Sunday, October 25, 2009

Presbytery!!!!!

Our congregation hosted the Eastern Oregon Presbytery this weekend. It was a great experience! Since we are so far-flung, we have two two-day meetings and one single-day meeting per year, and everyone drives over hills and valleys to make it there. The host church gets to provide hospitality, and in return everyone donates generously to whatever the host church is interested in (for us, our local mission efforts).
So all the hospitality-providers of our church rallied up and cooked, cleaned, decorated, and opened their homes to the elders and pastors and staff that came. We had sign-up sheets for weeks in advance, collecting signatures for everything from meat and potatoes to cinnamon rolls and quiches.
I turned our kids into hospitality-providers by firing up the cider press. The kids got to work and provided more than five gallons of cider for the Presbytery. The next day I reached the "offering" section of my worship curriculum for children's Sunday School, and it was concrete and made sense: this work is an Offering. It was also joyful work of course, and I apparently came away "glowing" from that joy.
Here's a picture of the process: when you squeeze cider you are left with pulp. The pulp of one pressing formed pretty solidly into an "apple cake" which the kids mimed at eating:



The business of Presbytery... was also joyous! I do believe every vote was unanimous, with several resounding YESes and AMENs. We did have a few moments of utter presbythink, such as "well the committee came to agreement so quickly that we thought, something must be wrong, so we're asking for another hour of discussion in the whole council," ... and ... "we have redevelopment funds available as soon as we define the word redevelopment." (hit palm to forehead. do it. what else can you do???)
But OTHER than those moments, we had some great and momentous pieces of business. The Administrative Commission that formed to revive a dying Tutuilla Presbyterian Church a few years back was disbanded with thanks for their effort. The church is now quite alive, with 19 in attendance at the "new members" class, chiefs of rival tribes sitting next to one another in worship, a youth group, a Sunday School, a thriving new CLP (commissioned lay pastor). The congregation does not need any more of the helpful Administration from on high -- they are ready to stand on their own feet.

Grateful thanks were given to a retired pastor who consented to serve as interim in the LaGrande church. He should only have a few weeks left in that position because.... drumroll...
PRESBYTERY APPROVED a clergy couple to fill the LaGrande vacancy. They are to share a single full time job, and have time left over for their 2 year old son. They are fresh out of Austin seminary, this will be their first call AND their final qualification for ordination. The way we do this is to read their statements of faith, bring them up to the floor mic, and interrogate them on their "Christian faith and views in theology, the Bible, the Sacraments, and the government of the church." (Can you lose your salvation? Why does salvation matter anyway? What is your theology of baptism?). Having satisfied ourselves with examination of the candidates they were sent out while the presbytery debated their suitability for the call and for ordination. We brought them in, all stood and all applauded as they grinned and laughed.




(Talitha, did you take notes? This is what you face in a few years.)


The soon to be REVERENDS Keith and Laura Hudson. Welcome to Eastern Oregon Presbytery!!!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

THIS is what I'm talking about

Have I mentioned my anti short-term mission kick? ever? EVER?

The Lark gets it. Actually they got it a few years ago but I just found the article now.
What to do with the ENORMOUS PROBLEM of short-term mission trips?

Answer: set up shop. Make lemonade.

http://larknews.com/november_2005/secondary.php?page=1

Presbytery!!!

oh boy oh boy oh boy. We get Presbytery WITHOUT TRAVELING -- they are coming to US! Many Presbies, at least in urban places, have presbytery meetings once a month, and they are full of Work and Controversy, and people hate going to them. Here in the Northeast corner of Oregon, we have meetings three times a year, and they are exciting because they are some of our very few chances for pastors to hang out with one another. But they are slightly a drag because you have to drive miles and miles and miles annd miiiiiles. Thus the excitement of having Presbytery come to us!
The Lostine Presbyterian Church is all a-tizzy about the impending arrival of many pastors and elders at the end of this week. Postcards keep arriving, addressed to the "Presbytery Arrangements Committee" (basically, me and Iva.) I am duly excited.
Some upcoming highlights:
Cooking and feeding!
Spiffing up our grounds for our esteemed visitors!
Pressing Apple Cider with all the kids!
Graceful and skillful moderation!
Robert's Rules!
Homestays with new friends!
Worshipping with a big crowd of confident hymnsingers!

and I don't know if I'm actually allowed to report this on a blog, but we may or may not be welcoming (i.e. voting and approving of) new pastors for a church that has been vacant for a while. And they may or may not be two ubercool kids who YAVved and Peace Corpsed before marrying and heading this-away. I may or may not be EXCEEDINGLY excited to meet them. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Preserving the Summer - part II

