Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent people

For some reason, most likely the Holy Spirit had something to do with it, I decided to slow down the race to Christmas and take time to sit and be with Advent this year. After the events of the past week I am glad I did so.

Often times we 'churchy' people say we are people of the cross...we also say we are Easter people - or resurrection people and I have a friend who likes to say that we are blessed because every day is a new beginning - we are redemption people.

Never before have I wanted to claim being an Advent person - until this year. You know Advent, right? That awkward 4 weeks or so before Christmas. Advent starts off the Christian liturgical calendar with the First Sunday of Advent and then with a few fits and starts we build up to a full blown Christmas extravaganza!!

If one follows the revised common lectionary, Advent dwells more on the ministry and call of John the Baptist and the return of Christ the King than the stable in Bethlehem. Its kind of a downer for retailers, tho...and we all want to sing the beautiful music of Christmas, right?  So most often we skip the yearning lessons and hymns of the Advent season and dive into the celebration of baby Jesus' birth as we see him cooing - safe in his momma's arms.

Saturday night, December 15th, I received a phone call from my daughter-in-law telling me that my stepson, Alan, was killed in a car accident. This news has sent us all reeling. After stumbling through worship on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, we piled in two cars and drove 1100 miles to Columbia, South Carolina to grieve together and plan the funeral service for Steven Alan Wise, Jr. a 36 year old father of two little girls, husband of Lauren Rae and friend to all who ever knew him.  

It was in the midst of this that I was grateful for the tension that is ever present in Advent.  I was able to have hope in spite of the insanity that swirls around losing ones child.  I was also reminded of how very blessed I am to be part of a bigger church - a denomination founded on the principles of being in connection with one another.

The Columbia District Superintendent, Rev. Dr Tim McClendon, and I spoke several times and he then put me in contact with Rev. Tim Rogers, pastor of Mt Hebron United Methodist Church. Mt Hebron UMC graciously offered to not only provide worship space for Alan's memorial service, they also provided an organist, sound tech and Rev. Rogers assisted with the service. Folks from the church were on hand to serve as ushers and greeters and we were warmly welcomed and cared for. John Wesley would be proud, the Connexion is alive and well.

Family and friends here in Iowa and around the country have been so helpful and gracious.  Their generosity helped with our expenses, we are eternally grateful for the outpouring of love and care that we continue to receive.

To follow is my homily, I offer it as a simple way to make sense of it all. Before it was my turn to speak I sat with Alan's mom, and we held hands through the opening prayers. I thanked her for sharing Alan with me - his stepmom - his other mom.

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5:13-16  (The Message)

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

I met Alan for the first time right around his 10th birthday. When I married his dad, 15 months later, I told him that I was too young to be his mom….we laughed about that a time or two. I share this because I feel inadequate to stand up here today and tell you about Alan – you all knew him as much if not better than I did… there are, after all, some things moms, even stepmoms, aren’t supposed to know.

Alan taught me how to be a parent –trust me on this - he broke me in real good. He came to live with his father and sister Lauren and me when he was 14. That first year of school we had a routine – I’d wake him up for school, fix him 2 eggs, scrambled and toast with homemade jam. Usually strawberry – that was his favorite, sometimes apple butter too.

This routine of ours was a great way to start our day – it helped us to get to know each other better – and I think it made the transition from Columbia to Lilburn/Stone Mountain a little smoother…

There were other transitions, and bumps in the road – y’all know all about bumps and detours and such, don’t you?

Some how through it all, I believe by the grace of God, Alan kept his sense of humor…and that smile… I believe its what kept me from throttling him more than once.

I know its what earned him a place of love and respect from his friends and loved ones many of whom are here today – and there are a whole lot more scattered all over the country.

In the Bible passage I read just a moment ago…Jesus was encouraging his followers to live lives that were full of hope, peace and even joy – even though they lived in the midst of some awful times. They were basically living in an occupied country, surrounded by Roman soldiers who were propping up a king who just wanted to take everyone’s land and money – and then there were the religious leaders – the Pharisees who were so concerned about preserving the status quo that they weren’t doing that good of a job caring for the people who were hurting and in need all around them.   

Alan and his daughter, Angie
The amazing thing is that these people – the ones who started following Jesus –knew that the world was topsy turvey – they knew that something had to change – and still they felt like they were absolutely powerless to do anything about it - they learned that Jesus was speaking truth into dark places – with words of encouragement – he said words that seemed out of place – but speak deep truths of hope, peace and yes – even joy…

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.  (Matthew 5 - The Message)

Crazy, huh? Even today that sounds impossible – and yet – here is a way to live into God’s blessings – to be people who act as salt and light – full of hope, peace and joy.

And that’s what Jesus is teaching them – in this section of the gospel of Matthew in what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount -

13 “Let me tell you why you are here, Jesus said. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?

Salt – the most common of all ingredients – salt is what makes food taste better – did you also realize it is an essential building block in our very cell structures –

Salt – like love – like friendship makes life better, sweeter, more palatable – doesn’t it?

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand.

Salt – and light – light and salt…here in this season of darkness – as winter officially begins this week – we know the importance of light – the glow of the front porch light that welcomes us home, candles on the mantle, little twinkling lights on the Christmas tree… they all make all of the difference in what would be an otherwise gloomy time of the year.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Alan, well, Alan just knew how to light up a room. Come to think of it – he was kinda like a spot light - Alan’s life shined didn’t it – not some flimsy old dime store flashlight but a beacon – that burned bright.

It’s what drew us to him… his warmth, his laugh, his sparkly blue eyes, his mischievous nature even… honestly, its amazing some of the things he got away with!

Alan was also kind; he included everyone in his circle. And when he was present with you he was WITH you – 200%. This is what made Alan, Alan…It’s that special something that makes all the difference in the world!

I think it’s because Alan learned, at such a young age, how fragile life is – how precious every moment is –  I think it’s because Alan was a really good man, who loved his family and friends and who lived life to the fullest…that is why this passage from the Bible made me think of Alan – and made me think of the words to say to you, at a time when words can seem so hollow.

I am so sad that his time here on earth is done, because I think we all had a whole lot more to learn from Alan. I know that he wasn’t done yet… but here we are.  

What now? I don’t have the answers; in fact, this sort of thing is part of the great mystery of life. I don’t like thinking about how all of our lives are so different now with Alan’s death.

But I do know that what the world needs a whole lot more of is people who, like Alan, wrestle with the big questions about life – and make to peace with it all.

People, who like Alan, live like salt … who make life taste better…we need people who live their lives as if it truly counts – turning their life light on high beam – and turning their lives on for others – people who shine bright – like a spotlight – inviting others into the warm glow of living a life that is grounded in hope, peace and yes, even joy.

Jesus taught his followers – and all of us – how to do this – and its quite simple -

“Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

As hard as it may seem, life will be salty again, the light will shine again – even if for a little while it seems to have dimmed just a bit.

