Friday, June 29, 2012

what momma knew and why it really does matter!

Last week my son and I joined a couple of thousand other folks on a trek to the hill country of North Carolina for the Wild Goose Festival.  It was a wonderful gathering where justice, music, spirituality and art collide in all sorts of interesting shapes and forms.  Each day there were speakers, bands, and plenty of opportunities for ad hoc conversations under the beautiful oak trees.

Phyllis Tickle
One of the most powerful and relevant lectures regarding the state of the Church and the trajectory we are on was given by Phyllis Tickle.  (I should point out that I really, really respect Mrs. Tickle and her scholarship, insight, wit and wisdom.  In my book, Phyllis is fantastic!)

The crux of the talk was that because of Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion 1700 years ago AND the Birth Control Pill the way of life currently known of as the Church is dying, at alarming rates.  She pointed out that unless we make some intentional adjustments, we will lose a great deal more than our brick and mortar buildings, we will lose (although perhaps for just a season) what it means to be a people who are shaped by the rhythm of the faith.

Rosie power!
Let me explain - Phyllis is not a feminist, as she said right up front - anyone with 7 children can not call herself a feminist, but in her opinion (along with folks like Harvey Cox and Martin Marty) the Pill allowed women to not only control how many children they bore, it also played/s an important role in allowing women to break through the glass ceiling in the work place.  Ever since World War II and the days of Rosie the Riveter, the number of women in the workforce has grown and two income families are for many reasons now the norm.

And yet, for the past 3000+ years of our Judeo-Christian heritage women were the main transmitters of the faith, through the sharing of the Biblical narrative, the stories of the Bible.  Some of this was done overtly and some more covertly, but by and large the church grew and flourished because of what momma knew and shared with her offspring.

Phyllis used this analogy: the home - aka the tent  - is the place where initial spiritual formation takes place, then there is the synagogue (or our modern day church) for community worship and the temple for the big annual celebrations.  It's how its been done for thousands of years - until now.

With two income families, as well as the increased focus on the activities of the children in the families, time to just sit and talk after school let alone time for family prayers, devotions, and weekly worship has gone to the wayside.  And frankly, I can understand how and why -who really has time to do any of this well, let alone regularly any more?

And that is Phyllis' point... what had previously been part of the rhythm of a family's life now has been set aside, because its hard to do it all!  Meals, homework, activities, sleep and if you're lucky - clean clothes come before anything else...and let's not forget about our careers - so, what is left for spiritual formation let alone Church???

On top of this, from my perspective as a pastor for the past nine years, many people have a lack of confidence in their ability to understand the Bible (again - my theory - because of a couple of decades of bad teaching on the part of 'professional' clergy), many people don't have confidence in themselves to share their faith, they don't trust that the Holy Spirit can speak to them through scripture, prayer, or other spiritual activities.


So, what are we to do now?  Well, Phyllis said its time for us to recapture the rhythm of the Christian life, and we do this by embracing the liturgical year.  Sound difficult?  Here are some concrete suggestions from Phyllis:  as we do something as simple as setting the table with purple napkins (during Advent) we can explain why and what the colors mean and then take time to talk about the incarnation of Jesus.

On January 6th we can bake a special cake, complete with a little plastic baby, to celebrate the Epiphany of Christ.

We can be more like our Catholic friends and serve fish during the six Fridays of Lent.  This  allows us to talk about the man from Nazareth named Jesus who invited the first disciples, who happened to be fishermen, to follow him along the shore of Galilee...this same Jesus who took some fish and a few loaves bread and gave thanks to God and gave it to his disciples to share with a crowd of 5,000 and it was enough to feed them all!  And guess what, this is the same Jesus who after his resurrection, prepared a meal of fish for his disciples and reminded them how much he loved them, and loves us too.

She also highly recommended daily prayer - or the daily office as a family devotional practice.  One example she mentioned was Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (both of whom were at Wild Goose).  You may access an online version here.

What she didn't mention is her own three volume set of the Daily Office called Divine Hours.  It is a lovely collection of prayers (three readings per day) with special readings during the Advent and Lenten seasons.  There are a couple of sources for on-line versions as well, search Divine Hours Phyllis Tickle.
me and baby Zayden,
my grandson

Get the picture?

I believe it is up to us, as Christ followers, as mothers and grandmothers to join with the dads and grandpas to help share these traditions and stories from the Bible with our children.  Faith is more than a moral framework, it is participating in the Way of Jesus...and that doesn't happen in isolation, it happens in community with people we know and trust and love.  That whole "love God, love one another thing," Jesus really meant it!


p.s. One last thought on this topic, while driving home from Wild Goose on Monday the airwaves were bombarded with news of Anne Marie Slaughter's article in Atlantic Magazine entitled:  Why Women Still Can't Have it All.  I appreciate what Ms. Slaughter is saying, and I agree.  Some of my male preacher friends have trouble understanding the challenges I face as a single mother and full time pastor of a church.  I'm ok with it, and the kids and I are managing well, by the grace of God, but there are many days when I would rather be a more 'traditional' family.  By traditional family I mean that there is a responsibility for men to have a spiritual leadership roll in their households - too often I fear that men abdicate spiritual things to the women, and our young men need to see faithful men of God in their daily walk.   <end of rant>

Sunday, June 17, 2012

running on empty

one unhappy little guy

(this summer I am exploring the life of Israel's King David.  I will post from time to time some of my reflections on how David's story intersects with yours and mine...he was, after all, very much like you and I.  That's what makes his story so fascinating.)

Yesterday morning I ran some errands with my daughter Lauren and her 4 month old son Zayden.  Around 11:30 Zayden started getting fussy, he was hungry, but alas, there was no formula in the diaper bag and we were still 30 minutes from home!

