Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What does this pastor do all day?

This Week’s Diary: What does your pastor do all day? Written with the intention of being transparent to Ascension Lutheran church folks about the rich details of a pastor's life...

·         Invited to attend the free rostered pastor’s retreat at Camp Calumet (Feb. 4-6); bishop is there, the first time ever; but I decided that I needed to be at Ascension to attend to synod business and ALC Administration, among other duties.
·         Worked on two annual synodical reports—the congregational report, which gives worship and attendance statistics and financial data to the synod, and the clergy report, which is more personal, on the life of the parish and the pastor.
·         As Environmental Liaison to the synod, gave the synod Communications director my ideas to make the Go Green portion of the synod website more effective in leadership building for congregational effectiveness
·         Worked on our final report to the Lilly Endowment on our sabbatical grant
·         Continued pastoral outreach to parishioners, with the hope of visiting with parishioners whom I see in passing but haven’t sat down with for a while.
·         Participated in the Interfaith Power and Light board meeting (chaired by Sam Swanson)
·         Taught Confirmation class. We prayed for the safety of Gabriella’s Dad, Steve, working in Somalia and viewed some pictures he sent. We considered the question: between God and human beings, who has power? Is power shared? What does that mean for each of us? We read and talked about Moses’ bargaining with God (Numbers 14), David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17), and revisited Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 22). I pointed out how contemporary people find great meaning in these ancient Hebrew texts. As an example, we read and gave our responses to the poem about the senseless tragedies of WWI by poet and soldier Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), with which I’ll close:

·         The Parable of the Old Man and the Young”

So Abram rose, and clave the word, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb, for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
And lo! An Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Prayer and Action

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, by Jan Vermeer
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Prayer and Action
Last Sunday I preached on the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha has strenuously worked to fix dinner and gets worked up, watching Mary just sit and talk to Jesus, and she's angry at them both. I’ve been there. From the response Sunday morning, others have been, as well. Several parishioners formed a Mary society during coffee hour, challenging one another to “be” Mary five times during the week. I'm very pleased, because several minutes of “being Mary” counts—just listening to, thinking about, being with, Jesus. Stopping doing just to be. I"m trying it myself.
I’ve been Martha, often, and spoke her feelings last Sunday: “I was awake during the night, worried about the dinner I said I’d serve; and here is Jesus, talking about the lilies of the field, and how God loves all creatures, and all…Does God love me? Does anyone (especially Mary and Jesus) actually care about me? Worker as I am…without me, there would be no dinner… Does anybody care?”
I’m pondering this today because several stories in the recent The Lutheran speak about evangelism; what is the best way to “talk about Christ, ” to express our faith? Answer: to be a model of Christ-like love. And how can we be a model of Christ-like love without action?
 Dr. Lisa Dahill writes in “Conversations with Atheists” in that issue of The Lutheran that many atheists reject “...the ways popular culture speaks of God: as, say, a watchful judge, a supernatural being, an old man in the sky or even a projection of our nation pride.”
But I don’t believe in that God, either! I believe in--relish in--the God of love incarnate in all that is.
Seemingly, so does Dahill (and actually many parishioners at Ascension).
Dahill invites us to follow Jesus into the world, rather than call athetists into the church, because Jesus is the DNA “...of all that is (John 1:1-5), the very abundance of life (John 10:10) for us and all creation. And thus what speaks this living Word perhaps most evangelically of all is lives opened up for the life of the world: Christians living this love in prison gardens and at deathbeds, in wetland restoration and after-school arts programs and (with [Dietrich] Bonhoeffer) organized difficult political resistance to evil.” (The Lutheran, August 2013, p. 19)
Wonderful stuff to think about and live. Like the strands of the DNA double helix, which encodes genetic instructions in all known living organisms, wholeness/wellness/salvation depends on weaving together times of reflection and action, prayer and work, returning home to rest, and going out to bring our unique selves and gifts to a beautiful, complex, suffering, glorious world.
Prayer and action: in discovering how they work together, we discover and become ourselves  as followers of the Way of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How Clan the Church Better Express Jesus' Radical, Wide Love?

