Sunday, January 30, 2005

Sunday, Sunday

I think every day of the week should have several songs all to itself, so that I don't get that "Monday, Monday" song stuck in my head, just with whatever day it happens to be.

Right. Anyway. So, I preached this morning at my field ed parish. It was my first sermon at the big 10:30 service, and it went pretty well. The text is posted below. I've found that my sermon-writing is helped by a couple things: being in my own office space- with a door to close- and having an internet connection so I can bounce ideas off people on iChat. Unfortunately, I have neither at my field ed site, so this sermon was mostly composed on Saturday when I had both iChat and my own space to write. I did do most of the preliminary work at church, in a notebook. I mentioned this to Luke, and he said "In longhand? With a pen? Who does that anymore?" He was kidding... I'm pretty sure.

Tonight I am relaxing by reading a cookbook and going to the grocery store. I think good cookbooks should inspire you to want to make a big meal. The vegetarian-Italian cookbook I was flipping through had planted such a seed. I've already started to make polenta and risotto because of this book - and I think my next conquest will be souffle. Mmmm parmesan and artichokes. I'll let you know how that goes.

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A

Sometimes, the process matters more than the outcome. I was reminded of this recently when watching a West Wing rerun on television. Some of you may know that The West Wing is my favorite show, and one of the reasons I like it so much is because of the writing – its just loaded with great lines that speak to my regular everyday life, all wrapped up in the context of a fictional White House. Anyway, the episode I was watching takes place on election night. In the midst of the celebration though, there is a change of power in Venezuela. The country is on the edge of free elections, when one of the candidates stages a military coup and simply takes power, arresting his opponent and leaving three dozen people dead. Leo, the chief of staff, relates this information to his date for the evening and she responds, “Well, he is the one you wanted.” Leo tells her “The process matters more than the outcome… and that’s what we wanted.” It’s a striking parallel on this day of elections in Iraq, where we have high stakes in both outcome and process. Certainly, in times like these, the process matters.
How do I know process matters? Because Micah tells us in today’s lesson. Micah is faced with a society that had gotten caught up in its wealth.

Money and power became the answer to everything. Rather than spending quality time with one another, people spent money on quality stuff, and offered that as a substitute. When they hurt one another, they tried to make up the damage with really good presents – a kind of guilt offering - rather than working on repairing the relationship. Naturally, this became their response to God as well. As the people became aware of their failings in that relationship, they try to respond with their stuff: thousands of rams, rivers of oil. Now, we all know that we can’t build a close relationship with anyone simply by buying them expensive, pretty things: it doesn’t work with our children, it doesn’t work with our partners and spouses, and it doesn’t work with God. But doesn’t that temptation sound familiar? Its scary to think that what God wants more than anything is our hearts– when we are all too painfully aware of our failings and weaknesses, our hearts may seem like shoddy gifts. But sure enough, this is the ultimate answer to that nagging question: What do you get the God who already has everything? Simple, Micah tells us. Your hearts, your life, and your love.

Thankfully, I am not one of those people who is totally tired of Christmas carols by the end of the Christmas season. The reason I say “thankfully” is because I have had a Christmas song in my head all week as I’ve been thinking about Micah.
The song is “In the Bleak Midwinter” and the words of the last verse keep circling around in my head:

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb
If I were a wiseman, I would do my part
Yet what I can I give him, give my heart

The song may be out of season, but the sentiment clearly is not. Micah makes it clear, and Paul repeats the message: Our wealth, our good family line, our solid education – they just don’t man that much to God. What God wants is something that everyone can offer, regardless of their social status- their hearts.

Of course, this isn’t to say that offering our material stuff to God is a bad thing. Certainly, at the end of a stewardship campaign and on the eve of a capital campaign, I’m not going to stand up here and tell you not to give your money to the church! But this is why the process matters. Giving of our time, talents and treasure is a good thing, a wonderful thing - but there is simply no substitute for doing the work of relationship. The same is true for our worship. Beautiful worship can and does bring us closer to God. But making sure our words are poetic and our space is lovely is no substitute for making sure our relationship with God is just as lovely.

