Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On political smears and coming to Jesus

About a week ago a good friend (who like me, is an unrepentant political liberal) forwarded me an email sent to her by another mutual friend, a woman of a very conservative bent. The email was about Senator Barack Obama, and shared the "fact" that Obama had been educated as a Muslim as a child. The strong suggestion was that he became a Christian (perhaps, "affiliated himself with Christianity" captures the flavor of the allegation more accurately) much later, after having been bitten by the political bug. The friend who forwarded it did so with the equivalent of an eye roll (yes, you can do that by email), along with the suggestion that perhaps an intervention might be in order for our mutual friend.

Imagine my surprise when this Sunday's New York Times carried this story on it's front page:

Feeding Frenzy for a Big Story, Even if It’s False

Published: January 29, 2007

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 — Jeffrey T. Kuhner, whose Web site published the first anonymous smear of the 2008 presidential race, is hardly the only editor who will not reveal his reporters’ sources. What sets him apart is that he will not even disclose the names of his reporters.

But their anonymity has not stopped them from making an impact. In the last two weeks, Mr. Kuhner’s Web site, Insight, the last remnant of a defunct conservative print magazine owned by the Unification Church led by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was able to set off a wave of television commentary, talk-radio chatter, official denials, investigations by journalists around the globe and news media self-analysis that has lasted 11 days and counting.

The controversy started with a quickly discredited Jan. 17 article on the Insight Web site asserting that the presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was preparing an accusation that her rival, Senator Barack Obama, had covered up a brief period he had spent in an Islamic religious school in Indonesia when he was 6.

(Other news organizations have confirmed Mr. Obama’s descriptions of the school as a secular public school. Both senators have denounced the report, and there is no evidence that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign planned to spread those accusations.)

In an interview Sunday, Mr. Kuhner, 37, said he still considered the article, which he said was meant to focus on the thinking of the Clinton campaign, to be “solid as solid can be.” But he declined to say whether he had learned the identity of his reporter’s sources, and so perhaps only that reporter knows the origin of the article’s anonymous quotes and assertions. Its assertions about Mr. Obama resemble rumors passed on without evidence in e-mail messages that have been widely circulated over the last several weeks.

The Clinton-Obama article followed a series of inaccurate or hard-to-verify articles on Insight and its predecessor magazine about politics, the Iraq war or the Bush administration, including a widely discussed report on the Insight Web site that President Bush’s relationship with his father was so strained that they were no longer speaking to each other about politics.

The Washington Times, which is also owned by the Unification Church, but operates separately from the Web site, quickly disavowed the article. Its national editor sent an e-mail message to staff members under the heading “Insight Strikes Again” telling them to “make sure that no mention of any Insight story” appeared in the paper, and another e-mail message to its Congressional correspondent instructing him to clarify to Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama that The Washington Times had nothing to do with the article on the Web site... (you can read more here.)

So, so many interesting angles to the story...

The Hillary Clinton angle (full disclosure: she's my senator, I voted for her twice, I will seriously consider supporting her in her run for president).

The fear of Muslims angle.

The "wishy-washy-no-moral-center-Democrats" angle.

The dirty tricks angle (this administration resembles the Nixon administration more by the minute, I swear).

The Unification Church (!) angle.

And let's not forget the race angle (the real potential Obama has for being our first African American president, the mere thought of which makes this liberal's heart swell with ecstacy).

What perplexed me about the original email was its tone of moral indignation. Isn't the Christian right supposedly all het up to get people to come to Jesus? Shouldn't they therefore be dancing in the streets at one more soul saved, if indeed the early Islamic education angle is true? Which, apparently, it's not.

What disturbed me was the fact of its having been forwarded by someone who, despite our being on opposite ends of the political spectrum, seems generally reasonable. That she would forward such a piece of claptrap was truly worrisome to me. It spoke volumes to me of the knee-jerk willingness on the part of conservatives to believe and assume the worst about Democrats (I don't know that we can call Obama a liberal. I also don't know that I can call someone being educated in one faith and embracing another the "worst.")

It's going to be a long 643 days 12 hours and 43 minutes.

Photo courtesy of stijn v. and Flickr.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Young and Called: A Sermon

“Young and Called”
Jeremiah 1:4-10
January 28, 2007, Ordinary 4C

Almost five years ago I was sitting outside a local high school in my car, waiting for my children to emerge from a play rehearsal. I turned on the radio, and heard a song about young prophets being called to service. It was called “Ordinary Town,” and here is the first verse.

Common cool, he was a proud young fool in a [kickin’] Walmart tie
Ripping down the main drag, tripping on the headlights rolling by
In the early dawn when the cars were gone, did he hear the master's call?
In the five-and-dime did he wake and find he was only dreaming after all, 'cause

This is an ordinary town and the prophet stands apart
This is an ordinary town and we brook no wayward heart
And every highway leads you prodigal back home
To the ordinary sidewalks you were born to roam

Today the lectionary gives us four readings, all of which are speaking to us in some guise about young people receiving the call of God. In Psalm 71 we hear the psalmist acknowledge that God has always been with him, even from birth:

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb…
~ Psalm 71:5-6a

And in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we hear of the transformation of the child as he or she comes into maturity, coupled with that same awareness of God’s presence from the very beginning:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:11-12

And from the gospel of Luke, we hear of Jesus, a man from an ordinary town, whose neighbors no longer know what to make of him:

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” ~ Luke 4:22

Being a prophet is a hard calling. Scripture doesn’t pull any punches on this point. In story after story of God calling ordinary people from ordinary towns to do extraordinary things, we see the same pattern. God calls, and the person answers something along the lines of, “Who, me? Are you kidding?” (Jesus, of course, is the exception to this rule.) And God says, “Don’t worry. I’ll be with you. Just as I always have been.”

