Sunday, December 30, 2007

You can call me Reverend

Well, it's official as of today. I am finally ordained. It was a wonderful service. I couldn't have had better folks on the commission. My father was here to give the sermon. My mom and sister are here as well and they are all staying for a few days to visit. My in-laws were able to drive down and stay for the service and then went home again. I'm in one of those small churches where about 75% of the people can come down for the laying on of hands, including my mom and P. It was really amazing. My dad presented me with the cross that he'd worn for the entire time he was in ministry and made pretty much the whole congregation tear up. It couldn't have been better. As if I didn't have enough surprises, a couple from the church that sponsored me when I first became an inquirer back in IN was in town and came to present our church with a peace candle that has been passed from church to church, beginning in Russia many years ago. They were able to take pictures and well-wishes back with them, and for that I am very grateful.
In other news, P had to leave today, but had a good interview for a job while he was here. We're hoping to hear from the place this week to know if he gets an offer or not. So, pins and needles around here, waiting to hear if P will be able to come up here sooner rather than later. We all miss him lots. Send your prayers for positive news on the job front.
L is wired from getting to see both families of grandparents and her aunt and uncle and Daddy all in one week. Not to mention all the presents and new things to read and play with. So much excitement!
Lots going on. I'm looking forward to a few days off to spend some time with my family of origin and maybe do some retail therapy. Hope everyone has a wonderful new year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Best. Christmas present. EVER.

With Christmas and my ordination so close together, P didn't have the time off to come for both. For those of you who don't know, I've been living about 9 hours away in a different state since taking my first call. P wasn't able to find work up here that quickly and is still living in Huge Southern City until a job can be obtained in my neck of the woods. Anyway, last night during our Christmas Eve service, right at the very end, just as I am about to give the benediction, a young man in a rather dashing leather fedora appears at the rear doors and low and behold, when he removed the hat, it was my P! I got all teary (still am, thinking about it again) and was rather breathless during the benediction, during which I have no idea of what was said, but I got it out, and had to restrain myself from running down the aisle to the back row where he'd seated himself. I still have no idea how I held it together. Turns out, he had some extra time off accrued that he hadn't realized. I hadn't expected him til Thursday and haven't seen him since Thanksgiving. Best. present. ever!
Though it might tie with the look on L's face when she saw him there too.

What Dreams May Come

In our house, we have a nativity scene that we set up each Advent. We put out the stable and in the stable goes the manger, Mary, the shepherds and their sheep, the camels, a cow or two, the donkey, the wise men and more often than not, we get everyone in place only to realize there’s an extra shepherd or wise man hanging about—Oh, that must be Joseph! And we put him in his place beside Mary. Joseph gets so often overlooked this time of year. He’s always in the background, hovering over Mary and the babe. He is the responsible family man. The one who is conscientious enough to take a woman as his wife who is having a baby that is not his own and give it a name that he did not choose.

Matthew would have us believe he doesn’t make a fuss about it. He gets up and does what was told to him in a dream. We don’t hear anything about his feelings on being the surrogate father to the Son of God. Poet J. Barrie Shepherd wrote a poem that helped me look at this passage in a new way, and I’d like to share it with you.

"The hardest task
The most difficult role of all
That of just being there
And Joseph, dearest Joseph, stands for that.
Don't you see?
It is important,
crucially important,
that he stand there by that manger,
as he does,
In all his silent misery
Of doubt concern and fear.
If Joseph were not there
There might be no place for us,
For those of us at least-
So many- who recognize and know-
That heartache, for our own,
Who share that helpless sense
Of lost-ness, of impotence
In our own lives, our families, our jobs
In our fearful threatened world this night.
Yes, in Joseph's look of anguish
We find our place;
We discover that we too
Belong beside the manger:
This manger in which are met
God's peace and all our wars and fears....
Let us be there,
Simply be there just as Joseph was,
With nothing we can do now,
Nothing we can bring-
It's far too late for that-
Nothing even to be said
Except, 'Behold- be blessed,
Be silent, be at peace.'
Joseph, son of David,
'Do not fear,' the angel said.
And Jim and Alice, Fred and Sue,
Bob and Tom and Jean and Betty too,
The word to you, to all of us
Here at the manger side,
The word is also, 'do not fear.'
Our God, the Lord and Sovereign,
Maker of heaven and earth,
Time and eternity,
Of life and death and all that is
And shall be,
Has joined us in this moment…,"[i]

What a night that must have been. Joseph has just discovered that his fiancée is pregnant. Of course, his first thought is going to be that it is by another man. How else could it be? His immediate response is that of a “just” man—he must divorce her. That is, it is not out of anger that he resolves to terminate the relationship but out of deep religious conviction. It is not his prerogative to forgive her and act out that forgiveness by consummating the marriage. In this instance however, justice is tempered by mercy; although he must divorce her in order to demonstrate that his love for God is stronger than his love for Mary, he determines to do it secretly, so as not to cause her public humiliation.[ii] He plans to let her go quietly, preserving her dignity and probably her life. And just as he’s resolved to do this, the weight off his mind, ready for a good night’s sleep, God gives him another path to take, one that’s mapped out by an angel in a dream.

Matthew doesn’t tell us a thing about Mary other than her relationship to Joseph. All we know about her comes from Luke’s gospel. We don’t get all that much information from either gospel about Joseph. Matthew is setting him up as a responsible, God-fearing man, who obeys angels that appear to him in dreams. After each occurrence of an angel dream (there are at least two more, one that sends the family to Egypt to escape Herod, and one that brings them home after his death). Matthew simply states that Joseph got up, and did what he was told. No pondering, no indecision, he just got up after he awoke, and did it. Now that’s faithfulness.

‘Course, I’m not sure that’s the whole story. I don’t doubt that Joseph was a good man, a man who loved God and followed the Torah, but really, he just got up and did whatever he was told in a dream? I’d be thinking back about what I’d had for dinner that night. “Perhaps you are an undigested bit of beef, or a blot of mustard,” as Scrooge said to the spirit of Marley.

The angel doesn’t just tell Joseph that it’s ok to wed Mary. No, the angel has a little more to say. Like the fact that the child isn’t another man’s. Now that must have been a pretty big shock. How could this child not be another man’s? It certainly wasn’t his own! No, no, says the angel, this child is of the Holy Spirit. Well, if finding out his fiancée was pregnant before the wedding wasn’t shock enough, finding out the child was from God must have been pretty surprising. Joseph probably wondered, “Why me? Why Mary?” Couldn’t God have picked another young woman? Anyone else but me?

The last thing the angel tells Joseph is the name to give the child. “Jesus,” from the Greek translation. “Yeshua,” in Hebrew. And if that wasn’t enough, the angel continues, telling Joseph that this child that he will have to raise and provide for, but who really isn’t his, will be the Savior of his people. Matthew tells us that’s what the name Jesus means, “He will save.” Isaiah uses the name Emmanuel, “God with us.” And as Joseph finds out, things can get pretty crazy when God comes to be with us.

Joseph may have wondered how this tiny little baby boy would, in fact, save people from their sins. But if he had known, would he have followed the angel’s instructions? Would he have given that baby the name that held such big expectations for such a small child? I don’t know if I could have. Even though Matthew tells us that Joseph just got up and did what God’s angel instructed, I think it must have been a pretty tough bite to swallow. All this goes to show just how dangerous (and amazing) dreams can be! God’s dream for salvation came about in a baby and a cross. Joseph’s dreams have him take a woman already pregnant to be his wife and then travel to a foreign land to keep the child safe from a jealous king, only to come back when the king was dead. I imagine that after that first dream Joseph was a little wary of going to sleep, and especially after a second and so on.

But, Joseph wakes up to a new reality. God’s reality. One where a baby saves the world. He’s there, standing by the manger, a comfort to Mary, in awe of the child in his care, the child that belongs to God, who belongs to us all. Amen.

[i] Shepherd, J. Barrie. Faces at the Manger. Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1992.

[ii] Hare, Douglas R. A. Interpretation:Matthew. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Are you the One?"

Scriptures: Isaiah 35:1-10; Matt. 11:2-11
by Rivkah

Poor John the Baptist has landed himself in prison. No more desert wandering for a while for him. Of course, that’s what he gets for pointing out Herod’s indiscretions with his sister-in-law. Yet, locked away as he is, he is still able to prepare the people for Jesus’ ministry. He, like Jesus, has disciples to go out for him. So, while he is cooped up in prison, they go on an errand to find out a little bit more about Jesus and what he is doing.

"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for someone else?” It seems like John more than anyone else, ought to already know the answer to that question. It reminds me of the words of Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” “Are you the spirit whose coming was foretold to me?” Even though he can see quite clearly that it is a spirit and he knew to expect it, he still has to ask. I almost expect to hear the spirit spit back, "Well, yeah, who else would I be?”But Scrooge, even knowing the spirit would be there, asks because it is always hard to believe when a spirit shows up.

