Tuesday, October 30, 2007
On October 27, I was installed as the Pastor of St. Luke’s ELCA in Sidney, NY! I am still reeling from the day. It was a blessedly cool, October Saturday in upstate that finally broke into sunny spots after a wet morning. I am always a bit anxious about such liturgies hoping that everything goes off well. It went without a hitch!
There was a good showing despite the rain, and the Choir was awesome. Somehow, I have landed on my feet at St. Luke’s. As much of a musician I am at heart, I have had the good grace to find myself in a parish that counts good music as much of their ministry as good food! Deo Gratias! God is Good!
St. Luke’s is the youngest parish I have ever served, founded only in the 1950’s. I am older than it is. It is modern in design and small which means that it fits the congregation. I preach to a pretty full house on Sundays which is satisfying. There is room to grow too which also keeps me hopeful.
I am called “Pastor” here, so much better than “Muthah” or “Reverend”. It says what I do, not what I am. Like so much of Lutheran theology, it says was macht? rather than was ist?
This congregation is what you would call a Family Sized parish. Sunday attendance is a mere 60. But it is a very healthy parish. There isn’t much push and pull, just the normal stuff that comes when people have strong feelings. They are German and Scandinavian for the most part, but I find just as many Anglophone names as northern European. They have accepted me as I am, warts, Episcopalianism and all. And I am able to accept them as they are and only expect from them what any pastor wants, for them to love Christ with their whole hearts because I know that they will be happy. I am learning to laugh just as easily at Sven and Ole jokes as I have at Paddy and Mike.
We have our first new couple who have come and decided to stay. They are twenty-somethings, newly weds and come from a Catholic/Protestant mix. I am glad that they have found in the parish what I have found—a home.
Most of all it is a wonderful shelter from the sturm und drang of the Episcopal Church these days. I can go on about the ministry of Jesus Christ and still comment on the Episcopal Church on my other blog---www.stoneofwitness.blogspot.com I will never be a Lutheran, St. Luke’s will never be Episcopalian, but it is wonderful to be together to love God and celebrate Christ with us in this town of generous people. May we continue to be good for one another. May we continue to find Christ in each other so we can teach the people of our area what real Christian community is all about! All are welcome!
Monday, October 29, 2007
Someone said after my first Reformation Sunday that she heard more about Luther from me than she did from some Lutheran pastors. I said I was overcompensating. I want to be clear that it is important for Lutherans to be Lutherans. I know it is important for me to be Episcopalian. But more importantly it is important that we are all Christian. I know that when I was still a Roman Catholic that some of the children I taught knew they were Catholic, they didn't always know that they were Christian. That does not mean that they weren't good people. It was that their self-identification was not as Christian.
I have said that I believe that we are in the throes of a New Reformation. I am sure that each age has those who might claim a new era, or a new time of re-formation. Each generation tries to do that: some want a completely NEW age, and there are those who want to RECLAIM a previous one. In neither case can a completely new nor a reclaimed age be developed. We can only stand on what has gone before us, trying our best to make the best of what has come our way.
Reformation is what goes on in our hearts when we are faced with our sinfulness or our inadequacy. It is what goes on when we ask of ourselves to be more than the previous age has been. It is an anxiety-producing time but it is also an energizing time. The real difficulty comes when I see this time as an age of reformation and you, don’t.
I know that this is what is going on in the Episcopal Church at present. I know that there are places in the ELCA where this is going on. And other denominations are watching all of this to see which way to jump.
But jumping is not the way that we need to look at the changes that are facing us in our churches. I believe that all of our Christian denominations are being confronted with a new way of understanding Christianity. We are going to have to find new ways of describing the saving grace of God. We are going to have to find new ways of communicating the Good News. We are going to have different words that communicate the joy that knowing God in our lives.
Terms like Justification, Redemption, Sin, Transgression, Trespass, Original Sin, Guilt, Law, while so important to our theological understanding of faith, may have to give way to new expressions. This new reformation may require of us a new vocabulary the same way as words like Internet, Blog, computer, technology, etc. has enhanced our global understanding in the past 10 years.
