Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Taking Names: A Playlist

When I got home last night, I was fired up from a meeting. I had plans, I had ideas, I had energy. Then I went to bed, and woke up to a gray & rainy day. Its so hard to be a night person in this work. But, I was determined to keep up some of that determination - and as I left, Luke called down the stairs "Kick some and take names!" So, I put my iPod on shuffle and skipped through to some songs for a bit of entusiasm with just the right edge of attitude. Here's what I've listened to so far:

All American Girl - Melissa Ethridge
I Will Not Be Broken - Bonnie Raitt
Do Something - Macy Gray
Thank God I'm A Country Boy - John Denver
Jonas & Ezekiel, Go, It's Alright - Indigo Girls
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
Song of the Soul - Cris Williamson
Let's Go Crazy - Prince
Straight To the Point- Carrie Newcomer
Undo Me - Jennifer Knapp

Of course, I've been skipping several songs inbetween these - all Norah Jones, a couple that would be fun to listen to but really aren't so good for work, and anything from Into the Woods.

I think I need some more music along these lines. What do y'all listen to to wake up and energize for the day?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christ the King

Before I attended seminary, I worked at the career center at UM for a short time. It was the kind of office anyone might want to spend some time in after college – the staff cared about their jobs, cared about the students, and enjoyed one another. This was especially evident in the way career-humor would be shared around the office. I remember a particular article that made the circulations between desks and email boxes – it was the report of a mock study showing that the number of girls who wished to be princesses when they grew up was shrinking. It claimed that our democratic political system, with its lack of princesses, meant that little girls weren’t really sure what princesses actually did all day. Interviews with imaginary princesses such as Butterlilly and Twinklerose bemoaned the lack of understanding of the royal life of ease and beauty among today’s children. As a result, little girls were forsaking this once prosperous and popular career for vocations they could understand, such as teachers, veterinarians and astronauts.

Silliness and satire aside, however, that article gets at a particular conundrum for theology today – that is, most of us in this country, both children and adults, have very little idea about what kings and queens really do. There has not been a king with power in these United States for 230 years, and we wrote a declaration and fought a war to bring an end to that power. Even outside America, many kings and queens are no longer powerful monarchs, but figureheads whose families make more headlines in gossip tabloids than major newspapers.
In a world where “kings” have such little impact on our daily lives, how are we as Christians to understand a feast called Christ the King?

This morning, let me suggest that our inexperience with earthly kingly power is exactly what we need, because the kingdom of Christ will not look like any reign or regime this world has seen before.

The title of King is only one attempt to understand what the power of God is like. Look again at today’s Gospel, and the encounter between Pilate and Jesus. Jesus does not say “I am king,” but “you say that I am a king.” We have heard other claims about who Jesus is: Elijah or John the Baptist, a drunkard who eats with sinners, a prophet. All of these are attempts of the human imagination to understand the power of Jesus. But there in the Roman headquarters, Jesus explained exactly what his power was. He goes on to say, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” As a powerful man in a powerful and oppressive empire, Pilate knew the importance of those words. He would have known that truth is power, and not the kind of power one can lose in a battle or an election. Truth is the kind of power that proclaims good news to the poor and opens the eyes of the blind and gives them hope. Truth sets people free.

And that is what it means for us to claim Christ as King – it sets us free to imagine the world as the location of the future reign of Jesus Christ.
When we celebrate the feast day of Christ the King, we celebrate the truth that God created the world and all that is in it. We claim the hope that one day, people of all nations and tribes and races will be one people, freed from poverty, famine, disaster and war, free to seek truth and understanding

But as we know so well – faith without works is dead. So the feast of Christ the King calls us to do more than have visions of the reign of God. It calls us to stake our lives on the truth of that vision, and do our best to build glimpses of the kingdom here and now. And so, it is this Sunday, the feast of Christ the King, that our national church has chosen to reflect upon the Millennium Development Goals as part of our mission priorities. The Millennium Development Goals – or MDGs, as they are sometimes called – are part of a declaration written in the year 2000 by leaders of 189 countries. These world leaders pledged to fight the extreme poverty that slowly kills millions of people around the world each day. They adopted the eight goals, each of these which is then developed into more specific tasks and indicators to measure progress. The eight goals are:
* Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
* Achieve universal primary education.
* Promote gender equality and empower women.
* Reduce child mortality.
* Improve maternal health
* Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
* Ensure environmental sustainability.
* Develop a global partnership for development.

The United Nations, legislators, international aid organizations, even celebrities have signed on to continue this campaign – along with churches and international faith-based organizations. Why would churches all over the world sign on to the Millennium Development Goals, a project of a distinctly secular organization? Perhaps because our churches envision the reign of Christ as a time and place where the secular and the sacred are no longer separate categories because God’s love will touch all things. Or perhaps it is because theologians are no longer the most highly educated group of people, and it is good for us to partner with experts in all areas of our common life.

