Monday, July 21, 2008

Good Bye

I don't know what the rest of my day will be like. I have a ton of things I have been putting off. My son and traveling companion arrives at 1 pm. I'm taking a friend to the airport at noon. Haven't begun to pack.

So, I'm off for a three week trip to South Korea and Mongolia tomorrow. I'm feeling pretty good, but I tire easily and can't do the sort of physical stuff I could last year. I did walk 2.5 miles today in less than 47 minutes, so it's not bad, but I'm tired. I feel like I've walked to the top of Fish Grace (a trail in San Anselmo that is only .8 mile but gains a couple of hundred feet in elevation in that short distance).

Look for pictures when I return.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A comment made by all the folks at dinner Friday evening has been bugging me. They don't like the youth director. She does last minute organizing. Her mother helps her a lot. She really can't plan anything and take it to fruition.

In contrast everyone defends the music director who is never on time, is always talking when she should be beginning the service. Took a singing engagement in Texas for Maundy Thursday and Easter (found an organist for Easter, but we cancelled our Maundy Thursday services because we didn't have a pianist). It's just ---. Oh, and she doesn't want to meet with me to plan worship (except on Sundays after church when I really need a nap).

My experience of the youth director is different. She has come up with programming. She took over finding mission projects for us to do during Lent when I was too sick to. She is ready with a children's message.

So, I'm gonna ask the folks at church today why the music director is "just [her name]" and there is a problem with the youth director. Assuming I can find a place to ask the question where no one is around.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Matthew 13:24-30