We are going to hear more about a relationship with God or Christ. We are going to hear the words of Liberation, the throwing off of the yoke of Domination. We may even find our Christian life taking on a “subversive” role when trying to speak the Gospel which calls for the equality of humanity, the care for the poor, the speaking for the disenfranchised. We may find our new Christianity at odds with the majority culture that is bent on grasping all the gusto of life to the exclusion of honesty, integrity, sharing, etc. We are not going to hear of a Protestant work ethic that means that we can work to get more than our piece of the pie.
It is a scary Gospel that is being heard in the New Reformation. It is a Gospel that is at odds with a society that is willing to step on the poor to get more for themselves. It is a scary Gospel that says that the God who loves us more than life calls us to lay down our lives for others, not for patriotic reasons, but for faith reasons. It is a reformation in thinking that says that human liberation from all kinds of tyranny, even the tyranny imposed by our nation must be at the center of faith. It means that no one nation may dominate others even for the sake of the Gospel.
Yep, we are heading into a new age. We may be heading into a new church. But it is the Church of Jesus Christ—the one who taught the world that the Kingdom of God was about serving others in his name. Reformations are tough times. There are those who won’t like the message. But truth and integrity are at the center. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” And for those of us who follow him, we have no other way to go.
Friday, October 19, 2007
The Revgals Friday Five has hit me in a tender spot. It has asked questions about FOOD. I have to confess. I am a “foodie.” I love to cook when I have time. I watch the Food Channel. And for those who know me, they know that I love to eat too. I am a visual reminder that “there is wideness in God’s mercy.”
With that in mind, here is this week’s Friday Five
1. If you were a food, what would you be? I guess that the first thing that comes to mind is ris de veau. The whole idea of sweetbreads of veal (pancreas) is really revolting to many. But I love them. Once you get past the idea of it, the meat is sweet and the way that the French prepare them is exquisite and almost too rich. I am a rare beast, I admit it. But once you get past the idea of a gay priest, I am pretty sweet. But I am not sweet like too much pie. The sweetness is honest, not sugar coated.
2. What is one of the most memorable meals you ever had? And where? I have a few memorable meals. One was in Beaunne, France while I was on sabbatical. It was ris de veau. I think we are still trying to pay that meal off. Another was at a gourmet restaurant in Mexico City. It was a gourmet meal of traditional Mexican dishes superbly rendered, and the most memorable thing was having lunch with the Archbishop of Mexico and the Dean of the seminary there. It was a lovely meal because of the lovely people. And just last month Sistah Priest and I went to Quebec City and had a lovely meal of venison, barley risotto (to die for) and other Quebecois cuisine.
3. What is your favorite comfort food from childhood? I am hard pressed to decide: Mac and cheese ranks right up there. The other is a family recipe of Tahitian Rice that the family still has when we get together—a rice dish with sausage, water chestnuts, green pepper, celery, and almond slivers in a risotto-like one pot meal. This one is good for church dinners too.
4. When going to a church potluck, what one recipe from your kitchen is sure to be a hit? I have a one pot meal with kielbasa, onions, mashed potatoes, kale and Munster cheese that most folks like. It was one I adapted from a Gourmet magazine article years ago.
5. What’s the strangest thing you ever willingly ate? I have eaten grasshoppers and snake. But I would not recommend them especially. And I am not fond of mountain oysters. But true to my Scots heritage I eat haggis--weird stuff but not bad.
6. Bonus question: What’s your favorite drink to order when looking forward to a great meal? It depends. A good red wine when I am looking at French food. I love beer in the face of spicy food—it calms the stomach. But for most, give me a tall glass of unsweetened brewed iced tea and I am usually happy.
Monday, October 15, 2007
I am reading a new book: The Highjacking of Jesus. It shows how right-wing evangelical religionists have taken over what Christianity means to the larger audience of the non-churched or the minimally churched in the US. It also shows how this has been a calculated and well planned onslaught that tears at what it means to be a Christian in present day.
