Monday, January 15, 2007

Ready or Not!

On Saturday late afternoon, I received a phone call that the person who would be leading Adult Sunday school had to cancel due to illness. (She actually ended up in the hospital Sunday morning, so keep her in your prayers!) So I had to be sure to prepare the class in addition to making the many last minute arrangements for the rather complicated worship service I had planned.

In the end, the two needs ended up being addressed at the same time. I recruited the extra readers I needed for the service during Sunday school--which felt rather like a brilliant move on my part if I do say so myself. :)

Although our congregation does follow the lectionary, yesterday we departed from it (for the most part) in order to have a service to celebrate the witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. (We kept the Corinthians text, but substituted other texts in for the two other readings.)

However, in Sunday school we were studying together the gospel text (John 2:1-11) of the Wedding at Cana.

I had some great resources to help me prepare for the lessons. Our church uses the Seasons of the Spirit curriculum put out by the United Church of Christ. Their emphasis for the lesson was on the abundance of God's love--reflected in the abundance of wine that Jesus creates out of water. Believe me, I'm all about abundance, especially when it comes to God's love. But something was not satisfying me about this direction. I decided that what I really wanted to do was somehow connect the gospel text to Martin Luther King.

Very early on Sunday morning, I turned to the RevGalBlogPals for inspiration--checking out the comments on the 11th Hour Preacher's Party. There, I came across a comment left by Rev. Maria (who writes on the blog Jubilee). In this particular comment, she wrote that she was planning on drawing a comparison in her sermon on Sunday between Jesus' reluctance to perform his first miracle and King's experience at his kitchen table over a cup of coffee during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Both men were reluctant to take the first (and in some ways final in the sense of irrevocable) steps toward their public ministries. And yet, both men were being called out, in some sense, to begin--despite not yet feeling ready.

The direction resonated with me on so many levels--although I was not yet familiar with King's coffee cup, kitchen table epiphany. I pulled out my old, ginormous copy of Parting the Waters. After much searching (the index didn't include a listing under coffee!), I managed to find an account of the experience. Taylor Branch describes it this way:

The limitless potential of a young King free to think anything, and therefore to be anything was constricted by realities that paralyzed and defined him. King buried his face in his hands at the kitchen table. He admitted to himself that he was afraid, that he had nothing left, that the people would falter if they looked to him for strength. Then he said as much out loud. He spoke the name of no deity, but his doubts spilled out as a prayer, ending, "I've come to the point where I can't face it alone." As he spoke these words, the fears suddenly began to melt away. He became intensely aware of what he called an 'inner voice' telling him to do what he thought was right. Such simplicity worked miracles, bringing a shudder of relief and the courage to face anything. It was for King the first transcendent religious experience of his life.... For King, the moment awakened and confirmed his belief that the essence of religion was not a grand metaphysical idea but something personal, grounded in experience--something that opened up mysteriously beyond the predicaments of human beings in their frailest hopes. (Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, p. 162)

I also found this account from Albert J. Raboteau in an article comparing the spiritualities of Thomas Merton (one of my patron saints) and MLK, published in the Winter 1988 edition of Spirituality Today. You can find the article here. Raboteau relates the moment in King's own words:

"And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me, and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed over that cup of coffee. I never will forget it.... I prayed a prayer, and I prayed out loud that night. I said, "Lord, I'm down here trying to do what's right. I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now. I'm faltering. I'm losing my courage. And I can't let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage they will begin to get weak. And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And I will be with you, even until the end of the world." ...I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone. No never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainly disappeared." (See A Hidden Wholeness: Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr.)

In the story of Jesus changing the water to wine at the Wedding at Cana, I always imagined that Jesus was reluctant to perform the miracle because he knew that it truly wasn't supposed to be the time for his public ministry to begin. He has always seemed terribly irritated in this story when he turns to his mother and snaps: "Woman, what does this have to do with me. Don't you know my time has not yet come?" But Mary doesn't flinch. In fact, she doesn't even respond to Jesus. She merely turns to the servants and instructs them to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. And Jesus follows through--just as she knew he would.

But for the first time, thanks to Rev Maria, I now saw Jesus as reluctant to perform this first miracle because maybe, just maybe, he didn't think he was ready. Maybe he didn't feel like he knew enough to put himself out there. Maybe he was reluctant because he was afraid--not just that he may not be able to do what he wanted to yet, but because if he did accomplish it, there would be no going back.

Raboteau writes as much about King. He says that it was King's epiphany at the kitchen table that caused him to "commit himself to the movement completely despite his growing realization more certain as the years went by -- that it would cost him his life."