When our generosity or piety are simply attempts to circumvent the work of relationship – to bribe God into thinking we’re on track with our faith life – then we are already off track. First we give our hearts and build our relationship with God. Our treasure will follow close behind, and it will be given for the right reasons. The process matters.

How else do I know that process matters? Because in the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us the same lesson we heard from Micah, hundreds of years earlier. He climbs a mountain with his disciples, and starts his great teaching by telling them, “Being in favor with God may not look like what you think. You are in favor with God when you have humility in spirit, when you love justice and seek after righteousness, and when you act with mercy.” Jesus is not impressed by prestige, or power, or money. He does not want our showy displays of learning or extravagant piety – He wants disciples. Disciples who will do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. When Jesus sits down with his disciples and begins to teach, he is not telling them about some other group of people – he is talking about them! And once again, the process matters. The Beatitudes are not just a how-to list, and they are not the “Seven Habits of People Effectively In God’s Favor.”

This list is not how we become disciples of Jesus – this list is what our lives will be like when we follow Jesus because disciples of Jesus are marked by one thing: Love. Who among us has not mourned over the loss of a loved one? Who among us has not looked at the injustice all around us in the world, and wished and prayed for something better? These are signs of our love, and Jesus calls us to love deeply and bravely. The kind of love that will drive us to make peace among our neighbors. The kind of love that causes us to seek righteousness in the world for all of God’s children. The kind of love for one another that means we will mourn deeply, not just at the loss of those close to us, but for all the victims of violence, disaster, poverty and war. There are so many days when it seems like what we have to offer will never be enough. The utter destruction from the tsunami is overwhelming, let alone the number of people in the world fighting hunger, HIV/AIDS, violence, addiction every day. If we are living life with our hearts and eyes open to the presence of God in the world, we will experience poverty of spirit in the face of such need, we will hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice, we will mourn, we will see so many places in need of peacemaking. But by tuning in to God’s presence in the world, we also receive the promises of the Beatitudes.

When we mourn, we can be comforted by our belief in God’s abiding presence. When we walk with integrity and live in hope, we will see God at work in our hearts and all around us. In walking with Jesus, we find others on the same path who will share our work and celebrate the glimpses we get of God’s kingdom here on earth. It may not ever be enough to make the world a perfect place, these offerings of our individual lives. If we are willing to start with giving our hearts and our love – to try and be the people God made us to be – then the Beatitudes will be a hallmark of who we are, the world will be a more loving place, and the promises of Jesus will be ours as well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Just before my adult formation class tonight, I was chatting with a couple folks from the EFM group that meets Tuesday nights as well. One woman was saying that she was sad that both things were scheduled for Tuesday nights because she had hoped to come to the class I was leading. The other guy - who I've gotten to know a bit more - said "I thought so too, but you're glad I'm not in that class. I would talk all the time, and you'd always be saying 'Shut up now, Joe!'" I just laughed and replied that I doubted I would ever tell him that. But seriously folks. In my first adult ed series - which is 3/4 over - we have yet to get to all the discussion points on my agenda. And that is FINE with me. We have had great discussions, people are engaging one another, Scripture, politics... and I am so happy. I'm sure there will be days in my minsistry when I wish particular lay people would shut up. But I sure hope that I remember all those times when I was thankful that they didn't.

Monday, January 24, 2005

What does the Lord require?

I'm slated to preach this Sunday at my field ed site. As part of my attempt to fight my procrastinating nature, I'm gathering thoughts on the lessons this morning. The lectionary for Epiphany 4 is Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, Psalm 37:1-6, and Matthew 5:1-12. I can't shake this verse from In The Bleak Midwinter from my head:

What shall I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give him, give my heart.