Now, I am not taking political pot shots at the conservatives! There is a significant difference between what I understand as good ole, conservative Republican upstate NY politics and right-wing religion. What I understand right-wing religion to be is fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, and a non-apostolic distortion of the Christian message as it has come down through either mainline Protestantism or Roman Catholicism. It is often concerned with the New Dispensation, the Rapture, the Second Coming very soon, and a type of evangelism that is down-right scary. It advocates the “bringing in of the kingdom” by creating the war that will bring about Armageddon and the Return of Christ. Much of the theology comes from a 19th century evangelist who invented the “Rapture”. The “Left-Behind Series” has promulgated this theology that does not connect with the apostolic faith that has come down to us from the followers of Jesus. Part of the problem is that the Bush administration and the Republican Party tied itself to the coattails of this kind of Christianity and now the world believes that American Christianity is of this ilk.
For me, there is no place for anti-intellectualism in faith. God gave us gray matter. In fact it is this gray matter, our ability to think, remember and communicate, which gave us an ability to worship God. When we have to bend out intellect around an article of faith, then it is time to address such an issue with our intellect. Can we look at the parting of the Red Sea, the Virgin Birth, walking on water, etc. as articles of faith, and can we address those wonderful stories with an intellect that allows us to see the allegorical weight of such stories to tell us what God has done for humanity and creation over the centuries? Can we look at the Bible as books of various authors which have told the stories of God’s acts in the world without making them historical fact books? Can we not find in them the truthfulness of human experience without having to have them be factual? I believe we can, and must, so that our faith does not fly off into some realm of fantasy. Faith in God requires suspending factual credibility but not taking fantasy as fact.
One of the failings of mainline Protestantism over the past 50 years has been in teaching its members the Bible. The study of the Bible is difficult. For clergy, we have learned how difficult scripture scholarship is. It requires biblical language fluency that most of us have not mastered. Computer helps are making it easier, but it is still a daunting task to unpack a Scriptural passage for the congregation each week. And teaching lay folk the depth of the meanings of the Bible is often a thankless work. Many would rather just stick to the stories and deal with the surface rather than enter into hard work of interpretation of Scripture. It is so subjective, we say. Clergy too, want solid facts we can pass on. But God is always revealed to us in the in-between-ness of life: in-between fact and speculation. Also the difficulty with teaching the Bible as something that is not factual takes a great deal more work. It means that members of our parishes have to be willing to place their trust in God rather than the facts of the Bible. Once again faith must be based on something that is not tangible. It is what faith really means, after all.
Over the past 150 years or so—ever since the beginnings of scholarly Biblical study began, the reaction to Biblical scholarship has been to literalize the Bible. This was never a traditional way of interpreting Scripture. Even in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the early Greek theologians and preachers understood that stories in the Bible were allegorical descriptions of how God acted in the world. The kind of mindless literalism that we find in Biblical interpretation in fundamentalism is not historical; it is not rooted in the ways that the apostles or the early church approached Scripture. It is, in fact, a post-Enlightenment type of proof that is rooted in the scientific method rather than in the rich symbolism of literature.
I am challenging every member of St. Luke’s to read a book of the Bible before Christmas. (I told them also that Philemon was not fair—its just one page!). I want them to get used to reading the Bible for themselves. I want them to know the wholeness of reading a book in its entirety rather than the way that the lectionary chops it up. I want them to know the authors of various books of the Bible and see the differences that each one brings to the experience of God. I want them to find a version that they enjoy reading. I want them to have some common experience to share that is rooted in Scripture. I asked some folks on their way out of church yesterday what book they were going to read –nothing like putting someone on the spot! One said, John because she felt that the people she met who were new to faith might need that book. One chose Revelation—my most un-favorite, mainly because it IS my un-favorite! Another said Job, somewhat factiously, because of where he may be emotionally at the moment. Another said First Kings because he didn’t know that history very well. We all have different beginning places in reading the Bible. I guess I am going to read Revelation too simply because I don't know it well.
But all Christians need to be reading the Bible. Those of us from mainline Protestant churches need to know the Bible to keep the fundamentalists from high jacking the Bible—making it solely their purview. We need to take back the Bible from the fundamentalists by being willing to study, by being willing to do the hard work of faith—knowing the stories and myths that fill out the faith in a God who is beyond all knowledge, description or fact.
I would invite any readers to choose a book of the Bible to read in the next couple of months. I would invite you to study the book you choose, not simply take it for fact and allow God’s words to take root in your heart. You can share your learnings here if you would like.