The same is true for John. He knows that the Messiah will show up. He even knows who it is. After all, he baptized Jesus only recently. But it is a little hard to grasp when he finally shows up. “Are you the one who is to come?” The question is more along the lines of: “Is it really you? I see you, but I hardly believe my own eyes!” What John sees is Jesus performing miracles and teaching in the temple. Perhaps he only asks so his disciples to go find Jesus so they can go find out what Jesus’ own answer is. Or perhaps he was getting a little antsy that Jesus wasn’t doing what a Messiah ought to be doing. Certainly not healing the sick, and teaching about helping the poor and oppressed.

From all indications, this is not what the first century Jews expected from their Messiah. They wanted justice and punishment for the criminals (read the Romans) and probably some theatrical raining of fire and brimstone, a burning bush or two, and maybe even a fiery sword to smite their enemies. So it’s no wonder that John is asking, "Are you the one, or are we supposed to wait for somebody else?” Maybe even somebody better, with a little more flash.

And admittedly, he was probably not surprised by Jesus’ answer, but maybe a little disappointed. In fact, most of the Jews were disappointed. Where was the mighty ruler of armies? Where was the warrior to overthrow their oppressors? From the perspective of those Jews, Jesus had more of an air of prophet than Messiah. Even Elisha had cleansed a leper and raised a boy from the dead. Of course John asks, “are you the one?” Even if he knew the answer, it never hurts to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. And of course, in typical Jesus fashion, he never just says, ”yes,” or “no.” He actually just tells John’s disciples to go and report what they have seen and heard. That makes for significant room for interpretation, especially since what they have seen and heard looked a lot like what the prophets of old were doing. But it also looked a lot like what the prophets of old said the Messiah would be doing. Isaiah says that the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame shall leap, and the mute will sing for joy. All of these, and more, are the signs of the Messiah. But Jesus leaves the interpretation of the signs up to John and his disciples. It makes sense that way; people will believe what they want to believe. Either way, the Messiah has come to make the final judgment. Only it isn’t the way that the Jews originally thought it would be. To John, a fierce denouncer of the sins of the people, a Messiah would be the type to lay waste to those who commit wrong, especially those who commit wrong against Israel. John was a fiery sword, “woe to you,” kind of guy.

I have to admit, I hope that’s not what we get for Jesus’ return. Flaming chariots and raining brimstone aren’t my thing. Maybe it’s the fire hazard, but I’d rather we see the healing and teaching, personally. Though probably not if my people had spent hundreds of years under oppressive rule and were waiting for a liberator. Not if my city were under a corrupt authority, cheating me and my friends out of a hard earned wage that was way below what was paid to the Roman citizens. No, if that were the case, I’d feel just like John and the rest. I’d want someone to come and sweep it all clean.

“Are you the one?” It’s a very legitimate question when what you are expecting gets turned on its head. I don’t know what to expect anymore. What will we get when Jesus returns? Will we get the Gospel Jesus, healing and teaching peace? Will we get the Messiah that the Jews expected the first time around, brandishing a flaming sword and stamping out corruption and oppression with death and destruction? There are a plethora of theories out there about Jesus' return. Some think he has already returned and spoken to their leaders. I, personally, have stopped trying to imagine what it will be like. Once I conceded that God’s capabilities were beyond my comprehension, I decided that it was pointless to try and imagine what God could do.

I’m sure that’s how the first Christmas felt, too. A virgin having a baby, putting him in a manger, angels singing to shepherds, wise men traveling from far away with only a star to follow. It’s beyond what anyone could have imagined, especially for the coming of the Messiah. It’s no wonder John asks, “Are you the one?” And who wouldn’t be confused? Jesus doesn’t even use language that would seem appropriate to a Messiah. No warrior language, no might and power here. Just language drawn from the lives of shepherds and fishermen. It’s no wonder so many people missed it. It’s no wonder that even John is questioning him. Wouldn’t we miss it too? Or perhaps, dis-miss it, even? Often when people speak about peace and justice they are easily ignored as idealists. Do they live in the real world? Can’t they see that it will never happen? It would take the world turning upside down before we could have peace and justice as the rule rather than the exception.

But that is what our job as Christians would have us do. We are to work to turn the world upside down until Christ can come again and finish the job he started. Jesus began the work of turning things on their heads. Of course it is upside down to hear the muted tongue speak or see the lame leap like deer. Of all the things we don't expect, we can expect the Messiah to turn things on their heads. And Jesus is so good at that. Even from the start, from being born of a virgin and laid in a manger with shepherds to welcome him into the world to speaking in parables that upset much of the Jewish Scripture and preaching to crowds of thousands while feeding them with only a few fish and some bread.

I can only imagine the number of people who asked Jesus, “Who are you?” even after seeing the miracles he’d performed and hearing the parables he preached. And then after considering for a moment those same miracles and parables asking, “Are you the one who is to come?” John had to have had some doubts, I think to ask that question of Jesus. Even if he was sending the disciples to get an answer for their own sakes, he must have wondered on occasion if he’d gotten the right guy at the River Jordan. He could have just sent the disciples, saying, “Go and see what the Messiah is up to.” But instead he asks, “Are you the one who is to come?” He needed to make sure for himself as well as his followers. Maybe he just needed to know if he was wasting his time. “Should we wait for another?” If Jesus was the real McCoy, John needed to know. It was John’s job to know since he was supposed to be preparing the way for the Messiah. John needed to make sure he was preparing the way for the right guy, even if this guy didn’t act much like a Messiah ought to.

So if even John the Baptist, the one who was supposed to be preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah wasn’t sure who he was looking for, how are we supposed to know who to look for? Would we even listen to someone like John if he came to tell us that the Messiah was coming again? Probably not. Most likely we’d shake our heads at the poor crazy or lock him away out of sight and mind. We come with our own notions of what we think the Messiah ought to be doing to save the world. We even have our own thoughts about who should and shouldn’t be saved, as well as how and when. And it's precisely those notions that the Messiah will turn on their heads. Is it any wonder that John had to come first to get people ready for Jesus’ message?It would take anyone some time to let the idea of the Messiah sink in. Of course, we’ve had two thousand some years now to get ready for his return. Yet, I’m still not sure we’re prepared for that momentous event. We might be looking to our left and the Messiah will appear on our right. Even when they were told what to look for, the people of Israel still doubted. They had in their minds what they thought the Messiah ought to be and do. They had forgotten what the prophets had told them. They had ignored the signs that were given to fulfill the words of the prophets. Even John the Baptist was not immune to it all.

We cannot and should not be complacent thinking that we will just know the Messiah when we see him. Even the Jews who were told by Isaiah and several other prophets what to look for did not recognize him in their midst. Only when we see the world being turned upside down, can we start asking, “Are you the one?” And, like John, we will probably have to decide for ourselves if we want to believe that actions speak louder than words. Even if the Messiah returned right now, even if he fulfilled the prophecies to a T, I think we would still be justified in asking, “Are you the one who is to come?” Do my eyes deceive me, or are you really the Messiah?

John, even with his doubts, I think wanted to believe that Jesus was “the one who is to come.” Haven’t you ever asked a question that you were pretty sure you knew the answer to, just to be absolutely certain you were right? That may have been what John was doing. Just like Scrooge’s spirits, he can see that Jesus is indeed the one “whose coming was foretold,” but it is still hard to believe when the miraculous occurs. For us, it is even harder. Do we even know what signs to look for? Do we look to the same prophecies that Isaiah gives us or will they be different this time around? Do we look for another John the Baptist to herald the second coming? What are we to look for? What has been foretold to us? Well, it’s hard to say, honestly. That’s why I think it is always ok to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” At least if we are asking, we are not forgetting that God’s promise of the return of the Messiah will, indeed, be fulfilled. At least if we are asking, we are seeking the Messiah’s return. Asking means we believe that it will happen, that God will indeed be with us again. O come, O come Emmanuel! Amen.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Day 2

Got L to preschool this morning. She told me "can't want to stay" again. Started the screaming and crying and throwing of self on the floor as soon as she saw her teacher. I didn't stick around today, just hugged her and told her I would be back for her later. Didn't fall apart either. Much easier today than yesterday.
I did get a brief chance to talk with her teacher though. She said that L did pretty good yesterday after she calmed down. She said that L even took a nap-miracle!-and that she made a friend to hold hands with (a cherubic little curly blond named Megan). Teacher (Ms. J) went on to say that today would probably be pretty bad, tomorrow some better and next Monday would be bad again (after getting to be at home with mom, not wanting to go back.)
I like Ms. J; she's no-nonsense, but she obviously loves the kids. I think that's just what L needs, too. She's been queen of the castle up til now, and I think some routine and structure will help her gain a little better control of her emotions and willfulness too. (Imagine, a child of mine and P's willfull! Who'da thought?) :)

Monday, December 03, 2007

p.m. update

L was very glad to see me at pick-up time. I didn't get a chance to see her teacher, but the director said she did pretty good and another teacher said she seemed fine at lunch. She was quietly watching a video when I arrived. That was a good sign.
Of course, everyone says tomorrow will be worse, now that she knows the game. We'll have to see. When I asked her if she had fun, she said, "Yes, I had lots of fun." So I hope I can get her to remember that tomorrow morning. Wish us luck!

a.m. update

Dropping off L for her first day at preschool was every bit as traumatic as I'd imagined it could be. There was screaming (and I mean full out, mega decibel screaming) for mommy and tears and snot were flowing freely, temper tantrum ensued. I told her she would have fun and that she needed to stay and play with the other children. "I can't want to! I can't want to!" she cried.
I placed her in the capable hands of the teacher and kissed her, told her I'd always come back for her and left before I could change my mind. As soon as I got into my office just a couple blocks aways, I broke down in tears. It breaks a mother's heart to know her child is fearful of something unfamiliar and can't be there to ease the transition, even if it's eventually in the child's best interest. I know she's safe and will be very well cared for, and will even come to have fun there. It's just that she doesn't know that yet.
My head knows that this is the best arrangement for everyone. The preschool is excellent. I very much like the director, and I think the teacher will be good for L, though I don't know her very well yet. I know L will eventually come to enjoy the time they get to spend on the playground, doing crafts, singing, etc. I know I will get more work done and be able to go to meetings and groups that I might not ordinarily attend now that she is not in my care full time.
It's my heart that's breaking though. I won't always be the first one to see her do new things now, or hear her conversations in "L language" with her toys and picture books.