24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

For those of us who think of ourselves as gardeners, this is a strange parable. Even if we don’t, it seems strange. It just seems to make sense, that we should go in and uproot those weeds while they are still small, before they have taken over the entire field. But, the owner of the field says, “wait, wait, until the harvest, then we can tell what is good and what is bad.” Actually, this parable makes a lot of sense. You see, the weed is probably the darnell. Darnell is a weed that when it first begins to grow looks a lot like wheat. So, pulling it up right away risks pulling up good wheat by mistake. By the time it has grown enough to tell from the wheat, the roots have entwined with the wheat roots. Pulling it up at this point risks uprooting good wheat. So, what at first makes no sense to us, makes a lot of sense.
The workers are anxious to do something. They think they can tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat. And what about us? As we look around, don’t we think we can tell the difference between the good and the bad? Kay Warren, in her book, Dangerous Surrender, suggests that it is so much more difficult than we think. Her book tells the story of her call to AIDS/HIV ministry. At the beginning, she traveled to Africa and other countries to learn first hand about the epidemic and its ramifications. She tells about her visit to Rwanda: She says that she had heard the gruesome stories of the genocide. “Stepping off the plane at Kigali’s small airport, I was sure that Id’ know how to spot them—how to look into the eyes of a Rwandan man or woman and evaluate whether or not they had participated in the genocide eleven years previous. I thought I would be able to recognize past criminal behavior just by talking to someone. . . . How hard could it be to distinguish between the victimizers and the victims?’ ”
She continued to observe how naive she was. “Much to my chagrin, I couldn’t tell by looking. I interacted with men and women—Hutu and Tutsi—and unless they told me their intimate life story, I had no way of figuring out the good guys from the bad guys. This frightened me” she said, “and made me feel quite vulnerable. ‘I could be sitting across the table from a murderer and not even know it!’ “ She thought.
She tells of meeting an official “a nice-looking man” she says “neatly dressed in a suit and tie. He gave us a lavish welcome, served wonderful food under a tent that protected us from the sun, and delivered his official greetings. But as we chatted and got acquainted, he quietly told me and Rick in veiled terms that he had been part of the killings in 1994. He alluded to his role but said it was very small. Normally he would have expected to be punished severely, but he said it was well-known that he was a good man who had made bad choices in the passion of the moment. He was granted leniency and a second chance to prove himself.” Warren recounts that she “instinctively recoiled from him; I wanted to pull away and have nothing to do with him. What was the true extent of his crimes? How cold this ordinary-looking man have been a part of the madness?” She says that he didn’t look like a monster. She continues that as she traveled through Rwanda it occurred to her that there wasn’t “a special class of people for whom torture, rape and murder come easily—but there were a lot of people like me: ordinary people who had gotten caught up in the hatred and passion of the moment and had allowed evil to reign in their hearts for a season.”
The truth then hit her and she asked herself: “Might I, too, be full of depravity, capable of committing the same atrocities if I were ever to allow evil to reign in my heart?” She says that this thought seems too awful for her to accept.
When I was a teenager, I used to day dream about what a courageous person I could be. I would dream about the Revolution and being a fighter like Molly Pitcher. When I read the Diary of Anne Frank, I day dreamed of hiding Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis. I dreamed of being a French resistance fighter. Now, much older, I realize what delusions these were. What if I were confronted by real evil, that would call me to action? What would I do? Would I risk my life to save others? Would I be a hero? Or would I try to hide, to save my life, to stay safe? I think I’ve told this story before here. You know that my son and I had planned to stay a couple of days in Nairobi, Kenya in early January before traveling on to Uganda to see gorillas. I fortunately was able to rearrange our flights so that we would fly directly into Uganda. I told my son that I wasn’t afraid that we might be hurt, I just was concerned that we might not be able to get out of our hotel. My son’s reply stopped me in my tracks. “What if, on the way to or from the airport, we were stopped at one of those informal roadblocks?” Those were roadblocks set up by the Kikuyos or the Luos or anther of the ethnic groups. Cars would be stopped, identity cards checked and if you belonged to the wrong group, you would be hacked to death. What would I do if I were forced to be a part of the carnage? I don’t think the answer would be very flattering.
Earlier in her book, Warren talked about the “Kingdom of Me”. Perhaps you know that kingdom. She tells one story from her childhood. Her father had brought her a record of the story of Cinderella. Warren says she imagined herself as the servant girl who becomes a queen. She have she says “vivid memories of making my little friends sit on the couch and watch me dance, twirling to the music of ‘A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.’.” She points out to the reader that she had written that she made her friends watch her dance. She says “they weren’t allowed to participate at all!”
She continues that not much has really changed since she was a little time. She says “Like may other adults, [I] devote a fair amount of time, energy and money to controlling, polishing, protecting and defending my own private little kingdom. Like a despotic ruler in a mythical story, I can be the omnipotent potentate, supreme authority, oppressive dictator and highly exalted on in the Kingdom of Me. . . Within this kingdom, there is very little room for anyone who doesn’t do it my way, who doesn’t agree that I am the most important person of all. When others treat me as I ‘deserve’, then all is well—we can get along. When others acknowledge that it’s right to serve me and my needs, there is harmony and peace. Woe to the hapless family member, friend, acquaintance, or stranger who doesn’t properly appreciate my status; heads will roll. . . . Not only do I seek completely control of everything around me, but my greatest and deepest love is reserved for me. I am desperately in love with myself. If I am completely honest, I have to admit that there are many times when I want the world to revolve around me—my comfort, my pleasure, my convenience. I desire that others see and interpret everything through my eyes, make me happy, meet my needs, and refrain from offending me, hurting me, wounding me, upsetting me, irritating me. . . . My greatest efforts every day go toward myself.”
My neighbor across the street and I were chatting the other day. She is starting a coaching business. She looked at me and said, “you are the most important person in the world!” I immediately cringed. I retorted, “The homeless man I was talking to at Home Depot is just as important as I am.” Much of our problems are because each one of us believes that we are the most important person in the world. Just look at the drivers on Poplar and you can be sure that is true! But, if we look into our own hearts, and are honest, we can see that it is true. We do believe we are the most important person in the world.
It is easy to point to the evil and sin in others. Not only is it easy, it feels good. One of the reasons it feels so good is because it means we are not looking clearly at ourselves, at our own potential for sin and evil; at our own sin and our own participation in evil. One of the scariest implications of this parable is that perhaps we, each one of us, is the field: that evil lives and grows within us, just as the good lives and grows within us.
Uprooting the evil, cleansing our souls of the bad is not an easy task. First, we don’t want to admit our capacity for evil. Then, we are attached to the self centered self. It is difficult to let go of ourselves. We can only confront ourselves in a safe place, in a community of people trying to follow Christ; trying, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but putting Christ and Christ’s kingdom foremost in their lives. Kay Warren’s book is a testament to her transformation by surrendering to Christ, to saying yes to God. Warren did not do this by herself. She had the support of her husband and her congregation. She did not travel, learning about AIDS/HIV, by herself, but in the company of her family and companions from her congregation. Christians through the ages have not been transformed alone, but in the company of fellow travelers with Christ, from the first disciples until today. We need each other on the difficult journey of being the people Christ calls us to be, as individuals and as a congregation. In the fall, I will be leading two opportunities for us to grow as Christians, to weed our lives. One on Wednesday mornings at 9 is a prayer group, where we will listen to what God is saying to us as individuals and as a congregation. The second is a Bible study of Mark’s gospel, again listening to what God is saying to us as individuals and as a congregation. The time for the Bible study has not been decided. I invite you to join me on this journey. Amen.
Thanks to all the comments on the blog. I never know if folks come back to check my comments to their comments.

