Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Got food shopping done, including picking up some more stuff for StrongOpinions before she leaves for the Big Apple tomorrow. Dealt with my neighbor's cats, whom I fed and watered while they were out of town, and my other neighbor's mail, while he's out of town. Ran a few more errands, cooked some yummy stuff (curried butternut squash soup, lamb kebabs with herb-jalapeno sauce, couscous, braised cabbage). Now I can chill out and read some silly stuff, alternating with some serious stuff for the two sermons I'm preaching on Jan 8 and Jan 11. And I can knit, for the first time in several months.
I also handled about a zillion emails and a phone call from a troubled friend. I am learning about being more serious about boundaries - StrongOpinions grabbed my cell phone when it rang during dinner, so I wouldn't be tempted to answer it. I think I will get into the habit of turning it off during dinner...nothing can happen for which my immediate response is really that necessary (so she says right now - we'll see how long it lasts).
And - joy of joys - I got two small lobsters to cook for PH and me for a special New Years Eve dinner tomorrow night.
Sighing over the GOE anxiety that seems to be prevalent amongst my classmates - as GOE prep coordinator, I'm suddenly getting a rash of emails from stressed out folks with questions. Most of those questions could be answered by simply looking at the website for the exam. And at this point, looking for prior years' questions is a useless exercise. I just want it to be over, whatever the result. In a week and a half, it will be.
And then I'll really relax!
Monday, December 29, 2008
- Got my blood drawn - platelets were a wonderful 152. May they stay high until I have my spleen removed!
- Saw the surgeon - she is a very sharp 30-something woman. She's done many of these surgeries, and she was very clear about the possibilities and risks. I feel good about her doing this. Now all we need to do is to come up with a mutually agreeable date to get it done. I'll be in the hospital for 3-4 days. then another week of recovery, assuming that it can be done laparascopically rather than as open surgery. Fingers crossed and prayers ascending.
- Spent a good forty-five minutes at the DMV (the eighth circle of hell) to turn in StrongOpinions' plates from her beloved and now departed Saabie. The bad news is that it took 45 minutes. The good news is that I'll get a refund of 47 bucks in personal property tax. That's a little more than a buck a minute. Sweet!
- Ordered a second pair of glasses for StrongOpinions from our favorite discount eyeglasses site. Took her to Costco (the ninth circle of hell) to get some prescriptions filled and pick up some other items prior to her departure for the Big Apple. Escaped without the credit card melting down or having an accident in the parking lot, something of a small miracle.
- Stopped at the grocery store for some other stuff necessary for the trip and for tonight's dinner.
- Dealt with some persnickety back and forth with lay leadership at Saint Middle School. Vacuums of power make some folks feel compelled to fill them immediately. Don't. Like. That.
- Got the package for the evangelical preaching competition (a really long shot, since I don't really have that kind of a preaching voice) packed up and in the mail.
- Still waiting for recommendations from the two professors for my package for the Big Preaching Competition (a long shot for reasons of the number of people who are in this one, but maybe a better fit for the kind of preacher I am). Trying not to be a crankypants about the recommendations, and trying to remember not everyone is as obsessive about getting things checked off the list as I am. Uuuuhhhh..wait a minute...wasn't I just complaining about laypersons at Saint Middle School who were doing the same thing? My bad.
- Trying to remember how whizzed out I was when I went off to school, so I can be sympathetic to StrongOpinions, who is minorly freaking out about logistics. I love her and am proud of her, and know she can do all this. She's just not entirely convinced yet. Ah well.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.”
In a few days, on January 2nd, my son C will turn 25. A momentous birthday! And even though it has been a quarter of a century, I remember the moment of his birth as if it was yesterday. I remember the twenty hours of labor and a difficult delivery, I can see him, wiggling in the doctor’s hands, and looking at me and his father with the same skepticism and challenge that is still in his face, 25 years later. And I can remember the joy that filled my heart to bursting, the tears in our eyes, his father’s momentary weak knees, the bliss of the moment, as if it was yesterday. It was a gift, one that remains with me in my memory and in C's presence still.
After his birth, exhausted and happy, I fell asleep, dreaming of all the possibilities that awaited my little newborn son in the years ahead.
A few hours later, I woke up. The morning light streamed through the window. It couldn’t be possible that it was time for me to wake up – I was still so very tired – but the nurse was bringing C in for feeding. There I lay, sweaty and lumpy and swollen. Parts of my body that I hadn’t even known about before hurt. A lot. My head ached from the spinal block I had been given. As the nurse gave me the baby, and as that baby latched on for his first feeding, I realized that the blissful dream that had filled my head just a few hours before was being obliterated, replaced by the reality of this child, attached like a leech to a tender portion of my anatomy. It dawned on me that this was the start of decades of him being attached to me either figuratively or literally. Oh, my. What had I gotten myself into?
Don’t get me wrong. I desperately wanted and loved this child, but the reality of motherhood suddenly was a whole different thing from my fantasy of motherhood.
There is that moment when we wake up…the morning after the night before. The pleasure of that night-time celebration is replaced by the prickly fact of the next morning, and the work that awaits us.
Those of you with little children may know that morning-after feeling all too well. You may have gone to a lovely Christmas Eve service, put the children to bed as they dreamed of Santa Claus, and were shocked by that five a.m. wake up call. “Mommy! Daddy! Santa came!” You dragged yourself out of bed – you had been up until one a.m. assembling the new bike – and went downstairs, as the children tore through the gifts under the tree. In what seemed like forty-eight seconds, every gift was unwrapped, the children had already had one fight over who got to play with the new game system first, the living room was a shambles of torn wrapping paper and ribbons, and a long day was ahead. There was work to be done. Not just the clean-up of the detritus of the gift-opening, but perhaps a meal for extended family to be cooked, or a long drive to another relative’s house. Before anything else, though, you need to cook breakfast.
It’s the morning after the night before, and there is work to be done.
For those of you without children, it might be a slightly different story. Perhaps you’re planning a New Year’s Eve party, elegant, with great wine or champagne, delicious food, exquisite decorations, laughter, music…and you will wake on New Years morning with a sour stomach and a headache, knowing when you go downstairs there will be dirty glasses in the sink and the sour smell of the trash you really should have put in the garbage can before you went to bed….a morning of clean-up, perhaps a call to a friend to apologize since you inadvertently offended him with your silly teasing the night before. Work to be done, the morning after the night before.
Once we’ve unwrapped the gifts, once we’ve thrown the party, there is work to be done.
So, too it is with this gospel of John that we are hearing this morning. The remarkable thing about the Gospel of John is that, unlike the other three gospels, John gives us a synopsis of the whole story in just a few verses right at the beginning of the tale. It’s worth repeating:
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
Talk about the Cliff’s Notes version of the entire story of our Lord! Jesus Christ, one with the Father Creator, who came to earth….and those who should have recognized him, the great gift of the incarnate God, did not know him. But some did recognize him, and those who did became the adopted children of God.
