Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One More Pane

In my denomination there is an organization for women. In the past, this has been where women could find their leadership roles since they were not allowed to be ordained into office. In many places it is where the pastor's wife actually ran the show. I don't think the church or her mission would be as far as it is today if were not for these women.

Change comes hard for many of them and sadly I have frequently found that the people who are the hardest on the idea of a woman in an ordained role in the church, are them. However, once you win them over - they are yours forever.

I am the Head of Staff in a larger congregation. I am the first installed female Head of Staff (they have had interims). Slowly, folks are breathing and understanding that it is 'ok'. The mistakes I make are because I am still a little green and quite frankly, I have a big mouth and want to FIX everything. The heart is in the right place, I can preach pretty well and I run a decent meeting - so I have been given a lot of grace and won over many of the doubters.

In many ways I have broken through a portion of the stained glass ceiling, but a few panes remain.

I found out suddenly that in a couple of weeks I am no longer preaching, but rather our DCE (a woman) is preaching. I have no problem with this, just thought it was surprising. It turns out the women of this organization always run the worship service on the third Sunday of November. I asked the woman in charge about it and she said, "Well when our organization does the service the women are in charge so we never have the Head of Staff preach."

I waited....

And then I said, "Well that makes sense, a women's organization service should have women involved."

Her: "Yes. That's why we asked (the DCE)."

I waited again..... and then decided to let it go.

I find myself chuckling and shaking my head because in this case, it is not even about thinking outside the box it is about looking around and seeing who is in the box with you.

Oh and fear not lest you are worried that I will now have nothing to do.

She did ask me to do the children's sermon since one of our male associates had been previously scheduled.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Note To Local Ministerium

The 'buzz' is that you wish more of the younger clergy would join you and your important work of meetings and minutes taking. Yet when I came into this area I received no invitation letter/postcard/email/phone call.

A few months afterwards I did receive an emailed invitation to preach at the Thanksgiving Eve service, something anyone in the 'biz' knows is assigned to newbies because no one else wants to do it.

You'll excuse me if I refrain from paying my $50 fee for the honor of gathering in a cold fellowship hall at 6:30 in the morning to hang with the age 60+ balding white male clergy of the month club.

As you were.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Obesity of America

First, you need to know that I in no way, shape or form would be confused for a health nut. Since I moved into a living situation where I am no longer the adult in charge of grocery shopping I have gained 15 pounds... and that's not in muscle. I have a gym membership, but I am trying to get there more than twice a week.

Second, I am not a big breakfast eater. I don't like to start off the morning with sugary/white flour things because that means the rest of the day I battle a headache and maybe even a little dizzy.

So when I go out to breakfast it's usually eggs, hashbrowns and a breakfast meat and for the love of God, COFFEE!

On our way home from the beach I decided to treat The Boy and I to a sit-down breakfast so we stopped at an "Internationally" recognized restaurant chain that has a long name but usually goes by an acronym that is not UJUMP.

I knew we were in trouble when both of us (The Boy is 4) were handed 3 menus each! The food options and the pictures boggled the mind.

Finally I found the kid's menu (on his placemat) and I moved to my options. The menu I described above was in the 'field goal' category. If you added more meat (it came with 4 slices of bacon or links of sausage already) or added pancakes or french toast you moved up to a touchdown, super bowl, etc... Clearly, according to them, 2 eggs, hashbrowns and 4 pieces of bacon is the minor leagues.

This is what I ordered and the waittress told me that I received pancakes free with that. Stunned, I replied that I didn't want any and this is about how the conversation went after that:

HER: You don't want your pancakes?
ME: No thank you.
HER: They're free.
ME: Yes, I know but I won't eat all that.
HER: ............ I think you have to have them.
ME:...... (deciding it was not worth the fight) Okay, then yes please, I will have the pancakes.
HER: Would you like strawberries or blueberries on top of them? ME: Ummmmm, neither thank you. And no whip cream.
HER: No whip cream?
ME: No thank you.
HER: You know, you could have french toast instead.
ME: (relieved that there was another option) Yes, thank you. I would love some french toast, no fruit.
HER: It's stuffed French Toast. It has raisins and cinammon in the bread and is stuffed with cream cheese.
ME: Of course it is...

The stuffed french toast came and it also had icing dripping all over it. I didn't eat any of it, and I felt bad about wasting it. As I looked around the room there were a lot of older and very heavyweight folks in the restaurant.

One couple got up to leave and stopped to talk to The Boy and she offered, "I don't like to overdo it but we just come in here once a week."

Believe me, once a week is all it takes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Raising Him Right!

Lesson #1: It's never too cold to play in the waves. (56 degrees according to the boardwalk display)

Lesson #2: It's never too cold for ice cream. (Sorry no pic. My hands were also full of ice cream)

Lesson #3: The fewer the people, the more fun the boardwalk!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fall Respite

The Boy and I are at the beach for a few days in what a few years ago I realized was an important piece of a healthy ministry - getting away in October.
There is a small area of space in October that is post-September start up and pre-hectice holiday where I try to carve out a week of vacation. Usually no matter how much time I took in the summer, I need it and I know even before we hit Thanksgiving I will be grateful that I took it.

This year marks the last for the next 14 that I will be able to go to the beach this time of year since The Boy begins Kindergarten next year. I will still take the time (most likely a stay-cation) but his schedule will keep us from making the trek a few hours east for deep gulps of salty air and chilly water.