I find such hope in these stories of reluctance. Indeed, I take courage in King's "weakness" as he sits at that kitchen table in the middle of the night, in desperate need of hearing God's assurances to him. And I take comfort in the image of a young Jesus who doesn't feel ready quite yet. A Jesus who feels like he needs to maybe read one more book before saying for certain what he thinks. Or needs to take one more retreat. Or simply needs to hang back just a little longer before he takes that first step.

We concluded our Sunday school time relating our own experiences of feeling not quite ready to take on all that we have to in our lives. And yet we find we simply have to step forward, ready or not, and face what we can with what we have. And in every moment, ready or not, we have to open ourselves to God's leading--in hopes of aligning ourselves with the Presence of Love in our midst.

Throughout all of Advent, I emphasized in worship the notion of God With Us, Emmanuel. Far from pretending that the Christ child has yet to be born, our congregation celebrated throughout Advent that God is Already With Us, accompanying us in every time and place.

And now, in this season after the Epiphany, I have encountered God's continuing assurance, through the epiphany of the prophet Martin: "I promise never to leave you, never to leave you alone. No never alone. I promise never to leave you, never to leave you alone."

Ready or not. No never alone.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why Do Today What You Can Put Off 'Til Tomorrow?

When I was in the fifth grade, my grades took a nosedive. It was the first year of middle school. I was finding it more difficult than ever to tame what my kindergarten teacher had called my "free spirit." I'd gotten mixed in with the bad kids. I'm pretty sure a couple of them dropped out of school eventually. I didn't get along with my teacher at all. Somewhere along the way, I seemed to stop doing my homework completely. I remember lying in bed at night, dreading the next day.

About the middle of the year, my Mom was called in for a parent-teacher conference. My teacher looked at her gravely and said, "JWD has a real problem with procrastination."

Mom, without missing a beat, said with a twinkle in her eye: "Oh, I'll talk with her about that next week."

Mom never tamed her free spirit either. And my teacher was not amused.

So it made me laugh when I came across CNN's headline yesterday "Procrastination Report Released Five Years Late."

I tested positive for Emergent/Postmodern

With thanks to RevEm, who also happens to be Emergent/Postmodern.

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.



Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic


Classical Liberal


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Modern Liberal




Reformed Evangelical




What's your theological worldview?
created with

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Keeping Time

I turned 38 a week ago. A delightfully curvaceous pair of numbers, wouldn't you say? I never mind, at least so far, turning a year older. It's better than the alternative, as my grandmother would say. But more than that, I like its reminder that time is passing.

I like the way age is phrased in French. J'ai trent-huit ans. I have 38 years in my life. In some ways, the English phrasing is accurate--but it's a bit presumptuous: I am 38 as if 38 sums me up.

I received a wonderful gift from my friend, srf, for my birthday. It's called the ECOlogical Calendar: A New Way to Experience Time, created by Antenna (a theater company) and published by Pomegranate. The ECOlogical Calendar emerged from a project by Antenna called AllTime in which they try to refocus our attention on the age of the universe rather than our usually constricted notion of time as counted out by the Gregorian Calendar. If you want to know what time it is, click here.

The ECOlogical Calendar incorporates many different ways that we experience the passing of time on earth: changing seasons, phases of the moon, changing tides, shifts in weather or winds, shifting biological behavior of plants and animals, seasonal stars, visible planets, and more. The calendar seeks to release us from our constricted, industrialized notion of time. In the introduction to the calendar they write: "As societies grew increasingly urbanized and diversified through industrial and technological progress, the calendar became more like a clock: a continuous, never-ending march of numbers, a business machine telling us when to be where, with appointments to keep and obligations to be met."

As for me, I've never primarily experienced time in terms of numbers. I never experience anything in terms of numbers, not even math! Which is why I suck at math! :) When we did word problems in the sixth grade, I was always much more interested in the stories behind the problems. "Ann and David are traveling on two trains to Washington DC. Ann's train is going sixty miles per hour and her destination is 120 miles away. David's train is traveling 90 miles per hour and his destination is 240 miles away. Who will arrive at their destination first?"

That was the least interesting question to ask, as far as I was concerned. Why are Ann and David traveling on two different trains? Do they know each other? If not, will they meet? Why are they going to Washington DC? Who are their seat mates? How early did they each have to get up to catch their trains? Are they being reunited after being apart for a long time? Are they going home? Or leaving home? When Ann looks out the window, does she catch the reflection of someone else (a man? or a woman?) who is gazing at her? Is David reading a book on the train? Does he fall asleep and miss his stop? How would this affect who gets there first?

