Friday, June 19, 2009

Biblical Inerrancy

From one of my Episcopal cohorts. But I think he has it right!

Life is a Verb: Friday Five

Revgal Jan offered this Friday’s Five:

Jennifer recommended this book, which I got because I always value Jennifer's reading suggestions. The author of Life is a Verb, Patti Digh worked her book around these topics concerning life as a verb:
• Say yes.
• Be generous.
• Speak up.
• Love more.
• Trust yourself.
• Slow down.
As I read and pondered about living more intentionally, I also have wondered what this Friday Five should be. This book has been the jumping off point for this Friday.

1. What awakens you to the present moment?

The clock radio! NPR slides into my consciousness while I am still comatose. I have always appreciated NPR. Their news speaks the truth the best, I think.
They usually have thoughtful ways of presenting and keep me up to date. My natural inclination is to avoid the national and international news. Their version of the news isn’t snarky and I can usually find something in the news that reminds me of my Lord and I can begin my day with prayer.

2. What are 5 things you see out your window right now?

I can’t see much out my window from where I sit with my laptop, but I can see the screened in porch which is my “summer tree house”. I do see the grape vine that clings to the side of our house. I can also see the thermometer that tells us whether to wear long johns or not. There is a rainbow mobile that turns in the breeze and a wind chime. But most of all I can hear the birds who whistle their presence in my life. I can hear a squirrel chipping at the presence of the cat who just went out his cat door. And I can feel the breeze as it breathes on the porch. All is right with the world for the moment.

3. Which verbs describe your experience of God?

IS---it is really the only word I need. It is God’s constant presence that makes my life worthwhile.
QUICKENS—this is an old English word that I identify with God. It means to make lively.

4. From the book on p. 197:
Who were you when you were 13? Where did that kid go?

I was a very frightened and depressed girl. I hated school and skipped a lot. It was a very unhappy time in my life. That kid finally was able to grow up and take control of her life and finally allow Christ to have control of her life. And after years of good therapy she finally got healed and lives within me. Her sadness still comes back, but I am able to give her some happy times by reading, or sitting by a stream and playing in the water.

5. From the book on p. 88:
If your work were the answer to a question, what would the question be?

“What’s for lunch?” I think that I nurture folk. I give them food for thought. I try to be there to provide what they need to move on in their lives. I try to teach them how to be open to God’s nurture.

Bonus idea for you here or on your own--from the book on p. 149:
"Go outside. Walk slowly forward. Open your hand and let something fall into it from the sky. It might be an idea, it might be an object. Name it. Set it aside. Walk forward. Open your hand and let something fall into it from the sky. Name it. Set it aside. Repeat. . . ."

I think I am pretty spontaneous. It drives some of my German parishioners nutz, especially in liturgy. But the Swedes seem to appreciate it. But with all the birds in my yard, I would be a bit leery of doing this exercise!

This kind of spontaneity has always marked my life for good or ill. It may be the way that I pray—that kind of meditative prayer that allows me to be more present to God that allows me to live this way.
I know when I am not being present to God, my life becomes too predictable. I am probably not as sucessful as other people but that doesn't really bother me. At this point in my life---who cares?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sermon for an Installation of a New Pastor

The Installation of Michele Fischer
St. Paul’s ELCA, Penn Yann, NY
June 14, 2009

+ In the Name of the Creator, Redeemer and the Sustainer. AMEN

Today St. Paul’s celebrates the coming of a new pastor, one in a line of many. Pastor Michele celebrates life in a new congregation, a new place to respond to the calling God has given her to serve Christ in his Church. We celebrate this day with liturgy and song, communion and prayer, gathering and support. We mark this day as important because it is.