I won't miss out on the beach entirely. There are plans for our family to share 2 weeks together on a shore somewhere this summer, see how it goes and maybe make a tradition of it. But I will miss this.

I love the beach in the fall. Not everybody gets it. I saw more than one shake of the head and worries that the weather wouldn't be warm enough as I announced my plans in a new setting where they don't know me as well. I grew up by the beach and spent 10 years in Florida, so the beach not being warm enough to lay there and actually feel the beads of sweat dripping down your arms and back is not exactly a loss for me.

Been there. Done that. Won a t-shirt in the volleyball tournament.

I like the smaller crowds. I like that the stores and restaurants that are open are the ones the locals go to. I like the push and pull of a little bit of a chill in the air offset by the intensity of a sun that is not quite ready to give up. I like the rhythm of sweatshirt-sweatpants-t-shirt-shorts and back to sweatshirt-sweatpants.... all in the same day and all with flip-flops. I like that there is less need to be focused on making sure you don't lose your child in the mass of umbrellas and towels and more opportunity to be focused on how we can carry all of those beach pebbles and shells back to our room.

Today was a good day. I am thankful for this last grab at summer and at sabbath and for this time with The Boy who is not going to be The Boy all that much longer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Open Table

Sermon for October 4, 2009 - Worldwide Communion Sunday

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
—let Israel now say— if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

In the preamble to this morning’s Gospel reading the disciples and Jesus are passing through Galilee where “Jesus mentions for the second time, the human hands that will kill him, the three days he will be dead, and how he will rise again. Clueless, the disciples are too afraid to ask any more questions. Instead, the twelve turn things back towards themselves, debating which one is the smartest, the tallest, best crowd controller, most articulate pray-er, the apple of Jesus eye. Caught in the act, Jesus silences their comparisons by plopping a child down in their midst. Anyone who wants to be at the front of the line, he tells them, must first stand at the back. Whoever can welcome this tiny creature, welcomes me and far more than me – the One who sent me.”

“Unwilling to let a toddler steal the show, John jumps at the chance to earn a few brownie points…”[i]

Mark 9:38-50 (NRSV)
John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’

The Word of the Lord…

We are just one big happy family! Isn’t that what this Sunday is all about?

The worship notes from the denomination seem to think so:
On World Communion Sunday, Christians from around the world gather in worship to partake of the elements of bread and wine in remembrance and celebration of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is also the time to bear witness to the unity of Christians everywhere as we seek to live out Christ’s command to work for justice and peace in a world that is deeply divided in conflict and war. As we gather on this Lord’s Day, let us remember and pray for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 165 partner communions and other organizations worldwide who will be receiving Communion.

What a blessing it is to be entrenched in such a community of faith.

“A strong community enhances the lives of its members.
The community is a place of identity, where people have a sense of belonging because they are known and recognized.
The community provides protection and support.
The community shapes values and provides cultural norms.”

“But there are risks in a strong community.
The past ways may not be suitable for the challenges of the future.
A strong community may be so focused on itself that it loses the capacity to relate to those outside.”[ii]

Hmmmmm….. community, good? Community, bad?

I was told during a recent keynote given by the current Moderator of the PCUSA, Bruce Reyes-Chow, that my role in the church may very well be to help bridge that gap between modern and post-modern – very broadly and simply put – between structure and Spirit.

So apparently I am the one with the answers about community since I am that bridge…. Except… I too get caught up in the crosshairs of expectations and demands and truth be told… I kinda like them. I have been protected and supported by this community and appreciate the values that hold me accountable. I like my long, black robe and the comfort it gives me.

Sometimes… (shhh, this could get my post-modern card taken away from me)… sometimes I like that we haven’t done it that way before.

So community, good? Or community, bad – clearly I don’t have the answers.

I’m in good company though, because John doesn’t have the answers either. Poor guy is just trying to gain some street cred with the prophet he’s been hanging out with and next thing he knows he is being bombarded with images of drownings, bloody stumps and infernos.

‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Where do we put ourselves when we hear this passage?

Are we the community of faith, banding together in order to better blast our way through this secular humanist culture we live in, forging a path towards truth and eternal life?

Or are we the community of faith, binding together into a huge stumbling block keeping those who can’t say the magic words of tenets and creeds from joining the feast?

What mistakes have we tragically made in our haste to prune those sinners back?

How often is our fall-back position in effect amputational theology?
Don't like gay marriage? Cut them off!
Don't like paying for other people's healthcare? Cut them off!
Don't like the way a family member does things? Cut them off!

Even internally – don’t like the way the church does something? Cut them off!
Don’t like something a member of the staff did? Cut them off!
Don’t like the wording in the letter with the pledge card? Cut them off!

Cut! Cut! Cut!

But don’t look down… because there is blood on our hands.

It’s not the blood of the gay couple.
It’s not the blood of the uninsured.
It’s not even the blood of the church.

We’ve got the blood of our crucified Lord on our hands.

When we cut off members of our community we lose so much. We lose too much.
We lose integrity.
We lose balance.
We lose grace.

This table has been set for all.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

[i] Heather Shortlidge. 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 27, 2009, Mark 8:38-50. The Well. Austin, 2009.
[ii] David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4. Harry B. Adams. “Mark 9:38-50: Pastoral Perspective.” Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. p. 116.