Out of season? Perhaps. But is self-giving really ever out of season? I hope not.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Songs in My Head

Last night, I went over to Heather's house to play games with some other folk. One of the games we played is called Encore. The basic point of the game is that you have to think of songs - and be able to sing a line- that have a particular word. So, if the word was "blue" your team might sing the first line of "Blue Christmas", and the other team might sing the line from "Zippedee Do Dah" about "little bluebird on my shoulder". You go back and forth like that until one team can't think of a song before their timer runs out. Everyone got it? Good. So, one of the words last night was "snow". After this morning, I have another song for that round. With much thanks and gratitude to Mitch and Dan, who are apparently always out shoveling - at least, they were this morning when I needed to get my car out of the lot!

February - by Dar Williams
I threw your keys in the water, I looked back,
They'd frozen halfway down in the ice.
They froze up so quickly, the keys and their owners,
Even after the anger, it all turned silent, and
The everyday turned solitary,
So we came to February.

First we forgot where wed planted those bulbs last year,
Then we forgot that wed planted at all,
Then we forgot what plants are altogether,
and I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting and
The nights were long and cold and scary,
Can we live through February?

You know I think Christmas was a long red glare,
Shot up like a warning, we gave presents without cards,
And then the snow,
And then the snow came, we were always out shoveling,
And wed drop to sleep exhausted,
Then wed wake up, and its snowing.

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, "That's a crocus,"
And I said, "What's a crocus?" and you said, "Its a flower,"
I tried to remember, but I said, "What's a flower?"
You said, "I still love you."

The leaves were turning as we drove to the hardware store,
My new lover made me keys to the house,
And when we got home, well we just started chopping wood,
Because you never know how next year will be,
And well gather all our arms can carry,
I have lost to February.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Sign and Symbol

When I worked at camp, one of our habits in closing staff meeting was to share "God moments". (Cheesy you say? Granola? Well, duh- I did say this was camp!) Anyway, these moments were often times when people were particularly moved by a song sung at the right time, kind words from a friend that were much needed, or caught off-guard by the beauty of nature. This past Sunday morning, on my way to church, I remembered that practice because I had a similar amazing moment. I was running late (not out of the ordinary when I'm supposed to be somewhere before 9am), and I was a bit stressed. I was flipping radio stations, and I caught the end of a church-sounding piece in Latin, so I stayed with the station. A preacher's voice came on, and I don't remember exactly what he said, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. It also served as an introduction to a recording of Randall Thompson's setting of "Choose Something Like a Star" from his Frostiana pieces. I sang this piece back in high school, for a state choir honors program. While I was listening, I looked up, and somehow, the sun and whatever mositure was left in the seriously-too-cold-air had created a faint rainbow over Lake Shore Drive. I was surrounded by gorgeous music, beautiful sights, and wonderful memories. I did make it to service in time, and with a lighter, more grateful spirit than I might have imagined possible this weekend. And that, my friends, is what we camp folk call a "God moment".

Choose Something Like A Star
O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
-Robert Frost, 1947

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Goin' To the Chapel

And I actually don't mean Seabury services!

I spent my weekend (well... Friday night and most of today) at a Marriage Prep weekend at my field ed site. No, I"m not getting married again - I did that once, and so far, I'm pretty convinced we got it right. This was for my learning goals, which include learning about sacramental preparation - Baptism and marriage prep/couseling in particular. At my field ed site, pre-marital counseling comes in two parts. First, the couple attends one of these weekends (along with other couples from church). We talked about sacrament and liturgy, there were a couple pieces on communication, some information about wedding specifics at the church. Then, sometime afterwards, they have private sessions with the clergy member who will actually officiate at their wedding. The couples really seem to enjoy the weekend - and recently, they've started having "reunions" from the prep weekends, so couples can share wedding pics and stories, and just reconnect. Its really a fabulous evangelism tool.

