Monday, February 28, 2005


I’m thinking about forgiveness tonight. How do we forgive if we don’t want to? If our wills are so set against the other person that we can’t imagine a relationship with the person?
I have a rather strong will and a good imagination. I can’t (pronounced "caint" down heah) figure out a way to forgive.

I’m not proud of this. I’m humiliated by it. I am ashamed.

If forgiveness means setting the past behind us so that we can go forward into a new relationship, I don’t know how to do this.
If forgiveness means loving the person despite the damage they’ve done, I don’t know how to do this.
If forgiveness means being able to sit before God and know that I’ve forgiven as I have been forgiven, I’m lost.

As far as I am able to determine about myself, I can forgive. I’ve moved on from wounded moments to continue relationships and found good things in the future. I’ve been forgiven many times by those I love so that the relationships which mean so much to me can grow forward.

But, deep in heart, when I stand to pray with my congregation the Prayer of Confession then offer the Assurance of Pardon, I know that I do not forgive a family member. I wish this were not so.
I have asked God to help me forgive this person. I continue to pray for her.

I try to imagine having a relationship with her and I am repulsed by the idea.
I don’t have to spend time with her or see her often. I’m not sure this helps the situation.
I’ve been given a tiny opportunity to move toward her but don’t trust her enough to do it as yet.
I may never do it.

It’s not enough to hear that it is a "toxic relationship" and that I should just move on.
It’s for these hard-as-hell relationships that Jesus told us to forgive. The easy situations to forgive don’t count for much more than good manners. The entrenched wretchedness of an unforgiving heart is the ideal candidate for the love of Christ to heal.

If I told you the circumstances of this broken relationship, you’d understand that I am being and have been, tested mightily. Big time misery.

I don’t want to be let off the hook because of the other person’s awfulness. What difference does that make? My lack of forgiveness weighs on my heart because I know it is not right. It is not who I want to be.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

I Wish You Knew My Congregation

I wish you knew my congregation.
I drove to Tiny Town in the rain early this morning thinking I might be the teacher for Church School. I prepared a lesson on the Old Testament lectionary text about Moses in the wilderness of Sin. (Sin as in a geographic place, not a moral place). It’s next Sunday that I begin my teaching so I sat down to enjoy the lesson. Our very old organist was in class this week with us and began to weep. Asked why she was crying, she told us that she felt so blessed and happy that she couldn’t keep it all in. "I wept all the way here", she said. We asked her what was going on and she said she woke up full of love for God.

She plays the organ as if we were an old-time revival tent meeting. As a stiff-backed dour Presbyie from a high church tradition (if there is such a thing with us), I think her music is dance hall splendid. I’m not saying anything to her. When I get to be in my late 80's, I don’t want a youngster to tell me my preaching is dated. I’ll know it’s dated and hope I have a place to share it. We are that place for her. I don’t know many of the songs she suggests as preludes, offertories or postludes. I pick the hymns, the service music is her choice. She offered to play my favorite song for the offertory today and I asked if she would play one close to her heart instead. I didn’t recognize the tune.

It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I don’t believe the music is very important to the service. I believe all this. I do care. I care that Miss X be given a place to blast us out of the building with her being "full of God."
I wish you knew my congregation. I’m not kidding. I see flashes of grace in such array that I come away blinded.

Do you remember how I was discouraged about my congregation not knowing the meaning of the Lord’s Supper? I felt I was plowing a rocky field trying to teach them the basics. Today I heard my Clerk of Session welcome our three new members by telling them of the Great Ends of the Church and how these were our purpose. I almost fell out of my chair. I didn’t know he knew these although we’d discussed them over a year ago.

In a nod to the Academy Awards tonight, I used the Academy, "may I have the envelope, please" idea and presented the Samaritan Woman at the Well the Award for "First Evangelist (outside of the Disciples) and had "her" explain why she won the award and what happened to her at the Well when she met Jesus. I was both the Woman and the Presenter. My sermon bordered on the gimmicky but since I seldom take the gimmick road to preaching, I jumped into character and delivered the sermon. It worked. On the drive to Tiny Town, I tossed out my prepared sermon to go with the Academy Award’s idea.

