Friday, June 19, 2015

Political Participation (Friday Five)

Today's Friday Five by janintx offers a series of personal questions or . . .  "If you prefer for this Friday Five, you may write about any of the current affairs that you are thinking about." I think I'll make up my own to accompany the latter:
1. What is the first national tragedy or crisis of which you remember being acutely aware?
The assassination of Robert Kennedy.  I had become, at the age of twelve, interested in politics, largely due to his charisma and energy.  I recall being home from my first year of boarding school, wandering out to the living room in my pajamas early in the morning, turning on the television to the Today show, and watching in horror as the events of the previous evening unfolded on the screen.
2. What was the first march or walk in which you participated?
During the spring of my senior year of high school, many of us participated in a 20-mile walk to raise funds to combat hunger.  I don't remember where we walked ~ Northampton, maybe? ~ but I do remember that my big toenails turned black and fell off a day or so later!
3. What was the most moving event in which you ever participated in response to a national crisis?
Each spring, my entire school of 700 girls sang a Sacred Concert.  I realize, now, that we were the beneficiaries of an incredible choral music tradition and education.   In May 1970, we were completely absorbed by the Kent State shootings as the concert approached.  Our brilliant music director rehearsed a powerfully slow and stirring arrangement of "Once to Every Man and Nation" with us for the end of the concert.  I have never heard that arrangement since except on my recording of the concert and on the school website.  Many of us have remarked in the decades following that we have never forgotten that experience.
4. How has your church responded to racial issues in our society?
Last winter, we used some grant money to take dozens of high school students and teachers from two schools to see the movie Selma and brought them back to church for lunch and a panel discussion with community leaders. My congregation is small and struggling, but that event, in which about ten of our members also attended the film and helped with the lunch, created tremendous positive energy for us and helped us see what kinds of contributions we might make to our community.
5. What are you doing about Charleston in worship tomorrow?
So far, what we have is a statement of prayer and solidarity on our sign out front.  Tomorrow, as part of our continuing visioning process, we are taking time during worship to do an exercise designed to enable people to indicate what areas of mission are important to them.  I had planned about a two-minute sermon to introduce the process, but now I think that I will add a few sentences, referencing the Pope's encyclical on climate change and the Charleston shootings, to remind my people that Christianity is a revolutionary faith, one which asks us to live the whole of our lives differently and in which even the most basic acts of faith can be a risky business, and that we are called to embrace the gospel in many ways we might not expect. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Morning Pages

You know about morning pages, right?  Julia Cameron made them famous in her 2002 book The Artist's Way, with her suggestion to write three pages in longhand every morning, three pages about whatever ~ just write!
I'm indebted to my friend Michelle, chemistry professor and spiritual writer extraordinaire, for mentioning morning pages in conversation a couple of days ago.  I've had nothing to say for months, so I've barely written anything other than the sermons which are a job requirement.  But now I'm back to morning pages.
Well, okay, only two days worth, ten minutes a morning.  But it's more than I've written in a long time.  And perhaps, as Michelle noted, something worth polishing will appear. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Caleb's Crossing: A Novel (Book Review)

A week or so ago, I sought book recommendations on my FB page ~ looking, in particular, for books set on islands.
I haven't tried to discern the appeal that islands hold for me these days.  Something to do with isolation, distance, water, life on the periphery of the mainstream, mainland, main culture . . . it probably wouldn't take long to figure out, but I'm not in a particularly self-analytic frame of mind these days.  I'm content simply to read.
One of the books recommended by a couple of friends, and the first one I found at the library, is Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.  What a marvel of a novel!

Set mostly on 17the century Martha's Vineyard, the novel relates the story of a small band of Puritan settlers, their interactions with the Wampanoags who already inhabit the island, and the journey of two of the young Wampanoag men to Harvard College, all through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, daughter of the local minister.  Able to carve out some free time and space for herself as she approaches young womanhood, Bethia explores the island and befriends, and is befriended by, the boy-turning-man whom she names Caleb.  Their lives, and the lives of their families and communities, continue to be interlaced with one another in ways made realistic and, by turns, enchanting and heart-breaking, thanks to the skillful pen of Geraldine Brooks.
Caleb, based on a historical figure of whom little is known, is brought to life in a vivid portrait of Native American skills and values little understood or appreciated by the Puritan interlopers, and Bethia, an entirely fictional character, is equally well drawn as a devout Calvinist torn between the world in which she has been raised and the one with which she feels a strong kinship.  The "crossing" in the title refers most obviously to Caleb's crossing from his Wampanoag life to his life as a student at Harvard, the crown of learning in the world "New" to the Puritan settlers ~ but many other crossings emerge, from literal and treacherous crossings across Nantucket Sound and Massachusetts Bay to the metaphorical crossings that each of the major characters experience as they traverse the precarious boundaries between cultural and gender norms.
As someone whose ancestral names can be found in the records of Nantucket, neighboring island to Martha's Vineyard, and as someone who spent two summers on Cape Cod and read a great deal about New England during my school years in Massachusetts and Rhode Ialand ~ and who, like Bethia Mayfield, was delighted to discover the poet Anne Bradstreet when I was a young woman myself ~ Caleb's Crossing was of particular interest to me.  But I think it would be an intriguing, even page-turning, read for anyone ~ one of those books you can hardly bear to see end.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Life-Giving Waters (Sermon)

