life" attitude problems. I think this because I suddenly started getting music from other people.
One of the elderly ladies I regularly visit went through her gospel music collection and gave me a half-dozen CDs to borrow. okay, nice, I thought, even if the music isn't completely my taste.
Yesterday at church I walked into Sunday School and a member of the class stretched out his hand to me with a mixtape in it. He just thought I'd like it. (wow? hm... what am I supposed to learn from this?)
Today I got my oil changed at a garage in town. I left a CD in the player when I left the car with them, and both of the mechanics who worked on my car came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed the music (Amy Grant and a mix of other oldschool Christian stuff). One then said "hold on" and ran to his own car and pulled out a CD for me to borrow. I can bring it back to him anytime.
Increasingly amazed by this I drove away and stuck the CD in. The first song came on, "I Surrendur All" and it hit me, and I laughed/cried/wondered my way home. This whole thing wasn't about the music, it was God telling me that I'll be taken care of. It's about trust, about receiving from others.... about putting grateful roots down (right where I am) and drinking deep from what God has put in my way.