Walked this morning and listened to an interview with Joan Chicchester on Speaking of Faith. A quote: "Being pro-birth is not the same as being pro-life."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Five

From RebGalBlogPals
  1. So how did you come up with your blogging name? And/or the name of your blog? Well, Joan Calvin is pretty obvious in that I am a Presbyterian, former lawyer and have actually read the Institutes. Presby•Opia cause I was trying to come up with a funny/spiffy name and I'm near sighted. And I think there are too many near sighted people in our particular Presbyterian world.
  2. Are there any code names or secret identities in your blog? Any stories there? Nope. Sorry.
  3. What are some blog titles that you just love? For their cleverness, drama, or sheer, crazy fun? I like Cheese in Paradise, though I'm not sure Wisconsin is paradise, but if she thinks so. . .
  4. What three blogs are you devoted to? Other than the RevGalBlogPals blog of course! I'm just beginning to "get into" blogs, so most are ones I've met on RevGalBlogPals. I actually have a blog of sorts on Live Journal and that where lots of my friends are.
  5. Who introduced you to the world of blogging and why? My son introduced me to LJ when I was in MI in a village of 1600 and 35 minutes away from the nearest Starbucks and 75 minutes away from real civilization. It was lonely for me and LJ saved my life. Most of my friends on LJ are ones that he invited to check out my journal which is sort of interesting. They range in age from 20s to 70 and are definitely not church people, though some read my sermons when I post them there. I came over here when I wanted something that was more than just carrying on about my life, so I try to post things that are a little "deeper" than on LJ. I also thought RevGalBlogPals was cool.
Bonus question: Have you ever met any of your blogging friends? Where are some of the places you've met these fun folks? I know Cheesehead from seminary and St. Casserole is a cousin (I think). I'd love tobe a part of one of the RevGalBlogPal get togethers someday and meet more of you in person. On LJ, I've met several of the folks. The group I sort of hang out with gets together once a year, but I haven't gone yet.

Maybe God does have a lesson for me: more on being a bitch

The chaplain at seminary is a wonderful person: warm, caring, loving. I loved being in his presence. I hoped that with enough meditation, scripture, reflection and trying to follow in Jesus' way, my personality might be softened; I might radiate God's love. I woke up this morning realizing I will probably never change into a soft, sweet person.

I was listening to a Speaking of Faith "extra" yesterday, an interview with a rabbi who has been creating High Holy Day rituals that are engaging. She mentioned that one of her members said that she had always had problems with the Warrior God, but now that she has cancer, she wants a Warrior God fighting the cancer.

We need a Warrior God to fight the injustice in this world: poverty, violence, oppression, evil in all its forms. And we need followers who are willing to live in the tension of fighting these evils and holding each of God's children in love, not turning those who engage in evil (which in reality is almost each one of us) into "other."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Being a Bitch

I'll be out of the country for three weeks and my first sermon on my return will the Cannanite woman. You recall, the woman that Jesus tells to go back home, that he has not come to feed the dogs the food that belongs to the children. And she, responding turns Jesus' words against him (as Jesus often turned his opponents words against them) and causes Jesus' to rethink his call. Basically, Jesus calls her a bitch and she acts in a way that our society might call a bitch. She is not submissive. She is not sweet. She fights for what she needs.

I have a basic non-understanding of the term "cancer survivor". I have no idea what a cancer survivor is that deserves a park (there is a new cancer survivor park in Memphis). Why cancer and not stroke survivor, or heart attack survivor or automobile accident survivor? I don't get it.

So, I've been thinking about this cancer thing. It is a matter of luck, of the randomness of the universe. (No, I don't believe God had something for me to learn, unless God wanted to reinforce my innate bitchiness and my distaste for those swarmy sweet cancer stories.) I've also been thinking about attitude. I have a woman in my congregation. Now, granted she has survived three cancers (and the death of her adult daughter) and she loves to remind me how important it is for me to have a positive attitude. She thinks a positive attitude is crucial to surviving cancer. Of all the things that influence survival in cancer, I think a positive attitude is probably the least important. As far as I can tell the only thing a positive attitude helps is how other people feel.

But, I do think attitude is important. But, I think the important attitude is bitchiness, aggressiveness in getting treatment, the willingness to know that what the docs are telling you is bullshit. The tenacity to keep after a diagnosis when the docs say "Oh, what's wrong with your stomach will get better when you get your thyroid fixed." The contrast is that poor woman who was told for years she needed to lose weight, wasn't believed when she said she was trying and couldn't, and then went to a new doc who found a 140 pound tumor.

So, if God sent me cancer to make me a sweet person, this ploy has utterly failed. I really like the Cannanite woman. She's my kind of sister. You go girl! (Of course, she is wiser and much more cunning than I am--taking what Jesus said and using it against him. )

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oh, Duh!

I just started The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson. He's talking about Jesus being the Way, the Truth, the Light. I realize that I have bought into the conservative reading of those words. Peterson says (at least as I read it) that the Way is the Way of Jesus, how he lived. I've always read it as as a gateway, buying into the idea of way as belief. I've always rejected that reading, but it's really nice to have the light bulb go off to see the words in a diffent light. Now off to parse the "through" My OT professor always said the only thing you could really say about prepositions is that they are words of relationship.