No matter how congregational our church is, we Christians tend to mark our personal journeys in faith by our pastors. Lutherans in small towns tend to tell our spiritual stories “Well, back when Pastor Schwartzengruber was here, we did it this way.” Or Pastor Olysen confirmed me”, we say. The leadership of pastors, no matter for how long, leaves a mark on the congregation we serve even if we are a flash in the long history of a church. So it is an important day today. How many of you have grown up in at St. Paul’s? How many of you have been a part of this congregation for more than 40 years? You have seen pastors come and go and it may even seem like “old hat”. But it isn’t. The call of a new pastor changes the whole congregation, the whole conference, the whole synod, the whole Church. Today you become different that you were. And all of you who are clinging to old adage, the Seven Last Words of the Church…”we have always done it this way,” must understand that you are now different because someone new has come among you to bring to you the ever-new message of Jesus Christ.

About 5 years ago a new pastor came to the church where I attended a weekly clergy bible study. She was young and enthusiastic. I was a seasoned, but out of work Episcopal priest who had just been chewed up by my last parish. Michele was as exuberant as I was cynical. She was fresh and had great ideas while I was tired and flat. But one thing we had in common was Jesus Christ. Michele was as charismatic as I was Anglo-Catholic. Our theologies and our politics were really quite different. But we had Jesus and that was enough. I began to do supply in some ELCA congregations and found it fun. It was through Michele that I have come to serve as a contract pastor for a small congregation in the Southern Tier conference. Michele helped “Lutheranized” me. She is the age of my great niece and yet she is my colleague, peer, and friend.

You have called into your midst someone who understands her call to serve you as she is serving Christ. It is among you that she must find the love of her life—the God who has promised to be with her forever, a God who has loved her more than life. She has come to you because she feels called to preach the Gospel to you, not just with words but with her life. She is called to lead you and yet follow you. She is called to be a God-person within your family of faith.

We pastor types are an odd lot. Any psychological study will tell you that the personality type and skill sets that describe most of the clergy in all churches is only about 5% of the population. Most of us have personalities that allow us to be sensitive to ways of knowing things that don’t fit the rest of the population. Mostly we clergy don’t know how we know things. We just know that we know them—call it intuition, call it a connection with the holy—whatever. We cultivate this unknowing with prayer and scripture study. We share a faith that often touches us all and can speak of that relationship with God even when the relationship is something that is indescribable. The pastor is the one in a community of faith that is supposed to speak to you of that part of you that isn’t as comfortable with that ineffable, unknowable aspect of God’s holiness. The problem about being one of those clergy types is that on any given Sunday, 5% of the population who does not know how they know what they know is preaching to 95% of the population who DO know how they know what they know. And we wonder why there is a disconnect sometimes with the pastor?

St. Paul understood this conundrum. That is why he wrote that passage in First Corinthians. We all have different gifts to bring to the Christian community called the Church. Some of us are treasurers, or council reps. some of you are deacons or sing in the choir, some of you do the kitchen things, some of you do the futzy stuff around the altar, some of you see to the spread of the Gospel by what you do in your work place or your school, some of you minister to the poor and the needy or the sick and the imprisoned. And you invite a new person into the community to speak of God whom you have been listening to most of your lives. And then she speaks of God differently than you. THAT is what she is SUPPOSED to do! She is supposed to sing the songs of Zion in a different tune. She is supposed to say things differently and lead differently. That is the only way congregations stay attentive to the Holy Spirit, stay fresh to the Word, and continue to proclaim the Gospel to succeeding generations.

But we are still one Body of Christ. We do things differently, but we have the same family. We bring different talents to the Body of Christ. And we follow the commandment to love in different ways.

I serve a small part-time parish in a town of less than 3,000 people. The congregation is only about 60 years old and some of our founders are still among us. They have always been a small church and have had to depend upon themselves because they are in such a remote area. During their history, they went 20 years without a called pastor. They wear that like a badge of honor. They are very good about pastoring one another. They are dynamite in stewardship and ministry to the community. They are even good about their contributions to the synod and the larger church. But they don’t know how to use a pastor. They don’t know that they don’t know. They are not very well versed in Scripture. They don’t know their own Lutheran theology very well. They are threatened when there are changes in “the way we used to do it” because they don’t trust their pastors enough to know that “someone from out there” can really understand them, can really be there for them.

