Monday, July 31, 2006

Filling Whose Shoes?

I read a little while ago an inspired bit of reflection from Katherine over at Any Day a Beautiful Change in which she considered how far she is from fitting the typical pastoral profile. As she often does, Katherine struck a chord in me. When I realized that any comment I would write in response to her latest post would end up being rather lengthy, I thought I'd take the space here instead. My reflections are not in any way an "answer" to Katherine's reflections. They are merely my own thoughts sparked by her words. Before reading this post, I highly recommend you read hers.

The notion of fitting a professional profile or filling a role has interested me for some time. Maybe any woman who has at least gotten as far as considering a position as a pastor of a church has to face these issues head on at some point. Yesterday, after preaching at my church (something I do maybe three times a year as a lay person with a church staff position), I got into a conversation with a woman who is about 65 years old or so. She told me that a granddaughter had been born in their family lately, the first girl in seven years or so. I smiled and mentioned that I was the first girl born on my father's side of the family in 96 years! Her immediate response: "And now you're doing a job that men usually do!" She's right in a way.

One of the reasons it's been so scandalous for women to become preachers is that it's essentially perceived to be a gender-bending activity. In the nineteenth century, this was very much the perception. A woman who wanted to preach was often perceived to be mentally ill--the equivalent to many folks' unfortunate reaction to cross-dressers today. This view, tragically, is not locked into the nineteenth century. I remember encountering a website this past year where someone argued directly from this perspective, equating women preachers to transvestites.

I think my dear friend SRF would suggest that women preachers queer the pastoral role in a way that breaks the role open to God's kin-dom here and now. It disrupts the usual expectations in a way that lets grace seep through the cracks.

But 'taking on a role' is not only about being a pastor. bell hooks reflects on this subject briefly in her book Teaching to Transgress. She remarks:

I feel the way I teach has been fundamentally structured by the fact that I never wanted to be an academic, so that I never had a fantasy of myself as a professor already worked out in my imagination before I entered the classroom. I think that's been meaningful, because it's freed me up to feel that the professor is something I become as opposed to a kind of identity that's already structured and that I carry with me into the classroom.

Like being a pastor, being a professor certainly has a sense of filling a preconceived role rather than something we become, gradually, in our own way, over time. The feeling is akin to the sense that one has 'big shoes to fill.' The roles come complete with costumes--whether it's a stole, a robe, or an alb. Or a Volvo stationwagon, flowing linen dresses, and cropped hair. The roles come complete with certain languages one is supposed to be fluent in (not just Hebrew but pastor-speak or professor-speak), or a demeanor one is supposed to assume.

While we bring our own assumptions to these roles, we are also shaped by the way others expect us to be, too. So my students have a certain idea of what it means for me to be a professor--and I am shaped by those expectations. Even if I am not those things, even if I don't meet their expectations they still shape me.

In seminary one of my colleagues refused to do the usual Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) units during the summer months between her first and second year in school. Instead she took her whole middler year to do CPE, with the hours spread over the course of two semesters rather than over three months. She told me why she chose to do it that way: "The CPE model is still really heavily influenced by the young, single male seminarian--someone who doesn't have a family to care for, or a home to help shape in any significant way. I refuse to work myself to the bone over the summer--and not have any time or energy for my partner. I need the summer to be more restful so my relationships can be sustained in a healthy way."

My friend was perceptive enough to see what had long-shaped the role that she would be assuming. And she knew that it would not be healthful for her to step into such a pre-formed, rigid model. She needed to do something new, something that made sense for her life.

But others' expectations of how you fill a role are not necessarily a bad thing. While I was in seminary, I read Hillary Rodham Clinton's book Living History. She reflects honestly about her struggles with being First Lady--never seeming to meet people's expectations of her. Her role was so public, that any "mistake" she made brought wave after wave of criticism and negative press. At some point, though, she met with someone who helped her to understand what she was experiencing in a new way. (I'll be darned if I can find the quote in the book, so I'm just re-creating this from memory.) Her friend explained to her that the position of First Lady is a symbolic one. (Now is a good time to remember that it's never useful to say, "It's just a symbol" as if a symbol doesn't carry huge import and life-changing consequences.) Clinton realized that the symbolic role of First Lady carried a vast amount of possibility with it--that one couldn't re-create the role without experiencing huge repercussions. When she realized she could live into the role with the full knowledge that it is a symbol, then she learned how to navigate her world effectively and powerfully.

The role of a pastor and a professor are similarly symbolic roles. They carry a weight and an import that have nothing to do with us. This is not to say we cannot be ourselves when we're in these roles. But it is to say we will never be only ourselves.

It is a delicate and a difficult balance. There are expectations assigned to these roles which are not life-giving, to the one living them out as well as to those who are in relationship with that role. There are expectations which simply have to change--and the sooner the better. We have to make ourselves aware of how these roles are shaped by patriarchy, hierarchy and even consumerism. But there are expectations which will also empower, need to be lived into (not like too-large shoes, but like a sunflower grows toward the light). Who we are will bend to these things and change us in ways we don't expect. And we'll stay the same, too, in ways we don't expect.