Luke and I had a very bad experience with pre-marital counseling, and I"m enjoying learning better ways to do it. Have people heard about other ideas that work well - either from friends or your own experience? Please, do tell!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Diaconal Ministry

Miranda works the late counter
In a joint called Betty's Diner
Chrome and checkered tablecloths
one steamy windowpane
She got the job that shaky fall
And after hours she'll write til dawn
With a nod and smile she serves them all

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
when you come in from the cold
Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She's heard it all, so she don't mind

Arthur lets his Earl Grey steep
Since April its been hard to sleep
You know they tried most everything
Yet it took her in the end
Kevin tests new saxophones
But he swears he's leaving quality control
For Chicago's scene or New Orleans
Where they still play righteous horns

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
when you come in from the cold
Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She's heard it all, so she don't mind

Jack studies here after work
To get past high school, he's the first
His big hands seem just as comfortable
with a hammer or a pen
Emma leaned and kissed his cheek
And when she did his knees got weak
Miranda smiles at Em and winks

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
when you come in from the cold
Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She's heard it all, so she don't mind

You never know who'll be your witness
You never know who grants forgiveness
Look to heaven or sit with us

Deidre bites her lip and frowns
She works the Stop and Go downtown
Shes pretty good at the crossword page
She paints her eyes blue-black
Tristan comes along sometimes
Small for his age and barely five
But she loves him like a mamma lion

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
when you come in from the cold
Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She's heard it all, so she don't mind

Veda used to drink a lot
Almost lost it all before she stopped
Comes in at night with her friend Mike
Who runs the crisis line
Michael toured Saigon and back
Hair the color of smoke and ash
Their heads are bowed and hands are clasped
One more storm has passed

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
when you come in from the cold
Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She's heard it all, so she don't mind
-Carrie Newcomer, "Betty's Diner"
with thanks to frog for posting so much Carrie Newcome that I finally borrowed the CD

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Beginnings and Endings

The first week of 2005 has been marked by many firsts and lasts, a fitting way to mark the passage of time that is the New Year celebration...

I just finished watching the last game of the college football season- the Orange Bowl national championship game. USC blew Oklahoma out of the water, 55-19. As the announcers said, there won't be any disputes this year about who should be the national champion after that game. Good job guys!

Sunday was my first day serving as deacon in my field ed parish, and today was my first full day of field ed. It was an incredibly busy day - a funeral in the morning (where I served as deacon and sang a hymn- pray for the repose of Jim's soul), staff meeting in the afternoon, and evening Eucharist. Its going to be great working with them!

This is also the first week of classes at Seabury. I'm not really taking any classes this term, because of field ed, and that is strange to me. I guess it won't be the last time for that, but its definitely an adjustment.

Last weekend was also our last New Year's in Chicago - at least for a while. By this time next year, I expect I will be working somewhere else and living somewhere else. You never know for sure what the future holds, I suppose, but I'm glad we had such a good New Year's - a play and a party with people we love, and lots and lots of friends over to watch football on New Years Day... and yeah, I'm *almost* over Michigan's last game. Ouch.

This is the first year in a while that I'm not making any specific New Year's resolutions. There is enough change in my life at the moment - and in the coming months - that dealing with all that is enough, thank you very much. However, after spending some quality time with some good friends over the weekend, I would like less conversations with close friends that go "I told you about this thing, right?" "Well, no... we haven't really talked for a few weeks" "Oh.. well..." Life is crazy busy, but I would like the conversations like that from the last few days to be the last conversations I have like that for a while.

This weekend, I'm going home for the first people-in-ordination-process retreat for my diocese. I'm not really sure what to expect, but I'll get to see some friends from Michigan that I didn't get to see much over the holiday. I'm pretty sure we'll make it fun. Do pray for our diocese - I think they are really making an effort to figure out how this whole ordination process could be better, and I'm glad they're trying.

Tomorrow is the last day of the Christmas season. All my friends taking GOEs will be on their break, so we're having a little 12th day Christmas party at school. They are working very hard, and they deserve the break. Keep them in your prayers too!

Finally, a song from my children's choir days about beginnings and endings. It may have been the first song I learned by heart!

You are Alpha and Omega
The beginning and the end
You're behind me, you're before me
You're ever my friend
Whatever I do, wherever I go
Jesus, you're my source and my goal