Disclaimer: I don't much like theologians. Pretty much everything wrong with Christianity can be traced to either Paul (a theologian) or Augustine. What's left is because Christianity moved from a marginalized religion to a religion of powerful people. Just my opinon. I don't like theology because it seems that folks take an idea and then try to make sense of it and lose track of scripture (and sometimes reality). I say this as someone who has read the entire, unabridged Institutes of the Christian Religion. Before going to seminary. I much prefer to rely on Scripture to answer my questions.

So, I've just finished Kay Warren's Dangerous Surrender, about her call to AIDS/HIV ministry. She has several chapters on evil. So, my question is, what is the origin of evil. From a scriptural basis.

Here is my problem: Genesis 1 tells us God created the world and everything in it and "it was good." God creates humans in God's image. My theology, such that it is, begins with the premise that creation is good and that humans are good. Then we enter Genesis 2 and 3. Sin enters the world through the disobedience of the first humans Adam and Eve. Now, I view that story as etiology, as myth, not as fact. Evil follows from sin (at least human evil: I don't consider natural catastrophes, no matter how awful as evil). But, how did sin get there. If God created the world as good and humans in God's image, where did the sin come from? (Yes, I know it's a different author, different orientation, and a God with a different personality than the one encountered in Gen 1) According to J, Sin got there because the serpent tempted Eve. but where did the serpent come from? If the world is good, then there should be no temptation because temptation is bad. And don't tell me about Lucifer's rebellion, cause that ain't in the Bible.

I don't believe in a duality of good and evil: that is that God and Evil are equals in a battle for humans (a Zorastrian belief entering western thought from Persia). If God is supreme and God created everything in the world and God created the world good, then whence evil? J would have us assume it was always there since she posits the serpent and the potential for sin from the beginning of her narrative. E posits an entirely different idea in his scenario, but I don't know if he ever addresses the issue of the origin of evil.

So, if God is good all the time, and I don't want to be a dualist, how do I explain the origin of evil?

I really hate to expose my ignorance, but

Telling the Truth--the aftermath

Thanks to you all for your prayers and support. My sabbath practice is after I've finished my sermon, taking a look at my email, posted (perhaps) my sermon, look at the NYTimes to make sure the Apocalypse hasn't happened, I don't do electronic media. No internet. No TV. No Radio. I was thinking yesterday how calm, relaxed and wonderful I felt. That's why I didn't post yesterday.

So, the reactions: clerk of session "You've certainly laid down the gauntlet." Treasurer; "You stole my sermon for the next session meeting." Older member, not a member of the "core", "I'm going to take a copy of this to --- (her daughter)." One, "good sermon". No one ever (well, there is one guy) talks to me about my sermons. I think I had one comment once that a sermon meant a lot to the person. In two years. It is really strange. I don't know if it's fear or what. Or just a symptom of their death.

I had two dreams Saturday night
Dream 1: Tail end of the dream. I know there was more; I just don't know what it was. I am on a footpath in a sort of valley between two green hills. There is a woman ahead of me. A small boy, maybe two years old, comes up behind me and I pick him up. He is dressed in white and his eyes are rimmed in black and are red. A woman's voice (a narrator?) tells me to look behind me and to the side up one hill. There is a cave-like opening in the hill surmounted by a flat rock. Inside the opening is a gray woman. Her clothes are gray, her hair is gray, the scarf covering her head is gray; her face is gray. Her eyes are gray but like those whirlygigs that when they spin you see different colors, but hers are all gray. The voice tells me she is a rich woman. I say or think that I had seen my friend (I didn't call her name but she's E) who is wealthy in one of those. I thought she was using the toilet. I continue walking and the boy climbs out of my arms and runs ahead to the woman in front of me who is his mother.

Dream 2 a little later the same morning: I am sitting cross legged and the little boy is on my lap. I give him my breast to nurse. The voice asks why I am doing that because I have no milk. (I think he is hungry and there is no food for anyone). I say that I thought it would comfort the child. And milk began to flow.

I think the first setting was a graveyard. But I didn't know in the dream that's where I was. So, what catastrophic am I fleeing through a grave yard? And the rich woman? A warning to me? And who am I to feed? (Besides "my sheep"). The idea of milk at my age is a bit like Sarah. But I really like the image of breast feeding and lots and lots of milk.

Off for my morning walk. I was able to do about a mile and a half yesterday. I'm going to try to a bit more than two miles today, but I'll see how I feel at the 1.5 mi mark.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Good Soil--Or telling the truth