Now I have to get back to studying for my exam. So I can become a professor someday...

We are a Hungry People

For the past couple weeks I have had the privilege of filling in at the church office while C.S. has been on vacation. For the most part it has been a pretty quiet, uneventful time—just enough things to do and just enough people calling or stopping by to keep me from getting too lonely every day.

The first morning I started my substitute job, when I arrived I walked over into the courtyard and noticed that the little fountain out here was running for the first time since we started coming here about two years ago. I was so delighted to hear the gentle sound of the running water, a sound that feels to me like an invitation to stop and rest a moment, to take notice of the world around me.

Knowing that the fountain gets overwhelmed with the leaves that fall from the Sycamore tree above it, I skimmed out whatever had fallen into the water, the leaves and some purple blossoms from the hasta plants beside it. After doing this, I placed my fingertips into the water where it burbles up at the top of the fountain, then I touched the water to my forehead and formed the shape of a cross there.

Coming from a family of long-time Baptists, this is a gesture my body is not familiar with—I can’t do it without feeling awkward, clumsy, or a bit like a liturgical impersonator. In the years when I was attending a Lutheran Seminary on the East Coast, I grew to envy my classmates who could so familiarly touch the water to their foreheads in an act of remembering their baptism (a baptism which most of them, of course, couldn’t in fact recall because they had been baptized as infants). To remember your baptism is very different from recalling the moment you were baptized. To remember your baptism is, in a very real sense, akin to the phrase that has sent many a child out of house in the morning: Remember Who You Are and Whose You Are. To remember your baptism is to remember you carry the name of Christ and that God has claimed you as God’s own. To remember your baptism is to remember that, no matter what, you are loved.

There was something about this fountain being in the courtyard of our Baptist church, something about my hand already being in water, combined with something inside me that longed to know in that moment God’s love for me, even for me, that made it seem possible for me to try on this gesture for myself—to touch the water to my forehead and remember my baptism.

It ended up that this was how I started each of my mornings these past couple weeks, carefully tending the fountain, then awkwardly touching the water to my head. Trying this new thing on for size.

This past Monday, a few minutes after I arrived in the church office, I received a phone call from our neighbor Betty who lives just up the road a bit. “I was just calling about the excitement at the church this morning,” she told me when I answered the phone.

“Excitement?” I asked cautiously, not wanting to commit to anything yet. “I haven’t heard about our excitement.”

“Oh! You haven’t heard!” she answered. “Well, a mountain lion was spotted in the church parking lot at about 6:30 this morning!

After briefly considering investing in a couple of air horns to walk around with, I have to admit I found the news more exciting than frightening. Betty and I speculated together about what may have brought the mountain lion down into this fairly well-populated, certainly more-suburban-than-rural setting. Betty mentioned that the thermometer on her deck had registered 118 degrees the day before and she suggested, “I think the lion was looking for water.”

My thoughts immediately turned to the fountain in our courtyard, the delicious gurgle of water as it falls over itself. And I imagined the mountain lion hearing its sound, drawing cautiously through the terrible heat to its side, dipping his muzzle into the water and drinking deeply: The fountain of life.

We are a thirsty and a hungry people.

Our scripture this morning gives us Jesus feeding the multitudes and Jesus the Storm-Walker. The stories are fantastic—and stretch the limits of our imaginations, may even challenge some of our tolerance for what is possible in this work-a-day world. But “the miracle,” writes Tripp Hudgins, an American Baptist pastor in Chicago, is never the point of the ministry, [rather] the miracle points to God.” So we are invited to enter the story of this miracle with our eyes open to see the God revealed in it.

Jesus sits on the mountainside and sees that the thousands of people who had gathered there were hungry. He turns to Philip, and with a twinkle in his eye, asks him the pressing economic question of that day: “Where should we go to buy enough food for all these people?” Philip, clearly a practical man and a shrewd economist, answers Jesus very practically, one might even say prosaically: “Six months wages wouldn’t be enough to feel all these people!”

The economic system that shaped Philip’s imagination, though very different in time and place than our own, certainly seems very familiar to us. I remember years ago planning the reception for our wedding—everything eventually came down to calculating what the cost-per-head would be! Philip must have been doing his own figuring, as Jesus sat beside him, waiting for him to see beyond the hard, cold facts. Waiting for Philip to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

It is Andrew who notices a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. It’s not much. It’s hardly worth noticing at all. Even so, he points the boy out to Jesus, almost with apology: “Of course, that’s not enough for everyone.”

But Jesus, delighted, instructs the disciples to have everyone sit down comfortably on the grass. The detail to have the people sit is an important one, because it has to do with social status. To have the people remain standing would be to treat them as a servant class, which many (if not all) of them most likely were. The difference between standing and sitting is much like the difference between a soup line and a dinner table. Jesus treats the people who had gathered with all the dignity they deserve, regardless of their social status.