Tomatoes.
A tricky crop -- you need to start them months early inside... I had them on a sunny windowsill and loved the scent of their leaves. Then you have to transplant them outside at the right time... I put a few out too early and lost them, crinkled and browned by frost. I ended up transplanting most into bigger pots (still inside) and eventually my patience was rewarded when I got them going outside.
Then, the season isn't long enough for them to all ripen outside. I got perhaps a dozen good tomatoes from the plants outside. Then, when the nightly frost was getting particularly frigid, I pulled them up by the roots and hung them inside, in the coldest room of the house. They continue to ripen and to bear!

After about a week on a strict dietary supplement of half a pound of salsa every day, I got tired of fresh tomatoes and looked for something to DO with them.
I borrowed a dehydrator (thanks Jenn!) and put about two boxes of the smaller tomatoes in it, sliced in half. I'm guessing that's fifty tomatoes or more. The dehydrator whirred along at 120 degrees for a day and a half, and yielded a great crop: One pint jar, not even full, and supplemented by basil and garlic. I filled the little jar with warm olive oil and am going to try to use it in the next few weeks (they don't keep indefinitely). Meanwhile the dehydrator is loaded back up again, and the next batch will probably be frozen for future use (pizzas? sauces?)

Everyone keeps telling me to fry my green tomatoes. I'm not quite sure whether this will happen however, as I've never tasted them or even gotten interested in the prospect. But there will be green and ripening tomatoes for quite some time yet!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Preserving the Summer - part I

As I may have mentioned, due to our snowy and elevated location, Lostine has about a twenty minute growing season. This means in the fall, *everything* suddenly and explosively gets ripe at once, and you desperately put it in boxes and barrels and in the fridge and the freezer and the cellar and hope you get around to cooking, canning, pressing, drying, or eating it before it spoils. You tuck in your still-living plants with frost cloths every night before you go to bed, and go inside and stay up late cooking and processing, and then you go door to door like Mormons -- trying to give away what you can't cook or store. People get very generous at harvest time, but it's born of necessity and overwhelm. Also, they all stop blogging temporarily, because there are just too many things to do and they don't have time to wait for the photos to upload.

Project#1: Applesauce
My fabulous friend Lori had me over to her house... I came with two coolers full of apples, and she showed me how to can, and how to use her ginormous pressure canner, and she asked me about Uganda and told me about Ethiopia and played us a book on tape! She also created an apple crisp from the excess apples. It was a lovely day. Lori is an expert canner, and proof that canning is not only *useful* but *decorative* as well; her shelves are chock-full of neatly alternating colors, from peaches to beans to applesauce. I should've gotten a picture of her display!

This is how you can applesauce:
you cut apples into pieces, getting rid of the gross stuff.
You cook the apples to a nice mushy texture, and then force them through a food mill. Cinnamon and brown sugar!
You wash your jars, fill them up, put lids on, and put them in the canner. You heat the canner with the pressure vent open for a while, then close it and raise it to a specific pressure, watch it and maintain that exact pressure for a specific time, turn the heat off, and don't open the pressure canner until the pressure is zero!
Then when you finally remove your jars (using a spiffy jar-removing-tool) you have to sit them carefully, prayerfully, delicately on a table and not jostle them for several hours. The mystical truth is that as you patiently watch and wait they will at some point "seal," suddenly making the reverse of the sound a jar makes when you open it. This is apparently because the pressure increase that happens when it cools down pulls the lid in.










finished apple sauces -- and apple crisps!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sermon - male and female, wolves and lambs

Galatians 3:19-29
You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, and heirs according to the promise.

What beautiful words! Everyone who has been baptized into Christ is clothed with Christ, covered with Christ. There are no more distinctions. We are all one. What beautiful words! They sound like poetry… and in fact it is very likely that these words were a poem that people were already familiar with. It is probably the charge that they were given after they were baptized. Picture a crowd of people standing there, newly clothed in white robes, dripping all over the floor, receiving their charge: and an elder of the congregation says to them: now that you have been baptized, you are the sons and the daughters of God. You have clothed yourselves with Christ. You no longer carry the marks of “jew,” “greek,” “african,” “asian,” “free citizen,” “slave,” “slaveowner,” “servant,” “male person,” “female person.” All your personhood has been wrapped in the white robe you now wear. A few hours ago you were all these things – you had rankings and proper positions – someone was superior, and someone was subordinate. YOU were a female jewish citizen, and he a male greek slave – and from now on those things are No Longer True. YOU ARE, as of this moment, all sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ. There are no more ranks separating you. And this is not a future prediction or wishful thinking. It is true now. It is your new life.
So they said, when they baptized new Christians. So Paul said, to remind the Galatians of their status before God. And so we say. We still say some of the same things when we baptize people. We still read this verse quite often. But do we live it out? Do we live without ranking one another differently? What do you think?

