Sunday, December 27, 2009

sobering post

From Cheryl Lawrie, one of my favorite bloggers and worship curators, comes this brief conversation about life inside and outside prison. Food for thought.

check it out

Some very provocative questions for your consideration.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

notes from the Edge--Interchange article

I think I’m beginning to get it. This thing we call “campus ministry” is amorphous, protean, perplexing, ephemeral, and many other five-dollar words. But at the end of my first quarter as a campus minister at the University of Cincinnati, I think I’m beginning to get it.

Like a lot of folk, I wrestle with whether I’m doing enough, doing it right, doing what God wants from me. On a college campus with upwards of 35,000 students, the challenge can seem insurmountable. Is campus ministry supposed to draw hundreds of students? Is it supposed to make a big splash on the campus? Is it supposed to result in lots of baptisms? Is it supposed to be quantifiable such that my funding will be renewed? Maybe, but all of this makes me tired. What gets me energized is on-the-fly conversations with students about theology, about the struggles they are facing, about how they got to where they are. What makes me happy is a student’s tentative exploration of the Christian story or her excitement for a service project. What shows me God’s action is the faithfulness of students in returning to us and in being willing to step out of their self-made boxes. These are not things that can be easily reported and they’re not things that happen every day. Success, as many folk in the campus ministry blogosphere have recently pointed out, is not what you think. Success, as Henri Nouwen points out in his book Lifesigns, is fruitfulness rather than productivity.

An example:
I have been spending time contacting students and professors over the quarter, taking them to lunch, inviting them to the campus house at the corner of Clifton and Martin Luther King, meeting them on campus and engaging in conversation. I’ve called them, emailed them, Facebooked them, Tweeted them, texted them. I’ve put up fliers. I’ve prayed. And slowly, I’ve developed a “clump” of students interested in what we’re doing, interested in pursuing some portion of the spiritual life.

The weekend before exams, I had one of those days which makes it all worth it, a fruitful day. A student came by to talk about her passion for an anti-suicide awareness campaign called To Write Love on Her Arms–we made concrete plans to engage the campus in conversation. After a conversation about the small group of homeless folk who have been making camp in the woods nearby, a couple students and I walked down and emptied their overflowing trash can. A professor dropped by to go over details for a DAAP art project at the campus house–we’d been conversing and dreaming for the entire quarter about what this collaboration might look like. In the evening, we celebrated the Advent season with a rollicking gospel worship service, fried-chicken dinner, and service project for the First Step Home with at least 30 people–more than we’ve ever had at a single event (besides orientation activities).

Each of these moments is the slow-growing fruit of a longer conversation. They are stories not results. They have developed out of relationship rather than expectation or schedule. They are success. I get it. For the moment.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


...[T]he very existence of such powers argues a counterforce. We call powers of the first kind dark, though they may use a species of deadly light as Decuman did; and we call those of the second kind bright, though I think that they may at times employ darkness, as a good man nevertheless draws the curtains of his bed to sleep. Yet there is truth to the talk of darkness and light, because it shows plainly that one implies the other. The tale I read to little Severian said that the universe was but a long word of the Increate's. We, then, are the syllables of that word. But the speaking of any word is futile unless there are other words, words that are not spoken. If a beast has but one cry, the cry tells nothing; and even the wind has a multitude of voices, so that those who sit indoors may hear it and know if the weather is tumultuous or mild. The powers we call dark seem to me to be the words the Increate did not speak, if the Increate exists at all; and these words must be maintained in a quasi-existence, if the other word, the word spoken, is to be distinguished. What is not said can be important--but what is said is more important.
--The Sword of the Lictor, by Gene Wolfe, p 124-125.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

today's sermon--Luke 21:25-36

I am afraid of the dark. There, I said it. I’ve been afraid of the dark since before I can remember, and I’ve never really shaken it. I used to panic when fumbling for a light switch, or run up a flight of stairs from a dark hallway to a light one, waving my arm behind me to beat away the monster that was chasing me. I still fight off my overactive imagination when entering a dark room, remembering all the scary movies and news clips I’ve seen.

When my dad was in seminary, we went to the Great Vigil very early every Easter Sunday. It was pitch black outside. We’d gather around in the cold morning air and they’d light a blazing fire to symbolize the light of Christ which pierces the darkness…but which to me only put up a thin, weak wall between us and the surrounding darkness.

It seems like that darkness is all around this time of year. It gets dark so early in non-Daylight-Savings-Time. Some of us experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, feeling sad and mopey and unmotivated for no discernible reason. Many of us remember loved ones who have died near the holidays and cannot contain our grief. Last week we wrote out our New Year’s resolutions and stuck them to the boards in the lobby and this week we step into that new year, into Advent, into a season of waiting, of uncertainty. Our new year begins in darkness, like that Easter Vigil. We light one little candle to help us find our way in the dark and… it doesn’t seem like it really helps. Where are the Maglights that will flood the room with light and with which we can smack down the monsters that wait for us?

You don’t believe in monsters any more? I think you do. They’re drunk drivers and communicable disease. They’re poverty and not being able to take care of our kids. They’re rejection and decline. For a lot of people, the decisions the ELCA Assembly made this summer regarding sexuality are monstrous. For others, the monster is our brothers and sisters leaving us because of those decisions. The conversations we have seem sometimes to lead into darkness where we can’t see the way. The monster you fear in the dark could be your own sinfulness—we’re all broken and so often we can see it clearly—hurtful words, disdainful actions, willful ignorance. Maybe the darkness your path enters is doubt—how true is this Christian story? Am I living it the right way?

The holiday cheer this Advent and Christmas can feel like a veneer. We convince ourselves it’s okay to spend more than we can afford or buy meaningless gifts, because it’s Christmas, right? We watch the news and hear about random shootings or piracy or starvation or abuse. We know what goes on out there and sometimes we’re the ones doing it. It doesn’t help to have an apocalypse for our gospel reading this New Year’s Day. Luke’s Jesus talks about confusion and distress and foreboding and fear. He says we can only pray to escape the things that are coming. And what are we supposed to do with that?

Some Christians would say we’re right to live in fear, that at any moment calamity could fall upon us, that God’s judgment is only the blink of an eye away, that a time of darkness and pain and war is coming…And I would say, if you think it’s not here now, you’re not paying attention.

It’s more than evil we fear, it’s uncertainty. Finding our way in the dark fills us with fear because we can’t see the way. Finding our way in the dark is hard because it’s dark. We don’t know which path to choose because we can’t see where they lead. This present darkness, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, is terrifying. The dark is here now…

But you know what else is here now? The Kingdom of God is here now. The joy of resurrection and redemption and peace and belonging is here NOW. And again I say, if you think it’s not, you’re not paying attention.

Jesus says, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Your redemption is drawing near. These apocalyptic events, the overwhelming moments in your lives, they are a sign that redemption is coming. They do not exist by themselves but inter-mingled with hope.

Those early Easter mornings years ago, we kids would all fall asleep once we were inside the chapel. The adults continued on with the readings from salvation history and at dawn, we awoke to the sunlight streaming in the tall windows. I remember I was overcome with joy and renewal and felt that something very good had pushed away the dark. Recently, spending an hour talking with a homeless woman in Chicago or playing with my 1-year-old daughter, I feel that divine hope renewed and the darkness pushed away again.

When have you felt that hope? When have you been delighted recently? That’s God lighting your path. When have you reached out to someone hurting? When has someone reached out to you when you needed it? That’s God lighting your path. We like to think our world is all darkness, but that’s too easy. It’s easy to complain, to focus on the misery. Seeing hope isn’t easy and it doesn’t negate the fear, but it does offer a way forward.

How do we find our way in the darkness? We reach out, fumble for the hand of the person next to us, hold on to someone else. We strike a match, light a candle, prepare ourselves with works of kindness. We open your eyes—and wait to see the coming of the Christ child. In him, the light is intermingled with the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

Your redemption is drawing near, the light is coming. Jesus keeps speaking—he speaks of a fig tree which, after the winter, after the Seasonal Affective Disorder, the tree puts out new leaves. Anyone who’s paying attention knows that flowers and fruit will follow the new leaves. Anyone who’s paying attention knows that birth follows the labor pains. Anyone who’s paying attention knows that apocalypse is not the end, but a signal of a new beginning. It is all part of the process—relapse is part of recovery.

