Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas 1: Our Wandering Savior





Sermon for this Sunday's difficult reading, the flight into Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents, can be found here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Tale of the Innkeeper's Wife: A Sermon for Christmas Eve






You can find it here.

Christmas Blessings

May your days and your nights be merry and bright.

May the One who comes among us light your way.

May our world know peace in our day, in every heart and home and all throughout the earth.

May we all understand how intimately we are connected.

Christmas blessings to you all, my friends.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent 5 Thursday: O Immanuel

O Immanuel, our Sovereign and Lawgiver, desire of the nations and Savior of all: Come and save us, O Lord our God. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent 4: Wednesday: O Rex Gentium

O Ruler of the Nations, Sovereign for whom the people long, you are the Cornerstone uniting all humanity. Come, save us all, whom you formed out of clay. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

This is the sound of longing.



 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent 4 Tuesday: O Oriens

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, Sun of justice: Come, shine on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. Come, Lord Jesus.

On the longest night our longing turns towards the dawn.

In our day this night was marked by a full lunar eclipse, the first time the solstice has coincided with that celestial event since the 1600's. In my neck of the deep dark woods, there was too much cloud cover to be able to see. But for many this longest night offered a view of even the moon being extinguished, and the optical illusion created under these conditions that the stars around the moon are falling. At the sub-rational level, it feels like the end of all things.

But it is not the end of all things. It is, instead, the turning point. Beginning today the days will lengthen, slowly, incrementally, almost imperceptibly. So imperceptibly that the church, in a rare display of self-deprecating humor, celebrates this day that well-known "doubter," the apostle Thomas. I can only assume that, either we are celebrating him because we can revel in being for faithful because we are sure we know what's coming, or, perhaps more charitably, we know that Thomas knows that the Light truly is returning, has returned.

I offer you a poem by the wonderful Madeleine L'Engle, who, thanks to her marvelous book, "WinterSongs," has become an essential part of my Advent celebrations.

O come O come Emmanuel
within this fragile vessel here to dwell.
O Child conceived by heaven's power,
give me Thy strength: it is the hour.

O Come thou Wisdom from on high
like any babe, at life you cry;
for me, like any mother, birth
was hard, O light of earth.

O come, O come thou Lord of might
whose birth came hastily at night;
born in the stable, in blood and pain,
is this the king who comes to reign?

O come, thou rod of Jesse's stem,
the stars will be thy diadem.
How can the infinite finite be?
Why choose, child, to be born of me?

O come, thou key of David, come,
and open the door to my heart-home.
I cannot love thee as a king--
so fragile and so small a thing.

O come, thou Day-spring from on high,
I saw the signs that marked the sky.
I heard the beat of angel's wings;
I saw the shepherds and the kings.

O come, desire of nations, be
simply a human child to me.
Let me not weep that you are born.
The night is gone. Now gleams the morn.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
God's Son, God's Self, with us to dwell.















Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent 4 Monday: O Clavis David

O Key of David, Scepter over the house of Israel, you open and no one can close, you close and no one can open: Come to set free the prisoners who live in darkness and the shadow of death. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

At a certain point in my life I realized I had spent a lot of time banging on, and then clawing on, doors that were closed to me.  I mean this, of course, in an emotional sense. It had to do with relationships in which the person I cared for withdrew and I was left feeling like I was out in the cold (a metaphor that has come home to me this year in a new way, as we have both experienced record-breaking cold temperatures where I live, AND as I have been unusually cold myself this year). 


I carried around this image of myself clawing at doors that would never open to me. At a certain point I realized it had to do with, childhood stuff, blah blah blah. I also realized that I had closed doors to others-- one significant way in which I had done this was by piling on about 200 extra pounds. I was an impenetrable fortress, not exactly a "decision" I made, but also not something I felt equipped to do anything about until much, much later. 


The Messianic title we remember today is "Key of David," the One who is truly in charge of opening and closing doors-- whether they be the doors to our hearts or the bars that wall in prisoners. I have learned, on my journey, that the opening of those doors was made possible only by yielding that control to the One who was always in control anyway.






Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent 4 Sunday: O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, rising as a sign for all the peoples, before you earthly rulers will keep silent, and nations give you honor: Come quickly to deliver us. Come, Lord Jesus.

I have written about this before, here. The Christmas of my freshman year in college (what will that be like for Petra?), I almost didn't come home for Christmas. 