Jeremiah tells us the story of his call.

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” ~ Jeremiah 1:4-6

Jeremiah is in an unenviable position. With these words he is being sent to the religious and political leaders of Judah to warn them of impending doom. Yes, Jeremiah could be called a classic prophet of doom. He preaches the same message preached by so many prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures: the people have fallen away. They are no longer faithful to God, and God is heartbroken. And angry. But mostly, heartbroken. If you look at art depicting Jeremiah, and I’m sending around images by Rembrandt and Michelangelo, you see that the prophet looks heartbroken too, bowing his head under the weight of his commission. This is probably because his prophecies, despite being likened by some scholars to performance art because of his creative use of props, fell upon deaf ears. Jeremiah was in Jerusalem when the city was overrun by the Babylonian army in 587 BCE. He had pretty much called it.

The song testifies to the problems prophets have in being taken seriously.

Rock of ages, love contagious, shine the serpent fire
So sang the sage of sixteen summers in the upstairs choir
So sang the old dog down the street beside his wailing wall
"Go home, go home," the mayor cried when Jesus came to city hall, 'cause

This is an ordinary town, and the prophet stands alone
This is an ordinary town and we crucify our own
And every highway leads you prodigal again
To the ordinary houses you were brought up in.

Like the frightened mayor in this verse, there is often a desire to de-legitimize the voices of the prophets, or at the very least, send them away. In Jesus’ case, in our reading today, we hear the quizzical voices, “Isn’t this Joseph’s kid?” just moments before we hear that there has been a quick attempt to throw him off a cliff. In the case of Jeremiah, the reader will see him in prison before the 52 chapters of his book have run their course. That’s where he is when the Babylonians arrive, confirming what he has been saying all along.

But if we read Jeremiah’s plaintive protest—“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy”—it becomes clear, I think, that the prophet’s greatest obstacle may not be external forces, what the psalm calls “the hand of the wicked, unjust and cruel.” The prophet’s greatest obstacle may just be the voices in her own head, telling her, she is just not up to the task. This is an ordinary town, I’m an ordinary girl. No prophets here. And I think that could be a good description of any one of us pondering the call of God in our lives.

We can open up the New York Times or USA Today and, most weeks, read a story about someone whom some group has anointed as their prophet of the moment. Some of these folks are religious leaders. Some of them are political leaders. Some of them are spearheading movements for social justice, or environmental action, or exposing abuses perpetrated by the powerful upon the powerless. And any one of these might be described as biblical prophets—speaking the truth in love, often to power, often at great personal risk. Some people are called by God to this kind of action, this kind of witness, in the manner of a Jeremiah or a Martin Luther or a Martin Luther King. Maybe some are here in this room.

But what about the rest of us? What about our call? What is it and how do we discern it? The truth is, every one of us, prophet or no, has the exact same call. We are called to exactly the same thing that nearly got Jesus thrown off that cliff: the ministry of loving God and loving our neighbor, not merely in word or pledge or membership, but in action. This is both the simplest and, in some ways, the most devilishly difficult kind of calling.

In his book, Diary of a County Priest, George Bernanos records the struggle of a young man to live out his call in the most ordinary of circumstances.

He describes his rural parish as bored and boring, at times petty, and often indifferent. He loves his people deeply, prays for them, and visits [them]… But [he feels a] deep disillusionment. He knows that he is physically clumsy and socially awkward. He ponders the absurdity of prayer. He agonizes over his loneliness and sense of isolation. When he shares the gospel he sometimes feels like he is merely play-acting and parroting clich├ęs. He [feels like] "a hornet in a bottle." …He struggles with a deep sense of total failure, that "[his] best is nothing." …And so he frets about his call: "Am I where our Lord would have me? Twenty times a day I ask this question."

If we could see a picture of this priest, I suspect he would look much like discouraged, heartbroken Jeremiah. The ordinary boy from the ordinary town who no longer feels that he is up to his call. Interestingly, the young priest receives counsel from one of his elders. Does he tell him that he is wrong, to snap out of it, that he should be ashamed for all his self-flagellation and self-pity? Not at all. The elder gives him the following advice:

"Keep saying your lessons. Go on with your work. Keep at the little daily things that need doing, ‘til the rest comes. Concentrate. Think of a lad at his homework, trying so hard and his tongue sticking out. That's how our Lord would have us be when he gives us up to our own strength. Little things—they don't look like much, yet they bring peace. Like wild flowers which seem to have no scent, till you get a field full of ‘em."

Keep at it, like a schoolgirl hunched over her books, tongue sticking out. That’s our prescription when the call of God on our ordinary lives feels like too much for us. And the call of God upon our lives can feel like too much—the call to love. We say that so casually, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But it’s not. What is natural is aggression and territoriality and defensiveness. But we are called to do the kind of thing described, for example, in Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. ~ Colossians 3:12-13

That sounds so lovely. And it is so hard. And those of us who challenge ourselves—or, rather, who have accepted God’s challenge—to live in that way have quite a task. Clothe yourself with compassion—even when you yourself are hurting. Clothe yourself with kindness—even as you experience the harsh treatment that is par for the course in your chosen field of study. Clothe yourself with humility—even when survival seems to hinge upon demonstrations of ego. Like Jeremiah we can hear ourselves calling out, “Ah, Lord God, it’s just me here.”

But you know, don’t you, what God’s response is. God’s response to each of us struggling with this peculiar calling to be Christians is the same as God’s response to Jeremiah, to the psalmist, to Paul: Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Ordinary Christian, young, middle-aged or old prophet, I have been with you from your birth. I am with you while you are hunched over your books, and I am with you at the board meeting. I am with you as you struggle to budget your time and I am with you as you strive to live out my call to love in the tangled web of all your human relationships. “Every highway leads you prodigal and true/ to the ordinary angels watching over you.”