This Advent, this new year, is about becoming. Becoming a Christian is about leaning towards something—God, Kingdom, love made manifest—it’s about yearning and process. It is not about arrival but finding our way.

God is coming, and God is here.
Alleluia, God is coming, Alleluia, God is here!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

clarifying thought from the blogosphere

MadPriest's "Thought of the Day":
I have read, or have listened to, words from the Bible almost everyday of my life and I believe I can now say, without any doubt, that there are two great evils that a person can commit: hurting people and hypocrisy. On these two sins hang all that is evil and all who promote evil.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

i could deal with this if it weren't for that

Driving back from the grocery store yesterday, I thought to myself how wonderful being a mom is. I get a primal satisfaction from planning Abby's lunches and playing games with her. I thought to myself how happy I'd be with several little ones running around and me with only their laundry, health, education, and spirituality to worry about. I thought to myself that it's this pesky job that's in the way, that keeps me from being completely fulfilled.

Last week, returning home from a long but good day at the UC campus, I thought to myself how wonderful being a campus minister is. I get a primal satisfaction from brainstorming new events and conversing intently about folks' lives. I thought to myself how happy I'd be focused entirely on the campus and my husband, with only their very special needs and concerns to worry about. I thought to myself that it's this pesky motherhood that's in the way, that keeps me from being completely fulfilled.

When I have a migraine, I think I could be okay if only either the nausea or headache would go away. But when I have only one of the two, it's no better. Seems like there's always something standing in the way of happiness. Seems like we put something in the way of happiness--that our happiness/joy/fulfillment is conditional. We can only be happy if certain conditions--established and changed in a moment--are present.

"If it weren't for this one thing," we think to ourselves, "I could deal. I could be happy. It's just that one thing."

But that one thing becomes an idol, something that stands between us and God and which we mistake for a god. Workload or homework, a partner's behavioral tics, perceived persecution--all become idols of negative space. That is, they take up space along the edges of things, filling our vision to overflowing with what-has-to-be-done rather than what-is-being-done. We give them power and they take over. We let these things keep us from giving of ourselves in whatever context we find ourselves in. I once heard it said that Jesus didn't go out of his way to help people--that he was busy enough helping the ones who crossed his path. It is where we are--busy-ness, multiple pleas for our attention, sickness and health--that we are called to celebrate and where we will be fulfilled. There will always be something else to deal with. But there is also always the space and people where we are to celebrate and encourage.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

questions to ask your church/community

At the Navigate Conference in Florence, KY this week, DG Hollums asked these questions at the end of his talk:

Does this expect them to come to us? Is there sending involved?
How are relationships forming outside our walls?
Does this promote the kingdom or ourselves/churches?
Are people’s lives being transformed through relationships? Is the community you live in being transformed?Can this become a movement that you no longer control? Is the spirit in control?

I'm going to use these for prayer foci, bible study questions, house church conversation, vestry/council challenge.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

discipling college students

Did you know "disciple" is a verb?

Friend and office-mate Chris asked some folk for thoughts on "simple steps for discipling college students." Keeping them simple as asked, here are my thoughts:
  • Meet them where they are. So where are they? Go there.
  • Provide free food but don't stop there.
  • Listen. Really listen. Don't tell them what to do.
  • Have clear expectations of their journey--don't refrain from challenging them.
What do you think?

Friday, October 02, 2009

overly-sentimental or needful realism?

I just put Abby to bed. She was sleepy enough to go gracefully, which doesn't always happen, and so adorable as she rubbed her eyes and blinked at me. Just before I'd read her Pajama Time and Mama, Do You Love Me? and before that I'd changed her into clean diaper and PJs and fed her potatoes and carrots and zucchini for dinner, which she loved.

And all I can think about right now is all the babies in the world right this moment who have none of that. The vegetables, the clean diapers, the books, the love, the intention. And I'm stuck between being aware of my mama-hormones which make me more susceptible to flights of emotion and of the world's deep need.

Recently NPR reported on the Cameron Todd Willingham case in Texas. A number of years ago, Mr. Willingham's house burned down, killing his three small children. He was tried, convicted, and executed for arson and murder. Years later, it's coming to light that the forensic evidence used to convict him was based on folklore, evidence which even at the time was considered laughable. What killed me was a reporter noting that witnesses on the night of the fire said they saw Mr. Willingham on his porch, covered in soot, screaming, "My babies are burning up!" I can't even imagine. No, that's wrong. I can imagine, and that's the problem.

Children have no way of raising themselves, of protecting themselves, of making their own decisions. It could be said that they make decisions all the time. Sure, we're in agreement about that when it comes to which block to pick up or whether something should be chewed or later whether someone is a friend or an enemy. But children are basically helpless, little people in a world of big, violent, forgetful, selfish people.

It could also be said that, particularly in America, we coddle our kids too much. That we protect them from things far beyond reasonable measures. And that every argument falling from a politician's mouth includes something about protecting the children. All true as far as they go.

BUT the painful truth is that there are millions of children in the world whose parents don't or can't take care of them. Who eat junk food or even garbage. Who hear only "don't" and never "good job." Who never hear Pajama Time or Mama, Do You Love Me?. Whose understanding of life is insecurity and hunger and fear. And that's a sin.

I'm feeling increasingly called to consider these issues. If you have thoughts on the subject or agencies already in existence you'd like to share, please do so on this blog's original site:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

some thoughts about week 1

  • I recently heard that if you're not exhausted by the end of the first week of classes in the campus ministry game, you're not doing it right. It's Wednesday and I've been exhausted for at least two days.

  • But it has been phenomenal! At The Edge House at UC, Sunday evening's Make-Your-Own Sundae drew about 70 students throughout the two hours and Monday's Mini-Masterpieces and pizza at least 80. Last night's Theology Throwdown (thanks DG for the name) drew about 15 or so and we had a feisty, quickly-moving conversation. It's amazing to finally be doing the thing I've been preparing for for months.

  • AND my boss, the lovely and vivacious Larry, told me that what I'm doing--house revamp, ministry reboot--is what he's been dreaming fondly about for years.

  • And what's maybe more amazing is my co-planners. Co-ministers? Let's go with friends. Jamie and Chris have been gifts to me in my stumbling around in the campus ministry dark. We're all new or relatively new to the party and are leaning on one another for many things. Absolutely no way I could have survived this week without them. And we're only half-way there.

  • I read Benson Hines' campus ministry blog and feel...lazy. Or amateur. He's got such great stories and ideas, most culled from ministries around the country, and I wonder if I'll ever be in a position to do what he writes about. But that's just the exhausted part of me. The other, energetic part says, "let's go!"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

today I am doing a new thing

I've figured out what's got me running so scared about campus ministry. I know, I put forth this air of utter competence and joyous energy--how could I possibly have doubts? Well, I do. Don't you?

It's not meeting people. It's not doing cool programs and/or worship. It's not interacting with faculty and administration. It's the students.

More specifically, it's empowering the students to be leaders. Everyone who's anyone at the campus ministry party says the key to successful (however you define that) ministry is a student-owned and -run operation. I'm all for it. It's all about the priesthood of all believers, about empowering the laity, about the priest/minister/grand poobah not being in charge but just another guy with a specific set of skills. It's about community sustainability. Again, I'm all for it. I'm just not sure I'm all about it.

Do I, extroverted and sometimes control-adjacent Alice, have the skills and gifts for giving the power to someone else? Looking back at five years in my previous parish, I wonder. I created an elected youth council to govern and vision for the youth group and many of the youth were active in planning and encouraging others. But they weren't where I had hoped. But process theology tells me that we never truly arrive--we're always on the way. It's less about hitting a particular, self-inflicted goal and more about how you exist and change in relationship.

Pray for me and for officemates Chris and Jamie that we stay semi-sane and feel the breath of God periodically.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

someone else's blog

In my continuing, in-depth series of posts of other people's blogs, check out officemate Chris Bean the Nazarene (say it out loud)'s recent post.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

excellent article

Wonderful opinion piece about whitewater and American willful ignorance.