Friday, October 12, 2007
From Mother Laura:
So, in that spirit, I offer my first Friday Five. I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's experience and reflection on these B-I-B-L-E questions:
1. What is your earliest memory of encountering a biblical text?
2. What is your favorite biblical translation, and why? (You might have a few for different purposes).
3. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Your favorite verse/passage?
4. Which book of the Bible do you consider, in Luther's famous words about James, to be "an epistle of straw?" Which verse(s) make you want to scream?
5. Inclusive language in biblical translation and lit1urgical proclamation: for, against, or neutral?
Bonus: Back to the Psalms--which one best speaks the prayer of your heart?
1. I remember an awful experience was trying to memorize bible passages at an early age in Sunday School. I am a dyslexic, a term that was not invented during my childhood, who cannot memorize. It created a feeling of failure in Bible. I avoided reading the Bible for years, even after I came to know Christ experientially.
2. I study with the NRSV Oxford and appreciate the footnotes. For just reading, I enjoy the Message or the CEV from American Bible Society because they often give insights the more literal translations do not give. And at times I go back to The Jerusalem Bible (the old one even if there are irregularities). It helps me recognize when there are difficulties with the Hebrew or Greek texts. I really don’t like the NIV, I feel that there is too much creedal editing in it. And when I am feeling really nostalgic I will pick up my grandfather’s KJV and slurp up the Elizabethan English as if I were reading Shakespeare—especially for the psalms.
3. My favorite passage that has stood the test of all these years is Ecclesiasticus Chapter 2. from the Greek OT. I read it first in my early 20’s and now in my 60’s it will be a reading used at my installation as pastor. It isn’t a warm fuzzy but it has been so true for my life it is incredible. My favorite book in the NT is Mark. “Just give me the facts, ma’am” Mark, the earliest, the shortest and the beginning of the gospels.
4. The epistle of straw for me is Revelation. I find that so much damage has been done to this book by those who would predict the future with it that it is hard to get the wonderful visionary aspects of it. It isn’t really the book itself that I don’t like; it is what literalization had done to the book. Some of Paul and much of Numbers make me want to scream.
5. I am for the inclusiveness of Scriptural translation. It was when I realized that diakonoi was translated handmaiden when referring to women and deacon when referring to men, I began to understand that ordination of women was possible. It was part of the history of women that had been edited out. Then my ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ began to kick in and I began to study Greek so that I could find out what the Bible really said. It opened the richness of the Scripture for me and began a love affair that is so much a part of my life now.
6. The psalms are part of my daily prayer too. I don’t quite do all of the Office everyday anymore, but the psalms are what I reach for when I am having difficulty praying. I don’t have a favorite. They are so often exactly what I need to hear at any given moment that they are like comfort food for the soul. Phrases of psalms flit through my prayer constantly. “Let my prayer come to you like incense.” “Open my lips and I will sing your praise.” “You know me. Even in the depths of the womb, you knew me.” “That I may live in your house forever.” All of these are so much a part of the fabric of my life, that I would never be able to say which is my favorite.
Monday, October 8, 2007
It has always amazed me that the sacrament that was designed to bring us together, the sign of Christianity most profound, Holy Communion, is the one thing that has been so surrounded by rules of who and who cannot receive. Judicatories of all the denominations limit what should and should not happen at the simple meal which Jesus shared with his disciples.
It was a Passover meal--the meal that spoke to Jews of the first century of their Jewishness, their faith. Jesus had longed to celebrate this meal with his disciples, the ones he had called to the way to the Father. They celebrated their oneness even though they were so different. They came from Greek speaking provinces, the Galilee and Jerusalem. Some were fishermen, others were tax collectors. They were not from the same social class. They were young people caught up with the fire of the love for God and Jesus took the bread and broke it and passed it around. He took the wine and blessed it and passed it-- signs that they were one family, one people, one faith.
While at clergy meeting this week we heard how we were now allowed to share communion with the United Methodists. We already have agreements, of course, with the Lutherans. There was a list of rules, do’s and don’t’s that make this simple act of sharing bread and wine possible. The once sign of oneness has become a stumbling block to unity.