Lauren tried to give him water, but he was not interested at all!  Before we knew it he went from fussing to crying to screaming!!!  Lauren did her best to console him.  She spoke sweetly to him, sang his favorite lullaby, she really tried everything she could to distract him, but nothing worked.

Since I was driving I stepped on the gas.  And then, just as Zayden hit a rousing crescendo the gas light came on!  Now we were faced with a wailing baby AND an almost empty tank of gas...

Long story short, we got home and Lauren fixed a bottle which she instantly popped it into his mouth - and yet Zayden continued to cry.  In fact it took a while before he realized that his greatest wish was right there in front of him.

Zayden had become so self absorbed by his hunger that he couldn't hear his mommy telling him that it everything would be ok.  Then, when given what he wanted, he still refused to believe that his wishes had been met.  Sound familiar?

We are fragile creatures, you and I.  We have a tendency to get our minds fixed on what we want, or what we are afraid of, or what we don't want to deal with and before we know it these normal (and often every day) things become bigger and badder and scarier than they probably are.  THEN, in the midst of our wailing and gnashing of teeth we neglect to hear the voice of the one who loves us more than we will ever know.  I am constantly amazed at God's patience with us.  And yet, His love, mercy and grace go on and on forever and ever.  Thanks be to God!

Saul, the king of the Israelites, had a big problem...the Philistine Army was big and bad and eager to wipe the tiny nation of Israel off the face of the earth.  For 40 days and nights they were in a stalemate - and the biggest baddest of them all was a giant of a man by the name of Goliath - each morning Goliath would strike fear in the hearts of the Israelite army, taunting them with his bravado.  Along comes David, Jesse's youngest son, who was sent to the battlefield to drop off some supplies for his three eldest brothers.  When he heard Goliath's taunts it ticked him off...and he wasn't afraid to say so!

Before anyone knew what was happening David convinced King Saul that he was more than a shepherd boy, he was in fact a formidable hunter of lions and bears and this Philistine had nothing on them!  So the king dressed him up in battle armor and prepared to send him up to the front lines.  Only one problem, the heavy armor didn't feel right.  So instead he opted for his slingshot, 5 smooth stones, and his faith in God, the Almighty one.

As Goliath jeered, David proclaimed his faith in the one living God.  As Goliath scoffed at this runt of a man, David proclaimed God's power and benevolence and with the swing of his slingshot Goliath came crashing down!  (see 1 Samuel 17 for more of the story - the Message translation is especially good)

Notice how Saul and his men only saw the formidable fighting power of the Philistine Army.  For 40 days and 40 nights the Philistines waged a psychological war on them, led by Goliath.  David, on the other hand, didn't see anyone but God.  He doesn't even mention anyone but God.

I think David was able to have this unique perspective about God because he lived a simple life, one that was intimately connected to God.  Because he spent much of his time out in nature he knew of God's power and grace because he saw it in the ordinary things...he had to be in awe of the wonder and majesty of God!

much better!
We all know what or who our Goliath's are.  What is preventing us from placing our trust in the God of David?  What is keeping us from hearing the voice of the one living God?   Its not that we are making mountains out of molehills as much as we have a tendency to lose sight of the one who really, really loves us.  Are our spiritual tanks full or are we running on empty, without any hope?

These are all some things I am thinking about as we continue our summer long journey with David, a man after God's own heart.  May we too turn our hearts and minds toward God even (especially) in the midst of troubling, challenging times.

in Christ, together,

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Just before we moved from Colorado to Iowa, in the summer of 2001, we took a quick trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I love Santa Fe.  It's a town full of history, art and fabulous food!  While there we did some obligatory shopping and for some reason, we bought a lemon tree...I don't know why, but we did.

Over the past 11 years the lemon tree has moved from place to place with us.  Atleast once a year it is coated with an abundance of fragrant blossoms and on occasion we actually have had a lemon.

The downfall is that every winter the branches become coated with aphids.  Over the course of the winter it dropped many of its leaves thanks to the invasion of the nasty critters...Ugh!  I tried soaps, baths, sprays, even wiping the little buggers off with my hands...I tried everything for 11 long years - and finally, I gave up fighting the aphids.

One balmy day in March I set the doomed plant on the back deck and thought - 'good luck, you're on your own.'  11 years of a love/hate relationship ended with frustration (me) and exile (the plant).

We then had a cold snap and soon all of the leaves dropped.  And what remained of this forlorn plant was stuck, out of sight and out of mind, on the back deck.

I thought about pulling it out and tossing it in the fire Ethan started last weekend, but for some reason I let it be.  Even after I gave up on the darn thing, I couldn't bring myself to do the final act of tossing it away.  Well, yesterday as I was about to pull it up and throw it out I noticed some green shoots coming from the base of the plant.  Now what am I supposed to do???

I could draw all sorts of conclusions from the botanical side of things.  I could even draw conclusions from a lens of faith - how God's love never, ever lets us go. The reality is that this plant is indeed persistent, and so I will let it be and see what comes of it.

Maybe we just needed a break and a do-over, and maybe, just maybe I have a lesson to learn here.  As a friend reminds me often; every day is a chance for redemption.

This summer I am leading the church in a study of David, a man after God's own heart.  A man who not only experienced - he personally and intimately  knew God's mercy, grace and redemptive love.  We have a lot to learn from David.  I too look forward to learning from the life of David.  I might even write about it...just a bit.

looking forward to starting anew,

Want to follow along as we learn about David?  Start with 1 Samuel... today's sermon is on 1 Samuel 16:1-13 when David, the one on the margins, is chosen by God.