In a few weeks, we will be treated to pictures of the christening of the new little Princess Charlotte – daughter of Prince William and Duchess Kate.  Everyone will look beautiful in their dressy suits and hats, little Prince George will wear a charming outfit, and Princess Charlotte will no doubt be clad in a long baptismal dress which will flow over her mother’s arms nearly to the floor. The official photographs will be flashed ‘round the world, and everyone will ooh and ahh – and what’s not to ooh and ahh over, with such a lovely young family for whom surely everyone wishes only the best?
But one thing we will probably not hear referenced on the news or read in People Magazine will be an explanation of what the little princess’s baptism is all about.  It will be treated as a secular event which happens to take place in a church – a dress-up day for great happiness – but we will hear little, if anything, of it as a solemn religious occasion.
What is baptism, anyway?  Most of us probably don’t know much more about it than do the People Magazine writers.  We’re talking about baptism today because it’s the second topic in our summer Bible study, Come to the Waters – the second Biblical water subject for these warm days when water seems extremely appealing.  But appealing as water, and the whole idea of baptism are – what is baptism all about?
During Bible study on Thursday, one of our members described baptism as a welcome.  I think that’s a great description. In baptism we are welcomed into the Christian life, and into Christian community. 
What’s the best welcome you’ve ever had? 
I often remember welcomes from my grandmother.  As you know, I grew up in the country, in southern Ohio.  To get to my house, you first turned into a paved lane and drove up a hill to my grandparents’ house, and then went on down a gravel road behind their place, leading to ours.  That meant that as a little girl hopping off the school bus at the bottom of the hill, my first destination was my grandmother’s – with her offerings of ice cream and late afternoon television shows – and that as a young career woman, my first stop was my grandmother’s, often to drink a glass of lemonade on her brick terrace and tell her about my life – and that as a young mother I drove to my grandmother’s before anyplace else in southwestern Ohio, so that my children could tumble out of the van into the same warmth and love that I had always known there
And you know what was wonderful about my grandmother’s welcomes? 
That she always had time.  Always – time for each of us.
My grandmother lived in an era in which homemaking was considered an art – and so she baked bread, and canned tomato juice, and cooked wholesome dinners from scratch each night, and was an expert knitter and intent student of nature – but she always had time to put everything down and turn her attention to us.  She was not the least bit intrusive – there were always treats and games available, but she also left us to our own devices when we preferred that, and was always willing to listen to whatever we had to share.  She was quite willing to interact with us, and guide us, and equally willing to step back and let us grow into ourselves.
Welcome welcome welcome.  How was school?  How’s your dog?  Tell me about the new Beatles album.  I have something to show you!  Welcome!
Isn’t the welcome of baptism something like my grandmother’s welcome?
Here you are!  Welcome to the church!  Welcome to a community in which you may grow and be nurtured!  How is your life?  We have something to show you!  Come and live into the time and space God makes for you! Come and see!
Welcome to that for which you thirst – whether or not you know it. Welcome into the presence of the God who loves you!
Baptism is something we call a sacrament.  Sacraments – and in the Presbyterian Church, the sacraments we celebrate are baptism and communion, the Lord’s Supper – are those rituals which we particularly acknowledge to be signs of God’s grace, of God’s gift of love in our lives.   Sacraments are gifts of God to us in response to our thirst for an experience of the holy, our thirst for moments in which we know that God is present to us in the community of faith. The water of baptism is a sign, a symbol, of God’s love for us. For all of us. 
John Calvin, that early Protestant reformer whose ideas and writings and leadership set much of the foundation for our church, tells us that God gives us concrete, tangible signs and symbols of God’s love for us because we need them.  We are bodily creatures, not creatures of air, or of intangible spirit – we are solid creatures of a solid earthly world – and we require solid, palpable, material symbols by which to understand who we are and what we are about. 
Water throughout the Bible, is such a symbol -- of God’s deep love all of creation, and for us; of God’s covenant: God’s promise, to care for us, to protect us, and to make it possible for us to flourish; and of God’s Spirit, who encourages and enliven us.
Last week, we pondered the waters of creation – the waters of the deep, the waters of chaos, out of which God created – everything.  Through those roiling, turbulent waters, God gave birth to the entire world.
In our first reading today, God is tending to God’s people, the Israelites, who have escaped slavery in Egypt only to find themselves wandering in the desert.  They are literally parched, expecting to die of thirst n the hot, dry desert, trapped in an inhospitable environment far from the homes they have known.  So miserable are they that they turn their anger on Moses, their leader, and threaten to kill him.  And in response, God tells Moses to take his staff and strike the rock, and water for the people will pour from the rock. 
The people need water, actual water, in response to their physical thirst –but they also need material evidence of God’s care for them.  They are so lost, so disoriented, so frightened – and the water they receive in such a surprising way becomes a symbol for them that God is with them, a symbol of God’s care and promises remembered to this day. 
For Jesus, baptized in the Jordan River in today’s gospel reading, the water is an even more profound symbol: a symbol of the Holy Spiri,t and of identity. 
Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptize like any other Jew of his time and place, to engage in this ritual of cleansing conducted by his cousin, John the Baptist.  John is surprised to see him – because John knows that Jesus is not like any other person of his time and place – but Jesus is insistent that he should engage in the ritual common to all.  And thus Jesus makes common to all in baptism what happens to him in baptism: the Spirit of God alights upon him and the voice of God identifies him: “This is my Son, the beloved.”
What a welcome! And what a welcome available to all of us through baptism.  This welcome goes well beyond lemonade on the terrace, and even beyond nurture and promise in the desert.  This welcome to Jesus splashes over all of us, and tells us that we, too, are people in whom God’s Spirit dwells, and that we, too, are beloved.
Water in Biblical interactions is not merely about refreshment, or even hospitality.  Water is about identity.
When the little princess is baptized, much will be made of her names – Charlotte Elizabeth Diana – and how they reflect her identity in the line and heritage of the royal family.  We do much the same, don’t we? If we have children, we choose names for them that are of significance to ourselves and our families, and hope that those names will come to bear meaning for the tiny babies who will grow into them.  But those names, however beautiful and meaningful – those names are not nearly as marvelous as the name and identity given us in baptism: Beloved.  Those names, however much they symbolize family history and parental dreams, do not completely reflect the sign and symbol of the water of baptism: God’s beloved.  Welcome, beloved one, into God’s community.
Welcome to a love that precedes you, a love that surrounds you, a love that is not dependent upon you or on your gifts or achievements -- a love that flows from God’s spirit just as the water flows from the Jordan or from the baptismal font.
Welcome to a love that will always have time for you. Welcome to a love that desires you to flourish – as you are, who you are, in your deepest self.
Welcome to a love which propels you into the world to share, with generosity and hope, this love, in whatever way you are called to do so by those gifts unique to you.
Welcome to a deep love in which you are claimed by God – whether you know it or not, before can know it, when you are convinced that it has nothing to do with you, when you have turned away from it  – in all the circumstances of your life, the love which pours into your life from your baptism surrounds and supports you, and draws you into relationship with God and with the people of God.  With all people, because all people are the people of God.
The waters of baptism are the waters in which you are named – God’s Beloved – and called to share – God’s belovedness. No matter what happens to you in this life, no matter how many wrong turns you make, no matter how confusing your hopes or broken your plans, the waters of God’s love flow through your days and your nights.  Through baptism the Spirit welcomes you into Christ’s community and gives you God’s name for you: Beloved One.  Amen.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Getting Ready to Go (Friday Five)

