Friday, October 31, 2008

sunday's sermon

Moses was kind of a big deal. He was discovered in the river by Pharoah’s daughter, talked to the burning bush, got Pharoah to “let my people go,” parted the Red Sea, brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain, and got water from a rock. He was bigger than big--a superstar among mortals--so great in fact that he spoke with God face to face. He must have had the patience of Job...if he had lived after Job...

Moses led the Israelites for 40 years through the desert. He put up with their constant whining... “It’s hot,” “I’m thirsty,” “He touched me,” “She was coveting my oxen and my male and female slaves,” “His 401K’s bigger than mine,” “Are we there yet?” ...for 40 years. That’s enough for an entire generation to die and a new one to take their place, yet he never gave up. He spent years telling everyone to chill and that everything would be okay in the end.

Forty years after they left Egypt, having eaten quail and manna every day of it, they finally made it to the edge of the Land Flowing with Milk and Honey--Gilead, The Promised Land. This was the end of the journey and everything was finally okay in the end. And, says the book of Deuteronomy, Moses went up the mountain and saw the Promised Land for the first time--its rivers and pomegranate trees and cedar forests, its abundant possibilities, its farmlands which sang of freedom, and its cities which smelled of triumph. He saw it all and, indeed, it was very good. And God said, “Here is the Promised Land--this is it–you’ve made it! Wilkommen! Oh, but you, Moses, superstar of the can’t come in.

Wait, hang on...what?! Why can’t Moses cross over to the Promised Land? He’ you know who this man is? He’s Moses... the Moses.
Yeah, about that...
Remember a few weeks ago in church we heard about Moses getting water from a rock? The Israelites were complaining about how thirsty they were, having not brought their water bottles, and Moses went to God and said, “This is ridiculous, what do we do?” And God said, “Go hit that rock with your staff and you’ll get water.” Well, that story’s in here twice–Exodus and Numbers–and the second time, Moses doesn’t fare so well. It’s almost the same story only the second time it says Moses didn’t think the hitting-a-rock-with-your-staff gambit would work and therefore he could never enter the Promised Land. Which is weird–Moses acts pretty much the same both times: he doesn’t say anything about how well it will work and he does exactly what God says. Plus, what about Aaron making that golden calf for the people to worship the other week, huh? He didn’t even pause–how come he’s okay? This is why Moses is denied entry? Everything is not ending ok.

We can easily read ourselves into the story here–Moses was left behind and we fear we might be, too. We live in uncertain times, this week, perhaps more than others. Bruce, news junkie that he is, tells me that the next few days could go down in history. We await the next blow in the global financial crisis; we wonder not just how we’ll survive but if. The Commerce Department will release this week the 3rd quarter gross domestic product--one of the many numbers we let tell us who and where we are–and it’s not expected to be good. Our investments, our jobs, our retirement all seem to be in flux. We are afraid this is the end–we’re left on the outside looking in. And we see folk much worse off than ourselves losing their homes, swamped by debt, laid off, unable to buy groceries. We fear for them–will they be left behind? And to add to all that, Leighton and I are expecting our first child any week now--it’s terrifying. Not just the labor and delivery part, though that’s scary enough, but the taking care of a new life, not screwing her up, offering her a world that is uncertain and dangerous. What if we can’t provide for her? What if she finds herself in an abusive relationship? What if we use the wrong kind of pacifier or diaper cream?

The Apostle Paul says all of creation is groaning with labor pains, birthing a new world. Sometimes it seems like all we can feel are the labor pains--Moses’ rejection, looming parenthood, possible financial doom, worry over the state of our souls–it’s all one and the same. We fear it’s the end

Here’s the thing–you knew there was a thing, right? It’s not a false promise or a fake smile but our deepest hope in Jesus Christ. Everything will be okay in the end: if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Labor is not the end of parenthood. A recession is not the end of the world death, even, is not the end of the story. Our Christian hope is that there’s more to the story. Everything will be okay in the end: if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Our daughter will have a great life and will be well-loved. The scrapes she gets into will be difficult but they’re plot complications, not the end of her story. Our investments could lose staggering amounts, yet our families and relationships will continue–it’s not the end. Moses was mourned by the people for a whole month and he’s remembered through history as unequaled, mighty, and wise. His greatest project–leading the Israelites to the Promised Land–worked. And that’s not the end either--his death marks the end of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures) but the story goes on. There are kings and prophets and psalms and epics yet to come. Some think the Bible and the world end with the fear and destruction of Revelation, yet even that ends with a new creation.

Our fear is not the end. Our Christian hope is everything will be okay in the end: if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. This is not the end.
God is good–all the time. All the time–God is good.
God is good–all the time! All the time–God is good!
God is good–all the time!! All the time–God is good!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

found theology

everything will be okay in the end.

if it's not okay, it's not the end.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the myth of multitasking

National Public Radio has recently had several articles about multitasking. Essentially, it's a myth.