My family had a long-standing tradition of ignoring Christmas at home (the apartment above the store) and throwing ourselves-- all of ourselves-- into Christmas in the business. My brother and I wrapped bottles, we decorated windows. But upstairs-- it wasn't Christmas, there were no carols played on record players, there was no tree after the year I was 7. There were some good reasons for this: retail, especially small-business-family-owned-and-operated retail, is exhausting at this time of year. I look at Beloved, working 63 hours a week right now. But also, my mother hated Christmas. I don't know whether it was because of traumatic childhood memories of deprivation, or some other circumstance she never shared with me. But she hated it. The music, the decor, the tree.

So beginning the Christmas I was 8, we always went to Florida. My mom would take my brother and me as soon as school was out,  and my dad would join us on Christmas day. And-- please understand-- I loved it. I am a swimmer, always have been, and my joy and delight was to be in the pool or the ocean all day, every day. I had a tradition of diving into the pool at midnight on New Year's.... that was my real celebration. I was a very fortunate little girl. I wanted for nothing.

Except, I wanted Christmas. So, when one of my roommates invited me  to her home for the holidays, a place her parents always decked out in grand Christmas fashion, I leapt at the idea. And I told my mother. And after a brief pause, she said, "We will have a tree this year."

So I went home. And when I got there, there was a naked tree in the living room, and a box of decorations and some lights. And I set about decorating the tree all alone, while listening to a Christmas record I'd bought at the Harvard C00p; "Christmas in Cambridge" with the Harvard/ Radcliffe Glee Club. And I was happy.

I've thought about this memory a lot this year, one reason being, I've been very late getting my tree (it finally made it into the house last night), and I have been hesitant to get it, partially, because of what's been going on with Petra. I was afraid the idea of the tree would be unwelcome to her-- well, not unwelcome, exactly, but more work, more stress. I had to decide I was willing to decorate the tree alone, and that would be just fine. I decided it would be.

The anthem here, Virga Jesse by Anton Bruckner, was on that Christmas record, the first I'd ever owned-- the first ever to make its way into my childhood home. Here is the translation of the lyrics:



The branch from Jesse blooms:
a Virgin brings forth God and man:
God restores peace,
reconciling in Himself the lowest with the highest.
Alleluia.


This O antiphon has a way, always, of filling me with a kind of awe... here is the mystery, that the roots planted there, blossom here in the most thrilling and unexpected and glorious way. As I drove home last night with the tree nestled in the car (the trunk was right next to me, and the smell of the pine was glorious), I gave thanks for the roots that make my delight in this season so deep and sweet.












Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tears, some joyful, some not

I received the news as I was driving home from an enormous grocery store trip-- the kind of trip where you stock up on your canned goods, and your dried fruit, and your pasta and your rice and your eggs. It was a big trip, and long, because-- my goodness, a week before Christmas, and I suppose there are many parties between now and then. And so, my favorite grocery store was jammed with people, most of whom were in fairly pleasant-to-festive moods.

So I headed home with my trunk full of food, and the sun was shining to warm up the inside of my car on a cold day, and I heard my cell phone thunk with a text message. Assuming it was Petra, I took the next safe opportunity (a red light) to steal a quick look.

It was a text from the Human Rights Campaign. The procedural vote to permit the real vote on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell had passed. It was all but certain: that wretched, unjust law that makes the US less safe by denying gifted and educated and trained military personnel the opportunity to serve was going down. At last.

I immediately broke into tears. Real tears. I sobbed. It took me by surprise, actually, the force of my tears. Sometimes we don't understand the weight of what we blithely call "current events" until they take us by the shoulders and give us a good shake.

I called Beloved, and told her. "It's done. They're repealing it. Don't Ask Don't Tell is no more." And my love, who was in hear early twenties when Stonewall was in the news, joined me in my emotion. She didn't cry. She was jubilant. She just kept saying, "Isn't it amazing when the right thing happens?"

Here is a photo, from the NY Times, of someone who is weeping, but not from joy. This was taken after the Dream act was defeated, a piece of legislation that would have enabled those in this country without documentation, but who are clearly striving to be productive members of our society, a chance, a shot at that fabled great American dream. I suppose the Senate only had it in them to free one group from bondage today.

Some tears of joy. Some tears of frustration, anger... but I pray not despair. I believe Martin Luther King was right. The arc of history bends towards justice. It is but a matter of time.

Advent 3 Saturday: O Adonai

O Adonai, Ruler of the house of Israel, you appeared in the burning bush to Moses and gave him the law on Sinai: Come with outstretched arm to save us. Come, Lord Jesus.

The title given to the Messiah here is "Adonai," Hebrew for "Lord." Adonai is used as a placeholder in the Hebrew bible for the unspeakable, unpronounceable, most holy name of God. Though the text may read the four letters-- yod, heh, vav, heh, which many Christians pronounce "Yahweh" or "Jehovah"-- the cantor in a synagogue will replace that word with "Adonai."