The role of the pastor is not just to take care of you. That would be paternalistic. The role of the pastor is to excite you, to stir you up so that you can hear the voice of God in new and different ways. The role of the pastor is to bring new and different people into the community of Christ—ones that perhaps you haven’t seen in your community. And one of the things that is tough for us all who are on the shady-side of fifty, we need to listen to our new and younger pastors. They have access to systems of communication and ways of learning that are leaving us older folks in the dust. They are our only hope for a whole generation who know what they know differently than we do. If there is any one disconnect between younger Christians and older, it is that their brains work differently and they go about learning differently that we do. The Gospel story is the same—the promise of salvation is the same—but we must be able to package it and communicate it in a new song, in a new way. That is what a new, young pastor can do for you.

Jesus preached a new commandment-- a commandment to love one another. You have promised in your baptismal commitment that you will love one another. You have promised to love your neighbor as you love yourself. You have promised in that love to trust one another in faith—to challenge the fear that closes the heart. Micah spoke God’s word in challenging the people of Israel to not put their trust in lifeless sacrifice but to walk with God, to do justice, love mercy and walk with reverence with God. Michele does this. It is her natural inclination. She will want you to walk with her in her journey with God and she will want to walk with you in your journey with God.

As you journey with St. Paul’s remember the humility that Micah calls you to. Sing your song of faith with the melody that God has taught you. Teach the people of Penn Yann the story you have had written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. But do not fail to find in them THEIR story of God’s journey with them. Do not fail to see that they have been proclaiming God’s Word for many generations. You are but a part of that story.

Would the members of St. Paul’s rise? People of St. Paul’s, you have called into your midst someone who most likely will hear God differently than you. Listen to her—she’s young but she knows God. Fear not her energy and her joyfulness. It is a sign that the Holy Spirit is speaking. Dance with her. Help her to hear your song too. Teach her of your love for God and teach her the steps that God has danced with you. Ministry is a shared work. She cannot do it without you and you cannot do it without her. Walk humbly together with God. AMEN

Monday, June 15, 2009

On being an onion in a petunia patch

I have just found a new part to Vista that helps me with blog accounts. I have no idea how this will be published on my blog. But it is fun to work with a new application.

Yesterday I preached at a friend’s installation as pastor in a new congregation. It is a lovely, large mid-sized parish in the wine country of the Finger Lakes. When I have the chance to preach in Lutheran congregations I enjoy heightening the differences between being Lutheran and being Episcopalian. I am always still delighted with the new ways of speaking of the faith that these two traditions have. There is some freedom that an “auslander” has in speaking to a group of laity and clergy. Being the ‘onion in the petunia patch’ helps the onion see and gives us the freedom to speak more forcefully and more candidly than someone from the patch. I love this position and it allows me to see some of the things that make our traditions unique.

The congregation was originally founded by Danish immigrants. The customs of the Danes –especially in matters of food, were evident. The post celebration smorgasbord had interesting tastes even if their Danish forbearers were generations ago. This is a part of Christianity that as an Anglican I did not have. The Anglican-ness of us even though never spoken of, is so majority culture that there is never too much thought of it. Episcopalians never think of themselves as any one culture even though we are decidedly English. There is sort of a sense of entitlement we have by being the first, the majority, the quintessential WASP’s in the community. We are really never aware of being of any other ethnic group unless we have come to the Episcopal Church from some other ethnic faith group. But then again, most Episcopalians were something else before they became Episcopalians.

But for Lutherans, congregations usually have a long history set in the immigration of people from other countries. Most Lutherans have been Lutheran for generations. And their Lutheranism is a part of their German or Scandinavian roots. There may even be some deep-seated discomfort if a child or a sibling joins a different denomination—it is like they have denied their heritage much in the way an Italian or Spanish Roman Catholic will feel if the family “leaves the Church” to be come protestant.