We are called to God’s work, the work of loving. When that’s too hard, we are called to place one foot oh so carefully in front of the other, as we are able. And in all of it—our most glorious moments of spiritual accomplishment and our most humble moments of stumbling—we are called to know that God is with us. Always has been, always will be. God is with us. Amen.


1. Song: Ordinary Town by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, from Drum Hat Buddha
2. Quotes from "Country of a Diary Priest" from Dan Clendenin, “The Call of Jeremiah: Human Struggle with the Divine Summons,” in Journey With Jesus: Notes to Myself, http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20070122JJ.shtml, 2007.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Prayer Shawl

This week I cleared books, bric-a-brac, scarves, a pair of binoculars, and a small Asian tapestry off a cedar chest in my room, in order to pull out the shawl pictured here. In the spring of 2005 I encountered a pastor from my presbytery knitting a prayer shawl at a conference we were both attending. She told me that the shawl was part of a ministry that her church had begun; they were knitted for those who were homebound, or ill, or in some need of comforting. The pastor (her name was Barbara) shared the pattern with me:

Use Lion's Brand Yarn, "Homespun," 3 skeins.

Cast on an odd multiple of 3 stitches; she recommended 63.

Row 1: Knit 3, purl 3 to the end of the row.

Repeat until the shawl measures a comfortable length for the recipient.

I'm no knitter, but I thought, hey. I could do that. When I returned from the conference I began to knit a shawl for a member of my congregation (I was an interim pastor at the time) who was engaged in what was to prove a losing fight with breast cancer. (But she never lost. Not really.)

That summer I learned that my mom's cancer was progressing rapidly, and I decided to knit her a prayer shawl. As I posted earlier on the Velveteen Rabbi's site, I knitted and knitted, everywhere I could-- in front of the television, in meetings, in rehearsals (I was in a production of "Pirates of Penzance"), in my office while pondering my next move in a sermon... And the three stitch pattern of the shawl enabled me to pray into the knitting: I used formulae for the Trinity as I knitted. "Father, Son, Holy Spirit," I prayed, "Creator, Christ, Spirit," "Maiden, Mother, Crone," "Lover, Beloved, Love."

My mom wore that shawl, and then had it draped over the hospital bed we installed in her bedroom, for the next eight months, until her death in February 2006.

This week I decided I needed to wear my mom's shawl in my own time of prayer. I prayed Psalm 57. These verses, in particular, resonated in my heart that morning:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.

~ Psalm 57:1, 7-8

In my meditation, a beautiful fantasy evolved: God somehow was a glorious blue-purple-green mother dragon, protecting me as I rode forth to awake the dawn.

For more information on Prayer Shawl ministry, see the Prayer Shawl Ministry homepage.

PS: Yeah, that's fun fur you see. I added a silly glam border for mom, who wouldn't have been caught dead in anything so girly, but who sort of envied those who would.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Born and raised at the Jersey shore. Dang!

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Philadelphia

Your accent is as Philadelphian as a cheesesteak! If you're not from Philadelphia, then you're from someplace near there like south Jersey, Baltimore, or Wilmington. if you've ever journeyed to some far off place where people don't know that Philly has an accent, someone may have thought you talked a little weird even though they didn't have a clue what accent it was they heard.

The Northeast
The Midland
The Inland North
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Young Prophet in An Ordinary Town

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-61
Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

I am looking over this week's lectionary readings in advance of my first sermon in my new position as Interim/ Sabbatical time chaplain at the university. The theme that speaks to me, that seems to running through all these readings, has to do with youth and call.

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
~ Jeremiah 1:4-8

For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

~ Psalm 71:5-6

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
~ 1 Corinthians 13:11-12

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

~ Luke 4:22

In each reading there is some reference to God's relationship with the speaker from their youth, or the changes that have come over them since youth, or the anxiety they have about their youth, or the anxiety others seem to have, remembering their youthful origins.

There has been much posting around the web this week about Dave Carter and Tracey Grammer; Ms. Grammer is coming to my town this weekend for a concert, for which I cannot wait. Several years ago I heard this song and connected it, in my own mind, to the stories of scripture in which the youth of a person is recognized, and not always in a positive way. Free associating for just a moment, one point in considering this is the fact that our culture is so youth-oriented; the supermodels who are supposed to inspire us in terms of looks and wardrobe selection are, many of them, no older than 16 or 17. At the writing of these scripture texts, however, such youth was not to be aspired to: the wisdom that supposedly comes with age was not just tolerated, it was venerated. I read a quote somewhere this week: When an old person dies, libraries are lost.

Ordinary Town

Common cool, he was a proud young fool in a kick-ass Walmart tie
Rippin down the main drag, trippin on the headlights rollin by
In the early dawn when the cars were gone, did he hear the master's call?
In the five-and-dime did he wake and find he was only dreamin after all, 'cause

This is an ordinary town and the prophet stands apart
This is an ordinary town and we brook no wayward heart
And every highway leads you prodigal back home
To the ordinary sidewalks you were born to roam

Rock of ages, love contagious, shine the serpent fire
So sang the sage of sixteen summers in the upstairs choir
So sang the old dog down the street beside his wailing wall
"Go home, go home" the mayor cried when jesus came to city hall, 'cause

This is an ordinary town, and the prophet stands alone
This is an ordinary town and we crucify our own
And every highway leads you prodigal again
To the ordinary houses you were brought up in

Raised on hunches and junk food lunches and punch-drunk ballroom steps
You get to believing you're even-steven with the kids at fast track prep
So you dump your bucks on a velvet tux and you run to join the dance
But your holy shows and the romans know you're just a child of
Circumstance, 'cause

This is an ordinary town and the prophet has no face
This is an ordinary town and the seasons run in place
And every highway leads you prodigal and true
To the ordinary angels watchin over you

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hmmm. I like it.

