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