I will update in the p.m. once I've picked her up and seen how she did. Pray that tomorrow she'll remember that today was ok. I just have this feeling...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Any Day Now

"Any Day Now"
Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

Ah, Advent… This time of year there’s a lot of preparations to be made. We prepare for Christmas in a frenzy of gift buying and wrapping, cookie baking, party hosting, tree buying, light stringing, house decorating, and the list goes on.
And you have had other preparations to make as well. You’ve been preparing for a new pastor, and preparing to welcome her and her family into your fold. Together we’ll prepare for an ordination and installation to be held here later this month. I can’t imagine anyone being asleep. There’s a lot to get done!
I imagine there was a time when you were feeling like Matthew when it came to the matter of getting a pastor. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” You’ve waited a long time! I also imagine it may be something of a relief to many of you, especially the PNC.

However, unlike waiting for the arrival of a new pastor we don’t get a start date or a first Sunday for Christ’s return. Both Paul and Matthew are telling us that there is no way we can know when to expect Christ to return to earth. They tell us to be ready, but not when it will happen. Both of our authors were awaiting Jesus to come back at any time. It is very likely that most of Jesus’ earliest followers expected his return very soon—certainly within their own lifetime. Paul and Matthew’s advice to their readers reflected this attitude. There is a sense of urgency to their words, expressing a need to be aware of the passing of each day until Christ’s return. Paul is letting us know that salvation is getting closer and closer, Matthew says that it will creep up on us, like a thief in the night. It’s not something we can pencil in on our day-planners. Not even the angels nor the Son of Man himself know, says Matthew.

During Advent, it’s hard to keep track of anything, much less the passing of each day. We’re so busy trying to find the right gifts, throw the right parties, and bake all those cookies that the time slips away from us and Christmas is over before we know it. We get so caught up waiting for the baby to be born, that we miss his coming again. It’s not something that we keep in the forefront of our minds this time of year. Our preoccupation with keeping the holidays “merry and bright” also keeps us from the focus of the season. Or rather, we get so caught up with the thought of Christmas itself that we forget about preparing for it. Oh, sure, we prepare everything else from our homes, inside and out, to our cars with the light up wreaths on the front grills. We even prepare our churches, changing the colors of the paraments, setting up the Advent wreath with its candles, some even devote their lawns to a living nativity, donkeys and all.
But we forget to prepare ourselves. We’re ready for the glitz and glam of the holiday parties, we easily prepare for a night out by buying new clothes, fixing hair and make-up, donning jewels and spiffy ties. It’s so much easier to get the outside ready than the inside. But what if Jesus came while we were all out at a holiday party? Or what if we were so busy shopping that we missed the heralding angels?

You’ll notice that the stole I am wearing and the vestments here in the sanctuary are purple and they will remain so throughout Advent. You might recall the other season that uses purple is Lent. Lent is a time in our church calendar that we use for repentance and reflection. We are preparing ourselves for Easter. The reason that Advent and Lent share colors, is that the church believes that Advent and Lent share that need for reflection and preparation. Some traditions have a much more solemn time during Advent, preparing for Christ’s birth much the same way we prepare for Easter. Yet it is much nicer to think about preparing for a celebration of a birth than a mourning of a death.

But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? There is a celebration for Easter, and it’s the main event we’re preparing for anyway. We get a little caught up in the death part because we’re so stoic for 6 weeks and only celebratory on Easter day itself. That was how Advent and Christmas originally worked. Like Lent and Easter, people were meditative and repentant leading up to the holy day and then celebrated only after the dawning of that day. They would then celebrate for the twelve days following Christmas up until Epiphany. That’s how the world’s longest Christmas tune came about.
Am I saying that we need to give up the festive holiday air that surrounds Advent? No, but I am saying that it might not hurt to share a little of the contemplative and repentant spirit of Lent at this time of year. That is one way that we can take the words of our Scripture today to heart. It is just one way we can strive to be ready for that unexpected hour.
It’s easy to recognize the common thread in Paul and Matthew’s words--it’s time. We never seem to have enough of it, we keep wasting it, and it’s getting shorter and shorter, at least according to Paul. It’s Paul who is really challenging us to reflect on how we use our time. He warns us to keep an eye on the clock, wake up from our sleep. “The night is far gone,” he says, “the day is near.” And because it is near, he says, we need to get our acts together- leave off the reveling and drunkenness,and debauchery and licentiousness, and quarreling and jealousy, and… well, you get the idea.

Paul makes the analogy of living as in the day. I can see why that makes sense. Anyone who has been to a big city understands that daytime is a much safer time than the night. Honest business is conducted during the day, when the buildings are full of employees. We can see by the light of the sun, there are no scary shadows where the unknown can hide. Night is when drug dealers and prostitutes walk the streets, promoting licentiousness and debauchery. Night is when the revelers from the clubs drive home drunk. Night is when the quarreling and jealousy lead to beatings and shootings. Matthew warns against similar deeds of darkness. He references the time before Noah, when there was much eating and drinking and general merry-making. But he warns that they were so caught up in all of this that they didn’t even notice the warning signs until they were already swept away in the flood.

Matthew also uses the waking from sleep metaphor, saying, “keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”And how could we, like the people of Noah’s time, notice the signs of the return of Christ, when we are so caught up in our own merry-making and revelry? Even if our deeds are not as awful as those on Paul’s list, we do know that we are not as ready as we should and could be for Christ’s return. We are drowsy even now, content to believe that he certainly won’t be back right now. There’s time to get things in order. We don’t have to worry quite yet.

These passages agree with each other that Christ’s return could be any day now. The supermarket tabloids would certainly have us believe so. But I think that Paul and Matthew might be more credible. Yet we’re still blithely going about our business of decorating, shopping, baking and more. Could we indeed miss the angels heralding? the star in the sky? Maybe if someone had warned the innkeeper in advance that the Son of God was going to need a place to sleep, he might have saved a special room for them.

That’s the problem with not knowing when we can expect Christ to return--we have to be ready all the time. And how do we ready ourselves? That is part of what makes it so hard, all of the ‘not knowing’ that comes along with trying to prepare ourselves. All we do know about Christ’s return is that it could be any day now. Any day like today, any day like tomorrow, any day like next week, next month, next millennium. The only thing for sure is that he is coming. And we know because we have been promised so. We have been given a promise and must count on the reliability of the one who makes that promise. Some people might have us believe that there is a secret code we can crack to know exactly when Christ will return. But promises are not quite so scientific, they allow for considerable latitude. Matthew assures us that it will be a surprise, not something we can calculate. We have to count on the fact that the other promises in the Bible have been fulfilled and this one will be too.If we give up on that, then we have no reason to celebrate Advent or any other church season, for that matter. We might as well just be asleep, like Paul and Matthew admonish against.

Jesus’ birth was the fulfillment of a promise, just like his coming again will fulfill another promise. Believing that God fulfills God’s promises is essential to celebrating Advent. We celebrate the fulfillment of one promise—the birth, because we know that another promise—Christ’s return, waits to be fulfilled. Advent is not just the celebration leading up to Christmas. It is the celebration of a promise fulfilled and a promise to be fulfilled. So while Christmas has a way of sneaking up on us this time of year we still have to be on the watch, we have to keep awake for the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Messiah’s return. Whether or not we know the day or hour, we can know that it will happen, that it could be any day now. Amen.

First Sunday down...