Of course, Adonai also means "Lord" in much the same way "Lord" has been understood as designating a man of great nobility-- as in the house of lords. So the use of Adonai as a Hebrew Messianic title does not automatically take us to the mystery of the incarnation. But the resonance is there for us, as Christians.

Here, a choir from Rome singing "O Adonai" with some fascinating silent film footage illustrating Moses and the Lord on Mount Sinai:




And here, something I wish I'd found yesterday: music of Hildegard of Bingen, "O virtus sapientiae":










Is it wrong for me to want to hear women's voices in these late Advent days?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 3 Friday: The O Antiphons Begin

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, you order all things with strength and gentleness: Come now and teach us the way to salvation. 

Come, Lord Jesus!

Beginning tonight, the Church's vesper prayers make use of the "O antiphons." seven words of praise and supplication which make use of Messianic titles found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day there is a new antiphon until Christmas Eve, when the church's prayer turns towards the birth of Jesus. 

Tonight's title is "Wisdom," in Latin, "Sapientia." It reminds us of the first verses of John's gospel: Christ comes forth from the mouth of God: he is the Word made flesh. As God's Word, he contains-- no, he embodies God's wisdom.

Wisdom is one of those slightly mischievous, slightly subversive titles for Jesus. Wisdom has a tradition of being translated into the feminine form, as in the Greek "Sophia" and the Hebrew Hokhmot.  Verbal femininity is not necessarily to be understood as female, until it is:

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right;
for my mouth will utter truth;

wickedness is an abomination to my lips.      Proverbs 8:1-7

There is a great and venerable tradition of personifying Wisdom female, and the case can be made (and has been made by actual scholars of Greek and Hebrew) that some of this seeps into the gospel portrayals of Jesus.

So, on this first night of the O antiphons, I invite you-- I invite myself!-- to remember the resonances of  the messianic title, "O Wisdom," as we wait with longing for the revealing of Christ.











Monday, December 13, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent 2 Friday

Today's lectionary passage from Isaiah 7 contains the "money" verses of prophecy for many Christians:

13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 

Phew! That's pretty potent stuff. One little discrepancy from the way we often hear it translated-- "Behold, the Virgin shall conceive," the alto sings in the Handel setting. Trouble is, the Hebrew doesn't say "virgin." It says, "young woman."

Other interesting things in this passage you won't hear too much about in the Christmas sermon:

20On that day the Lord will shave with a razor hired beyond the River - with the king of Assyria - the head and the hair of the feet, and it will take off the beard as well. 

And also,

23On that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns. 24With bow and arrows one will go there, for all the land will be briers and thorns; 25and as for all the hills that used to be hoed with a hoe, you will not go there for fear of briers and thorns; but they will become a place where cattle are let loose and where sheep tread. 

Oh, we Christians are so great at plucking verses of scripture out of context to support the arguments we want to make.  Please don't get me wrong: my faith is in Emmanuel, God-With-Us, in Jesus. But this is precisely the same trouble we get into when we want to enforce all the verses we think are about particular understandings of sexuality, and ignore, for instance, all the verses in which Jesus tells us what we should do with our money.

What we need, when we read scripture, is some humility. Which, in fact, I think is found in the post below, in which Dave Matthews sings a song of Jesus that gives me chills.

Hear this, and I think you hear the words of another kind of prophet.

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She be his wife; take him as her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy
The wise men came three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around
Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary for a reasonable fee, less than
Reputable as known to be

His heart was full of love love love

Love love love
Love love is all around
When Jesus Christ was nailed to the his tree
Said "oh, Daddy-o I can see how it all soon will be
I came to she'd a little light on this darkening scene
Instead I fear I spill the blood of my children all around"

The blood of our children all around

The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
So the story goes, so I'm told
The people he knew were
Less than golden hearted
Gamblers and robbers
Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers
Like you and me

Rumors insisited he soon would be

For his deviations
Taken into custody by the authorities
Less informed than he.
Drinkers and jokers. all soul searchers
Searching for love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around

Preparations were made

For his celebration day
He said "eat this bread and think of it as me
Drink this wine and dream it will be
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around"
The blood of our children all around

Father up above, why in all this anger have you fill

Me up with love
Fill me love love love
Love love love
Love love
And the blood of our children all around

More lyrics: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/d/dave+matthews+band/#share

A Christmas Song by.... Dave Matthews??

How have I never heard this until recently?



And the refrain is love, love, love.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent 2 Tuesday

Ah, you who call evil good
     and good evil,
who put darkness for light
     and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
     and sweet for bitter!
Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes,
     and shrewd in your own sight! 