With the bread and fish before him, Jesus gives thanks, (do you recognize the rhythm of communion in these words?), and he distributes the food to everyone. After everyone has had their fill, Jesus instructs the disciples to “gather all the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

“So that nothing may be lost.” The Greek word used here is the very same one used in the familiar passage from John 3:16—“For God so loved the world God gave God’s only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” The phrase that nothing may be lost is the same verb translated here as will not perish.

This is the God who is revealed to us in this miracle—a God who will not let anything or anyone be lost. We discover in this story of the feeding of the multitudes a prodigal God who provides for the physical needs of the people, like manna in the wilderness—and a God who will not rest until all the fragments are gathered, until every lost soul is gathered in.

On some level, the miracle is that with such a small amount, vast quantities of food were provided—enough for twelve baskets to be filled. But on another level, the miracle is this: that God’s love will not let us go: no matter what we face, what hunger we bring, what thirst we may suffer, no matter what we’ve done—God’s love will not let us go. So that nothing—and no one—may be lost.

Either way, the miracle points to Life. And this is God’s invitation to us, and to all the world. “I set before you life and death. Choose Life.” “I am the bread of Life,” says Jesus. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:35). “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came,” says Jesus, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10).

It is important that we remember that Jesus gave the people real bread and actual fish out there on the mountainside. He did not merely pontificate or wax eloquently about spiritual nourishment for the hungry soul. Hungry people need to be fed real bread. But it is just as important for us to remember that fed people are hungry, too. We do not live by bread alone—we certainly do not live abundant life by bread alone. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread?” asks the prophet Isaiah, “and you labor for that which does not satisfy? . . . Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live” (Is 55: 2,3).

The disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking toward them on the stormy, wind-tossed sea. But he said to them: “It is I; [or, in the Greek, “I AM”] Do not be afraid.”

To the Hebrew mind, the sea was a terrifying place—it was the site of chaos, the unfathomable, where the unknown threatened and overwhelmed. This is why the creation story begins with the Spirit hovering over the Deep—in Hebrew the word we translate “deep” is too-hoo-va-bo-hoo—it is a nonsense phrase meant to elicit the same gut feeling of dis-ease as the phrase helter skelter does for us today. When we hold in mind the tsunami that struck the Indonesian island of Java on July 17, we are reminded of the fear, damage and loss of life the sea can cause.

“I AM,” says Jesus—recalling the words that Moses heard out of the burning bush. I AM is the Liberating God who delivered the Hebrews from slavery. I AM will not rest until every fragment is gathered. I AM is liberating still. “Do not be afraid.” The invitation is to life, abundant life.

It is not a coincidence that we encounter these stories in the Gospel of John that focus on bread and water. The gospel was written late enough that the earliest Christians were already practicing baptism and communion. That Jesus give thanks over the bread and fish is meant to remind us of the last supper when Jesus gave thanks over the bread and wine. That Jesus walks on the stormy sea is meant to remind us of the waters of our baptism, when we took on the name of Christ.

Both stories confront us with the reality of death—when the people are hungry we can’t help but to think of the possibility of death by starvation or from utter lack of what we need, whether love, or shelter, or gentle words, or a safe home. When Jesus walks on the violent sea, we can’t help but think of death by drowning, or from being overwhelmed by things larger than us, whether the threat of downsizing, or fear of natural disasters, or the wave of dread with facing a new day, or the terror of war.

And yet the gift of abundant life is made all the more vivid in these direct confrontations. Not the least because Jesus Christ died the thirsty death. As the liturgical theologian Gordon Lathrop writes: "Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is the bath that kills and makes alive, the hope for both the waters and the washed, the meal of God, the means for the nations to eat at Israel's table of salvation, the meal that says the truth about our death while transforming it into life" (Holy Thing 101).

The fountain is right here. It calls to every thirsty soul. The meal is right here. We are a hungry and a thirsty people. Somehow the mountain lion heard the soft fall of water. It is a gentle sound. And it is a fierce love. It is the water that kills and makes alive.

Remember your baptism. When you were buried in the stormy seas of death’s chaos with Christ. Remember your baptism when you were lifted up to new life in Christ. Remember your baptism when you took the name of Christ for your own. Remember who you are—and whose you are. We are all beggers coming to the bread. We are all thirsty coming to the fountain of life.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Family Visits and Some Beginning Sunday Sermon Ramblings

We've been having some wonderful days here while my brother is visiting. Not only that, but I've actually been able to get some decent studying done, too! I finished up my stint in the church office on Tuesday--and freed up my energy to turn my attention to my Comps again. Seeing as how I'm planning to take my next exam a week from today, I'd say it's about time!

Yesterday we stuck close to home while I got some work done. My brother wandered down to our "upscale bohemian" shopping district and enjoyed people watching for a while. He's hoping to bring his sketchbook down again tomorrow and do some drawing.