A congregant from my own parish suggested that I not make such strong contrasts between our denominations because he felt that I was distancing myself from my congregation. I have thought about that comment and I understand how he feels. But distancing is not what I am doing. I am quite amazed at how pluralistic a congregation can be. I am caught up with the amount of diversity that we can sustain in the Body of Christ.

I subscribe to the Episcopal list-serve on which delegates to the church-wide meetings talk about the direction that TEC is going; and I listen to some of the hide-bound elements of doctrine and dogma get in the way of our living together in peace. I also am a part of an ecunet discussion group of conservative Lutherans and I wonder how such “thumping of Luther” can bring people to a relationship with God. Both of our traditions are faced with an obsession with doctrine and what it means to be TEC or ELCA. Both are frightened by what is splitting our churches apart.

I saw a quote on another blog recently “Faith is what you’re willing to die for. Dogma is what you’re willing to kill for.” – Robert Shahan. This is an important statement. The violence that we heap on each other in the name of faith is sinful. Yes, our faith is something that we are to die for—die each day for--DIE TO OURSELVES FOR. Faith is the putting God first and consequently putting away our own self-centeredness. But there is nothing in faith that requires us to go to war with each other. Underlying any such killing in the name of Christ is a type of rigidity that says I do not have to change, I do not have to accommodate, that I do not have to embrace those who think differently than I.

I have been scandalized by the vituperative statements made on both sites by people who claim community in the name of Jesus. I have watched simple discussions about sharing Christ turn into such raging arguments that no one wants to stay in the room simply because we are unable to discuss the real issue—which is, who has the power? Who has the power to tell me what is right and wrong? Only God does. We spend so much energy trying to kill other Christians for what they believe or don't believe, we have never been able to love our enemies as Christ instructed.

In matters of faith, we all have power and that is the power of Jesus Christ. We are not pawns; we are not called to be just observers or passive in the journey of faith. We are all called to proclaim the hope of Jesus Christ. If we thump doctrine and dogma, if we demand that only when things are done according to Hoyle to cover our passivity, then we have nothing to offer the Body of Christ except our distrust. For those of us who are deeply embedded in the relationship with Christ, we can find it within ourselves to embrace those who disagree with us. We can offer to them the kinds of compromise that is necessary for us to live together in peace. We do not have to have others have the same relationship with God as we do in order for us to live in peace.

Sometimes it is good for us to step back from our patch in order to get God’s perspective on our lives. Being an onion in a petunia patch is just such a perspective. I honor this chance, this congregation that gives me a new view of what it means to be Christ’s own. To lead such a congregation does not mean that I will take them where they do not want to go. I just means that I have a new perspective on what it means to be a Christian in today’s world. What a wonderful gift God has given me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Five: Trader Joe's!!!!!!!!!!!

Sophia is ecstatic:

Gals and pals on the West and East coasts, and a few spots in between, may know of Trader Joe's--a quirky, well-stocked, well priced semi-gourmet store that attains near cult status among some. I discovered it through my Aunt Judy, who always brought a couple of their desserts to holiday parties....The best was a chocolate ganache torte that had my four year olds begging for it (and among the only four year olds on the planet to know what ganache is, presumably).

My family has happily Trader Joe'd in southernmost California, up to the Northwest, and back down to southern Cal. And now we're really excited because today a brand new Trader Joe is opening up across the street from our apartment. Wahoo! There are sure to be lots of tasty free samples on opening day and from now on we can just walk across the street to get a lot of our shopping done. I have a new spiritual directee coming tomorrow and she has already mentioned that she'll be stopping in on the way here, leaving me to be jealous cause I'll be spending that noon hour like, praying and preparing and study-vacuuming and everything, and won't be able to stop in till the afternoon.

