Saturday, November 26, 2005

Blood, Chocolate and the Friday Five

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

We had a splendid holiday here in snowy Michigan. Luke and I hosted Thanksgiving at our new house - not technically the first time we hosted, but last time I don't think we actually cooked anything. It was a good-sized crowd from my perspective and a small intimate group for another perspective. We had orginally planned for 12-15, but various circumstances kept all of our siblings away this year. Thankfully, our reduced numbers meant that we did not think twice about inviting Tripp and Trish, when there plans for traveling were also thwarted. So, the seven of us gathered and ate enough food for at least the 15 people who could have come! We sat at the dining room table (a handsome gift from Mark before his move) for a grand total of four hours and had a lovely time with family, the kind we were born with and the kind we choose. Did I mention how thankful I am for both kinds?

My clothes, unfortunately, did not have such a good day. About half an hour before dinner, I had my only real moment of panic about how on earth all the food was going to get heated up and served and on the table. Here is a tip from my finger for those stressfull moments: Do NOT use that time as a moment to pull out the chef's knife and furiously chop an onion. Seriously. Its not a good idea. Its not the onions fault that too many things are happening in any given moment, and it may even move out of the way of the knife which leaves only your finger for cutting. oops. So, I yelped and wrapped my finger in my tshirt. Stained clothes #1 of the day. Did I mention that I am thankful for a loving and patient husband who doesn't freak out at the sight of blood in my hand the way I do?

Then during the dessert round - where there where three (3) desserts for the seven (7) of us - I was serving the Pear Meringue Tart. Somehow the chocolate just kept appearing all over my left hand. I'm not entirely sure how - the platter was at least six inches away from my own plate. But, the mysterious spreading chocolate managed to get all over my hand and then onto my nice khaki pants from Ann Taylor. Did I mention I am also thankful for stain sticks?

It really was a great time. The in-laws got on the road around 10:30 or so, and the rest of us decided to watch Singin' In The Rain and then went off to bed at varying rates.

The next morning involved coffee, showers, and packing to head home for the people who don't live here. Which leads me to...

The RevGals Friday Five: Leftovers

1) Did you cook or bake anything for Thanksgiving?
Sure did! Although, not the turkey. I cooked a bunch of sides. They were good, but my favorite was a green been dish from my favorite cooking buddy, Rachael Ray. It was really easy and good: simply steam the green beans whenever you get a chance and put them in the fridge. Then, dice up some onions, cook in olive oil for 10-15 minutes til they're nice and brown, and add a cup of cider. Let the cider reduce to a syrup, and toss in the cooked beans. I added some slivered almonds too.

I also found a wheat-free dessert courtesy of the Moosewood Book of Desserts, because my mother-in-law can't eat wheat. Of course, she ate the insides of my mom's pumpkin pie and Trish's Chocolate Mallow pie and just skipped the crust. But the dessert I found was very happy: a meringue crust (really, just a 10-12 inch circle with nutmeg and crushed almonds folded in, topped with pears sauteed in apple cider and butter, with cloves and nutmeg, sprinkled with bittersweet chocolate shavings.

2) How was it received?
Everything was very well received. At least, considering the amount of food we ate, thats my final answer.

3) Anything left over?
Oh yeah. All guests were sent home with copious amounts of leftovers, and we still have a ton in our fridge. Except the turkey - since Luke doesn't eat meat, that went home with other people.

4) What's the best use of Thanksgiving leftovers you have ever seen?
Pumpkin pie for breakfast. Of course.

5) And the worst?
Hmmm... I'll have to go with non-use. The kind where you find the leftover sweet potatoes in the back of the fridge sometime in January... ew.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Did I mention that I am thankful for this crazy online world?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Tips from the Office

1. When Jesus talked about living water, I think he might have meant coffee.

2. Fancy new copiers that do cool things are great.

3. Getting fancy new copiers the same week there are seven or eight mailings to be be done is less great because you spend an awful lot of time figuring out how to use the new machine.

4. That said, Fancy new copiers that do cool things are still great.

5. Fitting a regular week's worth of work into a short week makes people tired. But it also makes them more excited for the holiday and friends coming to vist. So excited that you might not even care how on earth all that food is going to get made in one little kitchen.

6. Volunteers who come in, help fold and sort mailings, and still make sure that you have eaten lunch are awesome.

7. People really appreciate it when you let the boss answer their Important Question before yours gets answered. So, take a breath a just hang on a sec because it really is all good.