Today went very well. Assuming all the compliments were genuine, everyone liked the service and the sermon. I realized about half way through it I was talking in fast forward, but since I annunciate well, I don't think anyone much noticed. The only thing anyone pointed out to me that was "wrong" was that someone had switched off the mic on the pulpit, but I also project well (four years of speech team in hs, thanks Mr. E!), so all that did was make it unable to record, but I'm not somebody who's all sentimental about recording stuff like that, so no big. (It was a recycled sermon anyway. I just tweaked it for a new church.)
The big news is that tomorrow is L's first day of preschool. Yeah, it'll be way harder on me, I'm sure. She's really social and loves to be around other kids. I think she'll have a great time. They go outside for an hour twice a day, they do crafts and sing lots of songs-I know she'll love it. And of course, I will get far more work done without her demanding attention and I'll be able to talk to other adults who come in without interruption, but of course, I will miss her and miss seeing the adorable things she does and says and her saying, "Mommy, I missed you," even though we've been in the same room for the last three hours and all I did was go to the bathroom.
It was strange to take the list and go buy "school" supplies, even for preschool. My little girl is going to her first day of school. She's growing up too fast. No, really, I'm fine. Really.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Should I be nervous?

Everyone keeps telling me not to be nervous about my first Sunday, etc. I'm not. Should I be? I suppose if I were fresh out of seminary without a lifetime of being a PK behind me, I might be, but my sermon is good, I've got a good liturgist helping out, I've been working in a church, even though not as a pastor, for the past three years-I feel good about everything at this point. Worship planning is one thing that just doesn't get to me. I actually enjoy that part.
I know that things will get crazier as we approach Christmas and my ordination, but I have L in preschool now, so I don't have to worry about her and that will give me some peace of mind. I even have some old sermons to draw on so I don't have to come up with all new ones. The church seems to already have all their Advent/Christmas events planned out. (Not to my liking, but that's another story and not something I can really change at this late date.)
I'll let you know how it goes!

Monday, November 26, 2007

First Day Down

Today was my first day at work as pastor of the little not-quite-coastal church. I met several people who stopped in to say 'welcome.' There was a huge basket of goodies waiting on the desk when I came in. There were snacks, gift cards, toys for L, all kinds of nice stuff.
All in all, the time went by faster than I expected. I have L with me this week. I will get her enrolled in our preschool of choice starting next week, assuming I get all her paperwork from her old pediatrician on time.
Now, we just need lots of prayers for P to get a job soon. We're lonely up here without daddy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Since I'm awake... (at 12:45)

I might as well go ahead and type out my frustrations. I was reminded tonight of why I had never wanted to live in an apartment again. It's the neighbors.
About 11:15 I was awakened from a deep sleep by stomping, running, jumping, door slamming, etc. (elephant olympics?!?) in the apt. above. Ooooookaaaay. What's going on up there? Then I hear kid noises. Alright. Kids getting ready for bed. It's a little late for kids to be up, I think, but I understand. It can be a chore. I let it go on for about 10 minutes-that was when it woke up L-that made me a little upset. I mean, things are rattling in the cabinets and I startle every time something goes BANG or THUMP. I went up there, I was polite, I went back downstairs and waited... for well over an hour before I went back up. This time I spoke to the mom, (it was the dad the first time-he uttered exactly three syllables to me, "yeah," and "ok.") who explained that she had her six (six!) kids who had driven from IL with her and her husband, and they'd all slept and were wired and of course she was trying to calm them down... I explained that I too, had recently moved a long way and understood how tough it was, but I also had a child trying to sleep, as was I. She was apologetic. I was nice. I think things are quieter now, but I'm not sure it will last.
Did I mention that I'm fairly sure it's a one-bedroom like our place. Six kids!! (Pretty sure that's against policy, but I'm not a tattletale-yet.)
I think it's been quiet for the last several sentences. Might be time to try to sleep again. Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Becoming Real

L and I settled into our temporary quarters in our new town. We drove for 9 hours straight with the dog and two cats. I was so glad to get out of the car. We'll be staying in a furnished one-bedroom apt. for about 2 or 3 months. It really depends on when P can get a job and move up here. It's a nice enough place, small, but not smaller than the place we lived in at the seminary, of course, we didn't have a kid and a small menagerie at that point either. :)
It's starting to sink in that I won't be going back to Huge Southern City, seeing all of our friends at Old (in so many ways) Church.
And ok, I admit, the worst part, to me, is going to be finding all the new places I'll have to go. P got me a going away present of a Garmin GPS. I have to say, I feel a lot better having it to guide me around in unfamiliar territory. But now there are things like finding a good grocery, a good pediatrician, a good family doctor, a good vet, a good child-caregiver, a good hair stylist, etc, etc, etc. Where is the post office, the library, the Target, the local coffee shop?
I start my first day in the office the Monday after T'giving. I really am looking forward to finally doing the job I spent 3 years in school training for and even though I didn't really love the 3 years I spent as an office admin, I think they really helped me prepare for the things they don't teach you about in seminary.
Please pray for my sanity as I live with all the critters in such a small space, without P for a couple months, beginning a new job in a new place...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's amazing how making huge life changes can bring out the best and worst in me. I'm feeling really out of control right now. Things aren't panning out for our move like I wish they had. L and I are going to be in a hotel (assuming we find one in the area that takes pets) for several nights, then we're driving about 4 hours to the in-laws for T'giving. Then we drive back, then we move into an apartment. Oh, and btw, I will be sans husband for all of this.
You might think that we could wait and go up later, but I start work the Monday after T'giving and I have to have a few days to find a childcare-giver for L before I start working and then of course the apt complex said they won't have anything available until after the holiday so we have to find a hotel that takes pets. So I figured I might as well drive to the in-laws for the holiday so I'm not paying for the hotel for all those nights. It's be way cheaper to board the animals than to stay in the hotel. (Can you hear the manic rise in my tone of voice? It's there, I assure you.)
On the up side, I'm getting rid of three + years of junk that's piled up in our house and it feels good. I have checked off finding an apartment, boarding the cats over T'giving, and making vet apts. to be sure everyone is healthy for the move (and can be tranqued for the drive). That looks like so little in writing... yikes.
I suppose I should get back to it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Coming soon...

In three weeks from today, I will be starting my first day in my new office. (Which, btw, the church is gutting in honor of my arrival and letting me pick everything from the wall color to all new furniture!) I will have to study and preach for a few months out of only one box of books that I will ship up in advance. Sounds impossible, but I suppose it can be done, or rather, it must be done, as the rest will be in storage for a while. Gotta get that packed and sent this week.
Two weeks from today, I will arrive in our new hometown. I will begin searching for quality child care for L. I will begin a lengthy, involuntary separation from P. He is searching for a job in the area, but is not sure how long it will take, so he is going to stay in City of Current Residence with his aunt and uncle until he's found a job and is ready to start work up there. I will also have all the animls with me. Gee, I can't wait to drive 9 hours with a 3 year old, a med-lg. dog, and two cats in the car. Oh, and somehow I will need to pack our luggage in there too. That's a tall order, even for Ru.
I feel like there is so much to do right now, though really there isn't. The movers will pack our stuff and store it. P has found a furnished apt. for me and L to live in for a while. We're waiting until the first of the new year to look at houses on the advice of our realtor who feels we'll get more for our money that way. P has found a place to stay. Mostly I just have to sit here and stew about all the changes happening in the next few weeks.
One week from today... it pains me to say, I will begin to acclimate my body to waking up early (well, earlier, anyway), getting in the shower, and being ready for my day before lunch time, as well as getting L ready for her day at the same time. Yeah, it's noon, I'm still in my pj's. What's it to ya?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Five: Interviews

Mother Laura over at RGBP was noticing that lots of the Rev Gals are interviewing these days. (I just gone done with some myself!) So she posts the following Friday Five:

1. What was the most memorable interview you ever had?
Probably the one that should never have taken place. I got a phone call from a church that wanted to do a phone interview, but that was the first I'd ever heard of this place, so I wanted a chance to look at their info and location. But I said a tentative yes, explaining that I needed a chance to look over their CIF (church information form, for you non-Presbys) and then after I'd read it, discovered this was not a place I felt called to. So after trying to call the number he gave me about 5 or 6 times in one night and several times over the next few days, (get this, no machine, no voicemail!) I decided to use the email from their information form. Apparently it was there for show because in no one checked it in a week's time and they still called me for the interview. I was not ready, to say the least. I went ahead with it since the whole committee had gathered for that purpose and I wasn't sure how appropriate it was for me to say, "Hey! I tried to call you all week, emailed you, etc. Don't you people check your communications?!" I must have done ok, b/c at the end of the interview they asked me to send sermon tapes. (Needless to say, what they got instead was a "no, thank you" letter.)

2. Have you ever been the interviewer rather than the interviewee? If so, are you a tiger, a creampuff, or somewhere in between?
I've never been an official interviewer for someone seeking a position, but I did ask plenty of questions when I was visiting the church that finally called me. So I suppose that was a sort of interview. That being the case, I'd say more like a tiger in creampuff clothing. No one would look at me and think 'intimidating,' but I know I asked some pretty good, well-aimed questions.

3. Do phone interviews make you more or less nervous than in-person ones?
More. I really like to be able to read cues like facial expressions and reactions and such when I'm talking to people.

4. What was the best advice you ever got to prepare for an interview? How about the worst?
It helped me to write down the answers to the most common questions, like "what are your strengths and weaknesses," etc. By the way, if you're ever on a committee, get more creative than that and "where do you see yourself in five to ten years." What kind of question is that to ask a pastor?!
Sorry, flashback.
Anyway, the other best advice was to have a drink next to me while I was on the phone. Yeah, a grown-up kind. They can't see it and I was way more relaxed. Personally, I prefer and gin & tonic with lots of lime.