One of my members says that Tiny Town church reminds her of Jan Karon’s Mitford series. I see the connection between Mitford’s Lord’s Chapel and us. This makes me Father Tim which doesn’t quite work as he is not a girly girl. But I am Father Tim-ish because I do look around in wonder at the lives of my saints and thank God for each one of them.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Odd Week in Backwater

It was an odd week in the Backwater.
Our colds improved but the hacking and blowing kept the LH and me from sleeping well. We are on the mend, thank the Lord.

On the friendship front, the news wasn’t as good. A seminary classmate was diagnosed with cancer again after a 10 year respite. She’ll begin a six part chemotherapy course in a few weeks. My neighbor pastor went to see one of her elderly parishoners at home and found crime scene tape around the woman’s home. The woman was murdered by drifters. Watching my neighbor pastor cope with her own pain while searching for ways to comfort and interpret the violence to her flock made me grateful for the maturity I see in her. She’s a wonderful pastor right now. She’s got the gifts for the work she is called to do. Watching her grow is lovely to me. She’s quite my junior in age and experience so if I sound "sisterly" about her, I am.

Another preacher pal is on a downward spiral (or so I think) of busyness piling on more tasks than she can handle while searching for more. I can hardly bare to listen to her. It is NOT our job to bring in the Kingdom. It is NOT our task to save the world. I’m telling you this because she doesn’t listen. It’s like watching a train wreck. Note to self: pray, think, do. Don’t invent busyness. Move when the Spirit says move. Stay still otherwise.

I finished Sherlock Holmes’ Casebook this week and began Great Expectations. Arthur Conan Doyle is fun to read. Picking up Dickens after many years is a pleasure, too. Great Expectations is a much better book than I remembered. I read it at 12 then later in High School. Re-reading it reminds me of Dickens’ power of description and insights into human behavior.

Read the Christian Century and Presbyterian Outlook as I do each week. Southern Living came so I pondered it while watching Ballykissangel from the BBC. Thank you, Netflix. I can watch the BBC stuff even though BBC America doesn’t reach this far South. Ballykissangel is better than Father Ted but neither are as engaging as The Vicar of Dibley. I think I’ve seen all of the Vicar series. We’ve got more seasons of Ballykissangel to see. Father Ted was funny for the first few shows then got on my nerves. Not respectful enough of the work of a priest for my tastes although the cast of characters had some funny spots.

If you see this month’s GQ look for the male model wearing a yellow wide stretch head band and a large red flower pinned to his lapel. We hooted at him. Don’t know why we get GQ as sartorial elegance passed this family by. I suppose the subscription was under ten dollars when I ordered magazines for the LD’s school fund-raiser.

I did about four loads of laundry each day. Cooked meals, ate out three times, got a new collar to clothe Andy in his nakedness, watched West Wing and straightened the house repeatedly.

I worked on my sermon on John 4:5-42 looking at the text with as fresh eyes as I could muster. I preach the lectionary most weeks. Well, all the time. At first, dealing with texts assigned disciplined me to pay attention to portions of the Bible I might have ignored and got me off the habit of preaching my favorite texts. I’ve learned more Bible preaching the lectionary and reading the daily readings over the past 6-8 years. However, I have preached through the cycle at least twice now and this year, I feel less excited about the return of some texts. Like the Woman at the Well. Great text but I am recalling how I deal with it the last time and the time before that. Lord, make your Word fresh to me. It’s February, not the best month. Amen.

It’s the humdrum of the weather (rainy and gray, then bright blue and chillier this week), February itself and the toll of illness in the lives of my people and friends as well as my own sniffing and kleenex blowing. I’ve bought kleenex twice this month. Blown through the nine-box pack I bought at Sam’s Club.
Today is the 26th. Two more days and then we will have March. What's going on with you all?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Most Honorable Red

That's the name of the OPI nail polish on my toesies. A gal just needs a pedicure in February to get her moving and groovin' to Spring. I mean it. My feet are ready for sandals.
Get going! It's YOUR turn.

Privacy Here

I don’t use my real name on this blog. I’m sure this is a surprise to those of you who think my first name is "St." with "Casserole" as my surname. Realizing that many bloggers think it is goofy not to disclose one’s name, I submit the following:
1. I want privacy. The world, insurance companies, marketers and the IRS know all of my business. The police of Backwater can find me day or night.

2. I lived under the curse of politics for many years and lost any vestige of privacy I owned then.
I couldn’t put up political signs in my front yard. I couldn’t have sassy bumper stickers. I understood the reasons for being nonpartisan but it got on my nerves.