8. Probably, Jesus didn't actually mean coffee. But I still like cofee.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

What I've Been Writing

I had a post all thought up in my head yesterday, ready to go. Then, my team lost the big game, and I was very sad, and it took extra concentration to finish my sermon for this morning. So, I will share the sermon, and maybe later when I am less sad about football I will remember what that other post was about. At least Penn State won the conference - their first Big 10 championship. Nice going, guys.

And now, A Sermon For The Feast of Christ the King

How do you feel about final exams? As a student of the social sciences and humanities, I honestly haven’t had that many final exams since high school. My professors were more the paper-assigning types. Recently, A friend in a similar kind of program told me that one of her classes this term is having exams. It turns out, though, that the professor is bending over backwards to ease their anxiety. He knows that many of them aren’t used to exams – especially those who have been out of school for several years – and so he has provided them with a list of questions, and promised to pick the exam questions from the list. He really wants his students to feel that they can do well.

As I read the lessons for this week, it seemed to me that my friend’s class is somewhat like the situation we have in today’s Gospel. Jesus is warning us what the final exam question is going to be – presumably because he wants us to do well. There are no trick questions here. The question is straightforward and plain: Did you – or did you not – feed me, care for me, visit me and welcome me by doing it to just one of the least of God’s children? Now, depending on your feelings about final exams, you may think this one is rather unfair in its scope. After all, there are lots of good things we do in our lives that don’t seem to matter to Jesus. Can Jesus really mean that all we need in the end is to have fed one hungry person, visited one sick person, or welcomed one stranger in the name of Christ? What about all those Sundays when we got up and went to church, or all those days we remembered to read the Bible, or those years we served on the Vestry? Its only natural to want all of our good days to count.

But even with this small complaint of unfairness, today’s Gospel makes it seem easy – salvation is within our grasp. The invitation into God’s kingdom is not reserved for those with extraordinary lives of faith – martyrs and famous saints and brilliant leaders of the church. Any one of us can answer the call to feed hungry people, to care for people who are sick, or visit people in prison. And its great to know what the final exam question is in advance, because on that day, we can stand up and say – yes, I did that! We donate food and clothing to Katrina relief, gather our coins for the United Thank Offering, and visit our friends and family when they are sick. Jesus asked the question, and we have an answer. With salvation right there in our grasp, we are free to celebrate God’s goodness. Now, there are many ways to celebrate and praise God. For me, that might mean pulling out my guitar and singing some praise songs from my camping days.

But if I did, I would come across a particular cartoon that was given to me on a high school retreat. I keep it in my binder with my camp music, along with several other stickers and bookmarks and mementos from those times. The cartoon strip is called Pontius Puddle, and the scene is a pond, where two frogs are chatting. The first says “Sometimes, I’d like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice when he could do something about it.” The second frog asks, “Why don’t you?” and the first replies, “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”

And I would remember the second half of today’s Gospel story, when Jesus explained to those on his left that “just as did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” It seems that our final exam question may not be as easy as we first thought. As easily as we can remember the good times, when the love of Jesus reached through our lives to touch other people, we are aware of those times when we missed the opportunity to help those who needed us. Whether we were distracted by our own busy lives, or weighed down with our own concerns, or simply chose to ignore the need, we have all fallen short in the category of “loving our neighbors.” The prophets of the Old Testament warned the people of Israel about the day of the Lord for just this reason: for all the good they thought they had done that would save them on the day of the Lord, there was injustice and oppression among them that God would not ignore.

God will not ignore these things in our midst either. God cares for the poor, the outcasts, and the sick – and expects us as followers of Christ to do the same. Yet, today there are eight million children in America without health insurance and over 1.5 million children with a parent in prison . In the next 24 hours, more than 30,000 people will die of hunger around the world , and millions are still displaced by the hurricanes in our own country and earthquakes in Pakistan. These problems can seem paralyzing. None of us can solve problems of a global-scale on our own – and no one, especially Jesus, expects us to. But how many of us can even say we have done all in our power to help fight them? Even knowing what is on the final exam, we are too busy, too distracted – too much a part of fallen humanity to pass such a stringent test of good works.

So, we are left with quite a paradox: the same people who celebrated God’s goodness and could count ourselves among the sheep are just as easily herded in with the goats. How are we to know where we stand with God?