Robin Meyers, author of The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus and United Church of Christ minister at Mayflower United Church of Christ, Oklahoma City for 27 years, spoke at the UCC annual conference meeting this last Saturday in Randolph, VT.
He said:  Contrary to the risk that early Christians took, no one expects  dangerous things to happen at church; Christians are not on anyone’s no fly llist. The church needs to “Go where love calls, serve where love needs” –which is the synod’s motto.  And be leaven in the loaf of society, as was the early church. Here are some of his suggestions based on levels of risk to the church’s status quo. What do you think?
Low risk
Form a committee to find out what other churches are doing and join them in mission; adopt a local public school and learn what it needs, and how you can make it better; actively participate in interfaith services and move the host site around to different houses of worship; join other faith communities in responding to hate crimes with public declarations; become a “green” church and an active recycling center

Middle Risk
Form a Sunday School class that is dedicated to reading and discussion the latest in biblical scholarship; form a committee whose responsibility is to bring biblical scholars to the community; add worship services to attract people who don’t like traditional worship; bring local political candidates to church for Town Hall event; give laypeople power to create mission ideas and pursue them without undue interference from the staff.

High Risk
Make changes to the way communion is served and invite poor people; change the use of words: “trust” not “faith”; “these are our sacred stories” to replace “this is the word of God.”; Incorporate more silence, more poetry, less insider language. Establish the church as center for nonviolent change;  practice radical hospitality by welcoming people who test the church’s comfort level  (e.g., ex-convicts and sex-offenders); give money away in the church to those in need; and consider returning to the ancient practice of loaning money at no interest.
As Ascension continues to responsive to the Spirit, which of these are doable at Ascension? Other ideas you may have? Let me know!
    Blessings, Pr. Nancy

Monday, April 1, 2013

Idle Tales that are the Truth!

Three Women (Easter Sunday) by Romare Bearden
  • Three Women, Romare Bearden, 1979.
    Happy Easter! What is coming into your imagination that may seem like an idle tale (Luke 24:11), but that if you live it out will bring joy and healing to people or to animals and plants on God's green Earth? Live it! Live your precious life! Below is my Easter sermon. The heart of the universe, love, is abundant, for the taking!
    Blessings, Pr. Nancy

    Luke 24:1-12
    “But these words seemed like an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
    All the gospels tell of the women coming to the tomb; they find it empty; they return to tell the disciples, who do not believe them.
    Women through the ages have not been believed. An old wives’ tale… Have you had the experience of saying what you know is hard-earned truth, urgently important, you feel, but you are not taken seriously?
    Often it seems that God, or goodness, or truth needs to come in slantwise, through people who are not to be believed at first; as Emily Dickson wrote:
    Tell All The Truth
    Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
    Success in circuit lies,
    Too bright for our infirm delight
    The truth's superb surprise;