Today we headed into The City to do a couple classic touristy things. Very fun, though somehow tiring! We're home for just a little bit before we head again to take E to his hockey clinic. I think I'll bring a book along with me and try to get a little reading done there.

In the meantime I'm trying to find my hook into this Sunday's lectionary text--since I'm preaching! I've been doing lots of thinking and reading--and have several directions that are calling to me at once. Just can't find the entry point.

The text is John 6:1-21. I'm drawn to a couple things: the first thing that excited me was a brief essay written by the liturgical historian Teresa Berger who points out that the same Greek verb is used in the section where Jesus commands the disciples to "gather the fragments that none may be lost" as in John 3:16 "that none should perish." This is an exciting connection--I love the notion of Jesus not wanting any of the "fragments" whether left over food or lost "souls" to be lost or (gulp) left behind.

But I also am drawn to a sacramental interpretation of the texts--likely because my exam next week is at least in part about sacramentality. I love the images of eucharist and baptism that are present in the lectionary text (as Jesus not only feeds the 5000 but then proceeds to walk on the stormy sea). I love the confrontation of death, whether by starvation or chaotic drowning--and Jesus' upflappibility in the midst of it. When it gets paired with the Ephesians text, which talks about the fullness of life--well, I am moved to think of how we are called into abundant life: life in God. I love the paradox of our dying with Christ in baptism which opens us to abundant living today. We die to live.

Finally, I am recognizing that there is a tendancy to "spiritualize" the bread--and the gospel encourages this to some extent as Jesus will say shortly (in next week's lectionary text) that he is "the bread of life." And yet, it was with real bread and real fish that Jesus fed the people--not a spiritual bread that filled their longing. And yet. It is a spiritual nourishment that we receive. That is to say, we need both. (We don't live by bread alone after all.) The fear of spiritualizing the feeding miracle is rooted, perhaps, in a false dualism that pits the body against the spirit--spiritual versus the material. But these two are inseparable!

So you see, these are the directions I want to pursue, but I think I'm going to have to choose only one. Unless somehow they are all related.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The RevGalBlogPals Rock the World!!!

I'm very late to this RevGal Friday Five, but had to take part in the homage to our wonderful RevGals. Happy Anniversary friends!!!!

1) What is your first memory of the RevGalBlogPals?
I started blogging for the first time in November 2005 and soon after found myself in the midst of one of our most intense Advent experiences at church. Looking for some hearty bread to sustain me through the Advent season, I did a search on blogger for the word "advent." The search brought me to the doorstep of the spectacular LutheranChik. Having graduated from a Lutheran seminary not so many years ago, I felt immediately at home in LutheranChik's oh-so-Lutheran way of expressing her life and faith journey. And it was there that I first encountered the link to the RevGalBlogPals web ring.

2) Have you met any of the Ring Members in real life?
Not yet--but I can't wait until we arrange our first conference/retreat!
I have recruited a new member to our midst, though. My good friend SpiritMists.

3) Of those you haven't met, name a few you would love to know in person.
Update: I like the way some of the other RevGal's answered this better than I did originally-I'd be happy to know any of the RGBP's personally. Absolutely.

4) What has ring membership added to your life?
I have been trying to cultivate friendships with women in ministry since my seminary days--feeling certain that if we didn't figure out how to be supportive of one another, we would never survive. But it's been hard to sustain these relationships in seminary and grad school because we're in such a temporary life situation. I have been astounded at the depth of the conversation among the RevGals. And it has fed me! I've also loved the wit along with the wisdom--I've never sat and laughed so much while being in front of my computer!

5) Describe a hope for the future of the Web Ring.
Well, I love Katherine's idea that we ought to be featured on the cover of The Christian Century! I'd love for us to keep publishing books--though I know it's a ton of work. Most of all, if we really could find a way to connect, to meet up face to face as a group, well, I think the world would never be the same. Something would happen.

Another Day at the Church Office

Me: Good morning, Suburban Progressive Baptist Church, this is JWD.

Neighbor: Hello, this is B, your neighbor up the road. I was just calling about the bit of excitement at the church this morning.

Me: (cautiously) Excitement? I hadn't heard about our excitement yet.

Neighbor: Oh! You haven't heard! Well, there was a mountain lion spotted roaming around your parking lot this morning.

So our neighbor goes on to explain how the lion was seen walking around through the cars, that animal control had been notified, etc. Together we marvelled and wondered what would bring the mountain lion to the church. Then our neighbor speculated: "You know, it was 118 degrees here yesterday. I think the mountain lion was looking for water."

I immediately thought of our little fountain that has recently been running again for the first time in two years. I have been tending it lovingly these past two weeks, skimming out leaves and dropped blossoms, and refilling it regularly as the water evaporated. This is how I have started each morning here--then I place my fingers in the water where it burbles up and touch them to my forehead, a baptist woman clumsily remembering her baptism.

Now I imagine a mountain lion lapping from the very same fountain.