As we come to today’s text, we find Jesus teaching in parables. I will be preaching from Matthew for the rest of the year, until Advent. And many of the texts will be Jesus’ parables. So, I want to remind you a bit about parables. If we have been Christian all our lives, we have heard the parables over and over again. We’ve heard many different preachers preach about them; we’ve studied them in Sunday school class; we’ve read them as we have studied the Bible on our own. They are familiar to us. And in their familiarity, they lose their power.
Jesus used parables to describe the holy. He used the ordinary things of life: a man planting a field, a woman looking for a lost coin, a traveler on the road to tell us something about God’s kingdom, something so extraordinary it is hard to imagine. But, Jesus’ parables are not simply illustrations. They are not one-to-one correspondences with the kingdom. They hint at more, so much more. The parables can be seen in different lights, turning from one angle to another so that we can glimpse something we haven’t seen before. In some ways, it’s like looking at an old master painting. You can travel to Europe, enter one of the old museums, say the Hermitage in St Petersburg. You can go and look at Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son. You could say, “OK, I’ve seen that one and check it off your list.” Or, you could like Henri Nouwen did and described in his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, go after years of longing to see the picture and sit before the painting for hours, lost in the beauty of the painting, lost in the meaning that Rembrandt conveyed in painting it, lost in the insight the painting gives to the parable. You could return, as Nouwen did, to sit before it and meditate both on the painting and the parable. You could explore the layers of meaning in the painting and the parable and in the artist’s life as Nouwen did.
Parables are multivalent: they have multiple meanings. Jesus also used his parables to knock his listeners out of their easy assumptions about the world. Most of the parables make no sense in the “real world”. What woman would spent an entire day searching for a coin when she has children to feed, gardens to tend, water to fetch? What sower would nilly willy scatter seed in places where he knew it was unlikely to take root, sprout, grow and come to harvest? Parables are like that old favorite chair you have had recovered. The upholsterer put new foam cushions in, maybe the that fancy foam that senses heat and wraps around your body. You sit in that familiar old chair with the soft, enveloping cushions feeling safe and comfortable then suddenly a spring pops out and the end pokes you and your comfortable seat becomes mighty uncomfortable. Our familiar parables should be like that spring: something in the parable should poke us and make us mighty uncomfortable.
Jesus explained this particular parable in terms of the individual hearers, if their hearts were receptive, if the soil were good, then the word of God’s kingdom would grow strong in their hearts and bear fruit. Good soil is important to how the message of the gospel will be received. Good soil doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t just appear. Oh, there is some soil that is better than other soil. The rich, black loam of the Mississippi Delta is so much more fertile than the hard red clay of the part of North Carolina that I grew up in. But, left alone, that rich black Mississippi loam can become full of choking weeds. And with proper care that hard red North Carolina clay can become good soil.
When I was in Michigan, about half the congregation were farmers. They would spend the winter, when they weren’t working in their second and third jobs, pouring over their records from the previous year: what had the yield been? What fertilizer had they used? They would glean information and then make decisions about this year’s planting: would they put more land into seed corn or soybeans? Would they change the brand of seed? Perhaps a different variety? Maybe Monsanto has come out with a seed that is resistant to a particular disease.
As the weather warmed, they would go out into the fields. Bending down, they would pick up a clump of soil and hold it in their fist and let it go. They were testing both the warmth of the soil and the amount of moisture to see if the time had come to plant. If it was, then they’d plow under the remains of last year’s crop, dress the soil, adding nutrients that the corn or soy would need. Then, they would plant the seed.
Christians need good soil to grow in. Congregations provide that soil. Jesus did not work by himself. He had a group of twelve whom he taught and who he sent out to spread the news of the kingdom. When the Holy Spirit initiated the church at Pentecost, it was not a band of solitary mystics, but a community of believers that carried on Christ’s work. A community of believers is essential to Christians. We do not follow Christ by ourselves. We follow Christ in a community of believers as the body of Christ. At the same time we are growing in the soil others have prepared for us, we are preparing good, fertile soil for others.
A community of believers preparing good soil devotes itself to three things: being in prayer, being in the Word, and being in the World. Intrinsic to each of those beings is listening. We are not in prayer if we merely recite our list of wishes. Prayer is listening to what the Spirit may be saying to us in the quiet times. Being in the Word is not simply acquiring the Word; it is not memorizing verses so we can repeat specific verses at particular times. Being in the word is struggling to understand what the word meant in its historical context, in its literary context, what the word meant to those who heard it originally and through the ages. Being in the word is more, it is struggling to hear what God is saying to us today. Being in the word is listening for God speaking to us. Being in the world is not simply doing good deeds or being nice. Being in the world is taking what we have heard God say to us in prayer and in the world and responding to God’s words to us. Being in the world requires us to listen to the world: where are the hurts that need healing? Where are those who need a drink of water? Where are those who need food, physical food and spiritual food? Where are those in prison? Where are those who need liberation? Not just chains of poverty and ignorance, but chains of materialism, greed, perfectionism, addiction?
While individual Christians need to pray, study scripture and carry the word into the world, we do not do this by ourselves. We do this in community, as a community of believers. We need a community of believers to listen to, to learn from. We need a community of believers to support us as God transforms us into the people God is calling us to be. That transformation is not easy. We cannot become the people God is calling us to be on our own. We need people who will hold us accountable. We need people who will cry with us when we cry and celebrate with us when we celebrate. We need people who will help us think about how God is working in our lives and in the life of this congregation. Throughout the Bible, God calls people together to be in community with each other. When God called Abraham and Sarah, God’s intention was to create a nation, a community of people called together to live together as God’s people. Even Paul, whom we often think of as a solitary traveler spreading the gospel was not. He traveled with companions. He lived with believers in the towns he visited. His letters bear greetings to those who loved and supported him. Even Paul was not alone.
Some churches think of themselves as a community of believers, but they are not. Some churches are fellowships. They get together because they like one another. They come together for the social ties, for the fellowship they have with one another. Now, fellowship with other members of the body of Christ is important, but if it is the most important reason for coming together, then though a group of people may call itself a church it is not.
Some churches call themselves family. They care for each other, they love each other. Elizabeth Magill in the summer 2007 issue of Congregations, says
For Bethany, our metaphor was one found in many small congregations: “We are a family.” We take care of each other. Our relationships extend beyond Sunday morning. As “brothers and sisters” in Christ, we try, and sometimes succeed, in holding each other, especially in times of crisis. Churches that focus on their life as “family of God” can be healthy, but the metaphor creates some traps for congregations trying to change.