This extraordinary Christmas gift, this God made man who lived among us, this incomparable joy. How could anyone not accept him?
Perhaps it’s like the Christmas gift we receive that’s so precious that we put it up on a shelf, for fear we will break it. Or that we want to save for a special occasion – I’m thinking here of the discovery that I made after my mother’s death, when I was cleaning out her home to prepare it for sale, and saw a number of gifts I had given her, beautiful soft nightgowns, silk scarves, lambskin gloves, still wrapped in the tissue paper from the gift box, saved for “good” as she would have said. It saddened me that she never got to truly enjoy those gifts as I had intended when I gave them to her. It felt, in that moment, like a waste of a good gift, even though I knew she appreciated the gift, to keep it wrapped up in tissue paper in a drawer, rather than to feel that whispery silk around one’s shoulders, that soft lambskin on one’s hands.
No, we believe that gifts demand their use, demand a response. When the little girl opens the beautiful American Girl doll under the tree, we say, “Let’s call Grandma and say thank you for that pretty doll.” When the little girl’s cousin comes over for Christmas dinner, we say, “Why don’t you and Hannah play with your new doll and your other things? You know how to share.” And when the little girl grows older, you and she decide another little girl, perhaps not so fortunate, would love to have a doll like this, loved and cared for by one girl, then passed along to another, and you donate it to a charity that will find a good home for this precious gift.
Gifts demand a response, and that is the overarching message of these few verses from the Gospel of John. On Christmas, we received a marvelous gift, Jesus come among us, to perfect our relationship with God by perfecting our relationship with each other. Jesus is a gift who demands to be used daily, vigorously, with the same passion and love with which he was given to us. It is the morning after the night before, and we have work to do with this great gift we have received.
We have a choice. We can be blinded by the brilliance of this gift, intimidated by it, misunderstanding its demand, and so we wrap it in tissue paper and tuck it away in the drawer, forgotten, unused. We can hoard it, not sharing it with others who would benefit from its wondrous light and warmth. Or we can put it to use, in so many ways. We can let the light of the newborn Christ suffuse our hearts and souls, and let the warmth of that light translate into good works, to being Christ’s hands and feet in this hungry and troubled world. We can tell those who do not know the story why that light shines within us, so they too can share the gift, and pass it on.
Gifts demand a response. Gifts should not be ignored. That dishonors the giver as well as the gift. The morning after, having said our great “thank-yous,” we have work to do.
So what will your response be? Will you carry the message of our gift, our newborn Lord and Savior, into the world? Will you share that light, that message, those works that affirm the joy we feel in knowing Christ? Or will you be among those who, in denying the insistent song of the gift, turn away from the adoption that gives us new life?
We have a choice. What will yours be?
Thursday, December 25, 2008
I hope your Christmas is wonderful, and that you get the best of all gifts: the love that God showed us in giving us his son, Jesus Christ, shared amongst all people.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I've just about wrapped up the package for the preaching competition (am waiting for the two recommendations from the professors) and will be glad to have that project out the door. Whatever comes of it, I've been so honored to be nominated by Big Old Seminary. I'm also submitting a tape of a sermon I will give on Dec 28th for another competition, just for giggles, since they are looking for an "evangelical" sermon, and that's a stylistic stretch for me. StrongOpinions will be my videographer for that one.
Cousins of ours are in the process of adopting two beautiful little girls from a Baltic nation. Our cousins are clear-eyed about the challenges of adjustment for the girls, since they've been doing mssion work in orphanages in these countries for several years. They will be fabulous parents and I pray the legal procedings go smoothly for them.
Beef stew in simmering on the stove, I'm feeling very relaxed about GOEs, the house is semi-clean, and I guess it's time to go take off the pjs and put real clothes on, so I can run a few errands.
Life is good.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
- Strong Opinions left the Windy City earlier this afternoon, headed for Youngstown, where she and her driving galpal will stay at a motel, and then drive directly to the Big Apple (the last leg of the trip). With the exception of a missed connection in Des Moines, this has been a blessedly uneventful journey. May the last leg of it be so as well. She will then drive to her dad's in Little Rhody for Christmas, and will be with me on the 27th for a couple of days, before starting at the Ivy League University in the Big Apple. I signed the guarantee papers for her lease today (gulp!).
- Litigator and StoneMason will not be down for Christmas because it is their busy season. The plan is for them to come to me in late January, and for StrongOpinions to come down from the Big Apple - it will be fun to have them all here at the same time, post General Ordination Exams and post-surgery, so I can really enjoy their company before the new semester starts.
- Vestry meeting at Saint Middle School tomorrow morning at 8 am (too early, darn it, since I have to drive 40 miles to get out there), since the one we were supposed to have on Tuesday night got cancelled due to an ice storm. This week, I will have made the drive four times, since on Tuesday I was nearly all the way out there before the roads turned treacherous and I turned for home. They have grand plans for my work there come January, and my challenge is to make those expectations realistic given that I am doing this for free as part of my contextual education. There are only so many hours in a day.
- I went to tea at the Ritz-Carlton with a bunch of my dear lady seminary friends who are adults - you get my drift - and it was a delight. Got to know a new seminarian with whom I hadn't had a chance to really talk, got a free glass of champagne since our table wasn't ready when we got there, got to talk about things other than papers and exams (mostly), and my good buddy LL gave out little prezzies to each of us. What a gift these women are in my life! And what a perfect way to mark the end of another semester!
- Pray that the library at Big Old Seminary doesn't go up in flames over the holidays, since most of my library is over in my study carrel there in anticipation of the aforementioned GOEs. My tongue is only slightly planted in my cheek here...
- PH will go to Windy City to visit his family after New Years' for a couple of days, coming home right before GOEs. I will have a stay-at-home silent retreat, praying and reading and writing (and maybe doing a little walking by the stream near the house). To me, that will be the best way to prepare for those exams. Center myself, remind myself why I am doing this, offer it to God.
There are only five full days before Christmas Day, and whether you use them for shopping, wrapping, preaching, worshiping, singing or traveling or even wishing the whole darn thing were over last Tuesday, there's a good chance they will be busy ones.
So let's make this easy, if we can:
tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.
1) Eyeball the 12/24 bulletin for the last time.
2) Figure out what I'm going to cook for Christmas.
3) Make Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake (the diet starts again in January).
4) See what clothes I can fit into for the two services - in one I will be in an alb (Saint Middle School's 5 pm service), but in the other, the one in which I sing a solo (at PH's little LowChurchThatLooksLikeAPizzaHut), I will not be in an alb, so I have to be both comfortable and respectable, which don't always go together.
5) Food shopping, house cleaning, assorted dogsbody work, plus two doctor visits.
BONUS: Not. Get. Sick. (that's a direct lift from kathrynzj, and certainly is true for me as well, since I've got General Ordination Exams for a week starting on January 5th).
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Prednisone and related steroids are truly miracle drugs. They're primarily used as anti-inflammatories, but they have other applications as well. They are cheap, work quickly, solve a whole bunch of problems. For me and my thrombocytopenia, they are helpful in keeping my body from eating up all my platelets, in combination with other treatments.