Only you can prevent stupidity.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

today's sermon--Song of Songs 2.8-13

Grace and peace to you, brothers and sisters, from the mission field of University of Cincinnati. A mission field, I say, because it is ripe, not for the harvest, but for discovery. I am poised and ready for discovering how the good news already present, where God’s already acting. This is sharing the good news—not my sharing with them, but their sharing with me and one another how God has acted in their lives. Evangelism is about that—joy and excitement in our life together, pleasure in seeing where God’s acting in mysterious ways. Evangelism is about sharing our delight with other people. It’s like falling in love with God and God’s creation.

Let me ask you a question: What’s it like for you to be in love? Think about it—think about a time you fell in love. Could be any age—your Kindergarten sweetheart, your high school crush, your first boyfriend or girlfriend, your spouse—what was it like? In the beginning, you get that heart-pounding, skin-tingling anticipation, longing to be with the object of your desire. Later, there’s deep, abiding trust, comfort in one another’s skins and minds and continual challenge. And even later, you become like one another, like a man grows to look like his dog.

And everything in your life changes because of that love. You changed your schedule so you could catch a glimpse, changed your hair so he or she would catch a glimpse of you. You changed how you spoke, how you dressed, how you thought—whether you knew it or not. Love changes everything. Now, hold that feeling in your heart, and now think about a time you fell in love with God—this church, this denomination, this people, this Christianity. What was that heart-pounding moment? When did you long to be a part of it? Have you reached the stage of trust and comfort and challenge with the people of Roselawn Lutheran? How often have you fallen in love with the church? How many times have you fallen in love with Jesus? And everything in your life changed because of that love, or had the potential to change, anyway. You changed your schedules so you could be present in the community on Sunday, you changed how you talked or dressed or acted, you changed your reaction to a panhandler or a grocery clerk or your partner, you sacrificed and you rejoiced—whether you knew it or not. It wasn’t rules or rationalism which made you stay—it was love. Love changes everything.

You may think I mean metaphorically “in love”—like being overcome with compassion and connection with a community and thought it was neat. All great things, but I’m talking about really being in love—like, you like us like us, you know? Let me give you an example. There are two choices for the Hebrew Scripture lesson for today. The lesson chosen for this parish on this day was from Deuteronomy—you just heard it read a moment—“you must neither add anything to what I command you nor take anything away from it but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.” It’s simple, clear, directive…sterile? “Don’t add or take away anything”—implies no interpretation, no change, no vitality. There are many folk who take comfort in rules, laws, clarity. Our Jewish brothers and sisters would say the Law is a gift from the God who loves us. They’re right—God is indeed already active in the Law. But God is a living God, a God of surprises and mysteries, a God who cannot be contained by our words. Remember Abram wheedled with God to save Sodom—God changed his mind. Jesus changed his mind when the Syro-Phonecian woman showed him her faith. Could God also be a God who changes? Could God need us… for deeper relationship? Could God need us to requite God’s love?

The other option for the Hebrew Scripture lesson was from the Song of Songs. We rarely get to read from Song, I’m not sure why—too challenging? too sexy? too inappropriate? Yet we’re all obsessed with sex—whether we’re doing it right, how to have it more often, who other people are having it with, how they feel about it, what it looks like (sexy or icky), whether our kids should know about it—and here it is in the Bible in glorious, beautiful words:

8The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. 
9My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. 
10My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away; 11for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 
12The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land. 
13The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away” and later “my beloved is mine, and I am his” and later “I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him and found him not” and still later, passages which might make you blush. “My beloved”—Jesus used that phrase when talking to his disciples. “My beloved”—this is unashamed love poetry—maybe like the stuff you and I both wrote to our teen loves—maybe more like Shakespeare, but love poetry nonetheless. The first narrator, a woman in love, is unashamed of her love, longing to be with him, searching the streets for him, showing him with everything that she has and everything that she is that he is her beloved. And the second narrator, a man in love, does the same—it’s a mutual, requited passion. They are complete in the other and love changes everything for them.

Great. Lovely. What’s it doing in the Bible? There’s no mention of God here. And it’s, you know, PG13. Scholars have been arguing for centuries about the Song of Songs. Some say it is a love song about the sacredness of romantic or erotic love, that in Creation, God created us not just for procreation but for joy, for delight in one another, for love. Others say it’s an allegory, a story that clearly shows the Church as the woman in love with God, the man, that it illustrates the spiritual joy we find in God. Another authority who hasn’t gotten much press—maybe as little as the Song of Songs itself—is a 13th c. Dutch mystic named Hadewijch (I know, hang on). Like other mystics, she had visions of God, and these visions were both visual and tactile; unlike many mystics, she often wrote about her experiences in unabashedly sexual terms. Her poetry is what we might call the romance novel of her day. She called God minne which means “Love.” Hadewijch found ways to describe her experience of God, in terms common to all people, drawing comparisons between spiritual and physical ecstasy; she developed a theology of knowing and loving God which is physical and mutual. Physical and mutual. In other words, Hadewijch said, just as we long for God, so God longs for us. God longs for us. God wants us to love God back. Love changes everything.

So, the joy we find in this church, the delight we have in one another’s company, yes, even the challenge we offer one another, is love. Is God active and moving in our midst. AND God is in love with us. God desires us. God wants us to share our love stories with others. Wants us to change our ways and live that love. God, dare I say it, writes soppy love poetry to us in the form of the Bible. Because what else could our scriptures be, with all our faults and all of God’s forgiveness, what else could our scriptures be but a long, complicated love story?

Jesus looked at the crowds and he loved them.

God so loved the world that he gave his only son.

God loved the world so much that he made it in the first place.


Love. Changes. Everything.

Monday, August 24, 2009

book thoughts

It is fascinating to me just how bad Twilight is. This from a veteran romance novel reader. I've read them since I was a pre-teen, sneaking them from the piles in my Grandma's room and reading 3 or 4 of the single-complication, Harlequin variety a day. It's a guilty and perhaps dubious pleasure. And despite a few titles and authors who've made something interesting of the genre, and despite the educated and highly entertaining ladies over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Romance novels are Not Very Good. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer is a romance novel. Sort of.

The problems are threefold:

~the hero, Edward Cullen, is perfect
In some contexts, this might be an overstatement. In the world of Twilight, it is an understatement. Your typical romance novel hero needs flaws: a scar from a gun fight years ago which gives him a rugged charm; an emotional wound dating from his mother's death; a weakness to Kryptonite. Typically he has all three, making him all the more attractive, something to "fix", am I right, ladies? Edward Cullen has no flaws. He's model gorgeous, which the narrator (cypher for Ms Meyer?) never ceases to let us forget. He's smart. He's funny. He's caring. He's always right. And he's boring. The supposed flaw that his skin glitters in the sunlight not only doesn't make him interesting, it makes him kind of campy. Even the imminent danger he poses to the heroine because of his vampiric nature doesn't save him from dullness.

~the heroine, Bella Swan, has no personality
The book begins promisingly enough, suggesting that Bella is a sarcastic, vaguely artsy introvert. She is clearly clever and willing to strike out on her own, moving to the overcast and provincial town where her father lives. "Excellent," the reader thinks, "An acerbic, independent woman, crippled by her shyness but with a core of moxy." Absolutely not. Bella faints at the sight of blood, gets nauseous at the drop of a hat, and immediately succumbs to Edward's overbearing statements that he can't get too worked up around her. Thus, not only is he boring and she wimpy, they don't even have real chemistry. All the characterization exists in phrases like "'What do you mean?' he challenged." or "'I like that dress,' I opined." If the reader has to be told that Bella is being sarcastic, she's not.

~there is no real conflict
Meyer's protestations of Bella's blood pounding and Edward's longing gazes to the contrary, they never really get it on. To be sure, it's pleasant not to read smutty bits in a teen novel, but the plot is so chaste as to make me question Meyer's intent. Is this, or is this not a romance novel? When Edward has managed to secret himself in Bella's bedroom one evening and they've been cuddling and canoodling for a bit, he asks, "What do you want to do?" She, still breathless from his perfect presence in her humble room, considers and says, "I don't know." You don't know? Really? The "action" sequences are few and peppered between large swaths of Edward and Bella sitting around and talking. The villains of the novel are either easily avoided or easily defeated. Even the early uncertainty between Edward and Bella, the part where they either hate one another or misunderstand each other's actions has a certain inevitability about it. What is there to overcome?