In the face of change, congregations easily pick up family-like dysfunctions: triangulating complaints, maintaining a false peace, and deferring decisions until the matriarch or patriarch has spoken. “Family” churches require a waiting period before new ideas are “adopted”; new members must wait for the matriarch and all the aunts to give the okay. The language and work of turnaround is about change, and change has a hard time finding a place in communities that use the family metaphor.

Another problem with the metaphor of “family” is that family feels comfortable. Family can be self focused: we are concerned about ourselves, our survival, our food, our comfort. Christ calls us outside of ourselves: we are called to love God and love others: all others.
The church is the body of Christ. What is important is the fruit we bring forth. And so I ask you to carefully consider what sort of soil is this church, this congregation? Are we fruitful, bringing forth a harvest of one hundredfold, of sixty? Of even thirty? Or are we like the people Jesus describes: “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ “
Are we in denial about where we are as a congregation? A reminds me of the month I spent in denial about my cancer. She says I wasn’t listening. I remind her that I was listening, but I was only hearing what I wanted to hear: “borderline tumor”, “highly differentiated”. “Don’t call the surgeon’s office to find out about the pathology report.” And for two weeks after hearing the pathology report, I was still in denial. In some part, I believe that period of denial was healthy for me. It allowed me time to recover strength from two surgeries, one that split my gut from top to bottom. When I began to come out of denial, to face reality, I was in a community that loved and supported me.
Continuing in denial is not healthy. We all know folks who have symptoms of cancer. Perhaps it’s lung cancer. They’ve been smokers all their lives and now their cough is getting worse. They are coughing up blood. They are tired all the time and losing weight. And they refuse to see a doctor. They would rather die than admit they are going to die. They refuse help that might save them because they refuse to admit they could be ill, seriously ill. I want to ask, are we as a congregation in denial about who we are? Have our hearts grown dull, our ears hard of hearing, our eyes shut? Where are our fruits?
One way to measure fruits are membership. Look around, what do you see? I don’t believe that a church that is growing in numbers of members is necessarily a fruitful church. After, the biggest predictor of church growth is location. If the church is located in an area that is experiencing growth, it will grow. And I do believe a small church can be fruitful. Size is not the issue, but it is a sign of fruitfulness. We certainly can point to other fruits. You’ve just seen the youth report on their mission trip. We will install a new preschool director with lots of ideas for reaching out in the community. I believe though that our fruitfulness is declining. I believe it is declining because we are not taking care of the soil. We are letting weeds encroach on the soil. Rocks are appearing in the soil and we aren’t removing them. The soil is hardening from not being cultivated. What once was fertile, fruitful soil is wasting away.
I believe we need to come out of our denial. I believe we need to focus on the things that make us a community of believers, not a family, not a fellowship. I believe we need to pray together as a community, to listen to what God is saying to us as a community. I believe we need to be in the Word together as a community, to listen to what God is saying to us as a community. I believe that we need to be in the world and to listen as a community to what God is saying to us in the world.
Beginning on the first Wednesday in September at 9 am and on each succeeding Wednesday, I will be praying in the parlor, listening for what God is saying to us. I invite you to join me. If the time doesn’t work for you and you want to be part of a praying community, let me know and we can find another time. Sometime beginning in September, I will lead a Bible study. I know many of you are in the Sunday morning Loyalty class. The Loyalty class is important in helping to understand the meaning of the scripture, particularly in its historical context. That understanding is basic to listening to God. The Bible study I intend to lead is one where we use the scripture to listen to God through the word and through what God may be saying to each one of us. We will take Mark’s gospel and read through it slowing and carefully. All you will need is your Bible. On Tuesday mornings you will find me at Manna House, a hospitality center for homeless people. I invite you to join me there. I hope you will consider tutoring at Hanley. I am doing this not simply because these are the things I believe we as a congregation need to do to be faithful Christians, but because they are things I need to be a faithful Christian. I need to be in a community of believers that is in prayer, listening to the spirit, that is in the word, listening to the spirit and that is in the world, listening to the spirit.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Truth II or Telling Truth to a Congregation