Needless to say, I had to go to the math tutor for extra help with word problems...

So one way the ECOlogical calendar undoes the sense of time as an endless progression of numbers is that they rename every day of the week to be something different--all 365 days! The names are lovely, whimsical, and rooted in the seasons (at least on the northern hemisphere). As you gaze across the week, a poem of sorts begins to emerge. So, for instance, this week, beginning on Saturday, the names of the week are:


That just makes me smile. And it's such a pleasure to check the calendar every day to find out the day's name. (Now to get these names embroidered on my days-of-the-week undies!) :)

Thing is, I constantly notice many of the things around me all the time. When I walk outside at night, for instance, the first thing I do is look at the sky to check for stars, the moon, clouds, or the silhouette of trees against the sky. But what this calendar has helped me realize is that in noticing these things, I am keeping time.

Because my calendar is an engagement calendar, each day has a few blank lines next to it. I've taken to writing brief notes on each page of something I happened to notice that day. I'll leave you with a few of my entries. I'll use the Gregorian date as well as the new day name.

Jan 3, LusterNight: beautiful moon!
Jan 4, Snow: Windy day, D arrives home
Jan 5, EarthGlow: Monk writes his first page of cursive for homework
Jan 7, SleetGlint: birds singing outside the Safeway
Jan 8, FrozenSeas: Spying constellations with Monk and D (Orion, Bootes, Gemini, Cassiopeia) Beautiful, half moon (lying on her back) at the horizon. HUGE!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Worship Celebrating the Witness of Martin Luther King, Jr

I'm working on planning worship this morning and am considering setting the day's service aside to remember the witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. In my travels on the web, I've come across an excellent online source for King's speeches--which I thought I'd share in case anyone out there is also looking for texts for this week. You can find it at MLKOnline.Net.

Even if you're not planning Sunday's worship, why not stop by the site and read the inspirational and challenging words of one of our most recent prophets.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Coaxing the Light

We celebrated Epiphany at church yesterday--a day late, I suppose. But Baptists have great leeway when celebrating any festival of the liturgical year. You're lucky we celebrated it at all, quite frankly.

For the first time, as I prepared the service, I was impressed with how expansive epiphany really is. The readings for the day all celebrate the expansive grace of God which pours out beyond any barriers we might have set up over time. God's grace is for all people. And God's love will not rest until all are brought into God's embrace. (Indeed, nothing is beyond God's embrace!)

The magi who came to meet the Child of Grace were among the first to recognize this expansive salvation. (The Hebrew word for salvation also means spacious, by the way!) Anna and Simeon, in Luke 2, also recognize it when they encounter the Little One on his eighth day.

I was aware of these things as I prepared the service earlier in the week. But by the time I'd gotten to Sunday morning, my own heart was heavy from a week's worth of accumulated burdens. I was cranky yesterday morning. My son was sick. I didn't have everything done that I needed to be done. I was running late. My computer was giving me troubles. I left the house already worn out and not the least enthused about going to--much less leading--worship.

Thing is, I needed worship. But what I need is rarely what I want. Besides which, I'm still getting used to the idea of needing worship as a worship leader. Precisely because I don't feel centered yet. I feel like I'm in the shallow end. Or up in the high gales. I'm not deep in the calm waters, or far below the bending branches in the quiet beneath. I guess somewhere I'd gotten it into my head that to lead worship with integrity, one needed to start from a place of wholeness. I'm starting now to think the opposite may be true.

My worship started in an unexpected way, though. It began when I was readying the sanctuary before the service started. I decided to take down the Advent Wreath. Though we could have justified using it through the season of Epiphany, in fact the blue candles were becoming mere stubs--and folks would be so distracted wondering if the wreath would go up in flames at any moment that the symbol wouldn't be able to function effectively anymore!

So I moved the wreath into the closet and picked up our nearly brand new Christ candle (lit only twice) to find a new, prominent position for it. As I did so, I noticed that the last time I'd snuffed the candle out, the wax had managed to completely seal over the wick--so that it could hardly be perceived at all!

Well, our Epiphany service was sopped through with Light imagery. And if there was ever a day we needed the Christ candle lit, this was it!

So for the next ten or more minutes, I gently, carefully, and diligently eased the wick from the candle. First using match after match, I would slowly melt the wax around the wick, then gently try and press it away. I was always aware of how delicate a wick can be. The slightest tug can rip off it's tip--resulting in a pathetic, tentative flame. After a while I abandoned the individual matches for the larger candle-lighter--those huge brass things you only ever see in churches. I could hold the flame to the wax a bit longer that way. Then I could set my finger into the hot wax and gently shape it away from the wick.