I love it.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

(E)Merging Thoughts

An incredibly intense day today. So I'm gonna keep this entry on the light side.

Here's the thing. I've been driving to church every day for the past two weeks, about a 45-minute drive in morning traffic. At about the mid-point of my route, I reach a tunnel that goes through our hills where the four-lane highway becomes a two-lane, with the left two lanes having to merge over to the right. There are also some folks merging onto the highway into the right lane. A large sign announcing the need for folks to merge right is placed about a 1/4 mile from the tunnel's entrance. Every morning the traffic clogs up there and we all inch our way forward until we get to the tunnel. Alright. Got the picture?

This is what I've noticed about myself: I would much rather welcome someone into my lane than be the one who needs to merge into someone else's lane. So much so, that one morning I made myself stay in the lane that would need to merge, just to experience what it was like to have to rely, as it were, on the kindness of strangers. I found it excruciating.

I've also become very particular about following the rules of the road about merging traffic. Each car is to let only one in. My blood pressure soars if someone nudges their way in as a second car. And I don't like folks to merge until they reach the end of the line. No mid-way merging once you've committed yourself to the lane.

Finally, I am bummed at how few people take a half-second to wave a small thanks after I let them in front of me. As if thanking the person would imply some weakness on their part, or some kind of admission that they weren't completely entitled to that spot.

I spend the whole time I'm in traffic, every morning, pondering these things: Do the same people every morning choose the left lanes when they know they will have to merge over? Are there certain personality types that make one a merger and another a yielder? Does anyone consistently end up ahead of the pack in the end: is the left-most lane or the right-most lane moving quickest overall? What percentage of people offer the wave of thanks?

Any insights out there? How do you handle mergers?

Update: This morning I encountered a driver who took a completely different approach to the whole merging dilemma. She would remain in a lane until it reached the point that someone would have to merge in front of her--at which point she would immediately cut over into the next lane over by forcing her nose into the tiny bit of space between cars. I watched her do this no less than three times (once directly in front of me, causing my blood to boil). She seemed like a shriveled, hard-hearted human being--not able to admit anyone into her space, but preferring to impose herself instead. Amazing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The World Encroaches

This morning while I was at the church, I got a call from home: "Where's the microphone for the computer?!" A phone call had just come in through Skype on my laptop while E was playing a video game on it. It was the Boy's best friend, JG, calling from Israel. They needed the microphone so JG could hear E's part of the conversation. Wow, how times have changed!

JG spent the year in the States while his parents were visiting scholars at the University. Though JG spoke only Hebrew when he started school last September, he and E quickly formed a deep friendship. All of our hearts broke a bit when JG made his expected departure only a few days after the school year ended. Both sets of parents promised one another that we would do whatever we could to help the friendship continue to flourish, even across the miles. We all dream of the two of them re-uniting as teenagers when JG's parents are on their next sabbatical. And we hope that E might be able to go over to Israel sometime, too, to stay with their family.

More immediately, part of that promise meant downloading Skype--a most amazing, free, simple program that allows you to place phone calls over the internet for free. Even international phone calls! So a couple days ago, I loaded the program onto our laptop and emailed our contact info to JG's mom. And, lo and behold, my son had his first international phone conversation today.

We had been quite concerned about JG and his family with the conflict going on in Israel. In fact, they had been in the northern part of the country, ("Well in the range of the missiles" wrote JG's Mom the other day), until just yesterday when they finally moved back to their home in Jerusalem. We hadn't yet told the Boy about the conflict in Israel--had planned on telling him this afternoon, once we knew for sure that JG was in a safer place.

In addition to having to break this news to the Beautiful Boy, we also had to tell him today that the parents of a friend of his are getting a divorce. This is the second of two good friends whose parents are experiencing this--both of which we've found out in the past month or so. There is a third family in our church, with kids who are a little older and a little younger than the Boy, who are also splitting up.

I am astounded that this is the world my son knows, even already at age eight: One friend who faces war in his own country and three others whose families are going through major upheaval.

As a parent, I don't know how this kind of news makes the ground shift for our son. Of course, I want to protect him from knowing about any of it--but figure that's just impossible. For the sake of his closest friendships, I figure the Beautiful Boy has to know some of the pain that his friends are experiencing. I worry, especially in the case with JG, that their worlds will become too different to bridge anymore. How do two eight-year-old kids merge their worlds, when one lives in the U.S. and the other in Israel? I can only hope that the love they discovered in their hearts for one another while they were together will bridge any chasm of difference that will emerge between them while they are apart. The only thing I can guess is that in order to make that possible, we have to let E know something of what the world is like that JG faces.

Gautama Buddha's parents tried to shelter him from sickness, poverty, old age, and death. When he grew older, he left his sheltered home and discovered all of these things. And he knew, then, life is suffering. I really don't want E to live a sheltered life. There is no gift in that, really. How does one ever feel needed when one never sees a friend in need? Even so, I'm sorry for the moments when my son, my Beautiful Boy, learns the suffering that is a part of being alive. All I can do as a parent is accompany him through those moments the best I can.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

My Pastoral Prayer Today

Holy and Compassionate God
we gather ourselves in prayer before you
because this world needs you
we need you
and we need to carry our burdens to you.