In my own tradition we have those who are Episcopalians who refused to have communion with others because we ordain women, or because we believe that LGBT persons have a place not only at the table but in the ordained ministry too. It is the way that they can show that they are different—more worthy perhaps. But it makes Holy Communion an instrument of disunity. Many of us have had experiences of going to Roman Catholic or Missouri Synod Lutheran services only to be told that we were not invited to Communion. What injustice to that simple meal shared by our Lord! What a mockery of the sign of unity that Jesus shared!
World Communion Sunday was designed to highlight Christian unity in the sharing of the meal that is central to our faith. I wonder how many churches really shared the meal. I wonder how many of us really thought of the scandal that we are to those who stand apart from Christianity because of such silliness.
None are worthy of receiving Holy Communion. It is merely God’s grace that makes us worthy of such a gift. But it is the gift of God’s self that we receive, both symbolically and really. To take God unto ourselves, to consume in that very fundamental way we become part of God’s gift to creation. When we shun this elemental sign of renewal, the hope that is in us, fades. And when we refuse God’s gift of life in Holy Communion we chose to depend upon ourselves rather than on God.
Perhaps what we need to do is demand from the judicatories of our denominations to get over their need to control God’s love. Christianity cannot afford our silliness any longer.
Friday, October 5, 2007
I follow a blog of a group of women clergy from all different denominations and from all over. We exchange ideas, frustrations, joys and just plain silliness at times. Many of us are in small parishes or isolated from other women clergy or those of our own denomination. For the most part I find this group supportive, alert and intelligent.
On Tuesdays we begin the discussion of the next Sunday’s lesson—most of us follow the lectionary. On Thursdays there is an advice to perhaps younger clergy or issues that might provide discussion about how to handle sensitive issues in our churches.
On Fridays we have “The Friday Five”, a day in which we respond to questions by the sister moderator. We can choose to comment on our blogs which allow our fellow blogpals to know a bit more about us. Most of the time I don’t participate in the Friday Five because Fridays are my days off and I try not to do a lot of church work. But today’s Friday Five challenge me. “List at least five things (people, places, graces, miracles...) for which you are thankful. You may elaborate as you wish, or keep it simple.”
I have just come home from a three-day clergy conference within my own tradition. The event was tedious and difficult with emotions of all kinds being expressed, discarded and walked upon. It often happens when the designated leadership is weak and the young bucks take over who do not respect the wisdom of those who have gone before. Because they are young they have no understanding of the cost to those who have made it possible for them to be there. The younger crowd’s desire “to move on” is understandable but facil. If something happened before their ordinations, it doesn’t count. And I am finding what I first entertained as freshness and ingénue is now becoming tyrannical and shallow.
I need this call from my sisters in faith to remind me of thankfulness. So here goes.
1. I am thankful for those who went before me in the ministry. Those who were patient with me as a young cleric in the beginning years of women’s ordination. These folk like Ned Cole, Charlie Grover, Kelly Whittaker, Dave Talbot, Judy Upham, Betty Bone Schiess, Mary Bruggeman, Suzanne Hiatt , Carter Heyward, Pete Speer and Ed Stiess, gave me a sense of myself as being a part of a Church that was much greater than I was conscious of. They helped me understand my place and my responsibility in the parish, the diocese and the greater Church.
2. I am thankful for the laity who taught me what it meant to be priest to them. All the learning of seminary did not teach as much as the Dan Knights, the Charlah Skinners, Huge Joneses, Mary Lou Crowleys, Warren Youngs, and Corinne Farnhams did--lay folk who knew what they needed to hear about God and who allowed me to share my experience of God with them and who shared their vision of God with me.
3. I am immensely thankful in the present for my parish—for their stability and strength as well as for their need for a pastor which I pray I will be able to provide. This gift of ministry and being “back in harness” is a blessing. It is a lot of work, but it is what God has called me to. And that in and of itself speaks more to what Eucharist –thanksgiving means.
4. I am thankful for my cats who even when the person who was supposed to feed them forgot, were waiting for my return and still are willing to lie here on the couch as I write reminding me that family means more than blood kinship or even two-legged kinship.
5. And I am thankful to all my GLBT friends in and out of the church who have helped me carve out for myself an image of what it means to be faithful, honest, loving and humorous in the face of discrimination and hatred.
6. And above all I am thankful to God for all of these things.