    As lightning to the children eased
    With explanation kind,
    The truth must dazzle gradually
    Or every man be blind.
    Emily Dickinson
    The truth must dazzle gradually or every person be blind.
    The Bible is a collection of stories (told by human beings and written down in human words) of people who were far from perfect who kept meeting God in unlikely places and people, who kept adjusting their lives, and stumbling over old patterns and breaking through to new life: followers became leaders, women make public dramatic statements of love, people heartbroken by sorrow and the absurdity of death are met with experiences of new life—of Jesus not bound by death but always calling forward to new life. And, they tell their friends of this strange, slant-wise truth. Idle tales…
    Therefore, Jesus told parables, and gave us strange sayings.
    Are these idle tales?
    Reading a contemporary, The Message Bible translation:
    Matthew 6:27-33: “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.
    Or these idle tales?
    “The first shall be last, and the last first….”
    “Become like a child so that you can enter into the kingdom of heaven.
    “In as much as you give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, you give it to me…”
    “Turn the other cheek, when someone strikes you…”
    “If you have two coats, give 1 away…”
    “Ask me for living water…”
    A cluster of idle tales…
    Tell it slant, because otherwise, truth has a hard time coming up against the status quo, the half-lies that we tell ourselves: that to get ahead, we must push other people aside; that our economy must grow at all costs, even at the cost of the earth and its living creatures and other people left behind; that more stuff equals more happiness; that we don’t need to care about the past or the future; that violence brings peace..
    These half-lies, which pass for truth because we don’t hear much to counterbalance them; these half-lies pull us toward being less than we can be. God can’t get a word in edgewise, hardly; and God doesn’t compel; God invites us.
    What are seemingly idle tales can come to us when we listen to marginal voices: the poor, women, children, and people from other parts of the world, or the other side of town? What idle tales come to your imagination, stories that counterbalance the half-truths…and the status quo? Ways that you can see solutions to the problems you see and feel in the world?
    For the women didn’t let the disciples persuade them to stop talking….their news spread throughout the world and is the reason you are here today. They had courage to continue talking.
    Through the women’s story, the idle tale, even after Jesus’ horrible death, leading his disciples and friends to despair, God changed the stakes, rebooted, cleaned the disk; created a mysterious new birth, turned death into life; Jesus’ power of love and truth burst through the world, forever; through all barriers, prejudices, political power, cruelty, greed, our own failures to love and to forgive others, and even, perhaps especially ourselves. God always continues to create a world of love and peace for humans and Earth’s creatures. And, the loving power in the universe, needs the story to continue, through you, and me.
    When people tell  idle tales about God’s love and justice, you can feel it.
    Our Confirmation class—three young people—prayed together last week; one in 6th grade is studying sustainability and writing on nuclear power; she prayed for North Korea; another student prayed for the Syrian rebels; another prayed that we might continue as a group to study the Bible together…
    Idle tales are also actions that seem small: Ripple: “We never know how one small action inspired by love to bring about peace might ripple out and change the world.”
    Clean up of Bartlett Brook, behind our church; with UVM students; over four years, we took out a washing machine, a truck, and countless bags of sand, and won an award from Burlington for the most trash collected on Clean-Up Day
    His name was Nathan Johnson.
    He was a canner - he collected cans in Burlington.  He would collect, and talk to people all over the town and college.  He lived alone and very simply.  After he died he left money to his church, 1st Methodist of Burlington, to help homeless and needy men.  I think it was $25,000..

    Five ministers in Burlington got together and wanted to help, in an organized way, the people who came to their churches asking for help.  So, they decided to collect money from those five churches, added Nathan's money, and started JUMP. (Joint Urban Ministry Project)   It was in 1st Methodist for a year or two and then went to 1st Congregational for the next 24 years. And the rest is history.

    The great, most important idle tale is that God raises Jesus from the dead each day,  in you, strengthening you to be a Protest-ant, against all that creates disharmony and demeans people or that degrades them and Earth’s creatures. Strengthening you to embrace life, here on earth, and eternally.
    God seeks to restore harmony and wholeness (the meaning of “salvation”) through you and me, and Ascension, and the world-wide church, and all people. Because “God is the unconditional lover of all creation,” (­The Underground Church, p. 99)
    For the earliest representations of Jesus in the first 1,000 years (on walls and tombs and in churches) were not of Jesus suffering on the cross, but rather of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the new ruler on the throne instead of Caesar, and of Paradise Restored.
    You and I are alive to celebrate and enjoy God’s love and life given in so many ways.
    Do you think you can take the idle tale of the women, that Jesus’ love is alive, now and always, and try it out, trust in your ability to love, and courageously give your imagination, your faith (trust), your love to it?  If you answer yes, your answer will bring you sorrow and joy, freedom and risk, adventure and meaning; and your answer will continue to tell the greatest story ever told, through your very own, precious, life.

    Tuesday, March 26, 2013

    Thoughts on Good Friday and Violence

    Georges Rouault, Head of Christ, c. 1937
    The Cleveland Museum of Art
     Why have Christians through the ages used the word Good for the terrible events of Good Friday? Perhaps because the meaning of the day is revelatory because it shatters all old conceptions of God, of God as angry or vengeful, by showing a vulnerable, and therefore compassionate God.