The world aches and groans, O God.
Hear the cries of your people
in Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
Calm these violent storms
Settle warring spirits
Open hearts and minds to peaceful resolutions.

Strengthen and invigorate the prophetic voice of your churches
And till the hearts of your people
to receive the hard words that will bend our will to your way.
We pray especially for the Baptist Peace Fellowship
and for all who have been attending their conference this past week.
Renew spirits. Grant boldness. Make your vision known.

Even as we face the harsh realities of a broken world
do not let us give in to despair
but lift us up on eagle's wings and
fill our hearts with a certain hope
for a world reconciled to you
for war no more
for no more tears
by the River of Life.

Rescuing God,
we pray for the people and animals of this state
who are facing the ravages of wildfires.
We pray especially for the safety and wisdom of the firefighters
and for the people who are displaced and distraught.
Receive their cries, O God, and comfort them in your embrace.

There are many here among us who need your loving touch, Healing God.
We pray especially for those who are struggling with illness, cancer, recovering from surgery,
or in times of transition. We pray for those are burdened by too much work, or by not enough.
We pray for those who are grieving. This morning we prayer especially for . . .

Make the sick whole.
Give hope to the dying.
Comfort those who mourn.
Uphold all who suffer in body or mind
not only those we know and love
but also those known only to you,
that they may know the peace and joy of your supporting care.*

Your Holy Spirit is alive and well and active in our world,
O God of Joy and Hope.
Sing to our souls that we might celebrate the large and small ways
that we experience your graceful presence in our lives.
We celebrate new life in all its forms
We celebrate the joy of simple moments of contentment
We celebrate relationships alive with your love
We celebrate the moments brimming over with possibility.
You gift us with life, Spirited God,
and we receive this gift with hearts of open gratitude.

Gracious God,
in your loving purpose
answer our prayers and fulfill our hopes.
In all things for which we pray
give us the will to seek to bring them about
for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.*

*All words written by JWD except the stanzas ending with an asterisk which were taken from the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.

Extreme Makeover

For my more astute readers, you've likely noticed the new digs around here. :) I'd been growing tired of the blue background in my blog--I was finding it weighty and a bit gloomy. When I'd spied the new template on the famed RevGalBlogPals site, I was inspired to find a new look.

My big regret, though, is that I am without the beautiful leaf banner that my dear brother helped me create. So, likely there will still be more changes to come. (Especially since my bro is heading out to see us in just a week's time! So I may have to rope him into playing with the ol' template with me. We have such a 21st century relationship.)

Today was the end of my first week of 'playing church.' I put together the service this morning and led the whole thing while the pastor is away. It was great to be doing this the second year in a row--I felt much more comfortable and knew what to expect.

For the call to worship I read a slightly modified version of Lorna's beautiful meditation on Waterfalls. When folks arrived in the sanctuary they were greeted by the sounds of waterfalls that I had playing on the sound system. I continued the waterfall sounds through the announcements, prelude, and call to worship--fading it out as we began singing the first hymn. It was lovely and I think people received the gift of God's presence. Turns out our guest preacher had once visited Victoria Falls (I had color photos of Victoria Falls on the bulletin cover), and commented on their awe-inspiring beauty later in the service. So, thank you, Lorna! I credited you in the bulletin as the author of the call to worship and referred folks to your blog to read more of your writing! :)

We have had the best neighborhood day ever today. Two doors down lives a little family with a boy going into 4th grade (E's going into 3rd) and his little brother who's just a tyke. I'd met F a few weeks ago when I came home from church one day. But E hadn't met him yet. Well, last evening D & E (I really need to get blog names for my family!), went out and shot some baskets on E's little hoop. Our neighbor joined in and they had a great time. So after church today, F showed up at our door and asked if E could go out and play!

It's been a day right out of the 1970s--with the kids coming in and out of the house, playing basketball, playing in the park across the street, running back and forth between the houses, playing in E's room. This is not a play date, folks. This is just good old fashioned, "Can E come out and play?" Amazing.

In the meantime, I've got a pot roast cooking on the stove. A good old fashioned Sunday dinner. I can hardly stand it! Whose life am I living??? Whose ever it is, I love it.

Friday, July 14, 2006

RevGal Friday Five: Pet Peeve Edition

Reverendmother has given us permission to vent in this edition of the RevGal Friday Five Meme, and I just couldn't pass up that opportunity. With all due respect, here are my little pet peeves . . .

1. Grammatical Pet Peeve: Misuse of the semicolon. Once an English teacher, always an English teacher! (Or is it: Once an English teacher; always an English teacher?) Runner up: not using a hyphen when using two words to modify a noun. For example: "The wide-mouthed frog gobbled up tasty flies." Gotta have the hyphen there.