~Isaiah 5:20-21

This morning's lectionary reading from Isaiah hits me where I live.  This is my fear, that I cannot see what is good and what is evil because I am hopelessly compromised by my subjective experience. I no longer have these particular doubts in the area of sexuality (which is where one might reasonably expect me to). The theology I hold is just so clear, that a loving and all-powerful God would not create an entire class of individuals who were doomed by trying to live according to the way in which they were created. I believe we were all created, no matter where we are on the spectrum of sexualities, to live in communion and in community, and I believe we can all do that ethically and still be true to ourselves.

No, that's not the area that scares me. It's the other places-- the interpersonal relationship places, where I'm so sure I'm right, where I'm so sure I've got the wisdom, if only he/ she/ they could see with my "wise" eyes!

Advent is useful for this condition. Advent used to be considered a penitential season, as was Lent, but Advent has taken on a kinder, gentler tone in these last-- what, 50?--years or so. Instead of penance, we speak of preparation. Preparation always involves self-examination, or else it's not much help. So, on this cold and snowy Advent Tuesday, I wish you (and me) fruitful self-examination, and openness to the Spirit who will instruct us (if we could get around to listening).

I leave you with another of today's lectionary readings, a fitting blessing for an Advent day:

See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.        ~ I Thessalonians 5:15-22

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent 1 Saturday

2On that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. 3Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, 4once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. 5Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. 6It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.             ~Isaiah 4:2-6


This is a classic early Advent text, in that it describes beauty and horror intermingled. Isaiah (the first Isaiah, writing at the time of Kings Uzziah and his son Hezekiah) warns against both Judah becoming a client state of the enormous and powerful Assyrian Empire, and against assimilation as expressed in a casual approach to worship of the one true God. Both kings ignore Isaiah until it is almost too late. Total devastation is averted. Significant devastation takes place.


So we have Isaiah describing Zion/ Jerusalem as beautifully restored and protected (about which he seems to be confident), and then, smack in the middle, the appearance of imagery that recalls the anti-woman rhetoric we find in many of the prophetic texts. The unfaithful city is a whore, its daughters are filthy. The bloodstains serve the dual purpose of reinforcing the image of the filth and also describing the devastation taking place at the hands of the Assyrians.


As much as I would like Advent to be about pregnancy and birth and awaiting in holy, candle-lit darkness the birth of this extraordinary baby, Advent forces my attention elsewhere. I can do as I did last Sunday and simply ignore it (I preached off lectionary-- after dealing with apocalyptic imagery in the Sundays of December, I needed to get to Jesus' birth). But it will not be ignored. It is the Glenn Close-Fatal-Attraction of the lectionary year: Advent will bring us images of death and destruction before it allows us to get to the baby.


That is because sea-change, world-upside-down events are believed to presage the coming of Jesus next time around. I'll say here what I say to everyone who asks (and, apparently, to some who don't). I don't believe God's plan is to destroy the earth. I believe there is too much in scripture-- including this passage-- that speaks of God's firm intention to provide us with restoration and and renewal. That God will be among us, face to face, is a firm promise. That this world will be a new creation, is set down here and in other places.


Below, my attempt at posting something that conveys both the chaos and the restoration, with the babe for good measure.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent 1 Wednesday