No… as for “no longer Jew or Greek…” well, this is about race. And all races now have legal equality in the US, in terms of civil rights, which is great, but we still separate ourselves from one another. You might not see it here in Wallowa county, but someone once said that the single time when America is the most segregated by race is Sunday morning. In major cities there are black churches and white churches right across the street from one another… yes, even Presbyterian churches.
As for “no longer slave or free,” well, we settled the slavery question in this country many years ago, but even though both sides quoted from the Bible, in the end our Civil War was settled by military right more than by unalloyed ideals. And around the world today there are still men, women, and especially children held in slavery, and there are churches that look the other way and allow their members to participate in this crime.
And as for “no more male and female,” church is actually one of the places where people are MOST likely to be told that men and women ought to occupy different places in society, often arguing that men should work and govern while women raise families and teach children.
Well, maybe we don’t live that out that great ideal to our fullest potential. Let me tell you, though, instead of feeling bad that we don’t live up to our ideals, we can take the easy way out. It’s easier to assume that Paul didn’t mean what he said here. We are in good company – for much of history, Christians have assumed that Paul did not mean it to be taken LITERALLY. A few quotes from Biblical scholars: one: “the passage has nothing to do with the abolition of slavery.” (Ernest de Witt Burton, 1920) another: “it is impossible for Paul to have in mind an emancipation of slaves and women,” and this is spoken “purely religiously,” (Albrecht Oepke, 1937). And another: “all metaphysical, historical, and natural distinctions stemming from the old eon are abolished sacramentally i.e. in a hidden but real way.” (Heinrich Schleier, 1971) (all three quoted in: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1979, p 189).

We have invented many categories in order to get around the radical statement of this verse. And it seems that it was even hard for Paul himself to stick with this. It works pretty well in the letter to the Galatians, where he’s dealing mainly with arguments about Jews and Greeks – racial and cultural unity. But in his letter to the Corinthians he had to deal with more specific situations between men and women, and he backed down a little from just saying “you are all one.” In the letter to Philemon he had to deal with a runaway slave, and he did not say “there is no more slave or free…” instead he delicately dealt with personalities and mentioned the slaveowner’s personal debt of love which he owed to Paul. It is hard to stick to the message of “you are all sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus” when the circumstances of life plainly tell us that some people still ARE women, and some people still DO own slaves. It is a very hard message to proclaim.
But even though many people have taken the easy way out, finding some way to explain this away, today I want us to take the challenge and assume – at least for now – that when Paul wrote this, he meant what he said. We all pick and choose through the Bible, because not EVERYTHING can be the MOST important message. And many people have found ways in which to explain that this particular passage was not Paul’s most important message. At the end of the day you can feel free to disagree with me. But for now let’s “go there” – let’s talk about what this would mean if it really were a central point of the Christian message.
When he wrote this quote, Paul was in the middle of an argument about law and faith. He explains the difference between law and faith in a metaphor of growing up. When we were young we were under the supervision of a “disciplinarian,” or a “guardian,” or a “tutor.” In Greek society this was basically a one-on-one babysitter, a slave who would escort a rich little boy to his classes, his music lessons, his soccer practice – just kidding – and teach him good manners on the way. A young boy could be a very important little man, destined for great riches and privileges, but until he came of age, he was completely controlled by his guardian – this babysitter. Paul says the law was our guardian until the right time came – until we were “of age,” metaphorically speaking, and were given the inheritance through faith in Christ. The law – from the ten commandments all through the nits and picks of what to eat when and how – the law supervised us, hedging us in and telling us what to do and when. It protected us because we were too immature to take responsibility for our own actions.
And when faith in Christ came, it brought us freedom. And now we are free people – Adults – responsible people – no longer needing to be babysat. Or at least… we’re supposed to act like adults. My professor at seminary – a little bit hard of hearing – really loved this verse and he would lean over the podium at us practically shouting “we should be sick and tired of being called the Children of God whenever we 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.
So, that much to say, we should be glad to have the babysitter off our backs. We should be happy that we are now adult sons and daughters of God; that we have graduated from the elementary school of the law. We should be rejoicing to know that we are free and mature and responsible people, who can make ethical decisions even without a law code telling us what to do when and how.