5. Do you have any pre-interview rituals that give you confidence?
Nah, just gotta have daddy keep the kid out of the room so I can hear what they're asking if I'm going to be on the phone. Otherwise, for in person, I try to make myself eat something even if I'm too nervous to feel like eating, just so I don't feel ill later.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

My new car!!!

After lots of research into safety, handling, gas milage, etc., we settled on the Subaru Forester. Patrick has dubbed it 'Ru.' (yeah, we name our cars, what's it to ya?) It also happens that I used to live the next county over from the factory in IN during our time there and probably knew some of the people who built my car. I like that idea. I also like the idea that Subaru is very environmentally responsible with their factories. I like that it is super safe (5 star rating) for my little one, with all-time all-wheel drive and front and side-impact airbags. The gas mileage averages about 24 or 25 mpg between city and highway. Sure it could be better, but then I'd have to be driving a car that could not fit a kid, a husband, a dog and the groceries at the same time, which I do, in fact, need on some days. (Not to mention if there's ever a kid #2.)
I love it! I haven't had my own (working) car in a long time and feel pretty excited at the freedom I will have again. I can't say I'm going to miss my Grand Cherokee so much, though it was a good car as far as size and getting me where I wanted to go, and it was free. It was also just what I needed to recover my sense of safety on the road after our awful accident. I didn't figure there were too many other cars on the road that could aerial flip a big, red 4WD Jeep. But the gas mileage was terrible and it was old ('96) and we'd already replace the whole AC system and done some patch work on the trannie which finally gave out and needed to be replaced. So we just decided to hold out until I got a job and then buy something new. Now the American Cancer Society can deal with it however they like.
I will be interested to see how comfy it is for long trips when I drive it up to our new home in a few weeks. I'll let you know...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Five (actually six): Apples and Pumpkins

From Singing Owl at RGBP: All Hallows Eve (Halloween) is near. As a child, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. We didn’t yet worry about razor blades in apples or popcorn balls or some of the other concerns people have with Halloween these days. Halloween was a chance to be mildly scared, and better yet, to dress up and pretend to be something we really weren’t. Let’s talk about that a bit, but then let’s add in some food ideas for this year. Where I live the leaves are falling, the temperature is chilly and pumpkins are for sale everywhere, along with many kids of apples. What's more, the "Holiday Season" will soon be upon us. ACK! I could use a new idea for dessert. So, here we go…

1. How did you celebrate this time of year when you were a child?
We did dress up and trick-or-treat. I do remember one year having a sleep over party just for the fun on it and we made a spider web cake and had a spider web where you attach string to a prize and then wind it all over the room around the furniture, etc. and there's a pencil at the other end to wind the string around as the kids follow it around to their prize. This is great when there are about 10-12 kids at the party!

2. Do you and/or your family “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? And if you do, has it changed from what you used to do?
Well, we'll take L trick-or-treating, maybe go to the church's vespers/organ recital/dress up party this year. I put up the one string of bat lights I have. That's about what we did when I was a kid. We just didn't make a big deal. Oh, we did (and do) carve pumpkins. This seems like it was more for the sake of having some family time though, than really celebrating the holiday.

3. Candy apples: Do you prefer red cinnamon or caramel covered? Or something else?
Absolutly caramel! (I love caramel anything.) I admit, I even eat those caramel apple suckers, but I lick off the caramel and toss the nasty green apple part. Even better, dip the caramel apple in chocolate.

4. Pumpkins: Do you make Jack O’ Lanterns? Any ideas of what else to do with them?
We do like to carve pumpkins at our house-love those stencil kits! I'm with reverendmother that we love to roast the seeds. What else to do with them? Compost them, of course! (We've also been known to ignore them long enough that they cave in on themselves and look like little old people with no dentures in.)

5. Do you decorate your home for fall or Halloween? If so, what do you do? Bonus points for pictures.
We stick to the fall stuff mostly. As above, we'll put up our bat lights, but I'm not one to decorate for a one day holiday. At least at Thanksgiving you can get the whole weekend out of, but since you can also use most of the fall decor for it too, it lasts most of the season.
I really wish I had some pictures of the decorations of some of the neighbors in the area. They really get into halloween. It's a little disturbing really. Maybe I'll try to get some photos this weekend and post them later.

6. Do you like pretending to be something different? Does a costume bring our an alternate personality?
Costumes are fun, but I'm not really into the alternate personality. I do like to find something I can use a cheesy accent with though.

Bonus: Share your favorite recipe for an autumn food, particularly apple or pumpkin ones.
This in one of our favorites, it's a little more involved than the one in the link at the bottom, but the spices and caramelization are sooooo good!
Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds (from MSLiving-with my own commentary)
1 medium pumpkin
5 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil (I usually use canola or even olive oil-though recently I'm into grapeseed oil)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray). Cut pumpkin open from the bottom (we do this from the top since we roast the seeds from the pumpkin we're carving for a jack-o-lantern), removing seeds. Separate flesh from seeds (I rinse them in a colander to get all the slime off). Pumpkin should yield about 1 cup seeds (it doesn't matter except you might need a little more spices if you have much more than that). Spread seeds on parchment in an even layer. Bake until dry (the dry part is important), stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Let cool. (We do this while we're carving the pumkin so the wait doesn't seem so long.)
In a medium bowl combine 3 tablespoons sugar, salt, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne. Heat peanut oil (or whatever you have) in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add pumpkin seeds and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Cook until sugar melts and pumpkin seeds begin to caramelize, about 45 to 60 seconds. Transfer to bowl with spices, and stir well to coat. Let cool. These may be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

This is a much simpler, but equally tasty recipe if you want to try it. Pumpkin Seeds with Cinnamon and Salt.

Here are a couple other ideas.
Pumpkin pudding (yeah, it's even WW friendly)
Make a box of sugar-free, fat-free Jell-O pudding (I love the vanilla or cheesecake flavors) according to the box. Add half a can of real pumpkin (not pie filling), add cinnamon, cloves, allspice, according to taste, add half a container of cool-whip lite. Way good in a parfait with gingerbread.

I also make a great pumpkin-cream cheese pie. It's a great twist on the classic. Don't have the recipe on hand, but if anyone's interested, I can always post it later.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It is finished...

Yesterday before lunchtime, I was examined and approved by Coastal Presbytery to be ordained and installed at Church Much Nearer to My In-Laws. Several people from the PNC and a couple of others were there to cheer me on. It was nerve wracking and the two young men also being examined were much more graceful under pressure than I was, I'm afraid, but in the end it all came to the desired conclusion.
I'm very excited about this church, and they seem equally excited to have me. Their last couple of pastors were old men ready to retire, who just wanted a way to coast into their retirement and not have to do a lot of care for the people, so they'd just get into the pulpit on Sundays, show up for session and that was about it. They seem really ready for something new and fresh, and I guess that's me. I'm really looking forward to meeting the rest of the people, b/c if they're even half as lovely as the people on the PNC, I'll be in good shape.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the supply pastor who has been there the last few months, as she is the first woman that church has ever had in their pulpit (there are not a whole lot of women in this presbytery, small though it is). She blazed the trail for me and I am very grateful.
The members of CP were also lovely and I received many, many welcomes and well-wishes.
No more hoops!!!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

That time of year.

I love fall, pretty much everything about it. The chill in the air, the smells, the bright, clear skies, the colors. Of course, it's also the worst time of year for my allergies. I guess you can't win 'em all. But for some reason, the moment there's a chill in the air, I get the urge to bake, specifically, cookies. I'm sure it stems from the tradition of making Christmas cookies in our family, but we never did that until December. But for me, once it's chilly in the evenings and it starts to get dark earlier, I just want to bake cookies. The spicy smell, the warmth from the oven, it's so comforting (also, unfortunately, fattening.) My favorites though, I do save for Christmas time. The honey cakes (lebkuchen for you German speakers), anise cakes (a.k.a., cement blocks or springerle) Kris Kringles, peppermint balls, bourbon balls, cinnamon almond bars, and I'm sure there are more I'm forgetting, but I'm already drooling thinking about them all. Oddly, we almost never decorated sugar cookies at our house when I was a kid. I do remember a few time, usually for a class party or something at school, but that was unusual.
The honey cakes are the ones I have the best memories of. You have to start them two weeks ahead of time to make the dough and then let them rise, very, very slowly, since there is no yeast, in a cool place for those two weeks. My mother even has a special honey cake pot that I don't think get used for anything else during the year. In fact, she just got me my own honey cake pot, though I will probably use it for soups and such also. Then, when they bake, the spices and honey getting all warm in the oven, oooohhh yeah!
Apparently, though, they are an aquired taste. When my husband said, "yeah, they're ok," the first time I made them, I about fell over in shock. "What? You mean they're not the best cookie ever?!" Well, ok, maybe you have to have the Swiss German genes that come from my family.
What are your favorite cookies? Make a few and save me some. Happy baking!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