I had a long conversation last night with a friend. She's writing a piece about her experience on this journey with me. And we began talking about the congregation I serve. I am struggling with them because I believe they are stuck, are happy being a "family" or a "club" and have little interest in following Christ. This, I believe, is the reason they have not had a new member in oh, lets say 10 years. The pastor who preceded me worked long and hard to "transform" them (transform being what I think is the latest Presby-speak for trying to revitalize a congregation). She left/was fired after a tenure of 7 years there. They didn't have an interim for two years and then I was called as a designated. When I came, I wanted to do some visioning. I was told not to use the v word. There was lots I was told not to do because my predecessor had dome them and the congregation wasn't happy. And so, I did what I thought needed to be done and used different words. Which was probably a mistake.

The bottom line is I don't know how to tell them the truth. The truth hurts and I don't want to hurt them. But, I am frustrated. So, my sermon tomorrow will attempt to tell the truth (unless the spirit gives me something else to say in the middle of the night). I do need to cool my anger. My predecessor used to lose her temper in session meetings. I wonder why???? Everything she focused on as an issue that needed to be addressed are the things I focused on. She was absolutely right in her instincts.

I don't understand my reluctance around the truth. So, pray for me today and tomorrow as I craft a sermon about the church as the ground for the word.

Friday, July 11, 2008


As I recall, Pilate asked "what is truth?"

So, what is truth? Does it matter? We seem to live in a world where truth doesn't matter. People spread lies (which I believe they believe is truth) with impunity. Few seem to have the courage to confront the lies. After all, we are asked to allow teachers to "teach the controversy" when there is no controversy except the line between truth and ignorance, such vast ignorance.

Swiftboaters spread their lies on the internet. Obama is a Muslim. Obama will be the target of Muslim assassins because he has turned his back on Islam.

How did our country become a place where intelligence is disparaged? How did it become a place where truth has become fiction and fiction truth?

I suppose it has always been a place which has looked down on "eggheads" and the academia. But aren't we supposed to use the brains God gave us? Didn't God give us intelligence for a reason?

What ever happened to good old fashioned Calvinism which recognizes the tendency for human to be selfish, self centered? It seems to have been replaced with an idolatry of free marketism, which would have been unrecognizable to Adam Smith. We have thus been left vulnerable to the machinations of those who are stupid enough to believe that bubbles cannot burst. (I have some tulip bulbs I'd like to sell.)

Can't we be sensible? Can we appeal to something other than the least common denominator? Can't our political leaders sense what is right and stick by it instead of pandering to the self centered.

I'll admit, I'm depressed about Obama. I had seen in him a person willing to call our country to our highest ideals; but with FISA I see someone who cares more about getting elected than about our highest ideals. And I see in his willingness to conform to what he or his advisors see as what is needed to appeal to others than his core supporters, a fatal flaw--the loss of his core supporters. Yes, I'll vote for him, because a vote for McCain is a vote for more of the same failed policies of the past 8 years (and because Esfahan is a beautiful city which I would hate to see destroyed and is home to beautiful people who deserve to live and flourish).

Friday Five

From Mother Laura at RevGalBlogPals

1. Did you go to sleep away camp, or day camp, as a child? Wish you could? Or sometimes wish you hadn't?
My presbytery owned a camp, Camp Grier, in the NC mountains. It was probably 30 or 40 miles from Montreat. Cause we went to Camp Grier, I didn't go to Montreat as much as most Presbyterians my age from outside the presbytery. So, I don't have a lot of memories of Montreat, except swimming once in Lake Susan. Coldest place I'd ever swum. Back to Camp Grier. I went there for a week every summer from the time I was old enough until I finished high school.

2. How about camping out? Dream vacation, nightmare, or somewhere in between?
I love camping out as long as it's not in a camp ground. I could never understand the attraction for driving your RV up to a hook up in a crowded camp and then being outdoors with hundresd of other people. Of course, I'm an introvert. The church I served in MI did a family camping weekend. I went out the first time and found them in a huge campground, chock a block next to each other, crowded in closer together than in the village we lived in . There were as many people at the campground as lived in the village.

I did the High Sierra camps in Yosemite one year. It was fantastic. You hiked in Yosemite from camp to camp. You arrived to find a cot, showers, and dinner. Hike some more, rest or just relax in the beauty. Breakfast, pick up your lunch and off you'd go to the next one. I've backpacked in the Sierras and loved it.

3. Have you ever worked as a camp counselor, or been to a camp for your denomination for either work or pleasure?
My only camping experience was at a denominational camp as a kid.