But mostly, I believe it is because the MDGS, and the work they require of us – are a spiritual discipline. The tasks and goals laid before us – eradicating extreme poverty, achieving primary education, reducing infant mortality and combating diseases that affect millions of people – these goals keep our eyes focused on what the Christ’s reign will be like. It is hard work, that calls us to see the reality of the world around us, and then speak of that truth to those with power. But working together with people of all nations and tribes and languages to see that “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more” moves our vision beyond current reality, and gives us a glimpse of the kingdom where “God will wipe away every tear.” This work stretches our imaginations and strengthens our hope. It is how we how we celebrate our allegiance to Christ the King and claim the greeting of all Christian disciples: “Look, the kingdom of God has indeed come near.”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

On The Menu

From our kitchen:
Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes
Roasted Honey Mashed Sweet Potatoes (with no wheat, for our gluten-allergic family)
Green Beans with Cider
Dinner Rolls (Luke's in charge there - his first solo attempt at bread!)

From kitchens of our parents:

Cranberry Sauce
Jello Salad (Hernandez family tradition)
Various Pies (My mom's doing dessert, so I'm guessing... 3?)

Plus, the usual trimmings:

phone calls to friends
discussion of sermons for Christ the King (my father-in-law is also a priest)
enjoying having in-laws who would rather spend holidays all together

The table is set - have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Then Our Lives Would Be Thanksgiving

I'm sitting here, trying to cobble together a sermon for this evening's service, and needed a break. And what better way to take a break than come visit over here and catch up with all you blog-o'-riffic folks? So, pull up a chair if you're looking for a coffee break! I'll be sticking with the non-caffeinated root beer, but you're welcome to whatever you can find.

First, the update. Michigan 39, OSU 42. A rough day for us Wolverines, but as David said below - what a game! Of course, that score is much easier to swallow after the BCS standings came out on Monday , and Michigan held out at #2. A rematch in the making? We shall see after this weekend, but its awfully great knowing that OSU wasn't able to knock us out of the top two position. Plus, Troy Smith threw an interception and had at least one fumble. All in all, not as bad a day as it could've been.

Of course, all of this was overshadowed by the death of Bo Schembechler. As an Ann Arbor kid, Bo was a household name. He and Woody Hayes made the Michigan-OSU rivalry what it is today: such a great rivalry that it was actually mentioned in a book prayer and public ritual for Liturgy 1 class. His passing was sad news indeed, and the number of folks who gathered to say goodbye and give thanks for the ways he touched their lives was a testament to a life well lived.

Which brings me back to my sermon for this evening. From the time we are toddlers, we're taught that saying "Thank you" is a response to a completed action. In this life-as-clergy, I go to many more funerals than I probably otherwise would. One of the frequent themes of burial services is giving thanks for the life of the person we remember. Saying thanks is our response to the completed action of their life - gratitude that may have been missing from someone's life.

Why do we wait so long to say thank you? I think because we're out of practice. Last Saturday's game - a three hour, forty-five minute blip in history - was decades in the making. Hundreds of guys spent hundreds of hours practicing over the years to make that game happen, and not a single one of them would imagine wearing that Wolverine jersey without putting energy and passion into the dream of having the heart of a champion. Why do we as Christians think a heart of thanksgiving will come more easily?

A heart of thanksgiving takes skill and practice. It takes patience to filter out the anxiety that clouds our vision. It takes wisdom to see the blessings of God in our lives. It takes faith and generosity to recognize our abundance, and share it with others. It takes the work of the Spirit.

So, here is my first Thankful Heart practice drill, in no particular order: music, the church I serve, Luke, families and in-laws that enjoy one another, friends both near and far, Laura on her birthday, the blog world, coffee, dark chocolate, sweaters, cookbooks, and photographs.

Oh! And, I'm thankful for de-lurking week! Join in the fun, and leave a note!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Simple Gifts

It doesn't take much to make me happy, and today was a very happy day: sleeping in, chatting about vacation possibilities over coffee, a little TV, new recipes that turned out well.

But the crowning moment of the day? Discovering this.

Yep. A punk-rock version of Lord of the Dance. We're having a youth group lock-in this weekend, and I wanted to find an interesting version of the song. Turns out I was sucessful - and now I'll be giggling all weekend.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Normally, Purple is My Favorite...

... but I'm awfully fond of blue this week! Anyway, after a few weeks away, here is the return of the Friday Five - a special (non-election) red/blue quiz!

1. Favorite red food
I do love food... in the crazy artificial category, I'd have to say Faygo Rock & Rye - a dark-red colored pop that is kind of like vanilla cream soda. In the more normal category, this roasted red pepper sauce we make for pasta: 3 or 4 roasted red peppers pureed with garlic, basil, olive oil and parmesan cheese. SO good - especially when you can roast the peppers on the grill.