We can't actually do two things at once but switch very quickly from one task to another. You may say this amounts to the same thing, but I don't think it does. The researchers who were interviewed noted that neither of the tasks being worked on in a multitasking situation are done very well. That is, if you can't be entirely present to a thing--driving, a conversation, eating, reading a book--neither you nor the task will benefit. More to the point, in the above-referenced story, it was found that drivers who were talking on the phone (hands-free or not!) had the same affect as drivers just over the legal limit of alcohol. You simply cannot concentrate on both things at once but switch your attention between the two. If you're talking on the phone, you're not paying attention to the road. And let's not even get into texting while driving--no one I know does that...especially not myself...

That multitasking is a myth is both obvious and epiphanic. Of course we can't really do more than one thing at a time, but we've been getting away with it for so long, calling it better productivity or higher efficiency, that it feels like we can. Yet when I heard the story, it cut right into my marrow. I know full well that my attention is not on the road when I'm texting...that is to say, when I'm talking on the phone. I know full well that typing an email while talking to my Loving Husband on the phone means the email takes twice as long and probably has to be rewritten and Loving Husband gets the benefit of long, awkward pauses. I know full well that attention is what God calls us to.

Anthony de Mello was Jesuit priest who wrote many books about the spiritual life. One of my favorites is Awareness, his lectures about paying attention to the world, to our souls, to our justifications for what we want to do rather than what God is pushing us towards. In the very first chapter, he writes:

Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don't know it, are asleep. They're born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing we call human existence.

It's brilliant and abrasive and eye-opening. Every time he says "Wake up!" I physically start. Our lives are so fast-paced, so unfocused, so overwhelming. We don't help things by trying to be more efficient--all we're doing is sinking deeper into sleep.

I have stopped talking on my phone in the car. Texting, too. I am trying to focus on one task at a time, doing it well, and moving on to the next thing. It's hard to retrain myself, but so far it's been worth it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

gospel pie

Last year, the movie Waitress came out to positive critical review but almost no one saw it. Which is too bad because it's excellent. Jenna Hunterson is a waitress in a small town, married to an absolute lout. She rarely smiles. Her life is not what she wanted it to be. But she makes the most glorious pies—Marshmallow Mermaid Pie, Bad Baby Pie, Lonely Chicago Pie, and Naughty Pumpkin Pie, just to name a few. People who eat her pies can't help but love them. She pours her heart and life into the crusts with the fillings. Jenna gets pregnant, meets a wonderful stranger, meets a crochety old man, and the rest I'll let you discover when you rent it. It's the pies I want to talk about.

You might say I'm nesting right now. With a little more than a month to go in my pregnancy, I'm cleaning and cooking like crazy. I've made pot roasts and meat loafs and quiches—things we rarely have at home. And I've made pies. My plan is to bake my way through the Pie and Pastry Bible, stopping only when I run out of butter or time. Today's pie is traditional Granny Smith Apple, though I may add some cranberries.

Pies are a conundrum. They're hugely tasty and comforting to the eater—the flaky, tender crust; the rich filling, sometimes fruit, sometimes savory; the warmth that comes from a fresh-baked pie that fills more than your belly. Yet pies are a challenge. I once preached about Lemon Meringue Pie a while back—the meringue is a monumental challenge if you make it by hand. But meringue is only an accessory, if you will, a garnish. If you want to make a truly marvelous pie, you've got to start with the crust. Four ingredients, usually—flour, salt, butter, and water—in the right proportion, at the right temperatures, combined in the right order. And it's not something you can rush—no-bake or store-bought crusts just aren't satisfying. You can't take too long, either. If you overwork the dough, you'll get a tough, unappetizing crust. It's a delicate balance. A good pie crust is flavorful, flaky, tender, and lightly browned. And it is a labor of love, sacrifice, and vulnerability.

Do you already see where I’m going with this? It's the time of year when we talk about financial contributions to the church—stewardship—and is traditionally the subject of much groaning. But think of your pledge as an ingredient in that pie crust. Making that transcendental pie requires sacrifice—of time, of money, of energy—yet it's a joyful sacrifice. Seeing the ingredients come together properly, adjusting as needed, looking forward with hope to the end product are all joyful things. That same pie requires vulnerability—at some point, we offer it to others, waiting to hear their comments. Will they like it? Will they come back for more? Will they pick up on the nuances of the crust and fillings?

We Christians put ourselves out there in the hopes that our lives may be seen as testaments to the Gospel. We give of ourselves, not because we ought to but because we want to. We share our stories with one another and with our friends and neighbors, not because we are commanded to but because we can't help but tell people the Good News we've experienced. And, brothers and sisters, nothing spreads the gospel like giving away a fresh-baked, homemade pie.