One week...

until I go before presbytery for my final examination. I've chosen to be examined by the presbytery into which I am going, as opposed to the one from whence I came. Old presbytery, the one I'm supposed to be "under care" of, didn't do a lot of caring for me. New presbytery is seeming a lot more supportive already. I'm hoping it will be pretty smooth. Like I said before, there are 3 of us and we all have to preach and answer the standard questions. I hope that folks will trust the examinations committee and let us just go with that.
I've got my sermon ready. It's on Moses' call, burning bushes and all. I hope it will preach.
Otherwise, we're trying to get things organized, cleaned up, painted, etc., to get ready for our move. We're renting, but we agreed to paint the ceilings and stain the deck in lieu of a security deposit. We're also trying to tame the garden beds which were full of out-of-control rosemary hedges and wild blackberry thorns and even some poison ivy when we got here. I like to garden, but it's hard to get something under control when it was so crazy to begin with. I don't think they'd cared for the garden much in the several months the house was vacant before we moved in.
P is on a rampage to get rid of all of our 'junk' before we move. Of course, to him, that means all of my stuff that he doesn't understand why I keep (like, gasp, my yarn stash!) This, coming from the guy who has a box under the bed full of stuff from high school and college (like plastic cups and a faux lei from some frat party he really enjoyed putting together) that he hasn't even looked at more than once since we got married-and that was just to open the box to see what was in it and then shoving it back under the bed. I think I may make him a deal that he gets rid of the stuff he hasn't looked at in over a couple of years, and I'll donate to our church knit/crochet group any yarn I don't have a specific project in mind for. Knitters, doesn't this sound like a fair deal?
On that note, I'm almost done with a pair of socks for my sister. See side bar.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Five: The B-I-B-L-E

Posted at RevGalBlogPals by Mother Laura who says:
I have been working on an expansive language version of the Psalms and the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office/Breviary. (For you non-liturgical gals and pals, that's a set of prayers for morning, noon, evening, etc., mostly consisting of Psalms and other biblical texts). So I have been thinking a lot about the Bible recently, and how we encounter it as God's Word--or don't--in our lives, prayer, and ministry. (Great minds think somewhat alike this week, as yesterday's Ask The Matriarch post dealt with ways to help as many people in a community as possible engage with a scriptural text in preparation for Sunday worship). So, in that spirit, I offer my first Friday Five. I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's experience and reflection on these B-I-B-L-E questions:

1. What is your earliest memory of encountering a biblical text?
My memory isn't always the best, but for some reason Noah's ark keeps coming into my head. I know I was a total animal lover as a kid, so this would really have appealed.

2. What is your favorite biblical translation, and why? (You might have a few for different purposes).
I like the NRSV for it's dedication to accuracy and even trying to use more inclusive language. I also like the New Jerusalem, it tends to have a more lyrical/poetic quality in some places. It gives a different perspective without being too archaic.

3. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Your favorite verse/passage?
Now see, my CPM tried to ask me this too. They seem to think I ought to have a favorite, or if not, I must not read the Bible enough. (issues here?!) Well, I'm here to declare it! I don't have a favorite anything., not book, not chapter, not verse. I love different books and verses at different times, for different reasons. It depends on what I'm dealing with, what mood I'm in, what the situation calls for. That being said, I do like Paul's writings and Isaiah.

4. Which book of the Bible do you consider, in Luther's famous words about James, to be "an epistle of straw?" Which verse(s) make you want to scream?
I'm not a big fan of Timothy and a few of the other not-really-written-by-Paul letters, the patriarchal language is infuriating to me.

5. Inclusive language in biblical translation and liturgical proclamation: for, against, or neutral?
Absolutely for. Somehow we've forgotten (intentionally?) that we're all, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, made in the image of God. I don't think, though, that it should swing so heavily back the other direction that God becomes almost exclusively female.

Bonus: Back to the Psalms--which one best speaks the prayer of your heart?
I really like Psalm 121. It's a good reminder that God indeed will care for us and keep us safe.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Four Things

I haven't done the "four things" yet, and I'm such a dork that no one has tagged me and I still want to do it.
So here 'tis.

Four Jobs I've Held:
camp counselor
understudy librarian (work study)
childcare provider
church office admin

Four Films I Could Watch Over and Over:
Mary Poppins

Four TV Shows I Watch:
Battlestar Gallactica
Myth Busters

Four Places I've Lived:
teeny tiny 2 room seminary married student housing (2000-2003)
wonderful apartment (2003-2004)
really crappy apartment (2004, 2005)
rental house (2005-present)

Four Favorite Foods:
mayan choc. ice cream
portobello ravioli
crab cakes
grilled pizza with fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, olive oil and fresh basil

Four Websites I Visit Daily (or at least 5 times a week):
Paperback swap (ok, almost daily)
Knitty (again, almost daily)

Four Favorite Colors:
sapphire blue
L's honey/caramel blonde
cranberry red

Four Places I Would Love to be Right Now:
Lake house in Canada
beach house on Corolla
mountin cabin w/ P
moved into our new house (even though we haven't picked it out yet)

Four Names You Love, But Could/Would Not Use for Your Children:
Elizabeth (name of psycho, and I mean really psycho, ex-gf of hubby many years ago)
Molly (sounds silly/cutsie with our last name)
Lucy (same as above)
hubby's name, jr. (I just don't like that idea for some reason)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thanks be to God!

The congregational vote at the Church-Much-Nearer-to-the-Inlaws was today. You could have knocked me over with a feather when they told me the vote to call me was unanimous. I think that speaks most highly of the enthusiasm of the PNC and of the introduction by the chair, a man I have quickly come to value as a friend and colleage. I'm sure it does help some that CMNI has been searching for a pastor for nearly two years now, but by intervention of the Spirit, they managed to hold out for me.
I was flattered to hear, too, that I was the first candidate that the PNC had voted unanimously to extend a call to. (yes, there had been at least 2 or 3 others before me... like I said, intervention of the Spirit.)
That's two of the three hurdles now. Just the presbytery meeting now. This is the one that has me sweating, only for the fact that there's always that wildcard that could be sitting on the floor waiting to pounce on a young female candidate with a killer question. Kinda just to get their jollies, ya know.
Well, not to borrow trouble, I guess.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Another Hurdle Jumped

I meant to get to this earlier, but it's been busy around here since we're gearing up for a move and new jobs, etc.
I did have a good meeting with the COM sub-committee. They were gracious and asked good and tough questions, though not in a malicious sort of way. They asked the "usual" questions that all PCUSA candidates can probably expect these days, but they were done in a gracious, even almost off-hand, "you know we gotta ask" sort of way. The committee chair even made a point of telling me that he thought I handled myself well.
So, now I just have to make it through the presbytery meeting at the end of this month. I have to give a sermon (using an old one, so I've already got it covered) and 'the Four Questions.' Which I hear I'm supposed to get in advance so I can have some time to mull them over. That's good. I'm not so good at thinking on my feet. I get all flustered and babble and repeat myself a lot. Makes me look pretty flaky, which, really, I'm not... usually.
Now the biggest thing in front of us is getting pre-approved for a mortgage. We're first-time buyers! Yikes. The PNC has already given us the name of a realtor they trust to help us out, so that's something we don't have to worry about. We're pretty excited. It's such a great area and has lots of opportunities for all of us. P was the one I worried aboutmost, but he seems to be the most excited. Though, I think that's partly the army brat in him; he gets restless in one place too long.
I'm hoping my start date will be the first Sunday in Advent. New church year, new job, new town, it's all rather symbolic. We'll be in town long enough before that that I can get settled, find child care for L, get a few things unpacked, and be in the office for a week before I start preaching.
It seems crazy that so much change will happen before the end of the year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

No Cheatsheets

This weekend we are all travelling up to the town of Church Much Nearer to the In-laws to let P and L meet some of the PNC folk and give P a chance to tour the area a little. I will be in a meeting with the presbytery's Committee on Ministry (COM) for an examination for approval. This is one exam with no cheatsheet. I have no idea what they will want to know. I've already sent them a bio and statement of faith. I'm hoping the Spirit will be there and grace will abound. I have been in plenty of committee meetings where that wasn't the case, especially at the presbytery level. As long as they don't get too political, and keep to theology and faith and such, we'll be golden.
On the other hand, I know P is really excited to see where we'll soon be living and working. It's a beautiful area, less than an hour from the shore, lots of great cultural attractions. And it's a mini-vacation for us because every time I visit, they put me (us) up in a swanky, brand new Hilton right on the river. (Ok, so it wouldn't be my choice to line Paris's pockets, but they're making the reservations and I'm not paying for it.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Frida Five: Meetings, Meetings

Posted over at RGBP by reverendmother.
In honor of a couple of marathon meetings I attended this week:

1. What's your view of meetings? Choose one or more, or make up your own:
a) When they're good, they're good. I love the feeling of people working well together on a common goal.
b) I don't seek them out, but I recognize them as a necessary part of life.
c) The only good meeting is a canceled meeting.