But they also have side effects. Let me count a few: wanting to eat everything within a twenty mile radius, feeling hyper and edgy, overreacting emotionally, indigestion to the nth degree, inability to sleep.
Even as I am tapering down (because you can't just STOP taking steriods, you have to wean yourself off of them slowly), some of these side effects are still rearing their ugly little heads.
The emotion thing: PH and I are used to this now, and it really is worst when I'm on a high dose. I'm normally a pretty placid, easygoing kind of person, but I become neurotic worrywart bag o' tears and fears on high doses of steroids. So it was this past time, but since we'd seen it before, we knew it would pass, and so it has. I am not fun to be around when I am telling my poor husband to take care of the kids when I die, or when I weepingly bemoan the state of my health. This passes. Thanks be to God.
The eating thing: yeah, I try to keep it under control, but it isn't easy, and we take it as a given that I'll add a couple of pounds when I'm on a course of these drugs. The urge to eat is utterly irrational and very. very powerful. Thus, I'm up three pounds and hope it will stop there. If I were at my normal weight, three pounds wouldn't be so bad, but since I've already got thirty pounds to lose, another three is a literal and figurative pain in the scale. Part of the plan of the Jan-May timeframe is to get back onto Fat Club and walk every day. If I have my splenectomy as planned in January, that may put a crimp in my exercise for a week or so, but that's not too bad. Would that the indigestion that is also a side effect would get in the way of the eating, but it didn't.
Insomnia: this can actually be a very useful thing at the end of the semester. I wrote a fully annotated three-page paper a week or so ago at three a.m., because I couldn't sleep. Sometimes the Ambien works, sometimes it doesn't. I didn't take one last night, since I'm down to a pretty low dose of the prednisone and I'm trying not to take them every night. I woke up this morning at 3:30 am -we're talking wide awake, sit up straight in the bed awake - so I went downstairs, wrapped gifts that needed wrapping, packed up the stuff that needed shipping, and will be glad to take several packages to the Post Office before my first meeting this morning. After I finished the wrapping work, I lay on the couch with the laptop and Hulu.com with the headphones on and watched last week's episode of "House" (will House and Cuddy please just get it on and be done with it?). The good news is that I actually dozed off for about a half hour. That means I got 4.5 hours sleep instead of 4. It also means this will be a long day, since I've got nonstop stuff from 9:55 am until 930 tonight, and the night meeting is the Vesty at Saint Middle School forty miles away, and they're predicting bad weather tonight. Fooey.
In its totality, the drug is a useful one. In the particulars, it stinks. But this, too, will pass.
In the meantime, if you need something wrapped, c'mon over to my house at 3:30 in the morning. I'll get it knocked out in no time!
Friday, December 12, 2008
1. What color are your beautiful eyes? Did you inherit them from or pass them on to anyone in your family?
Deep brown. Since I am adopted and never had the opportunity to meet my birthparents, I don't know, but since brown is genetically dominant, I expect at least one or both of them had brown eyes. My eyes are like my adoptive parents', though. Nature? Nurture?
2. What color eyes would you choose if you could change them?
I would love to have violet eyes, romantic creature that I am. StrongOpinions has hazel/greenish eyes, and they are beautiful as well.
3. Do you wear glasses or contacts? What kind? Like 'em or hate 'em?
Glasses. Progressive bifocals. A Necessary Evil.
4. Ever had, or contemplated, laser surgery? Happy with the results?
I had PRK ( a forerunner to LASIK) in 1997 and got excellent results. Unfortunately, when I got MS, the first event was optic neuritis. That affected my vision because of neurological damage, and overrode the surgical correction. It is something that cannot be corrected by laser surgery or by lens correction, which really is a drag.
5. Do you like to look people in the eye, or are you more eye-shy?
I do like to look people in the eye, but I have learned that makes some folks uncomfortable, particularly in some other cultures, so I try to be sensitive to that.
Bonus question: Share a poem, song, or prayer that relates to eyes and seeing.
"His Eye Is On The Sparrow." The very first funeral that I presided over was of a tiny infant. The baby's eleven year old cousin sang it, exquisitely. It reminded me - once again - that God sees what our feeble eyes cannot, and God knows our hidden needs.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Those which have been done are in bold.
1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain ~just a little bitty one
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables : most expensive tomatoes ever, but oh, so good!
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors - someday, I hope.
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa: someday, I hope.
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65.. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book ~I was just a contributor to it.
81 Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating : does catching and preparing a fish count?
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant
I guess my life is more interesting than I think it is!
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
So I'm going ahead and having a surgical consult to see about having my spleen out. They do it laparascopically these days, which makes the recovery much easier. One night in the hospital, about a week to bounce back. I can do that, and it is potentially curative, so sometime in January or February I may be on the Mibi Weight-Loss Plan: lose seven ounces of spleen in a day!
Last night was our last class in Anglican Thought, probably the most difficult class I've taken at Big Old Seminary, since the readings were challenging and the level of discussion in the seminar-style sessions was extraordinarily high. I'm glad I was auditing rather than taking it for credit, since I've got plenty enough writing to do right now, but I am so glad I took this class. Yet another "last" moment.
Two more exams to go. One will be a case discussion in Conflict & Congregational Leadership - I'm taking that one pass-fail, and know the approach and material well, so that will be easy-peasy. The other is a take-home for Medical Ethics, and although it is a hard course with a lot of material covered in one quarter, I'm feeling good about that. I'm also wrapping up the written documentation for the preaching award package.
I'm still debating whether I will use the reworked NT sermon from last year that I am recording on Thursday afternoon (I'm much happier with it now that it has been tightened up), or if I will use the sermon I'm writing on John1:10-14 for Dec. 28th as my New Testament sermon for the big competition. I'll definitely tape the John sermon for another preaching competition, just for fun, but if it turns out really solid, it may be the NT sermon for the big competition, since stylistically it will be rather different. Que sera, sera.
The good news is that I've bought and shipped Christmas presents for the out-of-town family and friends. The bad news is that I still have to figure out what to get for the kids and PH. Ah, well.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
This has been a long day. I preached at Saint Middle School (it went well, I think) and led the Liturgy of the Word, working with a retired priest who did the Communion. I'm feeling less and less like a seminarian and more and more like an almost-clergyperson. I also led the Adult Sunday School, which was fun.
I'm off to the doctor's to get my platelet count checked in the morning tomorrow. I'm hoping the numbers remain high as I taper off the prednisone. Tomorrow night is our last Anglican Thought class for the semester. It will be a semi-busy week, but the end is in sight, and that's good. All these "last times"... strange sensation.