It was only after I'd been at it for quite some time that I started to become aware of the gift and privilege in this task. Coaxing the light on Epiphany.

The buried wick wasn't so different from my experience that morning. (Or last month, in my state of exhaustion for that matter!) Nothing could be forced in that time. But the gentle coaxing with the warmth of a flame reminded me of what I most want, to burn bright. There was something truly beautiful, in those moments of preparing the space for worship, as I slowed my pace to the attention of one detail. It was in that moment that my worship began--when I attended to my own need for the light of Christ.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Things That Are Bringing Me Joy These Days

1. Reading the Bible with Monk every morning
Just before Christmas, my parents-in-law sent Monk a cool new Bible published by Zondervan. It's called a Sports Devotional Bible. It's includes daily Bible readings and devotionals that always use a sports metaphor to explore biblical themes. Now you may feel sports metaphors are overdone, but for our eight-year-old they're exactly the thing to get him engaged with these ancient texts and to help him feel like they matter. Maybe as a result of reading the Bible together, Monk has started talking this week about wanting to get baptized. I truly celebrate his growing relationship with the Holy, Compassionate One.

2. Doing my own Bible reading again
Last Spring I started trying to Read the Bible in 90 Days. You can see the beginnings of the effort at my Travelers Together blog. I managed to make it just over half way through when I gave up the effort. With the start of the new year, and inspired by my son's enthusiasm, I've picked up with my reading again and hope to finish it out. So, reading the Bible in two sets of 45 days, I suppose. This time I used some birthday money from my Mom to buy the Bible that divides things up for you in easy twelve-page installments. Last time I did a lot of my reading online, which ultimately made me feel like I wasn't really making any progress. Call me a sucker, but the marketing of the Bible specifically for this use worked for me.

3. Lest you think I'm too holy for my own good--Watching Battlestar Galactica!
I started watching BSG at the start of the third season this past fall. I absolutely loved it, but felt completely lost. In December, a friend (SpiritMist) lent me season 1 on dvd. To his credit, D started watching the show with me--SciFi is not his usual cup o'tea--and now we're both totally hooked! He gave me season 2.0 and 2.5 for Christmas and my birthday. And I have been self-indulgently and joyously watching at least one episode every night since. In fact, I'm so hooked on the show that I used my Amazon gift certificate from my brother to purchase the cd of the soundtrack of BSG from Season 2. O happy, happy me!

4. Reading Thunderstruck by Erik Larson.
A fascinating tale about the beginnings of wireless communications (wireless telegraphy and I think, ultimately, the radio) overlapping with a murder mystery--all of it nonfiction.

5. Anticipating reading Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew D. Blechman. [Link to NPR Story on the Book]
Again, my brother gave me this book for my birthday. It is absolutely perfect for me. He gave it to me because when I was in second grade, my class went on a field trip to the Big City Zoo. We saw everything there was to see: Elephants, Lions, Tigers, Zebras, Giraffes, Snakes, Bats, Giant Turtles, Kangaroos, Polar Bears. Everything! When we got back to the classroom, we were asked to draw a picture of our favorite animal at the zoo. I drew a picture of a pigeon! When asked why pigeons--of all the wonderful animals we saw that day--were my favorite, I answered "Because they were the only ones that weren't in a cage! They could go wherever they pleased!" I've always claimed that story as being one of my self-constitutive stories. And for years, whenever I would visit a city for the first time, I would be sure and take a picture of the first pigeon I saw. I'll never forget my first time in Trafalgar Square when the pigeons flew all around me. I was ecstatic! I'm hoping this book will answer a question my brother raised once and has bothered me ever since: with all the pigeons we see all the time, why have we never seen a baby pigeon?

6. As of today I've updated my CV and sent a letter of introduction to my alma mater in hopes of securing an adjunct position back home as I write my dissertation.
This was harder to do than I anticipated it being. As easy as I find writing to be, I don't like writing letters that sell myself! But now that it's done and on it's way, I'm delighted with it.

7. Getting used to the idea of moving home.
Hard to believe, but I do think we've made up our minds on this one. Now it feels like everything has shifted. Things here are coming to an end. We've moved into a time when we need to savor what's around us, drink it in, experience the things we've put off. And we're dreaming again of life with our longtime friends, companions, and family. Discernment is such a beautiful thing. And when it's right, everything seems to sing. That's how things feel right now.