11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.     ~ 2 Peter 3:11-18
~~~
I know I don't need to tell you today is World AIDS Day. I share Sting's haunting "Hounds of Winter" because it is about the loss of the beloved in this season of growing cold and darkness. The selection from 2 Peter is one of today's lectionary readings (you can find them here, every day). I find its emphasis on waiting for the coming day of God to be so beautiful, so refreshing... we wait, not cowering in our bunkers with our five years' supply of canned goods and water filled with fear (as some would have us wait). Rather, we wait at peace, striving to be kind to one another. We live in stability, not anxiety (can I get an amen there?). We wait, hoping to grow in grace and knowledge. 
So much of this speaks to our attitude as a society towards those who are struggling with AIDS, or with sexual identity, or with the private violence that plagues their lives. We strive to offer this peace, this kindness, this stability. We wait for the day of God in the same way we live: hoping, day by day, to grow in grace and knowledge. I can get behind that.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I WON!


Which is to say, I completed my novel today, in time to qualify for "winner" status in the NaNoWriMo community.

It feels extraordinarily satisfying.

Now, to edit.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent 1 Sunday: Dark and Sweet

Good Morning, and blessed Advent, friends!

It seems as if it would be more appropriate to write this in the evening, as the sun is setting, or just after. To me, evening is Advent time... it is a time of darkness made less so by the kindling of fire.

I love these words of Gertrud Mueller Nelson, from her exquisite book, To Dance With God:

It is Advent, and along with nature, we are a people waiting. Far out of the south, the winter light comes thin and milky. The days grow shorter and colder and the nights long. Try as we may, we cannot fully dismiss the fundamental feelings that lie deep at our roots, a mixture of feelings dark and sweet. Will the sun, the source of our life, ever return? Has the great light abandoned us?

This song captures, for me, those feelings 'dark and sweet.' A contemporary twist on an ancient hymn, it speaks my longings. Blessings, my friends.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Coming Out Story

The wonderful Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton tells the story of Bishop Jim Swilley, pastor of the Conyers Church in the Now. This 52 year-old pastor of a mega-church has just come out to his congregation. I cannot recommend Elizabeth's blogpost highly enough. It's a beautiful story. You can find it here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Long Time Ago...


Someone from my church asked me to preach on "biblical family values."

I think this is the first installment of that sermon.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm Doing It! Are You?

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. November.


I first learned about NaNoWriMo four years ago, as evidenced here. I gave it a try then, the last November I was unemployed (thanks be to God). Ever since then, I've been thinking, Hey, I should do that again.


Why now? I have no earthly idea. I have a bear of a schedule that has me at meetings four nights a week since the beginning of September. I have a daughter who is a senior in high school, getting ready to launch (she submitted her early decision application to a far away school last Saturday. Gulp! I mean, Go Fighting Methodists!). I have a son who is in the process of moving into a new apartment in the Big City, and launching his own acting career (complete with two part-time jobs to pay the rent). And I have a very busy, hardworking girlfriend who likes to see me once in a while.


Oh, and I have to write a sermon every week. Based on the length of sermons I write, NaNoWriMo is asking me to write the equivalent of a sermon a day.


Nuts, right? Right. But I just want to do it.


Like the last novel (a truly treacly thing about coming of age and a trumped up mystery around a mother's death), I'm basically using this to process my own stuff. Like the last novel, I am full of doubts about this one being remotely of interest to anyone except those who love me dearly. (Maybe not even them!) But still, I write. Because, there's a whole crazy community out there doing the same thing, and it's November, and it's fun, and it's writing!


Wish me luck.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Throwing Jesus Off the Cliff

I've had a number of comments, both here and by email, around this topic of "getting mad at the pastor" and someone asked for the reference about Jesus nearly getting thrown off the cliff. The story starts out well-- after the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus returns to his hometown.

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

At first glance, all seems to be going swimmingly. Jesus reads from Isaiah, and the words are incredibly encouraging and hopeful, and he even goes so far as to say, "This is IT. It's happening NOW." The locals, the ones who watched as Jesus grew up in Mary and Joseph's home, are thrilled.

Then things get a little funky.

23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Suddenly, the word the people had heard as comforting gets turned around a bit-- indeed, it becomes clear pretty quickly that they believe it's been turned on them. The gist of what Jesus is saying is, the good news of God's love extends beyond the boundaries of religion and race and ethnicity. The good news of God's love went to a widow who wasn't a Jew. The good news of God's love extended to a leper who was leading an enemy army. Ooops. It's all right there in scripture. Guess what? God is bigger than the little categories you and I try to lock her in.

28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. ~ Luke 4:14-30

Yeah, that really comes as no surprise.  The people perceived that the good news had turned bad. Solution: get rid of the pesky prophet. But something stopped them. And along Jesus went on his merry way.