3. The blog provides me with a space to speak as I wish. I don’t want to be "punished" for my words or thoughts. I’m idealistic in many ways but can be cynical as the dickens, too. I know that people are punished for being themselves and that many words spoken or written can return to hit one in the butt. I am idealistic that I may be able to avoid having my words hit my buttage. And cynical enough to think that using a nom de plume will help protect me. Maybe I’m just not very brave.

4. I have thoughts and words I have no place for except here. I can’t think of anything I’ve written so far that fits this category but I may want to unload in the future.

5. Those of you who know me in the dimensional world know I’m writing as I speak and think. Just keep my identity to yourself. Write my name on a bathroom stall but not here.

How’s it going for you out there?

Andy, Charles and Camilla

It is a rainy, miserable day here in the Backwater. The temperature is ok but I am concerned about developing mold running between my car and errands. I came home to find Andy the Cat naked again, without his collar. He begged to go outside even though we’ve been terrorized by a roving band of scoundrel cats who chase, bite and curse our dear kitties. Even the elderly Old Man Cat wanted to step out for fresh air. He came in fully dressed in his tartan collar, dignified as usual.

However, this is not my big problem of the day. I am concerned about Charles’ wedding to Camilla. There are legal problems ( see the London Times:,,19769_1496475,00.html ) whose resolution dumbfounds me. Despite the quality of my advice on all topics, I am not a lawyer. My knowledge of international law, particularly the Inns and outs of Great Britain is poor. I’ve done my best to understand the issues but without much success. Don’t explain it to me. I need, on this rainy day, to struggle with the theological and societal issues alone in my study.

Years ago, a great philosopher suggested that when troubled about world issues, to consider the life and plight of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I have learned over the years about her life particularly her fears about living in the violent U.S. after the murder of her husband. She returned to the states where she developed a life for herself of letters and friends. I admired her. The Philosopher’s suggestion had a great deal to do with believing that Mrs. Onassis could handle her affairs gracefully without anyone’s sympathy or concern. If nothing else, her money would provide a certain insulation.

So I’m sitting here listening to the rain and watching it soak my yard thinking about Charles and Camilla and my naked Cat. I don’t know if C and C can move along with their lives without the rest of us either being worried about the future of the Monarchy. I’m even less sure that Andy the Cat will develop modesty.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

My Ten Thing List

Because it’s all the rage at journalscape and I am a hopeless conformist and I like to copy Reverend Mother.

These are my ten things I've done that you may not have done:

1. Been investigated by Scotland Yard via the Sheriff of Tiny Town.
2. Put lipstick on cat's mouths. The cleft lip on 'em helps. Bright colors are best.
3. Was a cheerleader, head cheerleader, at the Calvin Bowl my first year of Seminary.
4. Streaked the President's Home while in college. No one saw us. I'm not sure this counts.
5. Was for many years the ONLY clergywoman many people had EVER seen.
6. Can give an old man cat an IV for his kidney disease without a medical license.
7. Have read most of what John Calvin wrote.
8. Know how to do the state dance of South Carolina and do it well.
9. Cannot sail without using a few bad words and re-newing my commitment to the Lord.
10. Have more framed things in my house than my sister has ever seen in a private residence.

Whew! That wasn't very easy. Tell me yours......

Monday, February 21, 2005

Frankincense in February

I ordered Frankincense incense from the Society of Christ's Church Parish ( at the suggestion of AKMA's blog The staff was lovely and filled my order by sending 40z. of the frankincense incense, a brass personal incense burner from Greece and a CD of sung chants. I tried to light the incense in the burner this morning to try the mixture but my Protty poor-liturgical-background hampered my efforts. I don't know how to light incense.

I tried wooden matches and a gas long snout lighter without success. All I wanted to do was smell the stuff and see how to use it. The jar describes the mixture as " (a) distinctive blend based on the original formula, in continuous liturgical use by the Society for over a century."

I think I can "work" the CD. I do have some skills, you know....

Saturday, February 19, 2005


I’m feeling better with a nap. I am trying to conserve my strength so I can lead worship tomorrow however silly it is to think one can hold on to energy and disperse activity at will.

The LH wanted to get out even though he is hacking and droopy. We went to the bookstore. I looked for book on forgiveness written by an author I couldn’t remember with a title I forgot. Oddly enough, I didn’t find it. I have the author and title written on a scrap of paper in my other purse so I’ll pursue finding it.