The movie version of the book has a certain fascination about it, probably explained solely by Edward's (Robert Pattinson) ridiculously gorgeous looks. The book, too, is fascinating--fascinating that it holds such fascination for so many women.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

today's sermon--Ephesians 6.10-20

I feel very uncomfortable with this Ephesians passage. About as uncomfortable as when I read the earlier parts of Joshua where the Israelites destroy all the people in Canaan, the Promised Land. And about as uncomfortable as when I read parts of Ezekiel—the violent, explicit bits where God doesn’t come off so well. It’s not like war or violence have no precedent in history or scripture—it’s just that they seem so over-the-top and so…predictable.

Jesus himself was prone to dramatic, violent gestures—he overturned tables and screamed at vendors in the Temple, maybe even whipped them, according to some; he cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit when he knew full well that it wasn’t fig season. Yet we all know Jesus’ words and life to be overflowing with love and compassion, at odds with his zeal. So battle-ready images seem out of place, especially in church, am I right? Let’s hold hands and sing “Seek Ye First” and eat cookies and coffee instead.

Yet it is a struggle, this faith we claim. For some more than others, but a struggle all the same. Maybe we don’t like the language of war or maybe we’re too comfortable with it, but either way, it’s a constant in our lives. Instead of ignoring it, can we coopt it for our spiritual lives? Become Prayer Warriors? I think Jesus might have liked that term, because at its base, it doesn’t make sense. Instead of cherry-picking the parts of Scripture we like, can we struggle with this passage for a moment, dwell in that place of discomfort to see if maybe God has something to say to us?

Consider what the writer of the letter to the Ephesians says we’re going to face: rulers, authorities, and powers of this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil. All called in theological shorthand “powers and principalities”—what’s this about?

The text says it’s the spiritual forces of evil that we fight, not the flesh and blood ones—which is odd, because I could have sworn that war has a physical toll. I would have thought Jesus’ words about justice for the dispossessed and captives meant some sort of call to earthly justice. But Ephesians insists on the spiritual aspect of warfare, the principalities and powers which rule in our hearts instead of God. What are these principalities and powers now? I suppose one obvious answer might be politicians and the political system—massaging the message to mean what they need it to mean—but also might mean corporate greed or indifference. Those who work for corporations sometimes pushed to make the unethical choice and those who buy the products encouraged not to think about where those products come from. Powers and principalities might be greed, or accumulation—our houses cease being homes and become receptacles to keep our stuff safe. Or distance created by technology meant to help but which can create yet another barrier, another shield. Maybe it’s fear—of being alone, of having nothing, of seeing ourselves clearly. The powers and principalities you have to fight will be different than mine and one another’s—but seeing them clearly ought to be the first step—what is taking the place of God in your heart?

Now, consider what we’re supposed to do about it: put on the armor of God—what’s that? When I go to work as a campus minister at University of Cincinnati, I wear armor. Not literally, of course, that’d be weird. But I do wear the Converse All-Stars of self-expression, the laptop bag of welcome, and the clergy shirt of tradition. It’s armor of a sort, preparing me for the complex conversations I’ll have, for the battles I fight each day.

This passage is not about sitting passively—armor is not for just sitting still on your horse in an empty field. But neither is it about forcing conversions at the end of a sword. Certainly God does the heavy lifting—but we have to get ready. I wonder if we’re talking less of war imagery and more of preparedness, of transformation. At the time the letter was written, much of the Near East was under the heel of Rome, occupied by foreigners, invaded. Those invaders were, for all intents and purposes, in control. I wonder if the writer of Ephesians chose the look of a Roman soldier, not only because folk would recognize it, but also as a subtle transformation of who was in charge. Their armor is just metal, but ours is made of Justice, Truth, Righteousness, and the Word of God! Transformation from one thing to another is not just living our normal, comfortable lives with a little Jesus thrown in here and there but a soul-deep understanding of God’s love and our thanksgiving for it. To truly change your heart and mind away from an attitude of apathy or entitlement and towards one of compassion and sacrifice requires a huge change—we must be transformed in our preparation for battle. Consider what you wore to worship today, or how you dress for school or work: the two-piece suit of action, the necktie of willingness to talk to strangers about the weather, the backpack of compassion, the iPod of delight in others’ accomplishments, the earrings of really listening…

I mentioned my discomfort about this scripture passage on my Facebook status. A friend commented that the part of the passage that had always struck him was the bit about putting on your feet “whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace”. What makes you ready to live the life you’re called to? What makes you ready to take on even a corner of the powers and principalities of the world you live in? What makes you ready to speak about your faith or about the joy you find in this place?

In the end, it’s about trust—trust in one another in community, trust in God—the armor we put on is not about offense or defense but about putting on God like a garment. God, who loved the world so much that God gave us God’s only son—God, who wanted us so much that God created the world in the first place—God is already out on the field of your battle, waiting for you. God is already in your math class and your 8am conference call and your marriage and your next-door neighbor’s house. God forged the iron of your breastplate of righteousness, wove the poly-cotton blend of your dress shirt of patience, knitted your socks of humility. So go out after our holy lunch here, filled and prepared to do something and trust that God will be with you.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

today's sermon

Larry preached today and two things struck me:
  • perhaps God is less interested in how the film turns out in the end than in how the dailies look.
  • when I was giving birth, my mother held my hand and repeated "exhale, just remember to exhale--your body will inhale for you--just exhale." we need to remember to exhale/let go of our worry/sin and God will fill us with breath--just exhale.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

location, location, location

When I mentioned to my former supervisor that I now wear my clerical collar most days at work as a campus minister, he rolled his eyes. This is, of course, because he had to practically force me to wear it when I worked with him in a parish church. And that's what I have been musing about this afternoon: why the difference?

In the parish church, in theory, most folks know that I'm a priest--they hired me, after all, and see me celebrate on Sundays. Being a youth minister means you can get away with more casualness but, in turn, casualness might also say something about the worship or theology of the place. Certainly it could say, "I don't value this place" or "I don't know enough to dress up" but for many folk, it said, "Bring yourself as you are" or "It's not as staid as all that." In other words, there are expectations of looking and acting a certain way in church or at the church building and looking different can help complicate those expectations in a good way.

Similarly, there are expectations about what campus ministers look like: Birkenstocks, crazy hair, tattoos, nerdy-chic glasses...wait a minute, that sounds familiar. My point is that folk assume a much more casual attitude and image on campuses and perhaps a way to complicate those expectations is to be a bit more formal. Thus, I wear my black and white most days. With Chucks. But that's a tangent.

I'm remembering a casual Eucharist that my house church held recently. We were on retreat in Hocking Hills and at dinner one evening, we read a little scripture, chatted about it a bit, said a brief (but theologically sound) eucharistic prayer, and shared the Meal with our meal. We prayed together and shared remembrances with one of our number who would be leaving for a new life in Boston at the end of the retreat. The Eucharist itself was simple and meaningful, I think, particularly as it was our own Last Supper as the group was currently made up. And, though we all knew that the bread and wine were just as sacred in that place as they were in the Big Church at home, there was a lot of giggling and conversation as they were passed. I'm not certain I would have wanted absolute silence either, but I wonder if I should have been a bit more formal myself? That is, if I as the celebrant had been less nervous and more confident, perhaps noting somehow the casualness of the evening contrasted with the reverence of the Meal, I wonder if it might have been a bit smoother?