2. Household Pet Peeve: Not replacing the cap on the toothpaste. 'Cause then the opening gets all gunky and soon the paste comes out in a thin, gross stream. Ugh. I'm fully aware this is karma. My Dad always hated it when I would leave the cap off the toothpaste when I was kid. I never knew what the big deal was. Yep. Now I get it.

3. Arts & Entertainment Pet Peeve (movie theaters, restaurants, concerts, etc): Selling a 12-oz can of soda for over a dollar. Seriously! Ain't that price gouging? I think we oughta start a class action suit for being defrauded over the years. (Wait. Is class action suit supposed to be hyphenated?)

4. Liturgical Pet Peeve: (Don't get me started!) I'm gonna go with a really small one, but one that has baffled me for some years now. What is the tense that worship leaders suddenly start using when they get into the pulpit? It's never, "I welcome you to worship," but "I do welcome you to worship." Or "We invite you to write your name in the friendship pad," but "We do invite you." Why does do suddenly come into the whole thing? What's up with that? And what tense is it? Subjunctive?

5. Wild Card: I can't stand it, (die a little every time it happens) the first time the cover of the book I'm reading gets bent. Funny thing is, once it's really beat up (coffee stains, water marks from being read in the bath, dog-eared) I just love it. It's just the first crease that does me in.

6. Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, what do I do that might be a pet peeve for others? I leave my wet towel on the bed after a shower. And almost always on D's side of the bed. I'm the worst.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Time Flies When You Have a Job

Alright, today I heard from my brother and my Mom who were concerned that I hadn't blogged since Monday. :) My, how the world has changed!

Thing is, I had no idea it was Thursday night already. When did that happen??? This week has gone so quickly because this is the week I start 'playing church.' The pastor and the church secretary go to the Baptist Peace Fellowship Peace Camp every year--and for the second year in a row now they ask me to kind of hold down the fort. So I've been waking up bright and early and driving out to the church each morning. It's been lovely. I thoroughly enjoy it. And figure I've got to add that feeling into this neverending process of vocational discernment about pastoral or academic life.

On the homefront, we had a great time tonight taking E to his hockey clinic. I'm so proud of how hard he works at these things. He's much tougher with other teachers/coaches than he is with ol' Mom and Dad! That's heartening to me. After the clinic we grabbed a bite to eat, then E spent some of his allowance on a new hockey stick and some better elbow pads. The hockey stick is almost three inches longer than his old one. The kid is growing!

Pop Culture Moment: So, who's watching Rockstar: Supernova? What is the deal with keeping Sayira after her horrible performance of "You Really Got Me Now"??? It was painful to watch. Her little shoulder shake / convulsion by the guitar player was reminscent of one of Elaine's dance moves on Seinfeld! Good grief!

Hm. Think that's all the energy I have to write at the moment. Topics I want to write about soon though: small talk, merging, and update on! There's your teaser. :)

Monday, July 10, 2006

More than Me and My Jesus

A few weeks ago I was involved in a conversation with several American Baptist colleagues who are all interested in worship. This group, in some ways, was a life-saver for me because studying liturgy on the PhD level as a Baptist tends to be a rather lonely existence. (I've often fielded the question from my Baptist sisters and brothers, who ask with no small amount of incredulity: Why are you studying liturgy? As if Baptists haven't been doing worship together for hundreds of years...)

Anyway, in this small group made up mostly of pastors, lay seminary graduates, and an academic or two, we have recently started reading and discussing Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy. At our last gathering we had McLaren's first chapter before us in which he discusses the different 'Jesuses' he has encountered over the years. He breaks his observations down into various categories, mostly based on established faith traditions such as Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Liberation Theology, Liberal Protestant, etc. The idea is that different traditions tend to emphasize different aspects of Jesus and his ministry. So, for instance, he writes that Liberal Protestants have tended to see people as suffering because of an "ignorance of the teachings and ways of Christ" and they have tended to understand the Good News as "Jesus' example and teachings which inspire us to work compassionately for social justice." Whereas the Pentecostal understanding of the human condition is one in which folks are "held down by disease and poverty" and the Good News is that "Jesus teaches us how to receive miracles and healings from God through faith in God's promises."

I was excited to discuss this chapter with my group, especially to begin asking together: Do we account for differing understandings of Jesus (and the Sacred) in our worship services? How can we lift up these different interpretations in integrated (not schizophrenic) ways? Do our worship services tend to emphasize one interpretation of Jesus at the expense of others? How does the way we pray shape our reception of the Divine?

But our conversation seemed to fall off kilter pretty quickly. Two members of our group (one woman in her late sixties and another about ten years younger than that) began to talk about how important it is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Ultimately, they both maintained, it comes down to you knowing who Jesus is--and to have the courage and temerity to hold onto that Jesus even if you find no support from your faith community. Otherwise, they remarked, you put yourself at the risk of being blown about by the wind, with no sure foundation or understanding. It was clear that for these women the faith community was more of a potential threat to faith in Christ than a support upon which one could rely.