The key to that question lies in the nature of the paradox. Today’s reading is really a parable, and it has much less to do with whether or not we can be sure of our invitation to the kingdom than it has to do with the nature of God. It is a story that tells both of God’s judgment and of God’s mercy. God counts us a sheep because God loves us so deeply that mercy will find even the one good moment in our lives, when we helped another child of God. But. God counts us as goats because God loves everyone else so fiercely that even one instance when we could have helped a child of God and did not help is an eternal affront. And we will all be crowned by the one and convicted by the other.

So, perhaps Jesus is not trying to give us a special study guide to pass the final exam and earn a passing grade into heaven because none of us will ever work our way into the kingdom based on good behavior. Thankfully, God never thought we would. Instead, we have a God who loves us deeply and fiercely – and wants us to love back. It may be simple, but it certainly is not easy.

This week, I finished Anne Lamott’s book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. In one chapter, she writes about making her teenage son Sam come to church every other week, even though it would probably be easier not to fight that battle. She writes, “And there are worse things for kids than to have to spend time with people who love God. Teenagers who do not go to church are adored by God, but they don’t go to meet some of the people who love God back. Learning to love back is the hardest part of being alive.”

Like her son, we all need these lessons in loving back. All of these big and small commitments: reading our Bibles, coming here on Sunday mornings, gathering our coins for UTO or Episcopal Relief and Development, spending time talking about our vision and how to be a welcoming church – all of these things teach us to love back. These things shape our hearts until we are the kind of people who visit prisoners and provide clothing as part of our very nature, rather than to win points at coffee hour or at Judgement Day. In short, the kind of people that Jesus calls sheep – flaws and all.

Jesus chose this “final exam” question to illustrate the point for a good reason: because if we haven’t done these things, then we never really got the point of everything else. God loved us so much that Christ the King came to us as a baby so poor and humble that he was born in a barn. That love frees us from fear of judgment, frees us from our need to keep score so that we can love back. Jesus gave us this story to remind us of that love, and to say “its not that the rest doesn’t matter. Its just that the rest of it looks like this – glimmers of light, actions of love and sheep in God’s pasture loving back.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday Two

I am sitting in the office/spare room at my friends Dave and Stephanie's house. I am thankful for miniature vacations. And, since I am on a mini-vacation, I will reserve the right to abbreviate the RevGal Friday Five. So, here are two pie stories.

Apple Pie: My friend Stephanie makes amazing apple pie. She grew up in Maine, and knows a lot about different kinds of apples. While we were at seminary, she was going to teach me how to make pies, and I was going to show her how to make bread, but we never got around to it. Three years just isn't enough time for everything. Anyway, she has a special ingredient for apple pie. But I'm not telling you what it is. Then it wouldn't be secret!

All other pies: There is a really really good restaurant in northwest Pennsylvania, in Butler to be exact, called the B&B. It is a little roadside place, across the street from an antiques shop. Now, I haven't been there in years, so probably the food actually wasn't that good, but the pie most certainly was. They had about 20 kinds of pies every single day. Chocolate pie, cream pies, meringue pies, coconut pie, berry pie, apply pie, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie. All written on a chalkboard, the way God intended.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Book Update

It seems that the first printing set of A Light Blazes In The Darkness had some issues. If you (like me) ordered copies, and the cover printing is messed up, you can simply get them replaced. Theres some more info about it over at the RevGals page.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I Sing A Song of the Saints of God

My week is saturated with thinking about saints. We celebrated an evening Eucharist yesterday for the Feast of All Saints. Evening services are not common practice in this church, so it was small-ish, but still a good and holy time.

On Sunday, we will mark All Saints Sunday with baptisms, solemn Communion, and welcoming of newcomers. In the evening, we will have an festival with storytelling, crafts and games - all celebrating the lives of Saints and encouraging our lives as saints. I'm really enjoying planning the party, even if I did bite off a bit more than I can chew. Either ministry is going to increase my capacity to chew, or God better shrink my jaws so I stop doing that.

Anyway... my good friend Micah over at St. Jerome's Libary is thinking about saints lately too. He has a fabulous new project at called Communion of Saints - meditations (written and in podcast form!) on each feast day, based on the Episcopal Lesser Feasts & Fasts calendar. Micah is a wonderful preacher. Give him a listen - I guarantee you will enjoy spending a bit more time thinking about saints too.