So in honor of the new Trader Joe's, this week's Friday Five is all about food shopping.

1. Grocery shopping--love it or hate it?

I generally like to grocery shop. We don’t have a Trader Joe’s here in upstate NY. We do have Wegman’s. I worked there between churches back in 2002-3, so I am really aware of what they have and don’t have. It is not as “californian” as is Joe’s. Whenever we are in the West we stock up on Joe’s salsas. But Wegman’s has a number of neat gourmet things and a nice prepared foods line. They also have sushi made fresh while you wait that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. They also have the best pizza in town. I hardly ever roast a chicken anymore since they have roasted chickens for $4.99. I use it for fajitas to chicken salad.

2. Who is the primary food shopper in your household?

I am the primary shopper. J gets things like milk and chocolate ├ęclairs which neither of us need.

3. Do you have a beloved store like TJ's which is unique to your location or family?

We have Sam’s. And I do shop there upon occasion but the large volume is usually too much for just the two of us. But their meat is quite good. And it is the only place I can get briskets for barbeque.

4. How about a farmer's market, or CSA share, as we move into summer? Or do you grow your own fruits/veggies/herbs?

Not far from the church is a wonderful farmer’s market I have traded at off and on for 25 years. I love their tomatoes and strawberries because they trade with the local farmers. I refuse to buy Driscoll berries. I had a church in Watsonville, CA where they are from and I didn't like the way that they treated their workers.

I wish I could grow my own stuff but our yard is very shady. Not even my herbs will grow. My landlady has some mint, chives and sometimes thyme that she will let me pick. That is all I really need. I can get hydroponic basil at the store. As folks begin to harvest their gardens, I sometimes get tomatoes and squash. I have already gotten some rhubarb.

5. What's the favorite thing you buy at the grocery store?

Cheese and Italian supplies such as roasted red peppers or different olive oils. I also like their fresh baked goods. There is a kind of bread called “Marco Polo” that I just love. Because we are in a large Italian community, we get lots of different kinds of pasta, olive oils, and sauces.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Moving on up: Friday Five

Sally who works in the UK has offered a disturbing Friday Five. Since I have just started a new parish just a couple of years ago, the thought of moving is abhorrent. But because I am basically a complaint person, I will answer her 5 this Friday.

The theme of change is dominating my thinking at the moment, this morning my husband Tim has headed off for an interview in Sheffield. The West Sheffield Methodist Circuit are looking for an Evangelism/ Mission Enabler, in may ways this would be Tim's ideal job, but we wait on God... ( if you can spare a prayer today we'd be grateful)

...Sheffield is a commutable distance from my new post as Minister in Sherburn-in Elmet and some of the surrounding villages, before Tim gets home I will have left to join the Leadership team there for an away day on Saturday, I'll be staying the night with the current Minister in Sherburn to talk over some of the practicalities of the post.

ALL IS CHANGE.... and although I am looking forward to it, it is not without a sense of trepidation, as change always brings challenges.

Changing location also means packing, so next month will be a month of clearing and sorting, deciding what comes and what gets left behind...

So with change in mind I offer you this Friday five; ( if you've never moved here's a chance to use your imagination)

1. A big move is looming, name one thing that you could not possibly part with, it must be packed ?

The library. I have been carrying around tons (literally) of books for years. I believe that my library breeds in that quiet little room. They just seem to multiply. The past move, we had to pay for ourselves. Now we will not be able to afford to move our books anymore. I can’t believe how important my books are to me. I feel like Linus without his blanket if forced to be without my books.

2. Name one thing that you would gladly leave behind...

Books. This next move will be into retirement. I won’t need all those books anymore. Most of what I want to know I can find on the internet anymore.

3. How do you prepare for a move?

Sort books.
a. practically? I would like to have a big garage sale, but our apartment has no easement so we have no place to hold a garage sale.

b. spiritually/ emotionally?