After I finished, we all sang together - This little light of mine.   

Yes, in this season of my life I am an advent person....I am yearning for the return of Christ, I am yearning for the day when no more tears will fall, when all will be healed and whole and we will be in the very presence of God Almighty.  But we don't know the time or place - so much for the Mayan calendar predictions!!  :)

Until that day, I will do my best to let my light shine.  Even though there will be days when I feel worn and sad and hopeless...I can always return to Advent - for the good news is that Advent is the season of light, of hope and of promise.  

in Advent hope,

Friday, December 14, 2012

holding tight to the least and the lost

It was January, 2001.  I was working for  FOX 21 in Colorado Spring, CO.  It should have been one of the more exciting days in my career as a marketing and promotion manager - a HUGE news story broke...the Texas Seven, a gang of escaped inmates from Texas were located and subsequently captured literally in our back yard!

In December, 2000 the Texas Seven staged an elaborate jail break from a maximum security prison in Texas. They found their way to the front range of Colorado after killing a police officer in eastern Texas.  On Saturday, January 20th they were profiled on America's Most Wanted.  The next evening owners of a mobile home park in Woodland Park, CO started wondering about some men who had recently checked in.  The next day they reported their suspicions to the police and over several hours they were surrounded and captured.

There was just one problem.  I was at work in in Colorado Springs, my four children were in Woodland Park, and the only road between me and them was barricaded AND the phone lines into the area were 'temporarily out of order' as well!

All I could think of was that I wanted to get home - to be sure that my children were safe!  And yet, I couldn't get to them...the only way home was to go the back way, through Canon City...but to do this meant the difference between a 20 mile drive and a 104 mile journey - some of it on roads barely navigable in good weather, let alone winter!

Tonight, with the news coming out of Newtown, Connecticut, most of us want more than anything to wrap our arms in our children.  To hold them in our arms and never let them go!

I don't know that I ever talked with my children about the Texas Seven, or about my fears for them during the afternoon of January 22, 2001.   I am not sure that I would advise parents today to talk about it a whole lot, although with 24 hour news and information, we may just have to.  There are a number of resources out there for parents of children of all ages to use as we broach the subject of safety in school as well as at home or out in the marketplace.  (Here are some resources from the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship)

Parenting is different today from my parents era. We know what is happening around the globe almost instantaneously.  News that is horrifying, such as the shooting in Newtown, or the recent discovery of the bodies of kidnapped cousins Elizabeth and Lyric here in Iowa, make us wonder where God is in the midst of all of this.

I can say with great assurance that God is here,  we are not alone and it is important that we join together to pray.  Yes, pray!  Pray for peace, pray for the children...not just our own but all of those who are vulnerable.

We must also pray for wisdom as we consider the crisis that we currently have around mental health care.  Resources for those who are vulnerable because of mental health needs are being cut left and right.  Healing will come when we care first and foremost for the least and the lost, the orphan and the widow.

This is one of the reasons the 2nd person of the Trinity, Jesus the Christ, came to earth in the first place. The opening lines from his first sermon lay it all out:

As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

"God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”  (Luke 4:18-21  The Message)

We don't want to think of the harsh realities of death and dying in this 'most wonderful time of the year' and yet, and we are - face to face with the brokenness of our hurting world.  And so we pray, we hold one another close and we remember that God loved us so much that he was willing to enter into our life, our fears, or brokenness.

As we prepare our hearts and minds to receive the new born king, please join me in praying for God to reveal new ways for each of us to reach out and care for the least and lost in our communities as well.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, 


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent 1: have you heard the one about the fig tree?

The first Sunday of Advent doesn't start out as you'd expect.  Here we are, less than 4 weeks away from Christmas and there are no angels, baby showers or cute booties being knit by anxious grandmothers.  Instead we see Jesus, fully grown and teaching in front of the temple in Jerusalem.  (read Luke 21:25-36 here)  Jesus is teaching his disciples about the realities that they are about to face - the temple will soon fall, the whole world will seem to fall apart, and then all heck is gonna break loose.  But don't fret, instead be prepared because only then will He return in all his glory!

Of course, they had no idea what he was talking about, return?  From where?  To where?  Here?  Without the temple?  What a mess.  In the midst of their confusion, he teaches with a parable about a fig tree and sprouts and the change of seasons.

I love how the Son of God uses the simplest of things, like nature, to teach us about the kingdom of God.  I'm grateful that I grew up on a farm, that I know what sheep are really like (trust me, they aren't very bright), that I know what freshly tilled earth smells like (like heaven), I have seen acre after acre of good seed pushing through the earth reaching for the heavens.

Sunday, Nov 25
I also know what a sick plant looks like.  This is a cyclamen, a very sick and sad cyclamen at that!  A quick check of the soil in the pot and I realized it was desperately in need of a drink of water.

This cyclamen lives in our church coffee area and when I saw it, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it looked miserable.  It actually looked about as good as I felt.  I was anxious about the approaching advent season.  I had been wrestling with God about what I could say to the people of Trinity about Advent - this time of yearning and anticipation... I knew that I needed to hold back from the birth of Jesus, for as much as I wanted to leap into the manger I knew I had spend some time, even if only for a brief while, living in the realities of our brokenness and hurts.
Sunday, Nov 25

It's not that I want to dwell on bad stuff, but I fear we are all too quick to hide our hurts and disappointments from one another and ourselves too for that matter!  It's a whole lot easier to keep busy and jump to the warm fuzzy, cute little baby stuff.  But the Holy Spirit wouldn't let me go there, not yet.  Conversation after conversation with folks in the parish reaffirmed my thinking.

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like the Hebrew people in Egypt – frustrated and upset – certain that God has forgotten all about us…Jesus’ disciples, Paul included, figured that Christ would come again in THEIR lifetimes… that was only 1970 or so years ago!  Come, Lord Jesus, Come already!  How much longer, Lord?  How much longer will your people have to languish here in the wilderness?  We are yearning for your Kingdom to come...for you to dwell among us.

Tuesday, November 27
And yet, I saw hope in the cyclamen...because even thought it was obviously in distress, it was also creating new shoots.  In the midst of its demise, it was putting forth new life.  I wondered, if instead of the compost pile all it really needed was fresh water and more sun light.

Two days later and I took another picture, and lo and behold, things were starting to perk up already.  What had been lost, was found, what had once been a dire consequence of poor horticulture practices, was now a plant on the mend...there was hope again.