The world collapses around us. Somali pirates take over tanker ships. Hundreds die in a terrorist attack in Mumbai, and hundreds more are injured, as a lone two year old weeps, orphaned in the arms of his Indian nurse. Financial markets are in utter disarray, and worried retirees sign on as greeters at WalMart, only to risk being trampled in the Black Friday rush. Milk is tainted with melamine. Nameless prisoners sit in Guantanamo, sweating in the heat, without due process, without even a sense of who they are anymore. Soldiers who went to fight the war on terror come home with missing limbs and broken minds to military hospitals without the resources to give them the help they need.
Our world collapses around us, and we sit at the foot of the wreckage, immobilized by the relentless images of brokenness. In the moment, our eyes cast about us. We ponder our options. But our choices seem impotent. What other option do we have but to look up, to ask God what the future might bring? We want to see the future. We want to know what is going to happen next. We want to be creatures of hope. When we are at bottom, we instinctively look up, because we want to search and see a future that’s better than where we are.
Sometimes, though, that search is neither rational nor spiritual. If you doubt me, I have just four words for you:
Miss Cleo’s Psychic Hotline.
You remember Miss Cleo, don’t you? Late night infomercials, with a woman with a calypso voice, gold hoops on her ears, a scarf around her head, a crystal ball on the table before her.
Miss Cleo promised you a glimpse of your future, if your credit card was functional. You could call up an 800 number and speak to one of her circle of renowned psychics and find out what would happen in your love life, what would happen in your job, what would happen in the next lottery drawing.
Miss Cleo was so outrageous that she eventually became the object of jokes on Leno and Letterman, and finally was sued by the states of Connecticut and Florida for fraud. The companies for which she fronted reached a settlement, giving back several hundred thousand dollars in customer fees. Here’s the irony of the thing, though: the settlement came about because customers were not told they were being switched form the 800 number to a high-priced 900 line. Nothing in the suit was said about the efficacy or accuracy of the predictions folks were given. Even within the court system, there may have been a tiny segment who wanted to believe the psychic “gifts” of those on the phone. Those who are at the bottom struggle to look upward, struggle to see the future, because they so desperately want something better.
It’s a funny story, and we shake our heads at the ignorance of people who think some woman with an accent and a crystal ball can tell the future. We’re smart. We don’t think that way.
And yet, that desire for knowledge of what is to come is in all of us. You and I know this in our own much smaller way right now at Saint Middle School, as we prepare for Pastor J’s departure and the interim time before we call a new vicar. We’re looking upward with questions: what will happen next? Who will our new vicar be? Will Saint Middle School change in ways we cannot anticipate? Even when the pile is not wreckage, but simply change and confusion, we still look upward, wanting to see the future. And when things are not just confused, but are really bad, that desire becomes even more visceral.
We think the hope for mysterious insights into the future are limited to the uneducated, but the other day in an article in the New York Times, there was a piece about stock traders consulting psychics in the roller-coaster of today’s economy. Thomas Taccetta, a trader in Boca Raton, is quoted as saying “There is no rhyme or reason to the way the market is trading…When conditions are this volatile, consulting a psychic can be as good a strategy as any other.”
Even the so-called educated class are struggling in hard times to look upward, to find out what the future might bring.
This is nothing new, though. That upward glance, that hope that something of the future will be revealed, has been a part of human history from its earliest days. Ancient stories of oracles, reading of goat entrails, of special dice called the urim and thumim that high priests tossed to determine the will of God, all of these were a part of the upward glance. When people are at the bottom of the pile of wreckage, they grab whatever ways they can to look upward to see the future.
Our bad times, that whole Grand Guignol with which I started this sermon, are an eerie repetition of the plight of the people of Israel in the time of our reading today from Isaiah. This particular passage is a marker point, the end of the recounting of all the bad things that happened to God’s people during the time of the Assyrian kings because the Israelites failed to maintain their covenant with God. It is an ending to the story of the Israelites’ exile during the Babylonian captivity, so poignantly told in Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and there we wept.” It is a turning away from the bad, a turning of the face upward toward the future. What does Isaiah say? “Comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.” Thirty-nine chapters of the prophet Isaiah telling Israel how she has failed and how the Lord has meted punishment upon her, and now, suddenly, instead of looking backward at failure, at degradation, at anger, Israel’s face is turned upward, to the possibility of a very different future. Here is a future with a new beginning, with God redeeming his people, telling them to get ready: “Prepare the way of the LORD. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”
Now there’s an upward glance.
The time of punishment is past and a new future becomes possible. It is a seismic shift, from God’s wrath to God’s plans for his people…and it is a moment of seeing the future, not in details like lottery numbers or tall, dark strangers across a crowded room. Isaiah shows it to us in metaphor, in emotion, in loving promise. The passage continues:
“Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" …He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”
God has not abandoned Israel. God is there, comforting, guiding, forgiving, making a new beginning. The upward glance is a glorious one.
It would be a lovely thing to think that history does not repeat itself, that God’s people don’t find themselves at the bottom of the pile of wreckage, but the fact of the matter is that the Bible is replete with stories of the pain of God’s people. In fact, our Gospel today with its story of John the Baptizer is set squarely in another time when God’s people were in dire straits. The Jews were oppressed by the Roman Empire, and by the Jewish leaders who served as intermediaries between Rome and the Jewish people. The Jewish people survived – barely – only because it was in the interest of those in power to keep them around. It is no coincidence that Mark used the exact words from Isaiah, 600 years later, telling of a change coming. “Get ready. Look up. Watch. Something – someone – different is coming.” Again, the change wasn’t spelled out in graphic detail, it was about the intimation of a promise.
In deeply troubled times, God’s people look upward to see the future.
And here’s the gift we receive when we lift our eyes upward: it is something more, something richer and deeper than a glimpse of the future. It is a view of the perfection that union with God can offer. It is that moment where we finally understand that God is with us, guiding us, even through the times that seem to make no sense, into a new place where all the pain that has risen up before us is leveled by a loving God who forgives and cares for us.
The lesson of Advent, the message that Isaiah tells us, is that in the midst of the incomprehensible, when we are so mired in the question of “why” that we cannot grasp the “what next,” there is a God who is coming to show us that possibility, and it cannot be reduced to mere words. It is loving kindness. It is love at its purest. It is a future that exists because God exists, and because our relationship with him is precious.
We look up from the bottom of the pile of wreckage, and suddenly the smell of decay is replaced with the clear crispness of a winter night, and the darkness is no longer frightening, but a deep velvet cloth around us. We see the possibility because we sense God’s love, and it lifts us from the place where we were mired. It lifts us into that love and bids us give it back and beyond us. That is the future that Advent holds. That is the upward glance to the one who is beyond time. That is our hope, and our joy.
 LaFerla, Ruth, “Psychic Open: Love, Jobs and 401Ks”, The New York Times, November 23, 2008, p ST1.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
The tail end of this week is challenging, in that we have our Seminary Advent Lessons and Carols service tomorrow night, in which I organize the choir and the handbells (since I'm music TA), sing with said choir, and play Eve in a stylized tableau of the Genesis reading. Why they matched me, a 50-something chubby woman with graying hair, with a twenty-something Adam, heaven only knows, but it will still be fun. The service will be preceded by a full day: Small Group worship, coaching two students for the Church Music final oral exam, including singing the Sursum Corda and the Proper Preface, coordinating a GOE scripture prep session, rehearsing the tableau, etc. Then community dinner and the service.