I hate moving with a passion. J doesn’t seem to mind it as much. I generally go to the new place and prepare for moving van arrival and J lets the moving van guys do the rest. One time I took a 10 day workshop between cures. That was a good move.

4. What is the first thing you look for in a new place?

Places to shop and places to eat. Then doctors and dentist, pharmacy. Church members are good sources for that.

5. Do you settle in easily, or does it take time for you to find your feet in a new location?

When you are moved to a new location by the parish, there isn’t much time to settle in. Usually the congregation wants you to start the first Sunday you are available. I don’t know what I will do when I retire.

The bonus for today; a new opportunity has come up for you to spend 5 years in a new area, where would you go and why?

Of course you mean that this is an all-expense paid type of move, don’t you? I would like to move into a small town in a diocese where the ministry is needed and support a struggling parish but somewhere where I can also relax a bit. Part of me would like to go back to Latin America, but I don’t think I have the energy that living in a foreign country would entail. I think my next stop is retirement with responsibility for a small pt. time cure.

Monday, June 1, 2009

LGBT ISSUE: the Lutheran way

I have spent an inordinate amount of time the past month dealing with LGBT issues in the Lutheran Church. Partly because I don’t quite understand how position statements work in Lutheran polity, I have been somewhat concerned about how the Statement on Human Sexuality is going to fly at the Church Wide Assembly.

At Synod Assembly (Diocesan Convention to you Episcopalians who read this blog) this weekend we crafted a memorial to the Church Wide Assembly that called for not only the ordination of LGBT folk but the recognition of same-sex unions.

The Statement (SHS) is a flawed document but it has made some statements about such sticky theological issues that I find it to be exceptional and praiseworthy. For a church that puts so much energy into the concept that “all are sinners,” the insistence that SHS has placed upon the gift of our human sexuality is an important statement. This moves the sex act out of the realm of the ‘necessary for creation’ into the realm of God’s creation for mutual joy. But of course, the SHS came under fire from those who find it too soft on LGBT, especially those in the ordained ministry.

I spoke to the issue as the only lesbian pastor who is out and for a congregation that has been accepting and reconciling. I must admit I found it difficult to do so, not because I was afraid, but because of the responsibility I had to all the silent LGBT people I know I represent. Throughout the rest of the 3 day event, people came to me and thanked me for speaking up, for putting ‘a face on the issue’. The gay and lesbians in the clergy of the ELCA are under wraps. They either keep it quiet or are unwilling to face their own sexuality, choosing, as I did for many years, to ignore what God had gifted me with. It is a terrible waste of human resources.

The ordination of LGBT persons will come about in the ELCA and it will not take very long to get there. But it was to my amazement then when I read Sunday morning that the Synod of Stockholm of the Lutheran Church of Sweden elected a lesbian in a partnered relationship to be Bishop of Stockholm. Woo Hoo! Bishop-elect Eva Brunne and her partner, another pastor, have a 3 year old son. I mentioned this to a member of the congregation and he said “Well, those Swedes have been sexually liberal for a long time!”

I don’t generally take on this issue on this blog but I guess it is time to. It is time to help folks to understand that being gay is a blessing from God, not something to hide from. It is a God-given aspect that makes us different from other folks and helps us understand what all Christians are called to—being different from other folk.

For 1700 years Christians in most countries have had the protection of the state to be Christian. They have not had to separate themselves from the majority of society to live out their Christianity. Now, in a post-Christian world we will have to differentiate ourselves from the majority society in order to live out our Christian calling. If anyone can teach what it means to live on the edge of the majority society, it is gay folk.

I rejoice with the Synod of Stockholm. I rejoice with The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church who has endured such awful reception in the Anglican Communion that he now has a companion in the struggle to confirm LGBT persons in their call to live as Christ’s own. I pray that Bishop-elect Brunne will be able to lead her synod with the calm resolve that +Gene has done.