4. Most dramatic memory of camp, or camping out?
Just the stars, stars and more stars camping along the Snake in Wyoming.

5. What is your favorite camp song or songs? Bonus points if you link to a recording or video.

Kum Ba Ya. Of course.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Anglicans to ordain women bishops

Just a quick post. The NYTimes has an article saying that the Church of England has just voted to ordain women as bishops. A schism is threatened. This is the 21st century. Things are worse than I thought. Women can't be bishops because none of the 12 disciples were women. Evidently no one read Luke 8. No one seems to give Mary Magadalene the status she deserves. No one, other than some Samaritans listened to the nameless woman at the well. Folks seem quite content to read the Bible as long as it says what they want it to say. (I'm in that camp too!)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday Five/RevGalBlogPals

From RevGalBlogPals For the Fourth of July

1. Barbeque's or picnics ( or are they essentially the same thing?)
Barbeque is something you eat. It is technically only chopped pork that has been slowly cooked with a vinegar (no tomatoes!) sauce. It is served with a barbeque sauce that is vinegar based (no tomatoes). The piquancy of the vinegar brings out the sweetness of the pork. Accompaniments are barbeque slaw (vinegar based dressing with tomato catsup and a bit of sugar and spices) and hush puppies (fried corn bread in small balls). Sweet tea is best with barbeque or if need be, really cold beer. Don't try to gussy this up with wine like some of the southerners who want to suck up to the Yankees moving south in NC. Picnics are basically social events where you take food to eat outside. Or a picnic can be the food itself.

2. The park/ the lake/ the beach or staying at home simply being?
Party at my house. But not this year. Cook out of some kind. Lots of cold beer.

3. Fireworks- love 'em or hate 'em?
Ohhh, I love fireworks. I just hate the crowds of getting there and leaving.

4. Parades- have you ever taken part- share a memory...
When I lived in Shaker Heights, I was in the parade all the time. First, in my much younger days, my son would decorate his trike and ride. Then he would march with the scouts. I'd usually be with the League of Women Voters or some mayoral or council candidate. I even got to march as a city council member for five years. (Yeah, the city actually elected me twice to serve on city council)

5. Time for a musical interlude- if you could sum up holidays in a piece of music what would it be?
Odd for a southerner and pacificist and anti-Apocolyticist, The Battle Hymn of the Republic

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
While God is marching on.
And of course, anything from the musical 1776

Thursday, July 3, 2008

While the PCUSA has been debating the inflamatory issue of ordination of gays and lesbians, our brothers in the PCA have been debating whether their Book of Order allows ordination of deaconesses. This according to the Layman. Not that I find the Layman a particularly unbiased or even factual reporter of events. (At a General Assembly four years ago, I was at an event that Parker Williamson, founder of the Layman, reported on. We evidently were at two different events.) I usually read it to keep up with my friends. My friends on the progressive end get written up and dissed.

It is my understanding that for the EPC, ordination of women is a local option, but I'm not sure about that. PCUSA churches leaving for the EPC are migrating to a nongeographical presbytery where their ordained women can retain their ordination.

I never encountered either PCA or EPC until I moved south. The largest Presbyterian churches in Memphis are either PCA or EPC. Mega churches.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I have been feeling a desire to go on retreat. I'd like to find a retreat center within driving distance of Memphis. I'd like a place where I could join morning and evening prayers in a beautiful setting with enough space for some walking or hiking. A labyrinth would be nice. Good food, also. A spiritual director, perhaps. Yoga and massage would be fantastic. I'd do a structure group retreat if it were the right one. I need not to miss a Sunday at church.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Have they always been stupid?

I'm reading Bone by Marian Woodman. Woodman was a Jungian analyst who died of bone cancer in the mid-90s. I was very interested in Jungian stuff in the 90s and went to one of her last workshops. I bought the book years ago and decided to read it.

She is Canadian. She ran into the same stupidness from doctors that I did. They know everything; you know nothing. But the worst I just read. She is receiving radiation for her cancer (at this point, they have only diagnosed uterine cancer and done a hysterectomy). A nurse is talking with her. Woodman is depressed. The nurse suggests she talk to a social worker. They can help with financial issues. Woodman doesn't have financial problems. Well, perhaps she should talk about her marriage since her husband doesn't come with her. Woodman explains why her husband doesn't accompany her. Well, perhaps she needs a community of support (at this point her house is full of flowering spring bulbs in the middle of winter from her friends). So the nurse asks why she is depressed.

She has cancer! She could die. Why would anyone not be depressed?

One line I loved. Woodman was explaining that her noncooperation was not directed at the nurse. She said, statistically, noncooperative patients do better than cooperative patients. I think I know the reason!

Yes, there are wonderful doctors and nurses. My primary care physician is one (maybe). But it is astonishing to me that the proportion of doctors who don't listen to patients, don't believe patients. I still wonder what happens to them or if they simply went to medical school for the money.