Eugene Peterson in The Message Study Bible notes on Luke 21 wrote these words to both challenge and encourage us:
In this chapter [Luke 21] Jesus recites a litany of disasters that are most surely going to befall us: wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines, epidemics of disaster, accusation and imprisonment, hate, betrayal at the hands of parents and children, close relatives and good friends.  Jesus touches base with everything that can possibly go wrong: natural disasters, political disasters, social disruption, personal betrayals.   
Does he have it all together when he says, "Don't be frightened in this very frightening history, in this very frightening world, in these very frightening circumstances"?  Does he make sense? 
Yes, he makes sense.  He's proclaiming a way of life that has its feet on the ground, that's reasonable and whole and practical but that's vastly different and superior to what we're used to.  Death isn't the worst thing that can happen to us.  Suffering isn't the worst thing that can happen to us.  Rejection isn't the worst thing that can happen to us.  Poverty and illness aren't the worst things that can happen to us 
The worst thing is to be without meaning, without love, without purpose, without hope - without God.  But you aren't without God, ever.  You aren't cut off from him, ever.  The simplest act of faith puts you in relationship with him.  So don't be terrified, for not a hair of your head will perish.  (The Message Study Bible, page 1626)
Of course, now this wrestling match I've been having with the Holy Spirit makes sense.  I can’t take us to the manger without acknowledging the deep need that we all have for these words of truth… otherwise, I help to perpetuate the rush we have to Christmas all in the name of falalalala-lalalala.  

Sunday, December 2
Thanks to the parable of the cyclamen, I have been reminded of how important it is to drink deeply from the living water...turn toward the sun/Son...and see challenges as an opportunity for new growth - a chance to be creative and even risk some.  And trust.  Trust that God is always, always with us.

Christ will come again some day, this is a given.  In the meanwhile I will do my best to live my life as a prayer, for that is what Jesus said to do; 
Be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.  (Luke 21:34-36  The Message)
yearning for that day when Christ will come again,

Friday, November 23, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like...

It's the day after Thanksgiving and I've already seen pictures of family's decorating their Christmas trees! I don't even want to think about Black Friday...I avoid it at all costs.

My family may wait a day or two to tromp out to the 'cut your own' Christmas tree farm, its all of a sudden windy and cold outside! But that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about Christmas.

Hold on a minute!! Before we jump straight to the manger, I would like to invite us to slow down and wait for Advent. Advent is the four week season leading up to Christmas Day. It's a time of preparation AND yearning, not for presents but for the RETURN of Christ.  This may seem counter intuitive, we seem to like the hustle and bustle of the season, we are blessed when we are able to give gifts to our children and loved ones in celebration of Jesus' birth...but Advent is a most holy time, a time for people of faith to look forward with hope and yes, even yearning.

Advent helps me to make sense of the proclamation we make each time we celebrate Holy Communion as we "proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has come, Christ is risen, Christ WILL come again!" Advent is the season when we lean into Christ's return.

We are really good at Christmas preparations, but I'm not so sure if we are on top of things when it comes to are some resources that may be helpful in your home to talk about Advent:

Want to learn more about advent in general? Click here for some interesting facts and info.

Here is a great glossary of advent terms and symbols.  

Why not have an advent wreath at home? Here are some devotions to use with your family.

Here is a story about the life lessons of St Nicholas that teaches us all about the gift of giving.

Here are weekly activities and coloring sheets for the season of advent.

Are there other resources that have been a blessing to you and yours during this in-between time? Share them with me and I'll be sure to pass them on!

peace, love in Christ

I couldn't resist adding this one for my preaching friends...
p.s.  Advent doesn't begin for another week!

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I have known this for a while, but it really hit me this morning - we have way too easily accepted the inundation of advertisements that we are assaulted with day in and day out.  I fear its driven by our motivation to get something for 'free'!

It started with radio and broadcast television, which before cable was 'free', advertisers paid for ads and we sat through them because we didn't want to get up and switch the channel during the commercial break (there were only a handful of channels back then anyway).  Now that most of us pay for cable/satellite television or DVD's or the internet we have the luxury, and the insanity, of being joined at the hip to our remote controls.

Most YouTube videos play a commercial at the beginning, as do some of my iPhone apps - especially the games.  I find it interesting how these ads have grown more sophisticated.  I used to be able to click them away, now with video ads you have to watch and listen a few seconds before the skip button appears.

All to get eyeballs on products.

All ultimately take our eye off of the ball.

You know the saying, don't you?  "Keep your eye on the ball!"  When we were kids and my dad was using us as target practice, I mean practicing his fast pitch softball pitching, he'd tell us time and again "keep your eye on the ball!"  We learned to do so out of self preservation - but that's a story for another day.

With the assault of marketing messages permeating every facet of our lives it's easy to feel overwhelmed.  It can be really hard to filter out competing messages and demands for our attention.  As a person of faith I must ask myself - how am I keeping my eye on the source of all that is good and right?  Am I keeping my eye on Christ Jesus?

"Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”"
(Matthew 14:29-31 The Message)

What has gotten into us?  

Thanksgiving is just days away.  During the month of November many of my friends have been posting on FaceBook and Twitter things they are thankful for...I think that's great, but honestly, I believe part of our normal practice should be to write down each and every day what we are thankful for.  

After making the requisite posts about family, home and friends, I have found myself taking more time to think deeply and reflect about what else I am thankful for: creativity, a walk with a friend, beautiful music, conversation over a cup of tea, a sliver of the moon rising at sunset...and in the midst of each of these is God's love and grace - poured out, spread broadcast and absolutely free.

Peace, love in Christ,


Friday, November 2, 2012

farewell to an old friend

It hit me today, that this would most likely be our last time in public together.  Its not that I'm ashamed of you, it's just that... well, I have to face reality.  You are worn and tired.

You've been a great sweater - one of my favorites for a long, long, long time.  On days when I'm in need of 'comfort clothes' I've always reached for you first. But the reality is that the spots where I have had to darn you are becoming obvious.  And each fall when I pull you out I find even more holes.  The sleeves are getting thread bare and even though you are my favorite sweater, it's time to make friends with a sweater that will suit me in this season of life.

yes, it's time... sniff
Favorite sweaters (or... insert shoes, hairstyles, wallets, you get the idea) have something in common with churches.  We get comfortable with one another and before we know it, we make assumptions that this is the only way to be, does 'we've always done it this way...' sound familiar?  When we slip into this way of being we lose sight of other options and we miss out on opportunities to live into new realities.

This point was driven home Wednesday night when I was out at Harlington Cemetery with the Sr High youth for our All Hallow's Eve service.  Yes, I took high school kids to the cemetery for communion on Halloween - it was a cool service and we had some great time sharing about loved ones who have gone home to be with the Lord.

As part of our worship we read the 23rd Psalm together, and afterwards one of the boys grumbled about how hard the words were to pronounce and how awkward it is was to read the King James translation.  Ouch!  I had always thought that the 'old' words were comforting - but I sure don't want God's word to be a barrier.  As someone who thinks of herself as forward thinking I realized that it's time to revisit this one.

Change is hard.  We don't like to change until the only other option is loss - then, we have a tendency to become overwhelmed and anxious.  It's human nature.  We naturally yearn for what is manageable, but often times the energy necessary to keep things manageable wear us out, which leads to anxiety and an overwhelmed feeling.
There is hope, however.  The very natural movement from manageable to overwhelmed to vulnerable to energized was explained at a recent Iowa Annual Conference clergy gathering in a presentation by Field Outreach Minister Rev. Paul Smith.  Here's a link to the presentation it's only 4 minutes long and well worth your time.