I wanted to find a book on common Southern weeds. As Spring begins to edge into the yard, the weeds are bright green meadows in my yard grass and flower beds. I want to know each little sprouts real name, where it originated and how to get rid of it. Not that I’m splashing herbicide on a square inch of our yard. I have cat paws to protect, birds to keep safe and ground water to keep clean.

Weeds fascinate me. Are they weeds because they are free in cost and unintentional? Is our orderly gardening to value what we plant and detest any visitors? Is what we grow cultural or what is in fashion or something other than love of growth?

It’s the growing habits of weeds which fascinate me. They are so durn intrepid. A weed will grow in a sidewalk crack in the worst situations imaginable and prevail. Unless a RoundUp spraying herbicidal maniac comes by.
Stubborn, hardy, ubiquitous, vital. All weed words. We have dollar grass which I assume came up here from Mexico and further South as I saw it in Mexico. It’s roots are like long boiled pieces of spaghetti. If you pull the roots up, you get more roots. Crabgrass has wonderfully deep roots, too. Johnson grass is difficult for me to hand weed as it is stuck in the earth so tightly that it resists my pulls. I may have the names of Johnson and Crabgrass confused. See? I need a book to tell me their names. I don’t even know the colloquial names for many of the weeds I see.

I can be stubborn like a weed. Makes me think of my sermon tomorrow on John 3:1-17 where Nicodemus comes to see Jesus at night privately unable to face the public. He recognizes Jesus as a miracle worker but doesn’t know where Jesus’ authority comes from. He doesn’t know Jesus’ name as an identifier with God. Can’t imagine it but knows something is going on. I imagine that Nicodemus’ struggle with whether or not to go see Jesus was a tortured internal moment. But he goes, stubborn but curious.

Are weeds weeds? Trash plants, irritants or another way of looking at plant life? Another way to look at life by looking at the undesirable or unvalued? Is my view or our view of Jesus’ authority based on values which don’t make sense? I’m not suggesting that Jesus is a weed. That’s too funny! Perhaps I am the weed or the weed holder as in a holder of ideas which are not valuable and can be replaced with better values.

Just thinking. How’s it with you?

P.S. This isn’t my sermon but everything relates to preaching regardless by Saturday afternoon. It’s on my brain.
I’ve completed the sermon until it’s next revision about 10 pm. tonight which precedes the 8 am. tomorrow revision which precedes the 10am. revision....

Friday, February 18, 2005


Does it mean anything that Blogger doesn't "take" all of my blog entries? Or is it my computer which boots off my blog entries? The first time my blog entry blew away without showing up on the blog, I thought, "well, it was a goofy entry anyway". It's discouraging.

Doesn't matter.

The LD is at a birthday party with girls and boys. Being free from her "double secret probation, etc." is great. The LS will go pick her up before the party ends. I don't want her standing around at closing time.

I'm supposed to be working on my sermon but I came here to....well....just...look around. Yeah. Just look around. I'm procrastinating like a pro.

Back later. Take care of your bloggy selves....
Several thoughts this morning:

The birds are singing as if Spring were on the way. I wish I understood bird music. The confederate jasmine's blooms are lovely. The azaleas have begun to open. Only spots of pink as yet, but more to come. These pre-Spring days help my spirit. Sorry to those of you with no signs of Spring.

I suppose I should alert an elder that my cold is making me cough. I can't medicate enough to stop the cough and keep me upright when a cold hits so an elder may have to preach for me Sunday.

The LH likes to get sick when I am sick so I hope to be better today as his cough is worse.

Lent is purple for royalty and repentance. We moderns, especially those without a monarchy, don't understand royalty as those with a monarchy do. I wonder how the language of Christ as King sound to their ears?

The LD presented her mid-terms grades which all showed improvement. She is off Double Secret Probation with Lock-Down and Sprinkles. Last night she talked on the phone for over an hour with no breaks for taking a breath. Phone priviledges restored, computer priviledges still in question. She feels good about her grades and effort so her attitude is sweeter. Thank you, Lord.

I read John Grisham's The Broker this week. Good fast read as usual with Grisham's work. The man has written 18 books now. Greg Iles is a far superior writer but doesn't get the press Grisham enjoys.

My prayer list is loaded with colleagues struggling with big illnesses. God grant them the strength to cope and endure.

Note to kitsch loving Jesus painting receiver blog reader: I haven't mailed your package yet. I'm sorry for the delay.