I think congregations and congregation members get mad at pastors for all sorts of reasons. Some are not so cool with the fullness of the pastor's identity coming to the fore. (Thank God, I had only a little of that when I came out). Some feel neglected by the pastor, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not. Sometimes the congregation and the pastor have different ideas of mission and what it means to do ministry together-- just a case of a bad match. Sometimes it's so intangible it's hard to put into words why these relationships take a southward turn.

I am interested in the question asked in the comments. For those in ordained ministry, how do you respond when the anger of your congregants becomes an issue? How does it feel? How do you cope? And how do you know when (if) it's time to go?

I'm grateful to say that I am not dealing with anything like this in my ministry at present (that I know of... sometimes I realize anger and hurt lurk quietly for a long time). But I know many of my colleagues deal with it. What say you? And-- how about this-- how do you deal with your own anger?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cleaning Up My Act

So here's my plan. My plan is, in response to your emails and comments, keep "(un) closeted pastor" going, but with an emphasis on what the title says: what it's like going about my business as a pastor out and about in my neck of the woods. My personal stuff will be kept private, which is appropriate (though you can certainly expect Beloved, Larry and Petra to make the occasional appearance on these pages). I do have a story to share about trusting God as God reveals my truth to me-- and believe me, that happens at least once a day if I'm paying attention at all. (And sometimes, you know, I'm not, because that's what it's like to be an unfinished, incomplete, under construction kind of person-- i.e., human).

I'm still trying to parse and work on my private situation. I will say this: I hate the idea that I've caused pain, and that someone is angry with me, especially a family member. It's painful, it's not what I want. It takes real discipline for me to deal with it like a grown up, and I do not always have that particular tool available to me. So I covet your prayers in this area.

Let me add, on a related note, this is one of the major personality characteristics that is challenging for me as a pastor. Because, let's face it, after his first sermon they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. If we don't ruffle feathers now and then we're probably not doing our work with integrity.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being a real community. Thanks for the love. Love you back.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wrestling Redux


... In sermon form, here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Better-Late-Than-Never Department...

... Last Sunday's sermon, here.

I am pondering the feedback I've gotten from many of you regarding the blog. I am trying to figure out a way to keep this blog going, minus the intensely personal stuff... I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Change of Seasons

It is time for this blog to go from being public to private. Suffice to say, I have been somewhat foolish in believing I could be so open about much that is very intimate in a public forum. Beloved warned me, God bless her. But I have learned that someone was very hurt by something I wrote here-- something I believed sincerely to be true, but which I am open to having clarified. In the wake of this, I recognize that therapy is therapy, blogs are blogs, and I have crossed that line here in a way that has the potential to hurt others, even if I believe I am speaking my truth from the heart.

So. Those of you who are interested in remaining connected with this blog, please send an email to revceciliapastorATyahooDOTcom. I will go private in a week or so.

In the meantime, I will ponder how I might repair the damage I have done.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Poem, August 4 8:30 AM


driving too fast
to make my meeting
(careening left-hand-turns through yellow lights)
i saw an incongruous
picket fence on
a shabby city street
where a man in
a white shirt tenderly
tended his sunflowers

and i was four five six
stiff sandals slapping the
three hot blocks of
ocean city pavement
eager to taste again
the newfound land
of orange sherbet
and chocolate
double-dip.

i encountered it, at first
a monster, taller than me,
thing out of an episode of
lost in space
but lemon-bright, smiling,
playful, earth-scented,
inviting,
i gasped and laughed
delighted
and it nodded to me.

how many sunflowers
have i seen since?
how did this man
these sunflowers
unlock the creaky door
of memory?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Revelated


I've been preparing to give a talk to a denominational group on the subject of-- hold on to your hats, sports fans-- Revelation! The book, not the dance. (Singular, not plural).

Of course, you know I've read it before. I read it... well, I didn't read it in seminary, actually. I read it... well, I didn't actually read it in my first theology MA program either. Hmmm.

Well, I can tell you for SURE I read it (partially) in middle school, when I (briefly) attended a bible study at my parish.

And I can tell you for SURE SURE that I read the whole kit and kaboodle, from stem to stern, in 2005-- that's the year I got my One Year Bible (TM), and did that thing. (So, I read it in December.)

But lately, I've read it-- all in one go, over the span of the last two days, with the help of a study guide. I've just finished, actually.

I'm blown away. Part of what has blown me away is my embrace of the interpretive scheme of the study guide, to be sure. It is most assuredly not a dispensationalist/rapturist/pro-Armageddon reading (unlike that of the current L3ft B3hind craze). It is a feminist (in the sense that we take note of the disturbing imagery regarding women, as well as how it has been used historically) and Reformed (in that it correctly uses scripture to interpret scripture, according to the best of our tradition). And it is environmentalist (in that it takes note of God's strong words for those who destroy the earth, and the role the earth/ river of life/ tree of life has in the restored New Jerusalem).

I sat there for a few minutes after I'd finished reading with my heart racing.