    This day is Good, and here I would argue with some Christians in love in order to say that Jesus did not come into the world only to die. If we believe as some Christians, including the great theologian Anselm and many other have believed and still do believe, that God demanded blood sacrifice through Christ in order to come again into a right relationship with humans (because God enforces strict justice, and humans have sinned, and God demands a retributive payment) we then believe in a wrathful, angry God. That is not the God revealed by Jesus on the cross; if we worship that God, this Friday would not be good. That God would be made in our image, because in the world we know, we are asked to acquiesce to the lie that violence is necessary to conquer violence, where supposedly good violence is used to try to redeem from bad violence; but that is the world of calculation and suffering, repeated time and again, an endless cycle of destruction.

    This Friday is good not because of violence but despite violence. Jesus was betrayed into a terrible violent death by a system of domination that feared the attractive goodness of his preaching and teaching of peace and goodness and healing, his passionate preaching and living from a foundation of love and justice. He succumbed to the violence of domination and control; Jesus only responded with suffering love. Which makes that possible for all of us. That makes this Friday Good, even though still it would seem that all was lost, that God’s self was defeated by human evil.

    This Friday is Good finally because of the Resurrection. In resurrecting Jesus, God’s self, we know that God’s power of love and justice, seemingly vulnerable, is stronger than any power on earth.

    (I've benefitted from reading Rene Gerard's The Scapegoat and, building on Gerard, Mark S. Heim's Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross.

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    Preparation for Holy Week and Healing the World

    Add Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, Albrecht Dürer, 1511. Web Gallery of Artcaption
    As we prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, it’s an auspicious time to ask, “What is really important?” What makes life full and meaningful? What was so central for Jesus that he was willing to offer up his life?

    Two answers have filled my heart and mind lately: First, the love (grace) of God, showered in life, the universe, and the Way of loving discipleship. Second, the God-given responsibility given to each disciple to repair the human and nonhuman (earthly) community.

    Pope Francis has stirred people throughout the world with his call for addressing the needs of the poor and the needs of creation. (The two are always closely related, as the poor suffer most immediately from environmental degradation.)

    Jesus’ called for simplicity (“if you have two coats, give one away”), care for the poor (“if you give to the least of these, you give to me”), and love of creation (“look at the lilies”).

    Let us hope that the church heeds this call; I’m very moved that Ascension has discerned (through Task Team 2) the same areas in which God calls us to continue and grow: poverty (both physical and spiritual), care for the Earth, and fellowship with the most vulnerable (children, youth, the elderly).

    I will look for you this Saturday (3/23), Mud Morning (9:30 am to 11 am), when we will envision more specifically God’s future for Ascension. This is an important part of our long-range planning! Bring potluck pastries, and wear your books, because we will go for a meditative walk in the woods afterward. Childcare provided by Rachel Valliere.

    Blessings to each of you as we enter into Holy Week together.
    Pr. Nancy

    Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    A detail of Rembrandt's monumental painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son 
     Last Sunday we read the beautiful story of the Prodigal Son/Forgiving Father (Luke 11-32). A great contemporary description of the love of God and the joy of God's welcome for everyone (imperfect yet wonderful as each human being is) is last week's segment of Krista Tippett's "On Being" podcast.
    Fr. Boyle's joy in welcoming Los Angeles teens whose lives have been broken (in society's terms) is stronger because he believes that they help him more than he helps them. Very inspiring.

    Lent is a time to look at ourselves clear-eyed, to slow down (difficult) and rest in the daily awareness of the presence of love in our lives. To look at the sun rise, to hear a bird, to count how many people welcomed us in the past days. To take note of those parts of suffering humanity and creation that we may be called to help heal.

    On March 23 from 9:30 am to 11:00 am, we will host
    MUD SEASON MORNING Sunday, March 23rd at 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., with childcare
    The purpose of the gathering is to create an opportunity for the congregation to discuss and affirm the results of the Task Teams, which addressed the questions, “Whom do we serve in our community?” and “How do we at ALC bond and communicate as a community?” We desire that the outcome of our time together will be a shared commitment as we move forward in “Claiming Our Ministry.Refreshments: coffee and potluck pastries
    How wide is our embrace of one another and of people in our community?
    Come, and participate in this exciting conversation at this point of oppenness to God in our life at Ascension.