Hmm, a little of each, I think. Most meetings (especially church meetings) are useless pushing of agendas and personality conflicts in action (see b). But if you get the right combo of people, great ideas and inspiration can abound (see a). On the other hand, there's almost always something else I'd rather be doing than sitting on my butt in an uncomfy chair for hours at a time (see c).

2. Do you like some amount of community building or conversation, or are you all business?

I think there's always room for a little fellowship, it helps people feel more comfortable and perhaps puts them in a better frame of mind for getting things done "decently and in order." As long as it's got a time limit, of course!

3. How do you feel about leading meetings? Share any particular strengths or weaknesses you have in this area.

Personally, I'd much rather lead a meeting than just sit and let things get off topic and drag on. While no one would ever call me a type-A, I can't stand it when moderators let people go on and on, repeating their stale argument, or straying from the agenda. Meetings are about business and getting it done.

4. Have you ever participated in a virtual meeting? (conference call, IM, chat, etc.) What do you think of this format?

Sure, I've done a number of conference calls. I certainly appreciate them. It's kept me from having to travel from deep south to midwest any number of times for CPM meetings. I've done a number of phone interviews that way lately too. While I usually like to be able to see the people I'm speaking with, it's a great way to talk to people far away. Even though you can't see their faces, it's still better than email to guage emotion and reaction.

5. Share a story of a memorable meeting you attended.

Ah, well, the CPM is always a good place to start. I remember one of my earliest meetings with them. I'd shown up like a good little seminary student with all my paperwork in order, my Bible in hand. I had this particular Bible marked with Post-it flags for my favorite and most used verses. Probably about two dozen or more sticking out the top of my Bible. At some point in the meeting, the committee asks me what my favorite Bible verse is. Well, I say, I don't have a single favorite. I like different ones for different reasons or situations. (I flip the tops of the flags pointedly here.) I was trying to be honest, because I don't have just one verse that is a favorite. There are way too many good ones to pick a single favorite. My mistake.
Anyway, apparently they conclude that this means I don't read the Bible enough (yeah, a seminary student who doesn't read the Bible!) and I get a lecture and a mandate to read this awful year with the Bible book that's done with a terrible translation complete with sexist language. Supposedly, my liason would check in and work with me on this. That never happened. And I never made it through Genesis. I also learned it was better to stick to the status quo than be honest with that group of folks. Sad lesson, good experience, I think.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Five: Seasons Change...

It's been a while since I've had a chance to do a Friday Five, so here's my comeback.

It's Labor Day weekend here in the United States, also known as Summer's Last Hurrah. So let's say goodbye to summer and hello to the autumn. (People in other climes, feel free to adapt as needed.)

1. Share a highlight from this summer. (If you please, don't just say "our vacation to the Canadian Rockies." Give us a little detail or image. Help us live vicariously through you!)
Of course the trip to Canada that I wrote about several times. We saw loons! There's something about that lake that is so soothing. It's a very rocky lake (it's called Stoney Lake, actually) and has many islands and there are always sailboats out and so much wildlife. Our place is on the mainland in a small cove that is off a slightly larger cove. So we get mink (or maybe they're muskrats, I'm not sure) and beavers, ducks and loons, great blue herons hunting for frogs, turtles, and lots of those huge, creepy black squirrels. The sounds of the bullfrogs, the loons, the water, it's so lovely. There are pictures a few posts back if you're interested.

2. Are you glad to see this summer end? Why or why not?
Mostly yes. Yes, b/c it's been in the hundreds for most of August here. Yes, b/c it's been a hard summer of call searching. I'll miss the trips to the county water park with L. I won't miss mowing the lawn. I'll miss the hot colors of my wildflower garden that brought in all the hummingbirds and butterflies. I won't miss the way P smells when he gets home after working outside in the 100+ degree heat all day. (nose wrinkle here)

3. Name one or two things you're looking forward to this fall.
Mostly I'm looking forward to starting my call. It's finally happened, and though I know it will be at least a couple of months for all the formalities to go through, I hope to get in by Advent. Moving is a big thing too. I think it will be really good for our family, too. Lots of things to look forward to.

4. Do you have any special preparations or activities to mark the transition from one season to another? (Cleaning of house, putting away summer clothes, one last trip to the beach)
Not really. The transition here is so slow that I never put the summer clothes totally away until around Thankgiving. Otherwise, sometimes we take a trip up to the northern part of the state to see the leaves changes in the mountains.

5. I'll know that fall is really here when __________________________________.
...I don't break a sweat just walking to the mailbox. (Yeah, it's been that hot.)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I hate bureaucracy

Yes, I had to spellcheck 'bureaucracy.' Anyway, I got an unofficial-as-of-yet call from the Church Much Nearer to the In-Laws recently. That's the good, no, great, news. I got a relative time table from them today of how they hope meetings and such will go for me to be examined and approved. If you've ever been part of 'the process,' especially in my denomination, you understand. Basically, nothing will even start until early Oct. and probably won't be finished until late Oct. We can't even think about big things like moving until the final approval of the presbytery at the end of Oct. Which means I probably won't be able to actually start working until mid- to late November. This is freaking out P. He's a very type A and likes things to move quickly and efficiently. Bureaucracy does neither, I'm afraid.
So, while I'm incredibly excited, I'm also very stressed and nervous about all the big changes. Buying a house, I need a new car, getting L into a good preschool, etc. Wow! Writing it out like that really makes it seem even more daunting.
Well, I'm sure the excitement has just begun with much more to come.
If you have a few prayers to spare, we'd love 'em over this way.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Interview, part 1

Well, today went really well. I'm here in lovely Coastal Atlantic State, visiting with Church Much Closer to the In-Laws this weekend. After my plane from home was delayed for two hours and then sitting on the tarmac in World's Busiest Airport waiting for our turn to take off, all said and done, I got into my hotel at... wait for it... 1:30a.m. And of course, I am not one of those people who sleep well in a new place the first night. They graciously turned our breakfast meeting into an early lunch (the PNC chair was the one who picked me up at the airport, so we were agreed on that) and then we drove around ('we' is me and three committee members) so I could see the area. I was worried about being in a car with three strangers for that length of time, but never once was I ill at ease, they were great. Then I did get to take a nap before dinner and they had a potluck with the committee and a tour of the church itself and then, of course, the questions. That went really well. I learned about the ghosts of pastors past, lots of the history, what sort of work they've done with presbytery, etc. I think we were all really comfortable with each other, and able to be honest about expectations.
I just hope that all goes well tomorrow. The sermon, not so worried about, children's sermon, whole other story. As a rule, I don't like them. Most of them are done poorly, that almost certainly includes mine. Plus, these aren't really children in the sense that most children's sermons are directed at the elementary crowd, these are 5-8th graders. Yikes! Not the age I'm most comfortable with, or at least not one I've dealt with much. I don't want to talk down to them, but I want to get the message across in an understandable way. Cross your fingers for me. Oh yeah, and some of those prayer things would be nice, too.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Posting First

Well, here's the first sermon I'll have ever poster here. Like I mentioned in the last post, it's the first one I've written in a long time. I'm not sure yet how I feel about it. But here it is anyway.

Exodus 32:7-14; Luke 15:1-10

"Losing It"

If anybody knew about being lost, it was the Hebrews. Theyd been wandering for close to 40 years, better than the average life expectancy in those days. They'd lost their homes, their jobs, their security, and probably most of their sanity too. Some wanted to go back into slavery,
they were so unhappy. They were so lost and turned around that they forgot who their God was. God, who had shown them mercy upon mercy, was getting fed up. Only after Moses begs,
does God relent and agree not to smite them into dust.
The Hebrews were wandering, somewhat aimlessly, with only the vague notion of a promised land in the future. They were worried about food and water, even though God had come through on both accounts. They were tired and dusty, scared and uncomfortable.

They were probably pretty crazy. They'd had it comparably good in Egypt. Food, housing, security. Sure, they were slaves, but this desert wandering was much worse. I'd be losing my mind too. It must have seemed so sensible at the time, to make that golden calf. Aaron, Moses' brother and spokesperson, was the one who suggested it. These people, who were already used to being led around like a herd of sheep, were merely following the leader once again. Perhaps the heat was getting to them all. Perhaps they just needed something tangible to latch on to. They had no land, few belongings. It's almost understandable. Almost.

Even though we can only imagine how tired God must have been of the Hebrews' sniveling and whining, and constant screwing up. God gives in to Moses' pleas for mercy. But only after Moses has reminded God of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This is not the first or last time that God will want to rain down wrath on these idiots, nor the first or last time that Moses will intercede on their behalf. In fact, at the end of this chapter of Exodus, God sends a plague down on the people for making and worshipping that calf.
It doesn�t destroy them, but it lets them know God's serious.

Time after time, the Hebrews would fall back to the easy ways of worshipping idols and breaking commandments. And they're always really sorry about it, especially after they get yelled at and sometimes even punished, at least, they're sorry right up until the next time.

Let's face it, our God is not an easy God to follow. And indeed, worldly concerns often obscure the view of the path laid for us. It's easy to get distracted by flashy gods, promises of a better this or that, and instant gratification. No matter if that god is a golden calf or a silver dollar,
the draw is unmistakable. It's easy to get lost when there are so many detours and exits along the route.