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Empress Magdalene the Blossoming of Mabe Burnthouse
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Monday, January 22, 2007

Seen on my bulletin board...

"Growth for its own sake is the ideology of the cancer cell."

~ Edward Abbey, Environmentalist

A Work of Artifice

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

Marge Piercy

My hands are dry. They are so dry that they catch on some of my clothing...silky shirts, even some of my so-called "yoga pants" (to whom a yoga mat is but a beautiful dream). But my hands bother me. I put cream on them before I go to bed, and even try a remedy my mom used to recommend, gloving them with old socks while I sleep. But inevitably my middle-aged sleep is too disturbed by the wierd mitten interlopers, and the socks end up on the floor, having been flung at some point across the room. But my hands are not, as the old commercial calls it, "hands you'd love to touch" (which were to be achieved with the help of a particular dishwashing detergent, I believe).

Of course, dry hands have to do with things like the weather, my age, the housework I do. Dry hands are no great indictment of me as a human being. I'd love to change the dry hands into hands someone would love to touch. But it is always good to be reminded of the big picture, the way in which my dry hands are really ok.

I don't know why I have been compelled recently to blog the news... but I was so profoundly disturbed by this piece in Slate Magazine that I couldn't ignore it. The brilliant addition of the Marge Piercy poem is why I like Slate so much... they like poetry over there.

But the article... people deciding to use medical interventions to render their profoundly developmentally disabled daughter a smaller, more manageable, unsexualized "pillow doll."

I don't have developmentally disabled children. I did not grow up in a household with one for a brother or sister. So perhaps my moral compass is irrelevant to this issue. But should parents make a child smaller so that they can carry her and fit her into a particular stroller? Should they remove the tissue likely to develop into breasts to accomodate both the stroller straps and their own sense of--- I do not think this too strong a word--- revulsion at her body changing with adolescence? Should they remove her uterus so as to not have to deal with menstruation?

God, grant peace and light to all your servants, especially caregivers. Give us all a delight in one another that mirrors your delight in us. Teach us your ways, your wisdom, your patience. Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Zeus-Worshippers... from Today's NY Times

Modern Pagans Honor Zeus in Athens

Published: January 21, 2007

Filed at 4:26 p.m. ET

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- A clutch of modern pagans honored Zeus at a 1,800-year-old temple in the heart of Athens on Sunday -- the first known ceremony of its kind held there since the ancient Greek religion was outlawed by the Roman empire in the late 4th century.

Watched by curious onlookers, some 20 worshippers gathered next to the ruins of the temple for a celebration organized by Ellinais, a year-old Athens-based group that is campaigning to revive old religious practices from the era when Greece was a fount of education and philosophy.

The group ignored a ban by the Culture Ministry, which declared the site off limits to any kind of organized activity to protect the monument. But participants did not try to enter the temple itself, which is closed to everyone, and no officials sought to stop the ceremony.

Dressed in ancient costumes, worshippers standing near the temple's imposing Corinthian columns recited hymns calling on the Olympian Zeus, ''King of the gods and the mover of things,'' to bring peace to the world.

''Our message is world peace and an ecological way of life in which everyone has the right to education,'' said Kostas Stathopoulos, one of three ''high priests'' overseeing the event, which celebrated the nuptials of Zeus and Hera, the goddess of love and marriage.

To the Greeks, ecological awareness was fundamental, Stathopoulos said after a priestess, with arms raised to the sky, called on Zeus ''to bring rain to the planet.''

A herald holding a metal staff topped with two snake heads proclaimed the beginning of the ceremony before priests in blue and red robes released two white doves as symbols of peace. A priest poured libations of wine and incense burned on a tiny copper tripod while a choir of men and women chanted hymns.

''Our hymns stress the brotherhood of man and do not single out nations,'' said priest Giorgos Alexelis.

For the organizers, who follow a calendar marking time from the first Olympiad in 776 B.C., the ceremony was far more than a simple recreation.

''We are Greeks and we demand from the government the right to use our temples,'' said high priestess Doreta Peppa.

Ellinais was founded last year and has 34 official members, mainly academics, lawyers and other professionals. It won a court battle for state recognition of the ancient Greek religion and is demanding the government register its offices as a place of worship, a move that could allow the group to perform weddings and other rites.

Christianity rose to prominence in Greece in the 4th century after Roman Emperor Constantine's conversion. Emperor Theodosius wiped out the last vestige of the Olympian gods when he abolished the Olympic Games in A.D. 394. Several isolated pockets of pagan worship lingered as late as the 9th century.

''The Christians shut down our schools and destroyed our temples,'' said Yiannis Panagidis, a 36-year-old accountant at the ceremony.

Most Greeks are baptized Orthodox Christians, and the church rejects ancient religious practices as pagan. Church officials have refused to attend flame ceremony re-enactments at Olympia before the Olympic Games because Apollo, the ancient god of light, is invoked.

Unlike the monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the old religion lacked written ethical guidelines, but its gods were said to strike down mortals who displayed excessive pride or ''hubris'' -- a recurring theme in the tragedies of Euripides and other ancient writers.

''We do not believe in dogmas and decrees, as the other religions do. We believe in freedom of thought,'' Stathopoulos said.

From Mags: It is a wide and wonderful world out there folks. I think this is a positive development.