I think I've had a conversion experience. I've been converted to loving this crazy, problematic book of which Luther said, "My spirit cannot fit itself into this book." I find, my spirit can. And I'm blown away.

It's a revelation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just Wondering


Petra has just returned home from this fantastic youth conference.

I'm going to make a true confession: I was a little nervous about her going. Let me count the ways.

First, there was the matter of pastor-mom-pushing-pastor's-kid-to-participate-in-religious-stuff. Petra is 17. And, thus far, she has, apparently, been participating willingly in the life of each congregation I've served. She actually joined Saint Sociable two years ago, which made me very happy. Of course.

This has been a marked difference from my experience with her brother, who resisted church stuff around the time he was participating in Confirmation Class (age 13), and never willingly went again. Petra has been different.

Still, I was worried. Is she doing all this just to make mom happy? Last fall when the conversation began about whether to attend this conference or not, Petra was worried it would conflict with a summer theater program she normally participates in. I decided, early on, if it conflicted and she therefore resisted, I would absolutely let it go. Period. I have no desire to force my children to participate if it means they are there resentfully.

As it happens, it didn't conflict, and Petra signed up.

Still, I fretted, just a bit. I wondered, exactly what kind of theology would be on display at this conference? I mean, I assumed mainstream, orthodox Christianity-- and I'm, of course, down with that. But... would there be conservative elements? What if my child comes home-- horror!!!-- more conservative than when she left??? This is a young woman whose Facebook profile describes her as "Very Very Liberal," so my anxiety was... perhaps... misplaced. And I figured: Petra is who she is. I believe she has been taught sound theology, both at my knee, so to speak, and in the churches of her earlier childhood, before I was ordained. I trusted her to sort the wheat from the chaff. I also let go of the idea that I can control where she lands theologically. She is who she is, and she will be who she will be. And it will be wonderful, I feel sure.

Then, she went, and every night I received a call from her saying, essentially, THIS ROCKS. I was, of course, pleased. In fact, Petra tells me, more than one preacher threw out some words on GLBTQ issues, same sex marriage, etc. With a light touch they shared the firm conviction that inclusivity is the heart of Christianity; when you start excluding people, or stop loving people because of their sexuality, you have departed from the core of the gospel. (To which 5000 Presbyterian youth responded with thunderous applause).

After Petra got home, and we began processing her experience together I mentioned to her that several churches in our presbytery have stopped sending their youth to this conference, precisely because they perceive it to have an unacceptably liberal bias. And I confessed to her my tiny (unfounded) fears about her being exposed to theological conservatism.

I trusted Petra. Why can't the churches and parents who are theologically conservative trust their children?

Monday, July 19, 2010

There She Goes!

Petra has just turned on the shower. She is leaving this morning for a church youth conference of epic proportions (well, to her). I can see her excitement. We spent yesterday afternoon under the sign of the bulls-eye, purchasing, among other things, a lightweight bathrobe (for modesty), a bunch of unmentionables (ditto), a very cute dress (for-- well, cuteness) and a tiny fan (for cool, in the not air conditioned dorm rooms in which she will be staying).

When I was a youth, and very active in the church, we went on retreats, with priests. Beloved rolled her eyes when I said that... now everything is a bad joke related to the church's abysmal track record at dealing with sexual predators. I never encountered any priest, at least until I got to college, whose intentions towards young people was anything other than showing them the love of God in Jesus Christ.

The conference Petra is attending is a different model of making disciples. Through the experience of nearly a week of small and large group activities, including wonderfully inspiring worship, engagement in mission projects, Bible study and team-building, this conference seeks to raise up the next generation of leaders for the church. Every kid I know who has ever gone has been changed by it. Every kid I know who has ever gone has remained active in church through the classic fall-away years of college and early 20's.

So, Petra is going. And she is not going unwillingly, but with a real spirit of openness and adventure, thanks be to God.

When Petra was six, this movie came out. Between the theater and our living room, we have probably watched it together, oh, about 50 times. We love it that much. So, with a little prayer for Lindsey Lohan, here's a tiny clip, of a girl stepping out for an adventure.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Opera, Rainstorm, Anniversary

Last night Petra and I took an hour and forty-minute drive to a gorgeous lake-side opera house to see "Le Nozze di Figaro," certainly one of my top two or three favorite operas of all time. The setting is beautiful and serene-- deep in the woods with the lake glimmering behind. We ate wonderful boxed dinners (chicken for me, crab cakes for Petra) and listened to a lecture from the continuo player. Then we allowed ourselves to be drawn into Mozart's Shakespearean domestic tragi-comedy. (I can't see stories of unfaithfulness as not having a dose of tragedy in them.) The opera was aurally and visually sumptuous, the singing was just about perfect, and we had the added thrill of hearing the Count's vengeance aria while enormous claps of thunder rattled the opera house.

Susanna's singing of 'Deh vieni non tardar' almost made my heart stop. So luscious, so full of desire and tenderness, and the soprano had such a gorgeous tone. It was breathtaking.