2. Tell us about the bluest body of water you've ever seen in person.
In high school, I got to travel to Italy with the Latin club. We spent one day on the island of Capri, and took boat tours of the Blue Grotto - a small cave where the water glows blue. Its a little bit like the lights at the bottom of a really blue swimming pool, except its actually natural. Gorgeous.

3. It's movie rental time: Blue Planet, The Color Purple, or Crimson Tide?
I think none of those... how about Moulin Rouge! - I even own that one! Or, to go with the blended theme, Primary Colors, which I still haven't seen.

4. What has you seeing red these days?
After the elections, the fact that this passed, despite the efforts of the group linked. In other news? I've actually just come out of a slump of seeing red, and now the world is looking rather rosy again.

5. What or who picks you up when you're feeling blue?
This week: Friends who patiently put up with my ranting until we can get down to the heart of the matter. Friends who leave me cheery voicemail because they know I'm having a bad day/week/month. Friends who leave me voicemail in song-form telling me they are coming to visit next month. And, having a husband who is so understanding and funny that when I read that my childhood church-crush got married last month, he actually responed, "Aw, I'm sorry honey". I'm still laughing, a day later.

With friends and loved ones like that, the forecast is definitely rosy!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Choosing a Blessing

One of my favorite things about this priestly life is distributing communion. I love interacting at the communion rail through this simple act of placing the wafer in people's hands. I love the personal-yet-communal receiving that happens at this kind of distribution (as opposed to standing stations). I love that some people really seek eye contact, and even that some people don't. I love the really little kids who are practically bursting they are so excited to come to God's table, and I love the kids who forget to hold out their hands. I love how different everyone is when they come to this altar rail, and how they all receive the same wafer. And, happily, I get to participate in the Eucharist this way every week.

As much as I love this... I struggle often with the "blessing" portion of distribution. There are all these beautiful babies at my church - just tons of them! - and, well, they don't really eat solid food. So, they don't receive Communion yet. So, we make the sign of the cross on their foreheads, and say a prayer - and some kids receive this until they are 6, 7 or 8, depending on their parents theology.

Here has been my struggle (besides the whole children-not-receiving thing, thats a whole other issue!): I want to say a prayer that helps the children hear and know that they too are welcome at the Lord's table. So, I experiment with wording. My usual blessing is something like "May the blessing of God who made you, Jesus who came as a child, and the Holy Spirit who lives in your heart be with you always, Amen". This past Sunday, for whatever reason, I had a musical version of 2 Corinthians 13 in my head.... "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God..." So, I changed my wording and said, "May the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit bless you today and always, Amen"

As I laid my hand on one baby girl - a very very cute baby with big wide eyes, pink chubby baby cheeks, and two little brown pigtails that stick straight up and out - after I finished the prayer for her, she clapped. She grinned and she clapped.

I think I'll be sticking with the new wording for a while. It has baby approval.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

And I Want To Be One Too

Let us now sing the praises of famous men and women,
our ancestors in their generations.
The Lord apportioned to them great glory,
his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms,
and made a name for themselves by their valor;
those who gave counsel because they were intelligent;
those who spoke in prophetic oracles;
those who led the people by their counsels
and by their knowledge of the people's lore;
they were wise in their words of instruction;
those who composed musical tunes,
or put verses in writing;
rich men and women endowed with resources,
living peacefully in their homes--
all these were honored in their generations,
and were the pride of their times.
Some of them have left behind a name,
so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory;
they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born,
they and their children after them.
But these also were godly men and women,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
Their offspring will continue forever,
and their glory will never be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace,
but their name lives on generation after generation.
- Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10,13-14

In my home church, on All Saints Sunday, we used this reading every year. After each line describing the works of these famous people, the lector would pause, and various people from the congregation would stand and read names of saints and heroes who have impacted the world in those ways. And then, after the link "But hese also were godly men and women, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten", we would simply pause. And remember.

All Saints Day is the day to remember heroes of the faith, living and dead, ancient and recent, and to give thanks to God for their lives and ministry. I love this idea. I love singing the songs about meeting saints "in the lane or at tea" (Oy, how Anglican are we??).

So, today when thinking about heroes of faith, I'd like you to consider a particular group: parents. Specifically, parents with very sick children. Last week, I asked your prayers for a young girl, Caroline, having surgery. The surgery was sucessful, but it was indeed cancer. This very little girl has a very long road ahead of her, including radiation and chemo - yet, her mamas got dressed up and got her a costume so she could attend the Halloween Party at the hosptial. They are pushing through with strength and faith and prayer because Caroline needs them to, and because they love. And today, we will pray for them, and give thanks for their quiet testimony.