Saturday is relatively mellow, with icon-writing, I hope, plus Christmas tree shopping and house decorating. I should also do another rev of the sermon - it needs a bit more polishing, since it is one of the ones I'll be submitting for the fancy preaching award competition .On Sunday at Saint Middle School, I will preside over the first half of the service - we will have a retired priest who is doing the communion portion - as well as preach, teach a class on the liturgical calendar and the colors and the lectionary and all that, come home, go to tea at our dean's house, go to ordination of several friends, and then go home and collapse.
One more week of classes, during which I need to finish one relatively brief but thorny Medical Ethics paper. I have two exams - one is for a pass-fail class that I know I'll be fine on, the other is the Medical Ethics one, which will be challenging but not beyond manageability.
Somewhere in there I'll be meeting again with my thesis advisor, but where I am with it right now will probably be where I am when I meet with her. No time to do anything else.
And in the midst of it, StrongOpinions is driving east with a friend from Hippie-Dippy town at the foot of the Flatirons. Pray for traveling mercies for her.
I'm hoping the next few weeks for you is lovely and meditative and not hectic, but I suspect your schedules are just as wacky as mine. Blessings on us all!
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Other Names Meme:
1. WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother’s & father’s middle names): Louise Owen
2. NASCAR NAME: (first name of your mother’s dad, father’s dad): Charles John
3. STAR WARS NAME: (the first 2 letters of your last name, first 4 letters of your first name): Thmary
4. DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal): RedCat
5. SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you live): Frances Alexandria
6. SUPERHERO NAME: (2nd favorite color, favorite alcoholic drink, optionally add “THE” to the beginning): Purple Cider
7. FLY NAME: (first 2 letters of 1st name, last 2 letters of your last name): Mape
8. GANGSTA NAME: (favorite ice cream flavor, favorite cookie): BunnyTracksMilano
9.ROCK STAR NAME: (current pet’s name, current street name): Spooky Ripley
10. PORN NAME: (1st pet, street you grew up on): Sherman Belmont
Saturday, November 29, 2008
PH is out at a church thing,but he left me some supper. I was able to reheat and eat it. Shockingly, that's an accomplishment.
In the grand scheme of things, there are many people who are much sicker than I am. Still, this is hard and worrisome, and difficult for PH and the kids. There is so much that I feel that God wants me to do, but I have to get better to do it.
In the meantime, I pray, and ask for patience and understanding.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I did feel well enough to go out for dinner with PH last night - ate very lightly, then got home and crashed. I managed to sleep without Ambien, which is pretty remarkable given the prednisone. I'm hoping this awful feeling will abate so I can do something other than sit on the couch and feel sorry for myself.
The very good news in the midst of all this is that StrongOpinions got accepted to Ivy League University in the Big Apple as a transfer student. She had thought the interview didn't go well, but she apparently did brilliantly. It will be good to have her on the East Coast, in a program that will push her to use her writing talents to the utmost (did I tell you she was recently published in a small literary magazine?), in a city that is very dear to my heart since I grew up just across the river...God is good!
For those of you who did the Black Friday shopping thing this morning, I wish you an afternoon of rest and leftovers.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I woke up late Sunday night with severe shaking, and a recurrence in the drop of platelets that put me in the hospital last February. When I went to bed, it was a cold. When I woke up, I had the little pinpoint bleeds under my skin called petechiae, and blood blisters on the side of my tongue, and that nonstop violent shaking. So we went to the hospital, where it turned out that my platelet count was one. Normal is 150-450. A problem. So they threw some very heavy duty drugs at me, and the count crept back up to 35. I got to leave the hospital yesterday afternoon, and am resting at home. PH will take me out for dinner in a little while, which I'm really looking forward to.
The big question in all this, of course, is where to go next with this problem. This was a much more rapid onset and a worse drop than in the past. I cannot imagine a life where every time I get a cold I end up in the hospital with twenty-five grand worth of drugs being pumped into me.
One option that I had avoided in earlier bouts is a splenectomy, removing the spleen, which is the organ that kills off my platelets and leaves me open to spontaneous bleeds. Folks can live without spleens, although spleens do other things to fight infections. Still, it's surgery. Other options are not very pleasant either, like a cancer drug that is experimental for treatment of ITP and has difficult side effects, or going on doses of steroids indefinitely with their difficult side effects. We'll see what the doctor says when I go on Monday.
For now, I'm grateful that I'm home, that this was treatable and didn't kill me this time although it might very well have done so, that we have good insurance, that there are options.
Please keep me in your prayers as we discern what next steps we will take.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The sore throat has abated and I survived church with no problem. I'm praying this will all be gone by next Sunday, when the Bishop comes for confirmation and I get to serve as Bishop's Chaplain. I don't think sneezing into the miter would be appropriate, nor sneezing into the Bp.'s face while I hold his prayer book. Zicam, do your stuff!
I'm wading through the various papers, am a bit behind the curve right now on the thesis, but am not worried about it, and am thinking I should finish my CDO (Church Deployment Office) profile - an online database that will tell prospective employers All About Mibi. I think that will be a project for the coming weekend.
Thanksgiving will be quiet. Just PH and I. We made reservations at a little French restaurant we love, and will probably just hang out and do as little as possible for a few days. Refreshing!
Christmas is still up in the air. Don't know which children will be here, and on what days. Don't know what I will be expected to do vis-a-vis Saint Middle School after Christmas Eve (except that I'm already committed to be supply preacher at Very Hip Presby Church the Sunday after Christmas - always a fun gig). I'm looking forward to meeting with the rector of our mother church (we're a mission plant) who will be my supervisor in the spring semester, to figure out what exactly I will be responsible for. My primary focus at that point will be the GOEs, sorting through notes and books to get ready, so there's no point in stressing out.
And spring will be a gas!
But in the meantime, time for more Zicam.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Last night was the fall "talent show" at Big Old Seminary with some very funny skits and some so-so music. Some fun conversations and okay food. I participated in several of the senior class vignettes. For the second time in seminary, I've played a pregnant woman. Why are they asking a post-menopausal woman to play a pregnant woman? Because I'm the only person silly enough to agree to it, I guess. Fool for Christ, that's me.
There is a long list of "shoulds" - I should straighten up the house, I should do some laundry, I should finish off the three papers that are pending, I should do some more work on the thesis, I should write up more field notes for the research project...but I think I'm just going to stay on the couch for the time being.
The excitement of the morning was a bird in the house. First I noticed the cats behaving oddly - one even jumped up on the kitchen counter, which is something she wouldn't normally do - and then the bird started flying between the kitchen and the living room. Heaven knows how it got in. I didn't notice it when PH came home from the Farmers' Market, but I was pretty drowsy at that point. Such an odd thing, the little bird zinging back and forth, trying to figure out how to get outdoors again, at one point banging against the kitchen window. We opened the front door and urged it out. I hope it wasn't too traumatized by it. Remarkably, there is no bird poop anywhere in the house.