The point being, some formality is needed and desired in a situation of extreme casualness just as some casualness is in a formal situation. Like Chucks with a tuxedo. It's a question of what your desired effect is--for me, right now, I want to show folks something new that they hadn't thought of. That worship can be more spontaneous or that it can be more reverential; that church should be fun, or that God is present on a secular campus.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

sunday's sermon [notes]

for John 6:35-51--make of them what you will
> my comfort foods [Ham Glop, etc.]
> what’s your favorite comfort food? why? memories associated?
> Ratatouille moment w/critic [SPOILER]
> Manna as comfort food
> Eucharist as comfort food
> Jesus is the bread of life
> anamnesis, Passover
> not just comfort but challenge
> get back on the bike
> the meal is waiting for you
> food for the journey

Saturday, August 08, 2009

haiku status updates

For your convenience, all the haiku status updates via Twitter thus far:

Aching left shoulder/must have slept on it funny/while dreaming of you.
11:12 AM Aug 3rd from txt

EDIT: Breaking news--driving/north on interstate, canoe/still attatched to roof.
1:04 PM Jul 31st from txt

Driving north on the/interstate--good company,/good car snacks, good times.
1:01 PM Jul 31st from txt

Rainy Saturday,/snoozing baby, full teacup--/still dissatisfied.
9:38 AM Jul 25th from txt

Partying like a/rock star-if rock stars sit in/the nose bleed section.
2:40 PM Jul 19th from txt

Baby babbling/reminds me of childhood and/glossolalia.
10:31 AM Jul 16th from txt

My cell phone contract/stinks to high heaven and will/expire July 8.
3:56 PM Jun 25th from txt

Down from the mountain./Filled with glorious fresh air/and intense knee pain.
8:11 AM Jun 24th from txt

Driving by myself./Delicious freedom made more/so by those at home.
10:07 AM Jun 18th from txt

RT from haikus are easy/but sometimes they don't make sense/refrigerator
8:10 AM Jun 17th from txt

In motel room with/baby, husband, and cable./Life is beautiful.
7:42 AM Jun 16th from txt

Last service on my/last Sunday at Redeemer./Going to bed soon.
5:33 PM Jun 7th from txt

Just had productive/and joyful meeting. Is that/an oxymoron?
6:36 PM Jun 5th from txt

Crack in the windshield/zigs and zags, creeping ever/closer to ruin.
10:25 AM Jun 1st from web

I've been playing Four-/Square since before you were born./I still suck at it.
8:05 PM May 10th from txt

Other signs of spring:/coughing,sneezing, runny eyes/and nose, itchy skin.
12:11 PM May 2nd from txt

Signs of spring: crocus/blooming, bright green leaves, tent worms/falling on my head. #haiku
4:00 PM May 1st from txt

Getting more done now,/ironically, than before/advent of baby.
11:35 AM Apr 28th from txt

Big celebration:/Abby has successfully/rolled herself over!
9:39 AM Apr 27th from txt

Four deceased raccoons./Its disturbing and not a/little expensive.
10:59 AM Apr 26th from txt

Freaking gorgeous day./I mean, seriously, it/is. Have you seen it?
10:10 AM Apr 26th from txt

Haiku for homeless/simulation: weather is/too damn nice for this.
2:06 PM Apr 25th from txt

Late returning film./Have now spent two whole dollars/on The Mummy 3.
4:10 PM Apr 24th from txt

A morning without/the baby. Whatever will/I do with myself?
7:57 AM Apr 23rd from txt

Hail hits my windshield/suddenly and disappears/just as suddenly.
10:54 AM Apr 21st from txt

revision courtesy of Loving Husband: Night. Max & Erma's./Carry-out takes about as/long as dining in.
8:25 PM Apr 20th from txt

Night. Max & Ermas./Delicious burgers coming./All's right with the world.
8:22 PM Apr 20th from txt

Making up a dish/for dinner tonight. Let's hope/it doesn't kill us.
4:53 PM Apr 15th from txt

My week of working/very little has gotten/off to a bad start.
4:18 PM Apr 14th from txt

Is talking to the/baby justification/for talking to self?
3:31 PM Apr 13th from txt

Post-Easter let-down/made worse by overcast sky/and pile of laundry.
2:39 PM Apr 13th from txt

The Resurrection/is about justice. God wants/repentance and love.
6:55 AM Apr 12th from txt

Jesus desperate,/moments from agony. Says/Pilate, "What is truth?"
7:25 AM Apr 10th from txt

Maundy Thursday is/hard, empty-making, joyful,/flat, and exhausting.
5:05 PM Apr 9th from txt

kielbasa shortcakes/for dinner: they are not as/bad as they sound, yo.
6:28 PM Apr 7th from txt

Post box near my house:/convenient, reliable,/and now, strangely, gone.
10:12 AM Apr 7th from txt

Snow in Holy Week:/appropriate, no? and yet/my heart longs for spring.
10:56 AM Apr 6th from txt

might finish digging/up the front garden before/dark. Or she might not.
5:36 PM Apr 4th from txt

Deep breath in and out,/pleasant aches. Morning yoga,/how i have missed you.
8:19 AM Apr 3rd from txt

Shaky from hunger./Tomato soup and caesar/salad hit the spot.
12:50 PM Apr 2nd from txt

Pushing your daughter/on a swing and her laughing./What could be better?
6:28 PM Apr 1st from txt

Preschooler made me/rethink stance on cookies: ice/cream's portable, too.
2:34 PM Apr 1st from txt

Why must you always/interrupt me when I'm in/the middle of a-
7:06 PM Mar 31st from txt

Back aches, sun in my/eyes, stomach heavy with fried egg./best commute ever
6:23 PM Mar 30th from txt

To do: laundry, walk,/consolidate grad school loans,/become Enlightened.
5:01 PM Mar 30th from txt

It's going to get/worse before it gets better./The truth just hit me.
4:12 PM Mar 30th from txt

Walking home, cold wind./Should have brought a jacket. Still,/invigorating.
11:24 AM Mar 28th from txt

McKay's used book store/is a labyrinth of joy/minus minotaur.
1:00 PM Mar 26th from txt

To do: catch up on/reading, eat salad, make art,/let go of expectations.
9:36 AM Mar 25th from txt

hardees for breakfast/cinnamon raisin biscuits/make me weep with joy
7:52 AM Mar 24th from txt

Yardwork is thankless./except for new shoots and buds/which are quite polite.
4:32 PM Mar 22nd from txt

Early spring, freezing./Traffic a block over. Birds/chanting early mass.
6:30 AM Mar 22nd from txt

Sitting on the porch,/watching cars and trucks go by./Abby is enthralled.
4:10 PM Mar 20th from txt

No haiku today/too exhausted to compose/cleaning house instead.
8:42 AM Mar 19th from txt

Left screaming baby/with Nana. Feeling guilty/and also relieved.
9:00 AM Mar 18th from txt

Up early. It's still/dark and silent. Abby's eyes/open, silence flees.
6:57 AM Mar 17th from txt

The moneychangers/and Jesus in the Temple:/Law as fence or door.
4:31 PM Mar 15th from txt

away from home, full/night's sleep, no midnight feeding./I miss the baby.
7:59 AM Mar 14th from txt

haman taschen and/tea for breakfast, pie for lunch,/regret for dinner.
7:32 AM Mar 13th from txt

Steam rises from my/teacup like souls to heaven/or flies from rotten meat
7:03 AM Mar 12th from txt

Aesthetic splendor:/sunset, Van Gogh, Beethoven,/and paisley trousers.
6:50 PM Mar 11th from txt

Folding diapers in/the morning is like praying/God is here with me.
5:38 AM Mar 10th from txt

Hot buttered biscuits/peach preserves and country ham/Need a bigger belt.
12:52 PM Mar 9th from txt

Rain is immanent/clouds hang like dropped ceiling/clothes still on the line?
7:30 PM Mar 8th from txt

Jesus is awesome/ditto Buddha and Moses/Who me? I'm okay.
6:01 AM Mar 8th from txt

Sunday, July 26, 2009

today's sermon--2 Samuel 11:1-15

Please pardon the bizarre formatting--I don't feel like making it into paragraphs.