I especially appreciate how Paul points out that our most creative moments can come from when we feel most vulnerable - which in turn leads to everyone becoming energized.  Hope is a powerful thing!

I can let go of the 23rd Psalm in King James language, its not like I will never read or pray the 23rd Psalm again...I can also let go of my favorite sweater.  I happen to have one or two more sweaters in my drawers.  I have seen a church become energized, and its true, we had to become vulnerable with one another before we could start making headway.  It is an exciting time to be a part of the church, even if parts of us feel old and worn in this season.  Our triune God is not done with us yet!

If we truly want to 'make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world' the good news is that we don't have to go it alone, as Paul Smith said, the way to make change is in community walking side by side one another.  I like this, very much.

in Christ, together,

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Buttermilk pancakes anyone?

One of the things that most people don't realize, perhaps because I don't have an accent, is that I lived most of my adult life in the south.  From 1976-1999 I lived in Tennessee and Georgia.  One can see the influences of the south most prominently in my cooking.  Self-rising flour and buttermilk are must have ingredients in my kitchen.  (Whenever I'm down south I also try to bring home a jar of Duke's mayonnaise and I'm always on the lookout for boiled peanuts!)

I don't know many folks here in Iowa who know what to do with buttermilk.  Its the ingredient that adds a tang and lightness to pancakes and makes biscuits out of this world...and yes, I make both from scratch.  The Food Network website has 1065 recipes that call for buttermilk, in case you're curious about giving it a try.

The other cool thing about buttermilk is that one cup can last forever... all you have to do when you start to run low is add 'sweet' milk to the jar, let it sit out 24 hours and voila!  More buttermilk.  Yes, I keep a jar of buttermilk in my fridge.  Because of the acid content in buttermilk it has a long shelf life.  Sometimes the jar gets pushed to the back corner - but I know its there ready and waiting.

There is a lot of talk in church circles about un-churched and de-churched folk... people who may have been raised in the faith but left the church for one reason or another.  I can't help but wonder if they are like my jar of buttermilk in the back of the fridge - waiting for an invitation - but it can't be just any old 'come to church' invite, it has to be something that will engage the senses, give meaning to life, or use gifts that have been forgotten for a season.

As much as we consider ourselves open and invitational, are we church-y folks really open minded enough to give these 'spiritual but not religious' folk the space they need to test the waters without being pushy?  To give them room to taste and see and then trust that the Holy Spirit is the one who will do the heavy lifting?  Are we secure enough in our faith to allow someone to push and prod and ask tough questions and wrestle with faith with fear and trembling?  Have we even been bold enough to wrestle with our own faith, with the challenging questions about life and love and our responsibility in the world with God?

Hmmmm....lots to think about as we move forward as a church.  Funny how a little jar of buttermilk can cause ones mind to dance this way and that.

Here's my recipe for pancakes - you do it all in a blender - fast, easy and MUCH better than the box kind!

In the blender place:
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
add 'sweet' milk to the 2 cup line
2 tsp sugar
1 heaping TBSP shortening (I use butter flavor crisco)

Blend well

Add 2 cups self rising flour (must use self rising flour - all the stores have it - even in Iowa)

Blend well.

If too thick, add a bit more sweet milk till the right consistency.

Pour batter onto a hot griddle (325 degrees).  Enjoy!  They should be light and delicious - especially thanks to the buttermilk!

If you want to make more buttermilk, take a clean jar with a lid.  Pour in atleast 1/2 cup buttermilk.  Add 1- 1 1/2 cups sweet milk.  Shake well and let sit on the counter or in a warm place about 24 hours - or till it starts to thicken up.  It should coat the sides of the jar when its properly cultured.  Refrigerate and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

diving deeper into God's Word

On Sunday, thanks to the generosity of some members of Trinity UMC, we handed out over 250 New Testament Bibles to folks in worship at Trinity.  It is part of our challenge to live into our membership vows of prayers, PRESENCE, gifts, service, witness.  During worship we made a commitment to be present with God by being more intentional about reading and studying scripture, and attending worship over the next year.

I invited the congregation to read one chapter a day over the next month from the Gospel of Matthew.  Each evening as part of this challenge I am posting reflections on the chapter of the day on our Trinity UMC Waverly facebook page.  If you're interested in joining us please like our facebook page by clicking here and if you live in the Waverly/Bremer County area, you are invited to stop by the church to pick up a free New Testament for you and yours!

If you live out of town, why not LIKE Trinity Waverly's facebook page too - you may read along with us electronically by visiting (we are reading from the Common English Bible).  It is my prayer that you will be blessed by reading and studying God's Word along with us!

Kristin will be leading a 'Bible 101' course starting Sunday, October 28th, and if you're available Wednesdays at noon, there is a small group that gathers to read and reflect on the scripture lessons for the coming Sunday's worship services.   All are welcome to attend!

I am really excited about this opportunity to dive deeper into God's Word with our faith community.  What a wonderful way to grow as a church family!

In Christ, together,

Saturday, October 6, 2012

a pilgrimage, of sorts

Lauren, Mary, Kristin and I
This past week four of us from Trinity joined 2500 others at the Church of the Resurrection for their 2012 Leadership Institute.  While I came home with a bag full of ideas I also came home with a deeper relationship with the folks from my church who accompanied me - and I believe that is at the core of leadership in this time and place.

Our trip to Overland Park, Kansas, was a pilgrimage of sorts, although I don't think any of us thought it would be so when we set out after lunch on Tuesday.  While I thought I was taking staff to a Continuing Ed event, I can see now in retrospect that we were on a journey that allowed me, at least, to deepen my faith and walk as a Christ follower and a leader in the church.

When one goes on a pilgrimage you must be willing to put yourself out there - to extend an invitation to others to join you in the journey of life and faith.  Jesus did this in the most ordinary times - often when he was on a walk; 'drop your nets, Andrew and Simon, and follow me,'  'come down out of that tree, Zacchaeus, we're going to have dinner at your house.'  Invite, invite, invite...and see who the Holy Spirit inspires to join you.  I appreciate that Mary, Kristin and Lauren all said 'yes' to the invitation!

As you travel I think its important to allow people to go at their own pace, even if you are a bit impatient, trust that God is always at work...its pretty amazing when you slow down and allow God to do God's thing - you get to see the Holy Spirit and grace in action!

At COR they worship in a variety of ways - and during the Leadership Institute we had a taste of every one of their worship styles - the music was amazing; from a full orchestra and traditionally robed choir to the youthful VIBE band to their amazing organist to the gospel duet to the praise band, it is obvious that these folks are committed Christians who are sharing their gifts to glorify God.  Music is a universal language that speaks to us in a myriad of ways.  There were several times when the presence of the Holy Spirit was so powerful in the music that I wept.  I was not the only one.  I give thanks for these holy moments.