The sun is shining. I'm hoping I feel better soon. I will be off to Saint Middle School tomorrow. Only four more weeks with my supervisor there. Time is moving very quickly indeed.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I survived a four hour vestry meeting last night. It was four good hours as Saint Middle School proceeds towards the departure of their beloved present vicar and looks ahead to the future. Still, it was four hours, plus 45 minutes commute in each direction.
Oh, and the very, very good news is that I only need to take 4.5 credits in the spring semester, three of which are the thesis. Maybe I will find time to find a job...
Monday, November 17, 2008
- I chanted the Litany for Ordination yesterday evening at my friend L's ordination to the diaconate. In the midst of masses of incense - it was the highest-church ordination in this diocese ever - and in front of our new Bishop Coadjutor, who is a trained musician, and I didn't cough, choke, or make any major gaffes. Thanks be to God.
- I did my first ethnographic study of a church with my prof for her research project. Way cool. Now I need to write up the field notes.
- The Commission on Ministry FINALLY approved my plan for Field Ed. You know, the one where I don't take Field Ed for credit in the spring, use the rector of our mother church as an informal supervisor, and I don't have to do any sort of independent study. Sweet! Maximum flexibility, minimum extraneous paperwork. What's not to like?
- Today I get to meet with the Deployment Officer and the Ordination Coordinator to talk about next steps...like figuring out how to find a job, and the various pieces of paperwork that need to be filled out so we actually can get ordained.
- In Anglican Thought class tonight, we talk about the wonderful William Temple, one of my favorite Anglican thinkers.
I guess I've procrastinated enough. Time to go write field notes.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I don't know whether I've got a cold coming on or if this is the result of not enough sleep. I had class last night until 10 pm and then came home to deal with StrongOpinions trying to get back from the Big Apple to Hippy-DippyTown by the Flatiron Range. Her flight to Minneapolis was late, so she missed the connection to Mile-High City. The airlines wouldn't give her a hotel voucher. Fortunately, she had a friend who lives in Minn., so she crashed with the friend and got to the airport this morning.
All of these logistics required several very late night phone calls, the last of which was at 1 am. I had an 8 am class today, so I'm dragging.
This quarter I have three night classes. Not a good thing.
On the other hand, this week I delivered 24 more pages to my thesis advisor. I'm meeting with her tomorrow. I've begun the next phase of the work and am making good progress.
Thus I feel no guilt about being stretched out on the couch right now in my jammies and polarfleece robe, doing very little indeed.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
- The first phase of the thesis is done. Forty-four pages. With the Intro section, that's just shy of fifty pages. Of course, since I've got two more phases of this thing, much of what I've written will be edited out. Not to worry. There's more blarney where that came from.
- I'm busily exegeting so I can write my OT sermon for Dec 7th and for the preaching competition. 2 Advent has Psalm 85 and the beginning of Isaiah 40. Almost too much good stuff to work with there. Once again, I'll be editing down...the story of my life.
- This week was supposed to be easier. Wrong. I suspect this whole quarter will be slam-o-rama. Ish.
- The good news is that I worked out this morning. The bad news is what the scale said. No surprise given what I ate over the past few days. Thank God for spandex.
- Still waiting for final word on my field ed situation for next semester. The great thing about being part of a large diocese is that they are very organized and have systems for everything. The less than great part is when you need them to be a little bit flexible, it requires turning around the whole darned battleship. It's a good lesson in patience, I suppose, but I've never been particularly good at that.
I think that's more than enough for today. Please keep StrongOpinions in your prayers. She is in the Big Apple this week, looking at schools to which she would like to transfer. May it be so, and may the stock market go up a bit so we can afford for her to do that.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
This morning I got a piping-hot fresh Krispy Kreme and a cup of coffee for about the same price. However, instead of getting 15 gallons, I limited myself to one of each. Sigh...
Friday, November 07, 2008
After an exhausting election here in the states it's time for some spirit lifting! Join me with a nice cup of tea or coffee or cocoa and let's sit back and read the Funny Papers!
1. What was your favorite comic strip as a child?
Probably Peanuts, although for a while I had a serious Mary Worth jones.
2. Which comic strip today most consistently tickles your funny bone?
Get Fuzzy is usually the best, with Candorville and Zits competing for second.
3. Which Peanuts character is closest to being you?
I have my Lucy moments, but mostly I'm more of a Sally. Slightly worried, slightly clueless, trying to move those around her to what she thinks they should be doing, usually unsuccessfully, short. Yeah, I'm Sally.
4. Some say that comic strips have replaced philosophy as a paying job, so to speak. Does this ring true with you?
Some seem to put forth a philosophical worldview, but most are simply an entertainment. And that's just fine.
5. What do you think the appeal is for the really long running comic strips like Blondie, Family Circus, Dennis the Menace as some examples?
Frankly, none of those old strips do anything for me. Will Jeffy never grow up? Will Dagwood never gain weight from all that good food Blondie makes? Will Mr. Wilson never get a colonoscopy (heaven knows he seems to need one)? I just don't care anymore.
Bonus question: Which discontinued comic strip would you like to see back in print?
Boondocks. It was brilliant. Come back, Boondocks, come back!
Sunday, November 02, 2008
They are so serious when they explain what their costumes are..and often I still can't understand who they are, since I'm so out of touch with kid culture these days. But they were wonderful.
I'm not quite so crazy about the teenagers who came later in the evening, who didn't even make the effort to put on a costume. They just showed up with backpacks strapped to their fronts, and were filling up said packs with candy. Somehow that doesn't seem right to me. On the other hand, it was good to get rid of the candy. Even though I don't particularly like, I tend to eat it if it's hanging around.
Hard to believe it's only eight weeks to Christmas, and (gulp!) ten weeks to General Ordination exams.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
It's cold and gray here and I feel like I'm fighting a cold, but I'm ready to dig back in to things. I've got several weeks until my next preaching date, and I'm torn between preaching on Isaiah 61 or on Psalm 126, since I still haven't turned out an OT sermon that I think is good enough for the fancy-pants preaching competition. I'm leaning toward the psalm, since it would be an unconventional choice and it would work as my last sermon before my wonderful Field Ed supervisor departs for southern climes. I've also been looking at the incomparable Robert Alter's re-translation and lit-crit analysis of the Psalms, and he's gotten me thinking. In any case, I should start exegeting it if I'm going to preach on it. Thank goodness the NT sermon is done - I just have to record it in chapel.