A sort of procedural note before I begin today
I will be making many references to some excellent TV shows in the coming years
So, to make sure we’re all on the same page
It might be best for y’all to go ahead and
Put a bunch of them on your Netflix queues or order from Amazon
If you’d like a simple syllabus,
they’ll be available in the lobby after worship…
there’s a science-fiction sho on the BBC you may have heard of,
a spin-off of Dr. Who (that’s on the list)
called Torchwood—this last week was an experimental 5-episode season
instead of 12 episodes over several months,
it was essentially 5 short movies
anyway, no spoilers here, but in the end, the hero Captain Jack Harkness
commits an unforgivable act
Jack the hero
Jack the lovable con man
Jack the savior of humanity
Jack goes from hero to villain in five seconds
Fans are asking, “How can we watch the show anymore?”
Knowing what he does,
Regardless that it was necessary to save the Earth,
Knowing one piece of information can ruin a relationship
and you can’t un-know it
This story about David—it’s the same thing
David’s the greatest King of Israel
He’s named as the writer of 150 Psalms,
bringer of decency and faithfulness to Israel
he’s the spunky little boy who brought down Goliath with a slingshot
and according to St. Matthew, he’s also Jesus’ granddaddy generations back,
an idea that brings Jesus legitimacy
David was a Good King, a hero—a hero’s hero
So it was wartime—
Soldiers fought other soldiers for freedom and honor and oil and…well…
whatever it is people have been fighting for since the beginning
And our heroic David, victor of many battles, was sitting at home,
watching reality tv and reruns of Touched by an Angel (not on the list)
Well, there must have been a good reason
for the king not to be with the army
—I mean, it was 3000 years ago—
we don’t know what it was like
I’m sure he wasn’t being lazy or anything
So he looks out his window and sees a woman bathing on her roof,
Naked as we all are when we bathe
—“nice” he thinks—
and then he thinks, “am I or am I not the King
—I don’t have to just look…”
[it’s going to get a little sexy here—a little PG-13]
and when she arrives, the object of his desire
David finds out that she’s already married
—oh, good—he’ll do the right thing, send her home—
he’s a hero’s hero after all, right?
He wouldn’t…yeah, he does
[Now, as an aside,
we don’t know how Bathsheba was feeling about this
Was she terrified for her life and that of her beloved husband?
Was she annoyed to have the phone ring while she’s in the bath,
to be summoned to the king’s side?
Was she thrilled by the illicit pleasure of being with the king?
Who by all accounts was very handsome?
Was it rape?]
So, David takes Bathsheba to bed and then sends her home
—he’s taken what he wanted—
And to add insult to injury,
the story says Bathsheba was in the time of cleansing after her period
—she was, according to the Law anyway, unclean
No one, not even her husband, was allowed to touch her
I’m not feeling very good about David right now,
but I suppose we all falter
Even heroes have Achilles’ heels, right?
Y’all watch TV, too, I know.
Sp even if you hadn’t already heard the story, you could guess
what happens after the King takes a married woman to bed
She’s pregnant. Of course.
Well now David has a serious problem—now there’s proof of his indiscretion.
No—let’s lay it on the line, his sin.
He has screwed up, so focused on his wanting and his taking
that the consequences haven’t crossed his mind.
Now something has to be done.
Since he’s a hero, a Good King, he’ll certainly own up to his sin
—make reparation, take care of the child, something.
That’s what heroes do,
they help the helpless, protect the widows and orphans.
He sends for Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite
who’s out fighting in the war
—that war that David should be leading right now?—
he brings Uriah back from the front lines,
covered in sweat and dirt and the smell of death and says,
“go wash your feet”
—which of course doesn’t mean “wash your feet”—
it means “go sleep with your wife”
Go sleep with your wife so that when you find out she’s pregnant,
you’ll be thrilled to be a new father,
you’ll assume the baby is your own,
though he has rather Davidic features…
Devious, yes. Still forgivable, I suppose.
Who hasn’t tried to cover up an indiscretion
—how many of us have tried not to get caught in something we shouldn’t be doing?
Maybe told a white lie to avoid suspicion?
Uriah, though, seems to have more integrity than the good King David…
he says, “no, how could I take comfort and relax
in my home with my wife
while the army is still camped in tents,
in harm’s way, in the thick of a war?
They have no wives to go to, no soft bed to sleep on
—how could I take what I want when they have nothing?”
And he sleeps on the floor of the palace.
So David gets him drunk,
thinking that will make Uriah want to go visit his wife.
No dice.
And so David, in a desperate desire not to be discovered in his sin
(because clearly at this point he knows what he’s done)
takes the unforgivable option
He goes from hero to villain
in the 5 seconds it takes to write a note.
“Eyes only: General Joab, deploy Uriah the Hittite to the front line of the next battle. Ensure he’s the first over the top and a casualty of enemy fire.”
How can David be a Good King? How can he be a hero?
I can’t unknow this—I can’t look at him the same way anymore.
He’s not a hero—he’s a Bad King—he’s a creep.
Jesus’ granddaddy is a murderer and an adulterer and a slimy git.
And that’s the end of the reading.
What are we supposed to do with this?
Let me turn this conversation over to you:
what do you make of the story? How do you feel about David? About Bathsheba? About Uriah? Do you see any connection to your own life? Where is God in this story? What is God telling us through this story?
How would you think about the story
if I told you that, in just a few verses, David will marry Bathsheba?
And that later on, she bears him a second son named Solomon?
Does that justify it? Does it make it worse?

We see these sorts of sins in the news all the time
—governors and secret trips to mistresses,
cigarette companies deceiving the public about addiction,
teens posting inappropriate videos on youtube and denying responsibility
And we live it
—when was the last time
you bought something that you really wanted
but perhaps couldn’t really afford or didn’t really need?
Something that you had to justify to yourself as you were paying?
When was the last time
you tried to hide something you’d done so that others wouldn’t find out,
so that you could keep the thing you wanted, that you took, that you have?
If no one knows, it’s not a sin, right?
There’s got to be some grace here—we’re a church of the good news, after all
The real end of the story is something we’ll read next week—
I’ll give you a sneak preview.
It’s a wonderful, complete about-face.
The prophet Nathan, a wily and intense man,
shows David the hurt he’s caused,
shows him the wrongness of his path
and David listens and repents.
He doesn’t pull the politician’s card of the non-apology
—“I’m sorry people were hurt by my actions.
I did not have complete information.”—
but says “Have mercy on me a sinner.”
He sees in full the consequences of his actions,
feels grief and remorse in his soul, and repents.
He turns away from his wrong-doing and towards God.
we speak of saints and sinners as easily and neatly divided like sheep and goats,
but we all know in our hearts that doesn’t work.
Maybe that’s the point, the lesson we should draw from this story—
David, greatest king of Israel, forefather of our Lord Jesus the Christ—
David was human and messed up just like the rest of us.
He performed amazing deeds and he made terrible mistakes
He is a Good King and a Bad King, saint and sinner.
We, too, are both saint and sinner, good king and bad king.
Our victories and our failures may not be as dramatic
—few of us lead armies, or decide the fates of nations—
but they are just as important in the eyes of God
All of us give in to sin from time to time, and rationalize our choice,
telling ourselves and others that what we did wasn’t really so bad
It can be hard—it is always hard—but we need to catch ourselves
and say, “I messed up.”
No justifications. No excuses. “I messed up, and I am sorry.”
We are always in need of repenting
and always in need of celebrating the spark of divinity within us
being both saints and sinners means that the story doesn’t end here
it means we were created by God,
we are beloved by God,
and we are redeemed by God

Sunday, July 19, 2009

book thoughts

Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton

One of the greatest books I've ever read. It's educational (sounds animals make), silly ("three singing pigs"--genius!), and open-ended ("what do you say?"). It even has ambiguity, both in its open-ended-ness and, more importantly, in the representations of the characters. Boynton's art style offers animals whose attitudes are far from clear. What might look like sadness on the surface might, upon further contemplation, suggest despair or confusion. A face alight with glee might also be one of manic loss-of-control. A pig uttering its species-appropriate "oink" looks strangely disgruntled, perhaps even filled with longing for the days of show-biz.

What more could you ask from great literature?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

sermon idea only barely related to the lessons

One of my many charms is a predilection for preaching a completely different sermon to myself while listening to someone else preach. Today was one of those occasions. In a move which could only be described as provocative (or maybe blood-thirsty), the Revised Common Lectionary assigned the fantastic story of Salome's dancing for her step-father and her asking for the head of John the Baptist on a platter as a reward. It's awful and awe-ful and unfair, as the preacher rightly pointed out. Where is the good news here? She began speaking about how unfair all of our lives are, but my mind turned in a different direction altogether.

Last night, Loving Husband and I watched Ratatouille and, while the movie was pretty darned great, one moment struck me. [I should note that there will be a SPOILER in this post. Won't ruin the movie for you, but proceed at your own risk. Or just go watch the movie right now and we'll wait for you.]