We had a plethora of workshops to choose from and the four of us attended those we thought would best suit our tasks within the church.  Some were better than others, but one thing that impressed each of us was the willingness of COR to give it away - they gave us hand out after hand out and said; 'go to our website, down load the video, make copies of this stuff and use what you like for your context'...  I am blown away impressed by their generosity - extravagant hospitality - humble gratitude to God for blessing their faith community so that they could be a blessing to others.

What a better place our world, our connection, our communities would be if we did likewise.  None of what we have or do is proprietary - it all belongs to the One who calls us and claims us in our Baptism.  It is ours to give away - we are all blessed to be a blessing!

All pilgrimages, like all stories, have times that are demanding.  The question is how do the characters handle the challenging parts - the tension - the breakdowns?  We learned before we even set out on our journey to COR that there were folks at the church praying for each and every one of us by name.  We likewise soaked our time apart in prayer.  Prayer was essential when the car wouldn't start (thank God for AAA and that it was only a battery!)  Frankly, prayer was essential every step of the way.  From the moment we departed till our arrival home.  We prayed together...and through our prayers we drew closer to one another and to God.

Now what are we going to do with it?  What will I do with the notebook full of ideas and handouts?  (and the sack of books from the bookstore too!)  What will any of us do with what we learned?  It would be easy to settle back into the rhythm of life here at home (it sure felt good sleeping in my own bed!) but we had an amazing opportunity to learn from our sisters and brothers and we do have a responsibility to our faith community here at home as here the key things I learned and some initial thoughts that I took away...

1)  my gut instinct about our fall Stewardship campaign was right (how about that?!)  At Trinity we will continue to uphold our baptism and membership vows and consider how God is calling us to support our church and one another through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.  I came home with some ideas that will equip me (and even push me) to do this better.

2)  Adam Hamilton is a fine preacher and he really, really wants to share with preachers and churches what he has learned.  Adam is naturally curious and winsome - he goes on trips and videos his studies and publishes them because he knows not everyone will get to the chance to go to the Holy Lands, or other places, themselves.  Again he wants to give it all the glory of God!  Check out his website for some wonderful resources:

3)  Hamilton's enthusiasm is infectious and I can see how folks are drawn toward him.  I appreciate his intentionality about lifting up leaders and equipping and empowering lay folks.  He does this very well.   He also gives voice to others - he is not the expert - he brings in others to share their stories rather than re-telling them.  I need to do this more often myself.

4)  COR is a huge place in an affluent community in the KC metro area.  They intentionally seek to connect with people who are non- Christian or nominally Christian to bring them to a deeper faith.  That is their mission/vision.  It works in their context.  Our keynote speaker, Jorge Acevedo, pastor of Grace Church in Ft Myers, Florida serves a faith community that is blue collar, with a whole different mission and vision.   I need to continue to work with the folks of Trinity to identify the needs in our context and how God is calling us to be the Church in our community.

5)  It really is great to see familiar faces when at an event like COR.  I saw many pastor friends from the Iowa, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin and the Illinois Great Rivers Conferences.  I wish that I could have had time to sit a spell and talk, but a quick hug and 'how are you' often had to suffice.  I can say that I  look forward to one day having the time to do more visiting...maybe that is what heaven will be like?   I made a new friend, Eunice from New Jersey.  She is a bubbly Latina pastor who I kept running into throughout the conference.  She made me smile...I liked this as well.

Attending the COR Leadership Institute was another step in my journey of faith.  I was blessed to be on pilgrimage with Mary, Kristin and Lauren.  They are amazing women of faith and a blessing to our Trinity community.  They help me to be a better person, a better Christ follower.  And isn't that, really, what its all about?  I look forward to sharing what I learned with my community here in Waverly and to the next adventure that comes our way.

together, on a journey of a lifetime,

Monday, October 1, 2012

fumblin' around

Sunday afternoon after a power nap I watched a couple of football games with E.   One of the more interesting (and time consuming) things to happen was the review, measurements and re-review of a fumble toward the end of the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons game.

I sure am grateful that God's mercy and grace isn't measured by downs (or ups for that matter).  What matters is that God's grace is extravagant and more than sufficient, if we open our hearts and minds to the very depths of God's love.  It really is all about love, you know.

When I attended the School of Congregational Development in St Louis in August, Bishop Schnase, in his keynote address, shared one of the loveliest definitions of grace that I have ever heard.  After his talk I asked him if it was in print anywhere and he directed me to his book, "Five Practices of Fruitful Living"  Here is an excerpt from the chapter 'receiving God's love.'

Frequently, we view God as some cosmic entity existing beyond our experience, removed from daily life, an abstraction of the mind.  But the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ is not some passive general benevolence that leaves things alone.  The God we see revealed in Jesus is the God of grace, an active, searching, embracing, asserting love.  It is a strong, persevering, gritty grace that gives Jesus the power to embrace untouchable lepers, sit with outcast tax collectors, visit with forbidden strangers.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is the steel courage to intercede against the violence and injustice of angry authorities on behalf of a woman accused of adultery.  It is an earthy, practical grace that causes Jesus to kneel before his friends, take a towel from his waist and wash their feet, daring them to do likewise as a way of life.   It is an unrelenting and irresistible grace that never gives up on either the hopeless and despairing or the rich and powerful.  It is the disturbing, interruptive grace that overturns the tables of the cheating money changer in the Temple.  It is the perceptive, affirming grace that notices the widow with her two coins, a father anxious abut his epileptic son, a farmer pruning vines.  It is the compassionate grace that embraces the victims of violence, and the persistent grace that steps into cell blocks with prisoners.  It is the challenging, correcting, indicting grace that confronts unjust judges, self-justifying lawyers, unsympathetic rich people, and haughty religious leaders.  It is the costly, sacrificial grace that dares to absorb the violence of humiliation, unjust persecution, and tortuous death to reveal the depth of God's love for humanity...

Grace is God's loving activity embracing our lostness, brokenness, hurt, and rebellion, so that we may experience forgiveness, reconciliation, and liberation, which come only through our receiving this love into our lives.  A radical encounter with the grace of God may not solve everything overnight, but many things remain beyond our ability to solve until we at least take the first step of accepting the grace of God and inviting God's love in.  (Five Practices pages 23-24)


For years I have been fumbling around trying to articulate what grace means... I drove my seminary professors kinda crazy asking each one what grace means.  I knew in my heart, but finding the right words to define grace has always seemed illusive.