We Need One Another, or The Whole Bird: a Sermon

“We Need One Another, or
The Whole Bird”
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
January 21, 2007

Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in California is the Christian world’s equivalent of a rock star, especially among our more evangelical brothers and sisters. His book The Purpose-Driven Church hit the stores in 1995, and after a slow start, took the publishing world by storm. Together with its companion book The Purpose-Driven Life, it sold more than 23 million copies. Here is a snapshot of how powerfully influential these books have been: a couple of weeks ago, newly elected Reps. John T. McGruder (R-CO) and James R. Newhell of Wheaton (R-IL) asked permission to be sworn in to office on their copies of The Purpose-Driven Life.

Recently, however, Rick Warren found himself at the center of a controversy, under attack by those who had previously lauded his work and his ministry. Why? Because Warren felt compelled to host a conference on AIDS at the Saddleback Church, and to invite figures from across the religious and political spectrum to attend. He came under particular fire for his invitation of Senator (and likely Democratic presidential candidate) Barack Obama (D-IL). Rick Warren got in trouble with the religious right for attempting to be inclusive. When challenged, “Rick, are you right wing or left wing?” Warren replied, “I am for the whole bird.”

These are the kinds of things that happen when people, in this case Christians, think they don’t need one another, when they attempt to squeeze one another out. In this morning’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he is attempting to persuade a group of early Christians that, contrary to the prevailing spirit in their midst, they do in fact need one another. First Corinthians is a letter which, while addressing myriad items in the life of a community, really has at its heart one overarching theme: unity. Oneness. How to live out our Christian vocation in the messy reality we call church whole holding it all together.

The church in Corinth had a lot going for it. In fact, at the very beginning of the letter Paul says something rather remarkable to this group: he says, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Cor. 1:7a). What’s a spiritual gift? It is a gift from the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. It is a gift that is given for the good of the whole community. Just before our passage begins Paul outlines what some of those gifts are:

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Cor. 12:8-10)

Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle-working, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues… that is quite a list of skills to find in one relatively young congregation. And yet Paul recognizes and affirms the presence of every one of these gifts in the Corinthians. Then, in order to help the church understand how vital each and every gift is, Paul begins speaking in an extended metaphor, a metaphor that is still, these many centuries later, one of the most powerful ways we have of understanding life in community. Paul speaks of the church as “the body.” “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12). The church is the body of Christ, and the people are members of that body, members here having the double meaning of those who belong as well as body parts. Paul goes on,

If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
(1 Cor. 12:15-17)

Paul is playing a little here… he’s being silly, but with an entirely serious purpose behind his joke. Where indeed would the body be without the ears, or the sense of smell, or the hand or the foot?

Now, you know and I know that there are people all around us, whether they are veterans of war or people with Diabetes or simply folks who are enduring some of the trials of aging, who demonstrate to us on a regular basis that, indeed, the human spirit being what it is, people can learn to live and thrive without limbs, hearing, vision, etc. But this is a modern development. We can’t forget the context in which Paul is writing, a context in which the loss of a limb or a sense is a catastrophe, in which there is no such thing as a “support group,” and in which there is a strong current of belief/ superstition that people are responsible for bringing these calamities on themselves. Paul’s point is that the members of the church need one another; they need one another every bit as deeply and desperately as each person needs his or her own hands, eyes, or heart.

The issue at hand in the Corinthian church was this: one particular spiritual gift had begun to crowd out all the others. Those who could speak in tongues were beginning to be thought of as the rock stars of that community, while those with other spiritual gifts were being made to feel as if they were lesser than, as if they were second-class citizens. It might be good to clarify what is meant by “speaking in tongues.” This is a way of speaking that is believed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, in which the individual communicates with God in a kind of private language, language that would probably sound like babble to an outsider. It has been called the “speech of angels.” The problem with it, in terms of the community, is that it really can be private communication, and, unless there is someone with the gift of interpretation, it’s not particularly helpful in building up the community, the body. In the church at Corinth, clearly, those who spoke in tongues were ruling the roost with their angelic speech. Because of that there was an emerging sense that some people were “more Christian” or “better Christian” than others. No, Paul says, this cannot be.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’…God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
(1 Cor. 12:21, 24-26)

Let me say that last part again: If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Anyone here ever have an earache or a toothache? Both those maladies bear witness to the absolute truth and wisdom of these words. If you have an earache or a toothache, the whole of you suffers right along with that little localized ground zero of pain. And who among us can forget the early reaction of the entire world after September 11? People who had never set foot on US soil grieved with us, and poured out their heartbreak in letters to the editors of our newspapers, saying things like, “We are all Americans today.” When one nation was attacked, the world was in pain. How far we have come from that moment.

Every member of the body needs every other member. We need one another, and our need is absolute. To paraphrase the words of Rick Warren, we need the whole bird. I’m not sure what happens to convince us otherwise, to make us think, either, “We can go it alone,” or “We don’t need those people.” But I am sure of this: when we cut people out of the body of Christ, when we reject people’s contributions or convince ourselves that we are better off without them, we reject a piece of God, we reject those whom God has sent to be with us.

Martin Niemoller was German pastor who had served as a U-boat captain during the First World War, and who was an early supporter of Hitler. But he had a change of heart, and he famously summed up his philosophy on why it was imperative for people of conscience to oppose the Nazis in this poem:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

We need one another. We need one another when it is time to stand up to speak against tyranny, and we need one another when it is time to frost cupcakes for the bake sale. We need one another when we have heavy loads to carry up a flight of stairs, and we need one another when we have heavy loads that we carry in our hearts. And we need one another, this is key, because we are all members of God’s family, in Christian lingo, the body of Christ. When we reject the gifts of our sisters and brothers, we reject a gift given us by God. And when we reject God’s gift, we reject God.