But did you ever meet an adult who still wanted to be babysat? Someone who had been coddled and spoiled in their childhood, and wanted childhood never to end? Someone who never learned a few basic life skills and is always looking for a friend that he or she can leech off of and avoid facing reality…? Ever met one?
I think if we look at the history of Christianity, we’ll see a lot of examples where we Christians look like that adult. Like the guy who picks a girlfriend based on how well she can cook and clean… (cuz he can’t) or the girl who keeps running back to live at home because… well… daddy always fixes her car when it breaks. Like we’ve graduated – we’ve been given a big party and a new car – and we set off into the big wide world to live a life of FREEDOM and excitement – and we just get lost in the wilderness of that freedom. It’s scary. Somebody! Please! Come tell me what to do.
I think this is why we as Christians try to get away from the message of equality and freedom – from that message that we are all one and that there are no more differences between us – and that’s why we try to add some rules back on – because that’s really hard to live in. It is wild – it isn’t tame. It produces tension. Think about that tension.
If a slave and a master look each other in the eye and both really believe that there is no difference between them because of Christ – then they are going to have to do some reconfiguration aren’t they? It’s not going to be "boy! Do this!" And "yessir, yessir." They have to figure it out differently.
If a Jew and a Gentile look each other in the eye and both really believe that there is no difference between them because of Christ – well, that will be hard, because the Jewish person was used to being the expert on religion, and this Gentile was just supposed to look on admiringly from the sidelines. Now they don’t know who should stand where – they will have to negotiate.
If a man and a woman look each other in the eye and both really believe that there is no longer any difference between them because of Christ – this is going to be a difficult one. Life ran smoothly when the wife was silent and the husband ran everything. There was nothing to disagree about. It was never “your way vs my way” – it was always “his way.” But now that their guidelines are only “respect” and “love” – wow, what a mess. It really blows your mind to consider someone else without using any ranks of superiority and inferiority.
Sometimes, if we are taken away from our ways of judging and ranking people, we make up new systems and ranks. We want to lean on law – it is our crutch – our babysitter. Christians are really great at making up new rules. For example, maybe we can get away from the judgmentalism of thinking rich people are “better than” poor people – but then sometimes we invent a whole new judgmentalism. A friend told me that among Korean pastors there is a lot of judgment about what kind of car you drive. You probably would expect that a church would want their pastor to drive a nice car – but oh no, they’re Christian now, so actually it’s backwards. You will be approved of if you drive a nasty old beater, and looked down upon if you buy a newer, safer car. This is, indeed, somewhat in line with how Jesus told us to give away our money to the poor… but it is lawmaking all the same. Whenever we make laws we are going back to that babysitter, with its rules and rankings. We can’t seem to live in freedom for very long without putting up SOME standard of who we expect to be superior and inferior to one another.

So what would life look like if we really were able to accept one another as the sons and daughters of God – and only that? With no qualifications, no ranking systems? If we really matured and took adult responsibility as Christians, and lived as ADULTS of God without looking to be babysat? What would it look like?
Well we know it would be a hard task. But if we really did it, our attitudes would change. No one would assume that they knew someone’s character by looking at their color, their gender, their clothing, their car, or where they lived. We would have to respect each person individually… whether you drove a beat up pickup or a prius, whether you came from an intellectual family in California or from generations upon generations of ranchers, whether you lived in Wallowa River House (a home for mentally ill and disabled folks) or in a mansion out in the hills. There would be no built-in judgment, no looking down on anyone as less than, and no looking up to people as if they were better than us.
But at the same time, I don’t think we Christians would ever look like a group of clones. We could get rid of our positions and ranks without giving up our natural, God-given differences. Everyone is unique, from the color of their skin to the culture they grew up in. These are not erased. If they were…. Paul would have said it a little differently. He might have said “there is no more Greek, or female, or slave, for you are all one like me, the superior form of being, a free male Jew.” It sounds funny, but there ARE some rare early Christian writers who went in that direction, and suggested that really good women could be considered on par with men. That God would miraculously turn them into men so they could go to heaven. No, that is not right. God created us male and female, and saw us and said that we were very good. Paul is not dismissing the fact that we are all different and unique.
What Paul dismisses is this business of either-or; one or the other; there will be no more choosing one and dismissing the other. You don’t have to identify yourself as one or the other. In fact Paul, man though he is, goes on to use some very feminine words to describe his own love for the Galatians: Listen to this!
“My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” 4:19
And regarding slavery, he says that we should stand firm and not be slaves to anything of this world. BUT he also says “through love become slaves to one another.” 5:13
When Paul, a free man, begins talking like a mother and like a slave, we know there is more to this than just erasing social boundaries. He is declaring that there is no shame in being ANY thing at all – no shame in being a woman, no shame in being a slave, no shame in being a free man who voluntarily chooses to love like a mother and serve like a slave.
The only thing that matters is that we belong to Christ. If we are sons and daughters of God, then Christ is our brother. We are all in a new family together, and Paul explains to us how this is going to work… how we are going to put aside notions of rank and privilege, and instead we will look at the image of God in one another.