Thank you Bishop Schnase for explaining grace so eloquently!  Now let's live into this amazing gift from God!

in Christ, together,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

lessons learned from wearing kick a** shoes

About two years ago I wrote this blog post about shoes...kick a** shoes to be exact and the shocking revelation that my footwear was just plain boring.

just another Sunday morning
the Trinity church ladies
This past week a dear member of the church gave me a huge hug during greeting time and said (perhaps a bit too) enthusiastically; "you're wearing makeup!  You look so beautiful!"  It was just a bit of lipstick, I actually think much of it had been left on the rim of my tea cup, but I smiled and said thank you, and blushed just a little.

Truth be told, I have never given much thought to such things.  Balancing four kids, a career, grad school for a few years and a tight family budget didn't allow for such luxuries.  Recently, however, I have been challenged to broaden my horizons, and thus I have been a bit more bold, investing in some new (even sassier) shoes, and even taking time for a swipe of mascara and yes, on occasion some lipstick.

Along the way I have learned a thing or two about wearing kick a** shoes...

1) comfort matters - a lot.  If you're going to wear heels and stand in them a few hours, then spend the extra money on good shoes that feel good.  It's bad form to limp as you follow the acolytes down the church aisle and up to the chancel area.

2) you're going to have to adjust your stride if you're wearing high heels.  This one has some interesting ramifications.  I usually walk pretty briskly, but in heels I find that I have to slow down.  I may not get to my destination as fast as I used to, but this does have the added bonus of forcing me to take my time and pace myself.  Another novel concept!
rule # 4
take care of your feet already!

3) it's a challenge to wear serious kick a** shoes and carry a back pack full of computer, books, etc.  Balance is everything when wearing serious heels - once you start to get shaky things can get out of hand practice and rethink how full you pack that back pack!

4) it's important to give your feet a break.  I started wearing heels only on Sundays, and have just recently added another day or two each week.  But my Keens are always ready in the wings and a very well broken in pair of Clark's walking shoes too.  Variety is the spice of life when it comes to foot wear - for me anyway.

Kristin is a rockstar when
it comes to kick a** shoes
5) don't be afraid to cull through the closet and get rid of shoes.  There are all sorts of organizations that can use gently used shoes.  Iowa's Women at the Well's clothing closet comes to mind instantly, but the same could be said of Goodwill, and in Waverly Trinkets and Togs.  (A lady came by the church earlier this week looking for some size 11's.  I went home and pulled out a pair of snow boots, sneakers, and some walking shoes to give to her.  What do I need with two pairs of snow boots anyway?)

Now these insights might seem silly to gals who have been wearing heels all their lives, but for me its a brave new world.  The reality is that I enjoy wearing my sassy new shoes.  Once the snow flies I know that I will return to more sensible footwear, but for now, why not kick up my heels and go for it?!

My challenge is for you to find healthy ways to express your self too...


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"...take up your cross..." Who me?

To follow is my sermon from Sunday, I post it today because I am continually challenged by the red letter words of Jesus...including, and in particular this week, the whole 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up ones cross' part.  Who really likes to deny oneself?  (And frankly I fear that too often this passage is used as a way to suppress questions and honest discourse about ones wrestling with everything from suffering to day to day living.) 

After doing some reading this summer and listening to Peter Rollins I approach this passage through  another lens.  I humbly offer and appreciate the opportunity to enter into conversation about the red letter words of Jesus.   (You can hear an interview with Peter Rollins on Homebrewed Christianity by clicking here)



The Gospel of Mark Chapter 8:27-30, 34-35

 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’  And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’  And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him...

'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."

As we look over the scope of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, Jesus feeds 4000 men, women and children - people who would have gone to bed with empty stomachs were it not for his compassion and the miracle of God’s abundance.  It is amazing how 7 loaves and a few small fish were transformed into a feast – a feast fit for a king – or a messiah perhaps?

A few verses later Jesus bantered with the Pharisees who were begging for a sign; 'prove to us that you are the ONE from God'…they hoped, but dared not believe.  They couldn't wrap their minds around the concept because Jesus was going about it all wrong… he didn’t look or act like David did – remember David, the anointed king – the man after God’s own heart – the man who not only killed Goliath the giant but was a man of the sword his entire life? This is the script they were relying on – the way it was supposed to go down – and if the messiah didn't appear according to their preconceived notions, then, well he obviously wasn’t the messiah now was he?

And yet here is Jesus – feeding people, healing the blind, caring for widows and orphans – speaking with gentile women for heaven’s sake AND doing his best to sidestep the very power structures who were put in place to keep the peace… what was he thinking? How was he going to get any traction politically without the right connections?

So with this bit of back story we can see how this morning’s exchange between the disciples and Jesus is really important for us to consider – as people of faith – as people of the cross – as people who live here in Waverly, Iowa in this time and place.

Remember from birth every Jewish boy and girl was told that some day, SOME DAY, the Messiah would come – and the Messiah would rescue them – toss out the oppressors, bring about wide spread institutional changes that would allow for freedom of religion, economic prosperity and safety and security. They KNEW this – it is what the people had YEARNED for, prayed about, sought out for hundreds of years.

Against this backdrop Jesus asks; 'Who do you think I am?'  They responded a bit haphazardly; some say…and they repeated what they had heard.  'But who do YOU say that I am?'  He asked more pointedly – and Peter answered; 'you are the Messiah.'

And then, He does the unthinkable – Jesus says; 'don’t tell anyone…'  Why did he say don't tell anyone?

Perhaps its because they didn’t want to hear it – because they weren’t ready to believe it could be true…because, as Jesus recokoned rightly, he didn’t look like what they thought he should look like…because He knew that  God’s plan for the world wasn’t to live by the sword or by any power structure known to man for that matter – but to live into a life of empowered by God’s love, mercy and grace.

Wow – think about this – and how this kind of thinking impacts us today – here and now - because I don't think we get it even now.  Let me ask you...who do you say Jesus is?  OR, phrased another way - what do you tell people about Jesus when you are outside of church?

We know the rest of the story – we know in our heads that Jesus IS the Messiah – that Jesus is the 2nd person of the Trinity – that Jesus IS our Lord and Savior - but how do we live this out in our hearts, with our hands, and our feet?

I want us to consider that this isn't the only question Jesus was asking.  Perhaps, just perhaps even more important than what we believe is the question HOW do we believe?

For too long we as a society – as a church – have concentrated on what we believe to be true; we champion right thinking for everyone! We have tried to pound it into our heads, into our children, into those people outside our doors.  We have lectured and taught and even, sad to say, guilted people into agreeing with our truth about Jesus – to the point that those who don’t believe ‘rightly’ are tossed out and those who express doubt are silenced and those who are on the fence are scoffed at or scolded until they’re old enough to quit going to church or say they are over it all -and maybe they’ll get back to it some day – and this isn’t new to us.  Peter chastised Jesus, the messiah, for not toeing the line.  What is wrong with this picture?

Jesus was fully aware of the work that he had to do for the sake of the world.  It was part and parcel with the realities of God-with-us – Emmanuel – he HAD to be condemned, tried, convicted, and crucified for the sake of the world – and we don’t really like to think about this – we don't really like to think that an innocent man died for you and I. But he knew that it was necessary to break down the barriers that had for way too long separated us from God.  Why is it that we still don’t live into this precious gift?  Perhaps because we don't understand fully what it all means?  