Denver Botanic Gardens

I haven't played a Friday Five in a long time, but today's is a fun one from Stephanie for those of us who love to travel:

Here in the Northern Hemisphere summer is upon us which for many means a season of more going and coming. As I child when my family was planning for vacation we knew we were getting close when my mom stopped by the bookstore to buy the Frommer’s and Fodor’s guides for our destination. It was how she got ready to go.  Today I’m in the final countdown to my sabbatical that begins in less than 48 hours.  My preparation has included lists, lists, and few more lists. Around the RevGals community some are planning for vacations, others continuing education, still others are changing appointments or seeking new calls.

Whatever your going may be, physical travel or taking a mental break, how will you get ready to for it? Are you a list maker, a blog reader, a book gatherer, a house cleaner? On your blog or in the comments tell us about five things you do to get ready to go. What do you do to prepare yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually to be away? Or what unique preparations have  you made for five different kinds of leave-taking, such as vacation, continuing education, changing calls, retirement, death of a loved one?

1. The cats -- the most important task.  Glinda could pretty much take care of herself, but now that we have Marti, a special-needs cat, the situation has grown more complicated.  We hired a fabulous pet sitter team for our last trip, but what with the bird who flew into the house, the raccoon who dug into the trash, and the gas that leaked into the house, I'm not sure they'll come back!  (The cats did great, though.)

2.  The church -- now that I'm the pastor, any absence requires me to arrange for back-up pastoral care, and Sunday preaching, if I'm gone for Sunday.  I've been really blessed by wonderful colleagues, so no worries there, once the recruiting is accomplished.  If I go away when I'm teaching, it's a lot harder to find someone.

3. The stuff -- I'm getting much better at packing for almost anything using nothing more than a carry-on suitcase and some sort of bag.  That ipad makes reading and writing such compact endeavors!

4. The guides and maps -- vacation or conference, I love to see something of my surroundings, and I try always to plan with that in mind.   I've been to Martin Luther King, Jr. sites and Olympic Park in Atlanta, thanks to the Older Adult Ministries Conference a couple of years ago; to a bit of St. Louis with friends, thanks to the Interim Ministry Training last fall; and to a few great places in Denver, thanks to the Festival of Homiletics.

5. I am an inveterate list maker, so all of the above is accomplished via detailed lists.

Next planned trip: Washington, D.C. in another ten days, to lobby for suicide prevention legislation.