So near the end of the film, the restaurant critic is waiting ominously in the dining room while chaos and artistry vie for supremacy in the kitchen. We know the critic to be a dour, excessively disapproving sort--one who delights in writing negative reviews. And we know that the fate of the restaurant and of our two heroes--their identities, really--hang on the critic's experience of the food. Because we're all smart people here, I don't mind saying it's a foregone conclusion that the critic will come around, but how? With such build-up, it seems impossible for anything to change his mind, much less for the animators to be good enough to capture it. And yet they do so with one of the most graceful and most beautiful of moments I've seen on film.

The chef prepares a "peasant dish" of ratatouille, a simple vegetable stew, unremarkable to anyone. Of course he puts his own spin on it--what can it be? There's no way for us to know except through the critic's experience. Because when the plate--elegantly stacked as all haute cuisine is these days--arrives on his table and he takes his first sneering bite, he pauses. He pauses mid-chew and is, with us, catapulted into a childhood memory of having wrecked his bicycle, needing his mother to comfort him, and her serving him a dish of comforting ratatouille. And just as suddenly, we're catapulted back into that restaurant where the critic's face is shining with joy. It is a revelation, both to him and to us. No words could do the moment justice, no argument could convince the critic of the food's worth, but the memory does.

I've had that kind of moment. Loving Husband and I went to dinner at Hollyhock Hill in Indianapolis. When they brought out the sixth pre-dinner dish of food, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. But it was when I noticed that there were both cottage cheese and apple butter on the table that I swooned. I used to mix the two when I was small and called it "Witches' Brew." I spooned equal amounts into my salad bowl and stirred them with anticipation mounting. With the first bite there came a moment like the critic's when my taste buds remembered the smell of grass and the grain of the paneling in my neighbor's house. It was a taste that I had forgotten and which revealed to me my youth.

And that, my friends, is what the book of Revelation is about. I'm not certain about all the seals and the 144,000, but that moment of seeing clearly, of physically remembering something forgotten but pivotal and even simple, that is what John of Patmos' Revelation is about.

Monday, July 06, 2009

open source church

This is a thought-provoking article from Episcopal Cafe. She articulates very well what I've been thinking recently, particularly the bit about needing fewer cathedrals and more bazaars.

And, yes, I am catching up on my blog reading--why do you ask?

supervising sex

In the ongoing religious conversation about sex, comedian Lynn Lavner has this to say:
The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love heterosexuals. It’s just that they need more supervision.

Click here for the [brief] Episcopal Cafe article from which I stole it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

book thoughts

Began reading (or skimming, really) the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship today. There's good stuff in there--prayers, liturgies, music--but I was most interested in the illustrations. I know, went to school for three years and all she can talk about is the pictures.

There's one at the beginning which is an image of Jesus as the cycle of the year--it's stunning. Very simple and clean-lined but clearly evocative of the cycle of life and death and of Jesus' part in it. And on the first page of the Psalms is a marvelous image of the tree by the stream of living water which plays such a large role in Jewish poetry. These images speak to me, perhaps more than the words they are inspired by. They would make striking tattoos.

I haven't yet gotten to the copyrights page to find out who the artist is but I live in anticipation.

Monday, June 29, 2009

excellent sermon

...preached by the Sarcastic Lutheran on the woman with the issue of blood.

Check it out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

goodbye redeemer

This article will be published in Church of the Redeemer's newsletter next week.

Gosh—my last Redeemer News article ever. That's big. I remember the last few weeks of college, going around campus with my friends saying things like, "This is the last time we'll ever go to Chemistry for Dummies," and "This is the last time we'll ever go to a play here," and "This is the last time I'll ever skip across campus." It got a bit ridiculous, really—-when we were manufacturing things that could be the last time we did them when in fact it was the first time…well, you get the point. We were a bit hysterical at that point. I'm not there yet, but just wait. One Sunday, I'll be in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer and suddenly say, "This is the last time I'll ever dance a jig in Redeemer's Sanctuary," or something.

These endings are important, though, aren't they? We can't just laugh them off or say that it'll all be okay in time. There's a little bit of death when someone leaves a church, clergy or no. It will be okay in time but that's not a lot of comfort in the moment. I've learned from watching Charlie celebrate at funerals that the grief of someone's death is just as necessary to feel as the hope we have in Christ's resurrection. And I do feel grief. In the last five years, I've fallen in love with you. From my first summer when I had no idea what I was doing—-either in youth ministry or in using the copy machine—-to three years ago when I let my sense of justice and youthful excitement run away with me, to the past few months when you've welcomed my daughter with joy. You have made me a priest.

It is not easy to discern a new call. I suppose it smacks of being tired of the old one. Or at least uninterested in it. But that can't be further from the truth. Redeemer is a vibrant place, full of challenge and hope. I can see a fantastic road ahead of you. And I see a smaller path branching off towards UC. I have done what I came here to do—-whether I knew what that was at the beginning or not—-and now it's time to follow the Spirit somewhere else.

Bishop Thompson once said that we're all interims. Certainly the clergy have a habit of leaving, but so, too, do you. It is the community which continues—the Redeemer community and the Christian community. This life we live is beautiful and exciting and heartbreaking. And temporary. "Weeping endures the night, but joy comes in the morning" the Psalmist wrote. We live in the present moment, the olam of the Hebrew Scriptures, the deepness of the now. This is who we are, here and now: broken and beautiful human beings, breathing in the breath of God.

And so my last Redeemer News article ever. If I could leave you with anything it would be the courage to rely on God and to step out of what you know. Deep peace be with you all.

Friday, May 01, 2009

for a good time, read a comic book

Happy Free Comic Book Day!

Head on over to your local comic shop (yes, any comic shop--they pretty much all do it) and pick up a free comic! Each shop has its own rules, but you at least get one for Absolutely Free!

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I'm a terrible long-distance friend. When we're in the same town, participating in the same groups, attending the same functions, we're thick as thieves. But then someone moves. We exchange tearful goodbyes, certain we'll talk at least weekly, check one another's Facebook/blog/Twitter, and meet up for caffeinated beverages as often as possible.

Several days pass.

I think to myself, "It's too soon to call--she's only been gone a little while."

Several weeks pass.

I think to myself, "Ok, now it's embarrassing that I haven't called."

Several months pass.

I think to myself, "Now I can't call--I'm too ashamed."

And so it goes.

There's a palpable absence in these relationships. I am constantly aware of the fact that the friend isn't there and of my own communication failings. It becomes a living, breathing thing between us, a beast of regret and recrimination.

Perhaps I'm being melodramatic, but we all have relationships in our lives which exist more as an absence than a presence. There's a person-shaped hole.

And it's not like it used to be--calling up a friend involved long-distance charges which could bankrupt you. Writing a letter was much cheaper but more involved. Do I have enough to say to fill up a letter? Is there anything newsworthy to report? Does it sound goofy when I write, "How are you? I am fine. The weather has been temperate." How did Paul of Tarsus do it?

Now, we've got lots of virtually free methods of keeping in touch--calling my friend in California is no different than calling my friend here in Cincinnati. And yet...

...and yet every time I do actually contact someone, it's all "I've missed you," and "I was just thinking about you," and "Tell me everything!" The palpable absence, the person-shaped hole is really a presence--it reminds me of the person, that our relationship continues despite distance and silence. That absence marks an intimacy that can't be destroyed--like matter and energy--it just changes over time. We are different people when we reconnect--see also Mary Magdalene mistaking the risen Jesus for the gardener--yet the kernel of our relationship continues to grow in each of us. It's not the end.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


It's over 16 minutes long but fantastic. I particularly enjoy the first 4-ish minutes.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I have a little red poppet on the mantel in my living room. I love her. And fear her. She's an odd duck--tiny and inconspicuous but also frighteningly serene.
She reminds me of the Holy Spirit, actually. Obviously, she's wearing the liturgical red suggesting both the fire of Pentecost and the blood of the martyrs. But she seems to be bigger than she is, always waiting and watching. I suspect that, when I'm not paying attention, she floats around the room, making everything more...fizzy. The air crackles when the Spirit passes by. Colors are brighter, breaths are deeper.
That's a lot of power for someone three inches tall.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

book thoughts

Time's Arrow by Martin Amis

Amis' protagonist is a disembodied voice living another man's life backward--he begins at death, slowly grows younger, meets lovers at the moment of break-up and leaves them with the quiet grace of a first meeting. He is concerned that the world doesn't make any sense. His host is a doctor and a horror: people come to the hospital perfectly healthy and happy, then are mangled beyond recognition and leave in tears. How can this make any sense? And so, as preparations are made for war (as countries repair the damage of war), the protagonist becomes more and more excited about the world being fixed by this sudden violence. Perhaps you see where this is going. Imagine, says Amis, the bodies of the Jews being taken from the ovens, revived with gas, and then clothed and reunited with their families, tearfully returned to their homes and welcomed into German society.