I would add that its because we don't know HOW to live into the gift, as people given a fresh start, as people given "the freedom to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, repent of our sin.  As people who are given the freedom and power to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and as people who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, who put our trust in his grace and promise to serve him as Lord in union with the Church."  (We really say all of this whenever we baptize someone - see our Baptism vows beginning on page 33 of the hymnal).

And so I challenge us to consider how our belief functions – does our belief make room for us to live as people who experience the very depth of our humanity…to be more connected to others and be liberated Christ followers in our ordinary day to day lives.  Does our belief structure free us OR does it destroy us? 

Paul writes about this in his letter to the newly forming church in Galatia that people who live as Christ followers are like a tree laden with fruit – and these fruit are a gift of the 3rd person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit… 

Paul wrote:  the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 

The fruit of the Spirit are reminders of our blessings and our blessedness – and encouragement for how we are to live and function as children of God – as disciples of Jesus, the Messiah.

Another way to look at belief vs function - its like two people who have started to get serious about exercise – one is doing it because they are enjoying it – finding satisfaction in their new found activity – and the other is exercising because they are afraid of dying… in other words; are we followers of Jesus because we want to live more fully in the here and now or because we're worried about what will happen in the hereafter if we don't toe the line? 

Now, I want to dig a bit deeper into the whole pick up your cross thing and follow me thing that Jesus says – because this is something I have struggled with for years – I have often pondered what is my cross? Who is my cross? Is it my struggles with those things that burden me? Or perhaps a relationship or two that I have not made peace with? Let us consider this thought… 

Peter couldn't take it when Jesus predicted his death.  He was trying to wrap Jesus up in bubble wrap to protect him from himself – but if he had listened, truly listened, he would have heard Jesus saying that he HAD to die so as to cast aside his identity and those earthly things that labeled him:  Mary’s son, Joseph’s son, carpenter, Nazareth, rabbi, teacher, leader of Peter, James and John… and when he did so, he would clothe himself in our humanity.

And the only way to do this was to pick up the Cross – literally – the cross - for the cross represented a total loss of identity – the Romans were darn good at killing people – and they found that the best way to suppress a people was by killing them, but they didn't have to wipe out an entire town, all they needed to do was do away with a key leader or two with the most gruesome way to die, on the cross.
For when one was nailed to the cross one was stripped naked, no longer Greek or Jew, slave or free, man or woman – just bare humanity – and Jesus, on the cross – while his humanity was bared, His divinity was also exposed.

Just as Christ lost his identity on the cross, in a scary very real way we are invited to do the same – to shed the stuff of this world that we hide behind – that we use to define us – and identify with our deepest identity!  We are created in God's image, you and I.  We are beloved of God…His beautiful child... bearer of God’s light and love into the world…how awesome is this?!

Kinda scary if you think about it – for this involves heart knowledge, and I fear we don't do this very well.  And yet if we consider taking up our cross to be embracing our true humanity and that part of the divine that is within us - see how this is so liberating?

God is not found in running from the world, running from our fears, running our enemies, running from our jobs, our addictions, our relationships.  God is found in facing the crosses that are before us – confronting the realities of life – the good the bad and yes, even the ugly.  I know its hard to do so, but when we do so – when we authentically embrace life then we are able to plumb the depths of our humanity and then we are able to be closer to God.  

When we pick up our crosses we see God in the ordinary when we embrace the ordinary messiness, yes, even our doubts we are actually given a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.

So let it go – to use the old cliché  – 'let go and let God' – let go of needing to be in the know – of worrying about right thinking – and live as someone who trusts God to set the course – as someone who is more interested in how to live as a Christ follower than as a person who is doing everything just right…because this often prevents us from living into the very light of God! 

Let it go and own the beautiful, fragile messy places of your life - fully anticipating that God will show up.

And allow the fruit of the very Spirit of God to be your guide - the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

S A T U R - D A Y Night!

I grew up a deprived family didn't have a color TV until I was in high school - that's the late 70s!  

My grandfather was an early adapter - he had a TV as soon as WGAL went on the air back in 1949!   They had a color TV as soon as they came out too - I remember because we went to their house to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, and if memory serves me correctly, my dad would slip over on Monday nights to watch Laugh-In.  I suppose Goldie Hawn looked better in living color.

It wasn't until my mom was away on a trip that dad brought home our first  color TV, along with a new living room set (orange naugahyde - it was all the rage in the 70's).  TV was pretty safe back then...we only had 4 channels to choose from so we were more content, believe it or not.  Ahhh, the good old days when the big three networks ruled and shaped our culture.

I lived out in the country, and didn't have my own wheels (another poor me moment) so I spent most Friday and Saturday nights at home.  I didn't mind too much - we'd watch The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and I remember the Bay City Rollers had a show for a season.  

Of course the really big deal was staying up till after the news to watch "Saturday Night Live," back in the golden years of John Belushi, Chevy Chase,  Jane Curtin, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, and on occasion Steve Martin...oh my!  Must see TV indeed!

We were allowed to crash on the orange naugahyde couch (it conveniently converted to a sleeper sofa) and stay up till SNL was over.  More often than not we'd fall asleep before the closing credits rolled.  But it was good and life was good too.

Tonight Ethan is on a date, Hannah just got home from work and is upstairs in her room watching a movie, Justin is on his computer in the man cave, and I am on my laptop in my room - feeling a bit wistful...with so many different ways to entertain us all, well, we don't huddle around the campfire, er, television any more.  

And with 100+ choices (and still nothing worth watching on TV) it's a challenge to come to a consensus.  Sure, we all watched the Olympics this summer, and we'll watch a football game on Sunday afternoons, but the times have changed.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, its just reality.

Sometimes I wonder what changes my children and grandchildren will experience in the years ahead.  And I'm not just thinking about entertainment, or technology.  I wonder if my children will have the security in their jobs that I have now, or the ability to do half the things that I have been blessed to be able to do.  

And truth be told I wonder if we, the church, will be more sensitive to the financial and emotional stresses that families are facing with rising gas and food prices, I wonder how we will use our assets to maximize our outreach to those who are in need; the least, the lost, widows and orphans.  I earnestly pray that we will rise to the occasion...and be a place of peace, hope, love and extravagant generosity.

And I am grateful for technology - for websites where I can watch great skits from the 'good old days' like this one... cheeseburger - cheeseburger - chips anyone?  Perhaps a Pepsi to go with it?

in Christ, together,

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lyle said there'd be days like this...

Rev. Dr. Lyle Vander Broek
Univ. of Dubuque Seminary
Professor of New Testament
After a summer of preaching about the life of David, culminating in a sermon about David and Bathsheba (which of course included a conversation about SEX which made everyone a bit nervous) I jumped back into the lectionary this week, and the gospel of Mark.  I was looking forward to a return to the gospels - and the Gospel of Mark in particular - because this is the book that I spent a semester in seminary studying - in Greek no less!