I want to end by bringing another passage in. My Ugandan friend David Ofumbi preached on Isaiah 11 and it really stuck with me.
“The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.”

David asked how we are going to get from here to there? Clearly, only by the grace of God. But David pointed out a very true point: that it is completely unnatural for a wolf and a lamb to lie down together. And to get to the point where they can lie down together, they are both going to have to overcome their natural instincts. It is natural for a lamb to fear wolves, and natural for a wolf to hunt lambs. The lamb is going to have to become brave, and the wolf is going to have to become gentle. Both have a job to do, to bring about this amazing vision of peace on earth. And they have to trust one another. If the lamb comes bravely up to a wolf that is not gentle… then she isn’t brave, she’s foolish. If a very gentle wolf tries to lie down with a lamb that does not trust him… the lamb will run away.
I think this is also an appropriate image for what Paul is asking for here. In order to live as free adults in the family of God, we all have to overcome our natural instincts. “What comes naturally” isn’t good enough, because what comes naturally is judgment, and discrimination, and forcing people to fall into lines we draw for them. It is comfortable, it is natural, but our human nature is full of sin. To live out the truth Paul insisted upon, we all have to overcome our own nature and take on Christ’s nature. Violent people need to become gentle. Fearful people need to become courageous. Men need to learn to sacrifice like women, and women need to learn to stand up like men. Slaves need to refuse to submit to slavery, and we all need to become slaves of love, for one anothers’ sake in Christ. We can hardly do this on our own power. It is not natural – it’s barely possible – but with God all things are possible.
Go forth today and get beyond what’s natural. Look someone in the eye and know that in Christ there are no ranks separating us from one another. Act as if there were no shame in being ANYTHING that God has created you to be. Look only at the image of God in other people. Don’t just think this way – act this way. Put away all the childish rules of who is better than someone else, and treat everyone as they deserve as a son or daughter of God. And by doing so, may we truly become one body in Christ. Amen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vocabulary

I listened to part of a brimstoney and prooftexty sermon on the radio yesterday, and I'm going to contain my theological comments and instead give some comments on simple method. Radio preachers are not the only transgressors of the rule: Speak So People Get You. Practice the gift of verbal hospitality.

With that said here is a list of vocabulary words that should not be used lightly, for the main purpose that they don't mean anything to people who don't speak StainedGlass. I do not say that you should not use them at all, but that they must be defined and used carefully. Consider how many word-studies a typical listener can grasp in twenty minutes, and choose accordingly.

STAINED GLASS NONSENSE WORDS:
Propitiation
Tribulation
Sanctification
Manifestation

Propensity
Sacrament
Epistemology
Atonement

Omnipotent
Righteous
Consubstantiation
Sin



(if you are really talking to non-churched non-Christians I would even advise using "faith," "grace," "salvation" with a higher level of caution.)

Annnnd all this to say:
I'm ready for a new facebook religious identity.
I am ready for my profile section to say "I preach the Gospel."
errrrrrk. tire squeel. Stained Glass alert.

"preach" -- meaning something other than "pompously beat unsuspecting people over the head with a bible." other than "moralize" and "pontificate" and "harangue."
"gospel" -- meaning something other than "get out of hell free card" or "pie in the sky by and by"

I preach the Gospel?

"preach"...
proclaim, declare, make noise about, teach
advocate, urge, expound, recommend,
display, live out, commit to, exemplify.

"gospel" ...
good news
victory report
revolution

I declare the good news? I expound on God's victory report? I show forth Christ's revolution?

Well, folks, I may not know how to tell you this, but I do preach the gospel -- even to people who don't know what those words necessarily mean.
Suggestions gladly accepted.