What tells me that this is right? What tells me that ll the rest was wrong? Certainly not my aesthetic sense. I would never claim that Auschwitz-Birkenau-Monowitz was good to look at. Or to listen to, or to smell, or to taste, or to touch. There was among my colleagues there, a general though desultory quest for greater elegance. I can understand that word, and ll its yearning: elegant. Not for its elegance did I come to love the evening sky above the Vitula, hellish red with the gathering souls. Creation is easy. Also ugly. Hier ist kein warum. Here there is no why. Here there is no when, no how, no where. Our preternatural purpose? To dream a race. To make a people from the weather. From thunder and from lightening. With gas, with electricity, with shit, with fire. [120]

Brilliant. The only way events like the Holocaust can possibly make sense is if they're experienced backwards.

It startles me how much I am suddenly obsessed with the Holocaust. Sunday's Psalm included a line about God counting all the stars and knowing all their names. I remember God saying to Abram--who was also told to sacrifice his only son Isaac to the glory of God--that his descendants would number as the stars--the Jews are numerous and so beloved of God that God knows every single one of their names. Every person who died in World War II is known and beloved. And, if we look at the story backwards, it all makes sense. Only when told in reverse, the Holocaust--the holy fire, the sacrifice--is indeed holy.

Friday, January 30, 2009

core convictions

I was recently asked what my core convictions are. This is what I wrote:

"We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty." Douglas Adams

Truth is just as often found in comedy as in drama. Douglas Adams was a humor/science-fiction writer whose words were surprisingly perceptive. Doubt and uncertainty are theological experiences which the modern church and our American society do not value. Yet doubt is what pushes theologians to write, scientists to explore, artists to create. Doubt is a part of everything we do and are. Edward Norton's character Father Brian Finn in the movie Keeping the Faith is a Catholic priest who begins to doubt his call to celibacy. He talks with an older priest mentor Father Havel about his feeling that the call to priesthood should be clearer and more exciting. Father Havel tells Brian that the overblown language of call in seminary is there to help seminarians get through, but real call is about choosing to live a different kind of life each day. It's hard and it's every day.

Doubt and uncertainty are not the end of the story. We are a people of incarnation and resurrection. I once heard the following which strikes me as one of the messages Jesus was trying to get across to us: "everything will be okay in the end--if it's not okay, it's not the end."


Fab new site which works more like my brain normally functions. Check out my tumblr.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

a poem

Litany by Billy Collins [from Nine Horses]

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass,
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's teacup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

Monday, January 19, 2009

da vinci vs. the dark knight

SPOILERS: If you haven't yet seen The Dark Knight, go watch it. I'll wait.

Have you ever participated in one of those theoretical Ethical Dilemmas like "Cruise Ship Explosion" or "Who Gets the Liver"? The ones where you're presented with an impossible decision--usually who lives and who dies and if you don't pick, everyone dies--and have to weigh all options in a matter of minutes and it all comes down to you? The new Batman movie The Dark Knight is, in many ways, one of those Ethical Dilemmas come to life. The Joker sets up ridiculously complex life-or-death situations for Batman, theoretically for him to solve but, realistically, to make him miserable. And it seems his entire reason for existence is to promote chaos and nihilism. He and the Batman are larger-than-life vessels for our daily struggles with good and evil; the Joker in his conviction must indeed hold our souls in his hands like a modern Satan. He single-handedly turns Gotham City upside-down and destroys what little good there is.

Or does he? Is it possible for one person to completely destroy the beliefs and emotions of a people? Is it possible for one event to undermine everything? To put it another way, will everyone really die if we don't choose someone to get the liver?

That is, of course, the premise of The Da Vinci Code. Before you stone me for bringing up a long beaten and dead horse, pause and reflect. The main thrust of The Da Vinci Code is that if certain secrets come to light--Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene, etc.--the entire Church will fall apart. Its main characters must work out an Ethical Dilemma of their own--do they let the world know about the secrets they've discovered? Do they share their experience of a vindictive and violent secret Catholic body, the knowledge of which could shake the Church Universal to its very core? Apparently, Dan Brown and the writers of his major resource Holy Blood, Holy Grail think very little of Christians. As though our faith or an institution as old and, to put it bluntly, powerful as the Church would fold because of a single challenge. Can that one fact destroy the Church? Considering the idea of Jesus as a married man has been around since the beginning, as well as an even more difficult idea that he wasn't resurrected at all but robbed from his grave by his disciples, I don't think this even counts as a Huge Secret or even an Ethical Dilemma. The fallacy of this genre of supposition is not in the facts or the supposition itself but in the assumption that the people as a whole can be destroyed.

The Joker and the villains of The Da Vinci Code try hard to be the single Anti-Hero who will annihilate good and beauty and truth and justice for all eternity. But it won't work.

Recall the climactic scene from The Dark Knight. Recall that neither of the two barges carrying, respectively, the average folks and the hardened criminals solve their Ethical Dilemma by blowing up the other boat. The Joker insists that all is chaos and without meaning beyond the struggle, yet behind him the people prove otherwise. They are the grace in the midst of trouble, they are the heroes.

A single person cannot destroy the world, but a single person can change the world.

Friday, January 09, 2009

newsletter article

"Baby love, my baby love, I need you, ooh how I need you…"

I never knew I could love someone so much. Before I gave birth to Abigail, I thought, "Of course I'll love her. She's my daughter, my flesh and blood, and I will love her." It was a kind of theoretical love, one that made sense in my head and made me weep when I first felt her move. When she finally arrived, that theoretical love became real, and fiercer than fire. Abby is so beautiful—her tiny, perfect toes; the way she stares into my eyes without blinking; the way she arches her back when she yawns hugely—my heart swells just to think of it. All the potential in her is enthralling. She will be the only one in the world with her heart and mind and soul and she will love God and the world in an unique way. I can't wait to see who she'll become. And when I hold her close and feel her little furnace of a body, I am overwhelmed by sadness to think of all the babies in the world who are malnourished, neglected, or unloved. In the first couple of weeks, I cried every time I thought of it. How could a parent stand it? Abby is so vulnerable—she can't do anything for herself and relies completely on Leighton and me for everything. I could never betray her trust.

I never knew I could be tired like this. There's the lack of sleep, of course, and I don't think I'll ever look at 2am in the same way again, but more than that is the emotional tiredness. Loving someone this much exhausting. The energy I expend worrying about how much she's eating or excreting, whether that cry is one of pain or boredom, if I'm entertaining or educating her enough for this stage of development—that energy is joyful and almost unsustainable. It is love tinged with worry for all the things that might go wrong. I'm my father's daughter: we excel at finding something to worry about.

I never knew how loved I was. It struck me the other night that we talk about God as a parent—Father or Mother—and that image has never truly resonated with me. It isn't that I don't love my parents—they're two of the most amazing people I know—but that I never really understood the love they have for me. I took it for granted, perhaps; their care and worry was not as immediate as my own desires. Now, I get it. Now, I wonder if the church fathers and mothers over the centuries have talked about God as parent, not because of what it's like to be a child, but because of what it's like to be a parent. I suspect God looks at us with the same overwhelming love and exhaustion. God sees all that is precious in us, the children. God sees all that is in us, all the potential, all the mistakes and successes. God's heart swells to see our dear faces looking back. God is pleased by our attempts to make things—buildings, laws, art, systems, relationships, laundry—just as we are when our child first clings to our finger or brings her first macaroni painting. God's heart breaks to see any of us in pain.

Perhaps you've never thought of yourself in this light, as the infinitely beloved and vulnerable baby of God. Perhaps you've already thought of God this way and you're miles ahead of me. Either way, "Our Father…" has never meant so much.