Wouldn't you know that the lectionary passage for this Sunday was Mark 7:24-30.  The passage known as the 'Faith of the Syro-Phonecian woman'...or the day when Jesus dissed the gentile woman and called her and her sick daughter a dog (ok, so it was a little dog in the Greek - but you get the picture).

Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide.  In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
“Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.  (Mark 7:24-30 CEB)

If you really think about it, it's enough to make your blood boil - that is until we take time to understand the context of 1st Century Jewish folk - and the pivotal role that the woman's response has on the entire Gospel message.  In a nutshell, her patient and measured response leads Jesus to expand his original vision of preaching, teaching and healing to encompass the entire world!

"Show of Hands" poll week of 9/2/12
I like this - a lot - until I start to wonder who we, as people of faith treat like 'little dogs'... we all know 'them' the 60-70% of America who don't worship in a church or synagogue or mosque any given week.    

As I ponder the why's of such abysmal participation in our faith communities, I can't help but wonder if it's because we have lost sight of what we are to be about.  Jesus was pretty focused on preaching, teaching and healing.  We sure do have a plethora of preachers, and we seem to do teaching pretty well too.  But how about this healing thing?

Do we believe, truly believe that healing happens?  Do we think that healing ministries are just for quacks and kooks - and thus not happening in a spiritual sorta way any more?  Have we abdicated all healing ministries to doctors and nurses and such?  OR - are we so intent on wearing a mask pretending that all is ok, that we neglect to convey the realities of our broken and hurting world - that suffering IS present in the world, that people DO need the healing that comes from our loving triune God...that healing is more than fixing folks physically, it's also walking alongside others emotionally and spiritually to health and wholeness?!

This is where I see the greatest needs in my Monday through Saturday ministry.  And the good news is that God does love us more than we can fathom - that Jesus' death on the cross allowed him to enter into and heal our brokenness and he will never, ever, ever abandon us, and the Holy Spirit is with us too -  wooing us and nudging us to be bearers of light and hope and peace with those whose paths we may cross.

Yes, Lyle said there would be days when we'd much rather be at the VFW hall, where everyone knows everybody's name, where community is formed over a cold one and a friendly game of cards - but God has put me in the church and so I shall continue to try to be faithful and seek to invite others to join in this beautiful, messy, holy journey.  

Where have you seen God at work in your life this past week?  Let's grab a nice cup of tea (or coffee if you prefer) and talk about it.

in Christ, together,

Saturday, August 11, 2012

teach us to pray, dear Lord

I don't have my IPhone loaded up with a ton of apps...I am too easily distracted.  But one that I check about once a week is called Show of Hands.  Show of Hands is a mobile polling app that allows folks to anonymously respond to questions ranging from politics to ice cream cones.

What's really cool is that the app allows you to see how others voted, nationwide, statewide and by demographic breakdowns such as gender, age and political party affiliation.

I was tooling through the app the other morning and came across this question:  "do you pray daily?"
Yes...sure I do.  After choosing my selection I clicked on results - and was quite frankly shocked.  Over 11,000 people responded to the polling question and only 34% said they prayed daily.

The numbers were the same when I looked at Iowa's results.  And while there was a small uptick among self avowed Republicans, the numbers were still abysmal.


This got my head to spinning - I could rationalize all sorts of things about the people who use Show of Hands...I could play the blame game...or I could take some responsibility for being part of the religious establishment that obviously has done a lousy job walking alongside folks and teaching the most basic components of our faith - the blessings that come with daily conversation with God - aka prayer.  Prayer is really an important part of the journey!

I am not the most eloquent person when it comes to prayer, but I do find a wide variety of ways to pray.

There are times in my life when the more formal fixed hour prayer really works (this is especially helpful when I don't really feel like talking to God - or when my prayers stick to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter).  Here are two websites that have been a blessing to me in my faith journey.  Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals and the Divine Hours.

There are books full of lovely prayers by pillars of the faith.  I am especially fond of a little volume of prayers from the point of view of animals called Prayers from the Ark written by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold just after World War II.  I can imagine the comfort these prayers offered children in Europe after the atrocities that they witnessed and survived.

My daughter and I think the Prayer of the Butterfly was written especially for us:


Where was I?

Oh yes! This flower, this sun,
thank You! Your world is beautiful!
This scent of roses…

Where was I?

A drop of dew
rolls to sparkle in a lily’s heart.
I have to go…
Where? I do not know!

The wind has painted fancies
on my wings.


Where was I?

Oh yes! Lord,
I had something to tell you:


Fact is, there are tons and tons of prayer books as well as books on prayer out there  - and yet I wonder why is prayer so elusive?  Is it because talking with God seems intimidating?  or perhaps because we often forget the important part - waiting and listening for God?  (I am quite guilty of this one)

One of my seminary professors, Gary Hansen, wrote this one: Kneeling with Giants: Learning to pray with history's best teachers.  When I took the class that became the book I was reminded that we don't all learn alike, nor do we pray alike - and thats ok!

Breath prayers, praying as one goes about the regular activities of one's day - breathing in and breathing out phrases such as: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me," are a way to wrap oneself in prayer.

Norman Vincent Peale would use situations to prompt him to pray throughout his day.  I especially appreciated reading his story about saying a quick breath prayer, asking for God to bless and care for others, such as when he would see a mother and child in the most ordinary places such as a store or park.

Prayer connects us with others and with the world around us in ways we can't even begin to fathom.  I have prayed at bedsides as well as at community gatherings, over the phone and as my vehicle was spinning out of control on an icy road.  I can't imagine my life without prayer, even though I have never myself experienced the very voice of God answering, I keep on praying and when I do I feel connected with God and with others in mighty and powerful ways.

I have found that my favorite times of prayer involve holding the hand of another.  Ever since my children were little we've held hands and sung our prayer before dinner, the Johnny Apple Seed Song - that counts as prayer too!

The psalms are the go to book of the Bible for prayer.  Full of praise as well as lament (lament = a prayer of grief - kind of like shaking your fist as your enemy and even at God) praying the psalms is joining voices throughout history in prayer.  I especially like the progression from Psalm 22 to Psalm 23 and finally Psalm 24.  But that's just me.  Spend some time in the psalms and you will be introduced to all sorts of ways to pray.

And of course, there is the Lord's Prayer:

Our Father who art in heaven;
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass
against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom
and the power and the glory
forever and ever. Amen

But none of these get to the big question.

Do you pray daily?

And if not, let's talk about it...this is something that I will surely pray about, ponder, and bring up in conversations here and amongst folks who are curious about prayer.  In the meanwhile, I simply say.  

Lord, thank you for this day - and for my friends and loved ones near and far away.  Amen.

on the journey, together,