One of the things I adore about seeing plays and operas with my children is how very engaged they are in the arts themselves. We talked about the vocal production of the singing actors, and their stage presence, and the creativity of the staging. We talked about how very like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" the opera is (minus fairies and potions). But our conversation ground to a halt not long after our car pulled out of the driveway, as we encountered scary-severe weather, at the start of our 91-mile trip home. At one point, as hailstones smashed into the windshield, and we were creeping along at 11-miles per hour along a densely wooded road, I started remembering stories of people whose cars washed away in such sudden storms, or whose cars were crushed beneath trees downed by such winds.

Enough drama; we got home safe and sound, though the trip home took an hour longer than the trip there. Which means, I go to worship this morning with about 5 hours of sleep. I'm letting Petra sleep in (she heads off to a week-long youth conference tomorrow; she needs her rest!).

And yesterday was the anniversary described here. Still so grateful for this love.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dead-Heading

*Note: This post has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead. Not that there's anything wrong with them.

I was outside this morning watering and dead-heading flowers. Well, specifically, petunias in my window boxes. I have two different shades of purple in three long window boxes outside my dining room window, plus a couple of odd, spiky, daisy-like flowers which some garden store bestowed upon Beloved as a token of their appreciation for her business.

I know I've talked a lot in the past (other springs and summers) about planting, and gardening, but you know what? I'm such a fraud. Four years ago (?) I asked my then neighbor ALG (Adorable Landscaping Guy) whether I could just tear out my grass and put in flowering plants. I hate, loath, despise and abominate grass. It is anathema to me. Why? Why grass? Why water and cultivate and care for something whose sole purpose, in my neighborhood at least, is to cut it to an even length, not allowing the plant to do what it wants to do according to its nature? Makes NO sense to me.

ALG said, sure! Why not? So, we did. I remember him moving my ancient rhododendrons around on the Fourth of July that year, while we huddled inside, hiding from a pouring rain. The first year it looked much like a lunar landscape: occasional tiny plants and vast expanses of mulch. And rhododendrons, one of which, after moved, took on a distinctly Japanese landscaping appearance, growing as it had into a long trunk and wide, shallow canopy.

Year by year the flowers have filled in and thickened.... no thanks to me. I feed them, never. I weed-- well, close to never. I water only sporadically. (The last time I'd watered before today was last week, when I did so daily out of sheer Christian compassion for all living things in the midst of our wicked heat wave).

There is one patch of land- well, two, bordering my driveway-- for which I do have complete responsibility, however. Where I plant my annuals (though I am sneaking some perennials in there, too-- hello Lavender! I don't care that one of your mystical functions is to repel romance. You are staying!). And-- my windowboxes. And, I don't know, this morning after Beloved had gone on her way, while Petra was still sleeping, and before I had to shower and get me out of here, I found myself, not only watering everything (windowboxes, side-planters, driveway flowers, and vast landscape of perennials), but also, dead-heading my petunias. But only my petunias. The foxglove is going to have to wait.

As I was dead-heading, I noticed, not for the first time, that sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the blossoms that are past and dead, and those that are just coming-- this is mostly a petunia phenomenon, I think. My experience is limited. I have learned to touch the suspect blossoms gently. Those that are fresh and coming are firm, rubbery and cool. Those that are spent are like tissue and often break away before I have a chance to pinch them off.

I thought about the things I'd like to dead-head from my life. Ways of spending time. Things others (ahem, Beloved) might think are tissue, pinch-'em off things, but which I feel have some value to me-- I can feel the coolness of budding life in them. And they have to be allowed to grow.

Church is the same. We so often look at programs and wonder: dead? Or alive? And sometimes it is very, very hard to call it.

I would like to dead-head the following things from my life:

Compulsive behaviors of all types (this includes, but is not limited to, certain ways of using the internet, food-- even healthy food!-- and even my relationship with Beloved.

Whoa, Nellie, I did NOT say I want to dead-head my relationship with Beloved. But there are ways I use that relationship-- ways in which I am not my healthiest self, but am, instead, needy, compulsive, and immature-- those are the things I want to go.

I heard in a pastor training session a couple of months ago that in every relationship, one person is a pursuer and one is a flee-er. Me: Pursuer. Beloved: Flee-er. (Also, Ex: Flee-er. Clearly.) In the training (which was led by a pastor who is also a psychotherapist) the suggestion was made that we ought to attempt to act in the opposite way of our natural tendency. In other words, if you are a pursuer, well, don't flee, necessarily, but at least back off. Don't crowd, overwhelm or otherwise smother your loved one. If you are a flee-er-- well, try to hang in there. Try not to run when things get tough and all your instincts are telling you to go.

I have been trying to practice this in little tiny ways. The other night I had planned to see Beloved-- just hanging out at her place, after a meeting at work. But I had things at home I needed to tend to. But all my instincts tell me: See her if you can! Don't miss an opportunityfortogetherness!!! But I chose, instead, to go home. To tend to what needed my attention. To speak to her briefly on the phone ('cause, you know, I'm crazy about her and all). But not to smother. I think it was a good thing. Pursuing relentlessly: trying to deadhead it. Just a bit. I think we will be a healthier "plant" in the end.

OK, I lied. Enjoy!