Years ago I read a small article on a website run by a group of Episcopal monks and nuns of the order of Saint Julian of Norwich. Julian is remembered as a mystic who communed and communicated with God, and who shared her visions in her writings. Perhaps because her spiritual experiences convinced her of the unshakeable love of God, her most famous quote is this: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” On this Julian website, there was an article about church growth and development. The author asked this question, and it has lodged in my heart to this day: “What if we were to fully believe that the Holy Spirit has placed in this congregation exactly those people whom God wants here?” What if we were to take to heart the words of Paul, that we, here, now, are not lacking in any spiritual gift? That we have only to look around us and recognize and affirm and welcome those gifts?

We need the whole bird, every member of the body of Christ. Like the church at Corinth, this congregation has every gift it needs. The Spirit of God has most abundantly blessed you, individually and corporately. In order to use those gifts, it is imperative that we recognize that we need one another. We need one another. Amen.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Save a Life

In honor of the saints of the church who are struggling to live out their calling... a poem by Mary Oliver.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Beating of Your Heart

Elizabeth Kaeton (Telling Secrets) posted this in the comments over at Madpriest's place (Of course, I could be wrong). Love it, love it, love it.

Love is not concerned
with whom you pray
or where you slept
the night you ran away
from home.
Love is concerned
that the beating of your heart
should kill no one.

~ Alice Walker

RIP Rev. Brent J. Dugan

I have spent time over the last days and weeks reading blogs from both Anglican and Presbyterian authors, all responding to the ongoing conflicts that threated to tear our churches apart. Bloggers such as Madpriest and Elizabeth Kaeton have been posting about the ongoing struggles to control the direction of the Episcopal Church in the US, and about breakaway dioceses who seek episcopal oversight from so-called "orthodox" prelates rather than give in to the 'scourge' of, among other things, women priests, gay priests and bishops, and those who would associate with them. My church (the Presbyterian Church [USA]) is still struggling with the results of the Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force report (found here with commentary on the Witherspoon Society's website), which was accepted by vote of the General Assembly last summer, and which sought, in as sensitive and theologically grounded a way as possible, to find for the church a "middle way" over the question of the ordinations of GLBT folks in our church.

Then, this morning, I read on the PC(USA) website, this story, about Rev. Brent J. Dugan, a 60 year old minister from Pittburgh, who killed himself after a man with whom he met to have sex set him up to be videotaped by a local television news station. Here is a quote that made my heart ache:

A statement released by the session of Community Presbyterian Church said, “we are a community in grief” over Dugan’s loss.

“As a favorite person to many of us, our beloved pastor is now gone, and we will never understand all of the reasons for his actions,” the statement said. “But we will cherish the many gifts he gave to us each week and each year as he helped to make our lives full of the Word and grace of God.”

And also, this:

The Rev. Jim Mead, pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery, said in a statement posted on the presbytery’s Web site that “Brent was and is deeply respected in this presbytery, known for the fruit he bore in ministry, his caring and thoughtfulness, and for his humble, missional leadership. He was a very dear man.”

This man, by all accounts, was a good minister, and a good human being. (The news station quoted in the article makes vague reference to possibly illicit/ illegal activities, but fails to specify what these might have been.) By the "fruits" of his ministry he was known as a beloved pastor and a good colleague. But in response to the rules of this denomination, he tried for years to fall in love with a woman, only to conclude, finally, that his best hope was to commit fully to his congregation.

But we don't work that way, as human beings, do we? We, most of us, long for intimacy with one particular person, and/ or the chaotic jumble of family life created with that person. But this denomination, which seems to have failed to have gotten the memo from Jesus that A. Love is what it's all about, and B. We are set free from legalisms that keep us chained by the throat, offered this good pastor and good man no other option than secrecy, shame, and, when it came right down to it, a choice to end his life rather than endure the humiliation of exposure.

Something is not right here. Something is sadly, horribly wrong.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O God, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May the new morning find him full of your Word and your grace. And may you have mercy upon all our souls.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sweet Excess: The [Edited] Sermon

Note: I have tightened this up a little bit.
~ Mags, Sunday morning

“Sweet Excess”
John 2:1-11
January 14, 2007

At last it’s over. There are no more Christmas hymns or carols to be sung this morning, nor can you find any on the radio or on the music being piped into Wegman’s. Officially, for this church, there is no more talk of baby Jesus until December 2007. But make no mistake. The church is still in a mood to talk about beginnings, and it’s still interested in sharing stories about the early revelation of Jesus to the world. But this week we are going about it in a slightly different way. Today we are going to a wedding.

There was a period in my life when it seemed all I did was go to weddings. This era commenced with my own wedding. At the age of 21, I was the first of my college friends to tie the knot, and after that it seemed I attended at least two or three weddings each year for about five years. Then there was a lull, and I began attending baptisms and even one bris, for the son of a Jewish friend. Now I have reached the point in my life when the next wave has begun: the funerals, usually of parents. Soon, I have no doubt, these will be interspersed with more weddings, perhaps those of my own children as well as the children of friends.

And that is the fabric of life. Celebrations, markers, rites of passage, hellos and goodbyes. Birth and marriage, sickness and death, or, as clergy like to say when the congregation isn’t listening, “Hatch ‘em, match ‘em, patch ‘em, and dispatch ‘em.” If these markers sound familiar, it’s probably because we often use them to connect our lives with the life of the church. The wonder of birth, the very adult step of committing to a life partner, the trials of illness and injury, the final bittersweet farewells: these are all moments when we reach out to the church, and hopefully, the church reaches out to us. These are moments when we particularly seek God’s blessing, and yearn for a community in which to receive that blessing. Today’s story from John’s gospel, concerning Jesus at a wedding, shows us that God is indeed interested in being with us at these passages in life. The story also gives us just a little taste of what’s to come, the sweet promise of life in faith community.