The second quarter will be a bit busier than the first was. One more class, Medical Ethics. A ramp-up of work on the springtime research project. Another itty-bitty research project for another professor that I'm hoping stays manageable. Serving as a mentor to Middlers who are just starting Field Ed. More time, I suspect, at St Middle School as said supervisor prepares to leave and the parish prepares to find and call someone new. And then there's the thesis, which will be both blessing and bane as I try to focus it more and make a more cogent argument. Exciting but intimidating. I'm glad things are shaping up the way they are - I'll be too busy to worry about things like my investment account and job possibilities come next year in an economic environment where pledge income will be down.
I'm so very tired of the election ads. Having already voted, I guess it all seems superfluous to me. At the very least, I really want my guy to win, and every time I hear something from the other guy, it annoys me unduly.
Time for chocolate.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Then Thesis Advisor and I rode back to work on the latest section of the thesis. Good things to say, some wise suggestions on style and methodology, a plan for next steps. I am so blessed to have her as my thesis advisor. She thinks I may actually be on to something very interesting and new (or not; time and further research will tell). It's gratifying to hear that I'm making good progess and that she likes my work. She seemed worried that I would be discouraged by her critical suggestions. No, heck, no! I'm glad to hear what will make this thing better.
I'm feeling a bit like a cold is coming on. I hope not - it wouldn't be a good way to start the second quarter, and I have a boatload of writing to do in the next two weeks. Perhaps it's just change of seasons, a very gray and chilly day (44 degrees right now - this time yesrday it was 68), being tired with the political ads.
It's great having PH home again from his conference - the house always feels so empty when he's away, even though I got to do some "chick" stuff, liking going to the movies with my friend L and watching some Netflix stuff that PH wouldn't have enjoyed. Also managed to do some housecleaning/organizing to make it look a little less like the library the tornado ripped through.
I think it's time to take a nap.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
It’s more than a little ironic that I’m preaching today on the Great Commandment. After all, it was just a few weeks ago that I preached on the Ten Commandments, and talked about how important they were as guidelines that would keep us safely in relationship with God and with each other during perilous times.
And now I’m going to tell you how the Great Commandment, those words we just heard in the gospel, are what we need to focus on, to love God and to love each other.
So am I confused or what?
Actually, this whole series of sermons that we’ve had over the past several weeks, about our purposes as people of faith, have been all about stripping away that which isn’t essential and focusing on that which is. When we talked about anger and forgiveness, we talked about how anger gets in the way, and how we can learn to deal with each other over difficult things in a way that doesn’t turn us into a doormat, but helps us get to a healthy solution. When we talked about worship, we talked about how the things we do and say and sing in worship reinforce our understanding of the kingdom of God – it’s not about fancy ritual, it’s about modeling what Jesus Himself did. And now we’re back talking about commandments. Rules. Guidelines.
On the face of it, it may seem that Jesus is replacing the Ten Commandments with two. Sounds a lot easier, doesn’t it? If we have to think of keeping track of ten commandments every day, that’s a lot of work. So Jesus is reducing them to two: love God and love your neighbor.
I like that kind of math. Seems simple enough. I can manage two commandments.
Well, wait a minute. Maybe it’s not quite so easy.
First of all, we need to remember, earlier on in the Gospel of Matthew, way back in chapter five, Jesus told everyone “ I haven’t come to abolish the law – including those ten commandments – but to fulfill it…Therefore, whoever breaks one of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
Gee whiz. Now it seems like I’ve got TWELVE commandments to worry about!
Sometimes it seems like we’re surrounded by rules and restrictions and guidelines, and it’s easy to forget one or two, or to think that by fulfilling one, we’re getting crosswise on another one.
If I’m supposed to be honoring my father and my mother, and I’m supposed to go to church on Sunday, but my mother is very ill so I stay home from church to take care of her, am I doing a good thing or a bad thing?
If I’m with my children in a war zone and we are attacked, and I kill the attacker to save my children’s lives, am I doing a good thing or a bad thing?
If I tell a lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, am I doing a good thing or a bad thing?
Commandments are challenging . And now here we are hearing this story of the Great Commandment, and we wonder what it means.
It sounds simple enough. "`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
It’s a boiling down of the ten commandments to just two. But, oh, what a two they are! We are supposed to love God utterly and completely. Okay, I can do that. God has given me everything – life, the world, his love, all creation. I know I’m supposed to love God, and I can do that.
But then comes the hard part: “the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The second is like it. That love of neighbor is supposed to be like our love for God. That’s a lot harder. We find it easy to love God, because God is different from our neighbor. God loves us no matter what. God loves us even though He knows exactly how messed up we can be. God loves us enough to forgive us when we make a mistake. God is always there for us, even at three in the morning when we can’t sleep because we’re worried.
My neighbor probably wouldn’t be too happy about me calling him at three in the morning because I can’t sleep because I’m worried. My neighbor might get angry with me when I make a mistake that causes her some grief. My neighbor doesn’t know me all that well, doesn’t understand that when I mess up, it isn’t because I want to cause pain, it’s because I was trying to do something good and guessed wrong. My neighbor gets ticked off at me for what seems like stupid reasons, and to top it all off, he’s got a yard sign for the political candidate I’m against!
And I’m supposed to love that neighbor just like I love God? I don’t think so!
But Jesus says it, and I trust and love Jesus. So what do I do?
The heart of ministry, the heart of being a follower of Jesus Christ, is that love. And it’s a radical kind of love and commitment. It’s not the easy kind of love. It’s not about sitting around with those who think the same way that we do, it’s about engaging with those who think differently, and listening thoughtfully and offering our view respectfully, and caring for them in the midst of it all.
At the end of our service of Holy Eucharist, Pastor Jeunee will offer a blessing drawn from the words of Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Do not repay evil for evil. The passage continues: If your enemy is hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul reinforces Jesus’ message throughout the Gospel. Jesus says it over and over again, both in words and in His actions: Love one another.
The message of this difficult command to love one another no matter what is made more poignant if we take a closer look at when the Gospel of Matthew was written. It is believed by most scholars that Matthew’s account was written shortly after the fall of the Temple, after the year 70. There had been many battles between the various groups in the Jewish community; there were Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and then this cult of Jesus, originally viewed as just another Jewish splinter group. The Jews were under the thumb of Rome. Everything was gone, especially the temple that had been the center of their worship life. By this time, Jesus’ followers were no longer considered Jews, they were a separate group. So Jesus’ followers in the Matthean community had less than nothing – they were attacked by both Romans and the Jewish groups. They had less than nothing. If they followed the practices of the world around them, they would have gone silent, gone into hidden communities and had not attempted to continue to spread the Word. But the fact is that they did continue to preach Jesus’ Gospel, even though it put them at great risk.
Why? Because that was an expression of what Jesus had told them to do. If you’ve got Good News, even if it’s not necessarily the news that others around you may want to hear, you preach it.
Why? Because that’s an act of love, and if Jesus tells you to love your neighbor, you want to share it with them. It’s what Paul tells the followers in Thessalonika in today’s reading: “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” That’s love.
How, then, do we, here in 2008, share the Gospel? St Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” This is our ministry: it is a ministry of love. We preach when we show love in our attention, in our care, in our actions. We show that love not only to those we have no trouble loving. We show love to those who make us angry, to those who are cruel to us, to those who view us as stupid or misguided.