Although I found myself resonating with these women to some degree, I also found their individualistic emphasis to be disturbing. Whereas I believe that we must have some depth of spiritual convictions within ourselves, I wonder to what degree these convictions can be held apart from a community. What would keep us honest? And how could we be challenged, especially away from beliefs that aren't simply comfortable for us? What would lead us to new places?

I wonder, though, how gender and age play into the perspectives of these women and myself. Were my colleagues speaking out of an experience of having been excluded too many times from the center of church life over the decades? Has the church been historically unsupportive, even downright threatening to the spirituality of women? (Would any one be surprised if the answer was yes?)

And I wonder, if I were truly honest with myself, if I find enough support from "the church" (whatever and wherever it is) to sustain my own spiritual life? How many times do I feel spiritually exhausted on a Sunday afternoon, confronted all too often over the years with vapid worship practices?

I have more actively been searching for a spiritual director over the past month or so. (Why is it so difficult to find some one?) I have been feeling spiritually parched for longer than I dare to admit to myself. My experience of God's presence feels more often like a dim recollection than a present reality. I used to breathe God. No more.

I am in grad school, studying worship, and going daily deeper into debt because somewhere along the way I was convinced that the worshipping faith community mattered, kept us alive somehow, made us whole. I was convinced that without one another, we would be no people. I was convinced that it had to be more than me and my Jesus in order to live life in God. I want to be convinced of these things again.

There has to be more.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What's for Dinner?

Summer has lately become a season for evaluating and revamping household systems. When classes are out for me and E is home all day, I need to set things in place that make life seem vaguely possible. Perhaps especially now that we're in such a tiny apartment!

Yesterday I started out by making my list of things that I feel need to be done on a daily, weekly, monthly, and occasional basis. On the weekly list were the looming, forboding, mountain-sized tasks of planning our weekly meal menu and grocery shopping. I am terrible at both of these jobs. They take hours and hours, all told. Eventually planning the menus falls by the wayside and I give in to wandering the aisles of the grocery store dropping things in my cart that strike my fancy at the moment. This results in huge costs, never quite what I need to make a complete, balanced meal, and too much waste.

(As an aside, sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I didn't have to spend as much time, money, and energy as I do on food every single day. Everything from making meals to fretting over body issues, food issues are a constant in my life!)

Well, today I'm giving something new a try. After googling "planning weekly menu" in a desperate attempt to find some brilliant key to the whole task, I came across this website: This site provides a meal planning service to its subscribers for only $5 per month, payable for three months at a time through PayPal. Each Friday morning you receive an email with a link to a new 7-day dinner menu, complete with entree and sides. In addition to the menu, you also can print out your grocery list, which includes everything you'll need to make those dishes (including a sidebar which lists things you'll need, but may already have on hand, such as basil, tabasco, or butter).

The meals aren't exactly off the pages of Bon Appetit (not even their 30-minute meals), but they are certainly sturdy and well-balanced dishes. Truth is, given that I've been resorting to frozen meals (at least they were Trader Joes!) and take-out more than a few times a week, though, the lack of glamour in the recipes isn't so bad in comparison.

The $5/month cost was low enough that I figured I could give the service a try and see how I like it. I printed out my first week of menus this morning and grocery shopped using their list this afternoon. For better or worse, they do not repeat a single recipe for an entire year. So you never have to get in rut with the same old dishes day after day. (The drawback is always trying out new recipes, though.)

For nights when I don't like the meal that's been recommended, I just bought this cookbook from Real Simple: meals made easy.

So, we'll see. In the meantime, though, I'm excited to give this a try. I'll let you know how it's going. (And let me know if this intrigues you enough to give it a try, too!)

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Back from Vacation

My apologies for breaking some blogging ettiquette by going on vacation without mentioning it--thereby disappearing from cyberspace for quite a while!

We're now back from our trip back East visiting family, friends, and spending a week at the Jersey Shore. (One of the few families who travel from the Pacific Coast in order to go to the Jersey Shore, I'm certain!)

After slogging around in a bit of jet lag for the past couple days, we are now slowly getting back into the swing of things at home. This morning, fending off feelings of being utterly overwhelmed by my studies, I sat down and opened a Word document. I titled it: Things I Wish to Accomplish. :) And I broke it down into several categories: Daily, Weekly, Monthly, and Individual Tasks. The next step is to sit down and work out a sort of daily schedule.

It's not necessarily my natural tendency to do such things. But I have learned to employ such drastic measures in recent years. At the very least, I find it helps me to balance the various roles in my life in a healthier way. Otherwise, being a Mom seems always to beat out the necessity to sit and study, for instance. Or trying to keep the house straightened always seems more pressing than preparing for the course I'll be teaching in the Fall. Or writing a little blog entry seems more important than all of those things. :)

Well, only time to write this short entry. We have to take E to the doctor for an ear infection. Long story there.

Hope all is well in your worlds.