John’s gospel begins, not with the story of a birth, but with a poem, a lyrical hymn to Christ, pre-existent with God from all eternity. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” If that’s a little too much theology for a drizzly January morning, don’t worry… this is just John being John. The gospel writer is tipping his hand to us. Like a good college student writing a paper, John tells us what he’s going to tell us, then he tells us, then he tells us what he told us. The rest of chapter 1 is devoted to vaguely mysterious stories of Jesus’ encounters with John the Baptist and his newly found disciples. Ready, set, go!

Our story picks up three days later, and it’s worth noting how different it is from the other gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, as the story gets underway, Jesus predictably does two things: he preaches and he heals. He gets right in there, disciples in tow, and he tells the Good News of the coming reign of God while relieving fevers and casting out demons. But John’s Jesus does something entirely unexpected. He is distinctive, unique. It appears that instead of rolling up his sleeves and getting with the people in pain, Jesus goes to a wedding. Why?

Here’s the story: Jesus, his mother and his disciples are all at a wedding together… we don’t know whose. And there is a crisis, of sorts… the wine runs out. Now this may not appear to be a crisis on the same level as, say, a person who has been possessed by demons. But socially, in the 21st century as well as in the 1st. to run out of refreshments for the guests is pretty major embarrassment for a host. And so we find Jesus’ mother perhaps leaning towards her son and whispering: “They have no wine.” Thanks to the miracle of the Internet I was able to look at lots of great art depicting this scene this week. One 14th century Byzantine fresco, from a monastery in what is modern day Kosovo, shows Jesus and his mother, lushly garbed in blues and purples, and his mother bearing that perfect, furrowed brow that I associate with this moment: the look of compassion for her neighbors, the hope that perhaps her son, whom she knows to be… exceptional?… can intervene.

Jesus’ response to his mother comes as a splash of cold water on the face. “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” Years ago I read that “Woman” is a perfectly correct and respectful form of address for a man speaking to a woman in the ancient near east, and throughout the gospels Jesus speaks to women using this very word. Only, between mother and son… it is every bit as distancing and biting as it sounds to our modern ears. One wonders what the son was thinking. I read this week that the culture in which Jesus was raised kept boys exclusively in the company of women and girls until they came of age at puberty. That time spent in the cocoon of home and hearth, in which boys were highly favored and indulged, usually meant that the boy experienced a shock upon moving out of the domestic womanly sphere and into the realm of the men.

This harsh hierarchical world was a contrast to the women's world from which the young man just emerged…As he grew into adulthood, a young man tried to weaken those strong emotional ties with females. In a very public society like the Mediterranean world the young man would seek to demonstrate his independence by rejecting the claims of all women upon him, including his mother.
~John J. Pilch, Georgetown University

So, one possibility is that this gospel, which goes to great lengths to show us a Jesus who is the Son of God, shares with us a little tidbit of a startlingly human moment: the attempt of a young man to separate from his mother. There is another possibility. Jesus, in all the gospels, makes a distinction between natural families and the family of God, the new community of the Good News. It may be that Jesus’ words to his mother here fall within the rubric of a demonstration of his statement, “Who are my mother and my brothers? ... Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother.” (Mark 3:33, 35).

Whatever his reasons, Jesus is clearly saying, “My hour has not yet come.” That’s a very loaded statement. Jesus’ “hour,” according to the gospel of John, is the moment of his crucifixion. Here, unlike the other gospels, Jesus declares at the outset that he knows exactly where his road is leading: to the cross. And he is saying it isn’t time yet. But his mother, in that way that mothers have of knowing the truth about us, sometimes, better than we know it ourselves, simply turns to the servants with a nod and a wink, and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”

And so we have the miracle. The water turned into wine. Jesus’ first public demonstration of his glory, as John tells us. We might ask ourselves, “Is that it?” When I was a teenager I was regularly called upon to sing at weddings in my home church. I heard dozens of homilies on the Wedding at Cana, all saying, essentially, “With this miracle God showed that marriage is good.” I don’t dispute that. I think God does smile on covenant love. But is that really what this story is telling us?

A look at “wine” in scripture gives us a little clue, I think, as to what is really going on here. Listen to this passage from the book of Amos:

The time is surely coming, says the LORD, …[ when] the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. ~ Amos 9:13

Or this, from the prophet Joel:

In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the [dry valley]. ~ Joel 3:18

Or this, from the prophet Jeremiah:

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. ~ Jeremiah 31:12

Wine is used consistently throughout the Hebrew scriptures to connote fullness, bounty, joy, the nurture and nourishment and sweetness given by God to God’s people. So let’s go back. Let’s rethink what the mother of Jesus is saying, when she notes, “They have no wine.” John’s is the gospel of great and grand ideas and themes, symbols, allegories and poetry. “They have no wine.” This could just as easily read, “They are empty, they are sad. They have no hope. They have no life. They have no sweetness. They have no beauty.”

Richard Wilbur was the Poet Laureate of the United States in 1987-1988. When his son Christopher married, Wilbur wrote the following poem, “A Wedding Toast.”

St. John tells how, at Cana's wedding-feast,
The water-pots poured wine in such amount
That by his sober count
there were a hundred gallons at the least.

It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That the world's fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.

Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine,
I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter.
May you not lack for water,
And may that water smack of Cana's wine.

“Whatsoever love elects to bless,” writes Wilbur, “brims to a sweet excess that can without depletion overflow.” Yes, Jesus is blessing a wedding with his miracle of wine. But he is blessing so much more than that. To a people dispirited and disheartened, he is offering spirit and heart. To a people whose life is bitter, he is offering sweetness. To those who are hopeless, he is offering hope… not just in the institution of marriage, but in the new blessed community, the place where people gather who have no community.