I doubt that, in the end, God have truly wiped out those screw-ups, the Hebrews, even if Moses hadn't intervened. Not after all the work it took to get them where they were. Not after the promises God had already made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. I think it's more like a parent wanting nothing more than to smack the living daylights out of a smart-mouthed kid,
but knowing deep down it would serve no purpose toward changing the attitude of the child.
God had put a lot into these people and would search for them each time they became lost,
each and every exasperating time.

In the parables that we heard out of Luke today, its not people who are lost, it's a sheep and a coin. Even so, they are a stand-in for the people of God who have wandered off or fallen in the cracks. You may think to yourself in the next few minutes that there is quite a difference
between people and sheep or coins, and you would be right, but it's not the sheep or the coin
that Jesus is most interested in having people understand. It's the one searching for them.
Keep that in mind.

The intention of parables is to be able for the listeners to relate to the characters and situations.
Most of the people around Jesus would have immediately resonated with these parables. The people attracted to his teachings were usually common folk. Folk who herded sheep, farmed, and made subsistence livings.

Jesus thrust his listeners right into the middle of the parable when he asks them, "Which of you, having a hundred sheep... ?" He brings them into the story, makes them sympathetic to the characters of the shepherd and the woman, people who were generally less than desirable people to hang around with, but the very people who Jesus would invite to eat with him.
Jesus knows this. He's using these people specifically because of that, and to demonstrate to the scribes and Pharisees just who God is really most concerned about. That's right, Jesus is likening God to a lowly shepherd and a mere woman. The religious authorities must have been appalled.

So, Jesus tells them, when the shepherd realizes that he is one sheep shy, he leaves the other 99 sheep all alone and goes looking for the one that is lost. Surely the crowd Jesus is talking to
all look at each other about now with wide eyes, thinking, is this shepherd crazy? Is he nuts?
He must be losing it! Leaving all those other sheep perhaps to the mercy of wolves, just to find that one?!

But the shepherd is diligent in his search. He knows that the other 99 are safe in their fold,
but this one is gone, lost, perhaps hurt and hungry. He imagines all sorts of terrors as he searches. Is it caught in some brambles and can't get free? Could it have tripped in a hole and broken its leg? Could it have been attacked and eaten by a wolf? Each scenario is worse than the last. But finally, finally he hears her bleats. He can't see her at first; it seems she has slipped into a steep gulley and can't climb out. Finally, he catches sight of her wooly ears over the top of the ravine. It's not deep, just difficult. He leans over the edge and gently pulls her to safety with his crook. He is so happy to see her, he even gives her a hug. He knows she is probably tired from her ordeal and so her drapes her over his broad, strong shoulders and carries her home to the waiting 99, who are, of course, oblivious at best. But then, then the party begins. All for one sheep. And it was just an ordinary sheep, not a particularly special sheep, not really his favorite.
It wasn't as if this guy had won the sheep lottery. He had 99 others just like it, so he wasn't hurting for sheep. This guy had definitely lost his mind.

If theres one thing I've learned, it's that God just keeps on doing crazy things like that. Jesus made it quite clear throughout his ministry that the people who were considered the very least, the very lowest, were the ones who were sought out, the ones who were invited to his table first. This absolutely outraged the scribes and Pharisees who, first of all, would never even consider being near people of lower status, much less share food with them, and second, just couldn't wrap their minds around the idea that these people were first in the eyes of God, ahead of themselves. They saw this as absolute proof that Jesus was a phony. No son of God would sit with the unclean and dishonor the Sabbath. But these men, they knew the law down to the letter. They knew it inside and out. They never strayed, never wavered, never got lost.
Why then, were they not to be first in the sight of God?

While Jesus speaks his parables for all to learn from, he is aiming these particularly at the scribes and Pharisees who have been hounding him recently. When he makes the statement that "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance," he's taking a little jab at those self-righteous religious authorities. They make it a point to follow the law down to the letter, and to make sure that others know it. But the spirit of the law was, well, lost on them.

To drive it home, Jesus repeats the theme in the parable of the woman who loses a coin in her home. She lights a lamp, using precious oil, and sweeps the whole house looking for that coin.
When she finds it, she has a celebration with all her neighbors in attendance. After burning the oil and offering hospitality to her guests, it probably ended up costing her almost as much as that coin was worth in the first place. She, too, had clearly lost her senses! Why on earth would you hold a party for a lost coin?

Maybe it would help to see things a little differently: Suppose one of you took a hundred junior high kids to King's Dominion--and one of them gets lost. What would you do? You would leave the other 99 alone on the water slide and go looking for the one who was lost--even if this was the same kid who wandered off at McDonald's when you stopped for lunch, even if this was the same kid who got your bus pulled over by the state police because she'd been throwing paper airplanes out the window at passing motorists. You go looking for this child until you find her--alone and scared--and you are so happy that you both start to cry. You swoop her up and you carry her on your shoulders back to the waterslide. Then you call everybody together and say, "I'm so happy I found the one who was lost! Let's celebrate! Let's all go get ice cream, my treat!"
That's pretty much the message Jesus was trying to convey to the Pharisees: Of course you go and search for the lost one! Except instead of kids, for whom everybody has a soft spot, especially when they're lost and afraid, Jesus talked about sheep and coins, and the ones who searched for them weren't "good people." It was a toothless shepherd looking for the lamb and it was a woman looking for the coin and everybody knew that women and shepherds were only a step or two above animals anyway. And when you think about it, what fool would leave ninety-nine healthy sheep alone to fend for themselves on the hillside (where wolves might be hiding) while he goes looking for only one?

Well, call God a fool, but there you have it. Jesus makes it pretty clear from his ending words,
that God is the shepherd figure seeking the lost sheep and the woman who is looking for her coin. When we are the lost ones that sounds like pretty good news. But when we're among the 99--which is probably where you and I spend most of our time grazing--well, then, it may not sound like such good news. How do we feel when God leaves us alone to go off in search of and to bring back one who was lost, one of whom we may not readily approve? How do we feel when God has left us sitting at the church house and has gone down to the projects? Could we then share heaven's joy when a lost one is found?

Sure, it's certainly harder when we're the ones waiting while God is out searching. But the nice thing about parables is that there is hardly ever just one way to look at them. We can easily slip into the role of the shepherd or the woman. We become the seekers, the ones searching for the lost.

Sure, it's a little different when people are lost, as opposed to sheep and coins. Sheep and coins aren't really all that good at finding their own ways home again. Of course, we aren't always
so good at that either, come to think of it. That's why we come here each week, to remind ourselves that God is with us, searching for us when we are lost,celebrating when we are found.

Everyone gets lost from time to time. We wander away, distracted by some new interest, some fleeting fancy. There's a word for that; we call it sin. And as Presbyterians, we believe that folks sin fairly often. That's why we insist on having confession as part of our worship. Isn't it nice to know that each time you are lost and find your way back home, back to this sanctuary, back with the flock, so to speak, that there is a celestial shindig going on just for you?! It's really rather awe inspiring to me. And while God is having that heavenly bash, we get to see just a glimpse of it each week, here, together. When we worship, we witness God's amazing mercy
in the songs we sing, in the words we hear and speak. It is a celebration of coming together as a community, as a complete body.

I also think it really ticks off some of the people who are very cautious to not get off the beaten path. The ones who spend their days carefully following the map and checking the compass so they don't stray off course. They might even have an alternate route planned out in case of road construction. That would have been the scribes and Pharisees to a 'T.' You might even know a few of those people yourself. Some might call them self-righteous. They are often the ones heard muttering to themselves, "Look at those wastrels; what were they thinking wandering off like that? It's their own fault they were lost. Why waste time and energy searching for them? And now look, there's going to be a party in their honor! What nonsense! They should never have gone off in the first place!" The truly good news is that God is not like that! God will search for us every time we wander off and celebrate just as heartily at every return.

We tend to forget that we should be celebrating too. But all too often we hear, and perhaps think to ourselves, "Why should I help so-and-so? He got himself into that mess. He can get himself out." The problem with that, I think, is that when someone is lost, they usually don't know which way to go to get un-lost. That is why God is searching so diligently for them. We have to remind ourselves, and perhaps also each other that God has searched and celebrated for us all,
many times over. Rather than being envious of the one whose turn it is for a party, why not join in, throw some confetti, have some cake.

Getting lost, I think, is truly a part of our journey. If we never got lost, how could God hold a party when we were found? And I'm pretty sure God likes a good party. We can even learn things from being lost, like not to take that same path a second time, or how scary it can be
to be separated from our familiar surroundings, and how wonderful it is to return home to a God who celebrates our arrival. Being lost can be awful. It can drive you crazy enough to lose your mind, but grace is even crazier. Because no matter how careful we are to follow the directions,
even the most careful of Christians will step off the path, whether it's to smell the roses,
or avoid the mud puddle. It will happen. But next time you're losing it, remember that God is always looking for us, seeking us out, waiting with the balloons and streamers for our return.