It looks something like this: a teenager goes with her mother and her mother’s church group to rebuild in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She claims she is an agnostic, but she feels the need to do something to help those who have lost so much. Some of the people whom the group help are difficult, angry, exhausted people. One old woman in particular is hostile to the group. Are they there to steal her things? The group becomes a little angry; after all, they’ve spent their time and money to come down to Mississippi to help these people. Can’t she be a little grateful? But the teenager starts to play with the woman’s little dog, and to talk to her about the dog and how this elderly woman cared for the dog and her ailing son in the aftermath of the storm. She accepts the woman as she is. She sits with her and talks with her. Slowly, the woman begins to trust the group. Not because of anything the Christians, the grown-ups who were members of the group did. Because of the agnostic teenager who modeled Christ’s love better than any of us did. She preached the Good News. She expected nothing in return. She showed the love that Christ expects from us to each other, even to those who are the least lovable.
The reduction of the commandments from ten into two is not a mere division problem. It’s a call to a radical redefinition of what our lives must be, if we want to call ourselves Christian. We no longer have a discrete list of “do’s” and “do-nots,” we have a carving away of all that is superfluous, so that we know exactly what we have to do. We love, pure and simple. We love God, and we love our neighbor. Every word, every action, every thought must be tested against those few words: is this something that expresses my love of God? Is this something that shows my love of my neighbor?
Simple and hard. Simple, because it is nothing more than two phrases. Hard, because is it a call to live the glory that is Christ in all we do. But we can do it, not alone, but with Christ at our side.
The Psalm reminds us:
May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; *prosper the work of our hands;prosper our handiwork.
May it be so.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Don't get me wrong - I'm grateful that it's not completely wiped out, and we have no consumer debt or student loans so we can deal with this. I also know that many others are in much worse shape than we are. Still, it makes me sad that our fiscal discipline has been trumped by Wall Street's lack of discipline and belief in the derivatives tooth fairy.
Oh, well. It's only money. And maybe the markets will come back up again when the skinny black guy with the funny name is elected (I hope). If not, we'll figure it out. My fear is that there are many other folks who won't be able to do that.
1) First home: I came to live there on Dec 22nd, a little more than four months after my birth. I had lived in an orphanage prior to that. At four months, I was just seven pounds - "failure to thrive" - was what they said. It didn't take long in the loving arms of my adoptive parents for me to grow into a chubby, happy baby.
2) The Big Apple: lived there while having one of my favorite jobs, as an international consultant in software design. I got to go to all sorts of cool places on someone else's dime. Played Scrabble in Bryant Park at lunchtime with some of my colleagues. A great German deli around the corner, with an equally awesome bakery down the block.
3) Craftsman House in Arlington: recovering from a difficult divorce (yes, that's redundant) and met PH while I was living there. Space that was my own after a long time living in someone else's shadow. Good neighbors of all kinds, with houses that were just small enoug, just big enough.
4) Dutch Colonial in Arlington: PH and I bought that house after we were married for a year and a half. Decorated it in the way that we liked. He built a beautiful fish pond and waterfall. Raised Strong Opinions and, for a time, StoneMason, there. We made it a haven for us and for some wandering teens at various points who needed a place to live. And the kitchen was awesome.
5) Seminary townhouse: not so beautiful, definitely not spacious, a mediocre kitchen, but a good place to study and write and pray. And PH there with me - what more do I need?
Bonus: Persian Gulf, the Dean's House. Lived here for a month with BIL and SIL while doing a research project with the Anglican church there. Wonderful people with wonderful faith. I never expected to fall in love with such a diffeent place, but it was mostly about the people. And the food at Turkey Central, which doesn't serve turkey and is not all that Central. And the souk, where I spent a goodly amount of money.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
- The advisor wasn't there because she forgot. She had gotten in late the night before and woke up with the flu and didn't remember we had an appointment. She was majorly apologetic. I'm glad we didn't meet - I can't afford to get sick this year. We'll meet on Monday. I left 11 pages in her box, and I should have another five or so by Monday. I'd like to finish this section of the paper and start on the next.
- The Field Ed situation is still not resolved, but I was at a meeting with another of the diocesan bigwigs last night and she said they were talking about it in the office and were going to come up with a resolution I'd be happy with. Whatever that means. Heaven only knows when I'll hear about it, but at least they are saying nice things and not rude things about me, according to my source.
- Still no word on the outside reader, since I didn't meet with the advisor. Trying not to be concerned, but time is marching on.
- Got invited to do some research work for another professor for a paper he is giving on jubilee and debt relief. A very focused piece of work with a reasonably limited amount of hours (50) , so I think I'll go ahead with it. I'm feeling very honored to be asked, since the paper will be presented to a very high-level ecumenical group, and also glad I'm being paid nicely for it.
The Canons of the Episcopal Church require that before ordination a candidate for Holy Orders must be examined and show proficiency in:
THE 2009 GOE WILL BE ADMINISTERED AS FOLLOWS:
Monday Jan, 5, 2009 - 9 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. Holy Scripture, Limited Resources
Monday Jan 5, 2009 - 1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Christian Theology, Open Resources
Tuesday Jan 6, 2009 – 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Contemporary Society, Open Resources
Tuesday Jan 6, 2009 – 1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Liturgy & Church Music, Limited Resources
Wednesday Jan 7, 2009 No Exams
Thursday Jan 8, 2009 – 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Christian Ethics & Moral Theology, Open Resources
Thursday Jan 8, 2009 – 1:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m. Theory & Practice of Ministry, No External Resources
Friday Jan 9, 2009 - 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Church History, Open Resources
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
- I was supposed to meet with my thesis advisor and sat with eleven more pages of thesis for her to go over in front of her office for an hour. She never showed, which means I screwed up the date and time or she screwed up the date and time or something happened to which I am not privy. So I sat on the floor and wrote the first draft of Sunday's sermon. And I tried really hard not to use the waiting as a sermon illustration, since it wouldn't have fit the theme very well anyway.
- I am still waiting for an answer from the diocese on Plan B for my final semester of Field Ed. The potential new supervisor would like to do something unconventional, which requires diocesan approval. I am trying really hard not to use the lack of flexibility of the diocesan office and the lack of cooperation by the potential supervisor as a sermon illustration, since it wouldn't fit the theme very well anyway.
- I don't know yet if I've got an outside reader for the thesis. Said thesis advisor was supposed to make the first contact to Big-Name-European-Matthew-Scholar. She was supposed to do this three months ago, and then two months ago, and then last month. I may go ahead and reach out myself, although she didn't think this was a good idea when we first talked about it. I am trying really hard not to use the advisor's seeming distractedness (is that a word?) as a sermon illustration, since it wouldn't fit the theme very well anyway.
- I am waiting to go to lunch with another priest friend, who is a dear and calming presence. I SHOULD use her as a sermon illustration, since it will fit the theme very well!