Once again, you, the good folks of Struggling Church, find yourselves between pastoral leaders. This can be a time marked by anxiety and fear, loss of spirit and loss of hope. But know this: the new community ushered in by Jesus is one in which our needs will not only be met, but in which sweetness and bounty will overflow. All that is required is the blessing of love. The poet writes,

“What love sees is true;
That the world’s fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.”

God, life, love, are not made, but found. God, life, love, are longing to be with you at this marker, this transitional moment. God, life, love, are longing to be poured out for such as you. Peace be with you. Amen.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Sweet Excess

In my travels around the internet (in preparation for this Sunday's sermon at a local church) I found this lovely poem on the wedding at Cana. It is in the form of a toast by the poet, on the occasion of his son Christopher's wedding.

A Wedding Toast by Richard Wilbur

St. John tells how, at Cana's wedding-feast,
The water-pots poured wine in such amount
That by his sober count
there were a hundred gallons at the least.

It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.

Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That the world's fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.

Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine,
I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter.
May you not lack for water,
And may that water smack of Cana's wine.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Thank you to all who sent love, prayers, prescriptions and recommendations. Dad-- yes, 85-year-old, "frail" Dad-- bounced back first. I spoke to him on the phone yesterday and it was as if he had never been ill. (I know his voice. He was not faking it.) Petra and I took a day longer than Dad... we lay around yesterday watching episodes of "Heroes" downloaded from iTunes (courtesy of Larry-O and his Christmas gift-card). When we were able to stand and amble creakily to the kitchen we got ourselves tea and toast and saltines and creaked back into more or less horizontal positions as quickly as possible. Today... voila, as they say: Nous sommes formidables! Petra went off to school (a little thinner and paler, but with makeup artfully compensating).

So...after the ecstasy, the laundry (they also say that, I'm sure). It spins and spins, while I pay bills, finish up (so late) on details for my upcoming job, and fret over my future.

Here's the deal. I begin my interim chaplaincy at Big Ivy U next week. I am incredibly excited... it is going to be an adventure, a new kind of ministry with some important points of contact with the ministry I have been doing (i.e., the most important aspects of the work revolve around worship and relationships. Excellent!). This runs through early May.

Meanwhile, back in the presbytery, I have been awaiting the posting of the CIF* (that's Church Information Form for you non-Presbys... basically the profile of the church, outlining their mission statement, philosophy, hopes and dreams for ministry...) from a local church I know is going to be looking for a pastor. This church, from the talk around town, seems like it would be a good fit for me: progressive, worship-oriented, good outreach beginnings and potential... A member of their session contacted me last summer about throwing my hat in the ring, and I gently steered her in the direction of complying with our polity (while not discouraging any thoughts of my candidacy... navigating a somewhat delicate balance of potentially conflicting interests).

So... while I was too sick to go to a meeting on Tuesday, in the email landed: the Long-Awaited-CIF. And as I swam up from the miasma of illness late yesterday I read it. And...

Oh dear reader, I was disappointed. The one thing they said to encourage me was "open-minded." Other than that, I couldn't find any excitement in the form... no real sense of focus. Their mission statement is great-- I couldn't ask for a better match with what I think is the real purpose of life in faith community-- but everything else they say appears completely unrelated to that great statement.

I think what I need to do is take a deep breath and read the thing again in a week or two. It may be that my physical lack of well-being is influencing my reading of the form, and resulting an overall depressive take on it. This is entirely possible.

The other entirely possible thing is that God is doing another new thing with me. Both my calls prior to this were positions I would not have imagined myself hoping for. Actually, Big Ivy U stands in that category as well... I delayed applying for the position for almost a month because I was not convinced it was a good match for me. But in each instance, something... someOne... poked and prodded and, voila(!), I found myself in the completely unanticipated and completely right place.

The truth is, I have been counting, hoping and praying on this local church, and it may not be what is supposed to happen. (I hate that.) But this Sunday I am going to try to preach on a text that tells us that God doesn't always bring out the good stuff right off the bat... that sometimes it is when the party seems almost over that the Dom Perignon is poured.

There. As the Frenchman once said when I walked into his restaurant and asked, "How are you?": "Better now."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Sick as proverbial dogs.

Norovirus got us. Petra, Dad and Mags.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Grand Tetons

So much to tell... where to begin?

~ Untied Airlines (yes, I meant to type "Untied")... never again. Bags? What bags? Customer service? What service? Trip home? 40 hours, including an unscheduled overnight in Denver (not due to snow but to understaffing resulting in a 2-1/4 hour delay).

~ But the mountains... oh my. El Shaddai: Usually translated in the Hebrew Scriptures "God Almighty." One possible translation: "God of the Mountains." Another possible translation: "God with Breasts." Grand Tetons.

~ Watching Petra and Larry-O tubing, snowboarding, skiing and snowmobiling (called in Wyoming "snow-machining")... priceless.

~ Seeing my 85-year-old dad beaming at all four of his grandchildren... beautiful, heartbreaking.

~ No cell phone reception... a mixed blessing.

~ Being with my sister-in-law Rose...a joy.

~ Being with my brother... a puzzle.

~ Driving a Dodge 4 X 4 up the hairpin turns on the mountain and then down again... strangely empowering.

~ For next time: Inn of the Lost Horizon... nestled on the side of the Grand Targhee mountain. An unimposing A-frame building with a tiny sign. Seats 12. The chef makes you what he likes that evening... a pan-Asian adventure I missed this time, but want to experience.

~ Having an adventure...being alive!