How's it going with you all (as we say down heah)?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

I’m home from the retreat with all those preachers. Being out in the quiet woods for three days brightened my spirits as did eating great meals with preacher pals. Some of the speakers were great while others must have thought they were preparing for 19 year olds who were inexperienced with Bible study. I note this disparity between my interests and the presentations only because I know that being a speaker, far from home, works well at times or flops. Maybe the speakers weren’t told much about our group or were given nebulous instructions about the retreat.

My head cold meant I wasn’t my best self. Snorting and blowing into tissues while my head feels like it’s enclosed in a plastic bag of water means I may be a tad more critical than when I feel good. I’m not much better this morning although being home helps.

I had one blast-out flare-up with my focus group which was useless. Not proud of it. Wish I’d kept quiet. Between nose blows I lost my temper over the light-weight, airy discussion of how great it is to help with AIDS orphans overseas. I’m in favor of helping all children. I want AIDS orphans to have what they need: happy homes, good support as they grow up and so on. However, we have suffering children here at home. Happy slappy evangelicals strike me as unwilling to get involved with the public health issues of AIDS patients in our neighborhoods. Could be help our children and families here with all the physical, political needs our citizens need AND be available to help children around the world? Why not? It’s scandalous how we believers do next to nothing for the vulnerable among us but make sure we send cartons of Bibles to far away places.

Sanitized, manageable Christian work. Yuk. Ewwww. Gross.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Retreat

I'm going to retreat from my home and family, the washing machine, dishwasher, the telephone and computer for several days beginning Monday morning.

I'm backing away from the table of my ordinary life and going off into the woods to think, listen and stare. I'll think about my world here and the world's of my fellow retreatants, listen to the speaker discuss "The Presence of God in Creation" and stare at trees. The tree staring is a specialty of mine. I find looking at trees very hard improves one's perspective on life.

I need a new perspective. I'm sick of preaching. I'm sick of doing the same things over and over again. This temper fit is not my usual stance on life. I like it all, usually. Happy. etc. etc.

Today, I tipped over the edge when I realized how little the adults in the church school class know and understand about Communion. I 'bout fell over, as we say down here.

I know denominationalism isn't popular with many but my congregation IS Presbyterian and by doggie! I'm teaching them what we believe and why.

I just did not realize that they are near clueless about the sacraments. We will be celebrating the Lord's Supper the first Sunday of each month in 2005. This is new for them. They've never had a regular serving of the Supper.

I'll spend more time than I had planned teaching about the sacrament. I'll go on the retreat. I'll enjoy the drive to the retreat. I'll have times of quiet. I'll pray alone and with my colleagues. I'll have better attitude later this week. I'll return ready to work, serve and love.

Keep checking in with me this week. Take care of your bloggy selves.

Reinhold Niebuhr and "Speaking of Faith"

"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, could be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint; therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness." ---Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History. 1952

Krista Tippet of Public Radio's Speaking of Faith ( discusses Niebuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society in the show hyperlinked above. I listen to S o F as I drive to my church two counties away. I enjoy most of her programs, this one made me nostalgic for good public talk about faith spoken by wise and educated people. The talk we hear these days confuses me with it's partisan, selfish tone. The comments Niebuhr makes about "hubris" almost forced me off the road. You can read about the program and listen to it, if you wish.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Moving Slowly

I'm moving slowly today. I've got a church bulletin to finish and some finishing touches to add to Sunday's sermon. As you may know, I am the church secretary so the bulletin is only produced if I make it and print it.

I've joined a group blog for Lent. I'm pleased to be included and you can be too if you'll contact the directors through the blog. I've posted once on the word press blog and have no clue if I did it correctly. If it didn't work, nothing much is lost as I only introduced myself and said I had nothing to say. Whoa! I'm one hot blogger! But, if I have nothing to say I'll say nothing.

Having announced myself as slow, nothing to say and empty-headed this morning, I will be away for the first part of the week attending a retreat with clergy on theology and Bible. I'm happy to be going out of town for a few days and assume I'll find whatever the retreat offers interesting. I've been home and in a bore of ordinary days for weeks now (since Christmas) and will enjoy a change.

I celebrate the idea of ordinary days where clothes are clean and put away, meals prepared and served with as much fan-fare as a Mom can offer and where children know where I am and what I'm doing. This ordinary life of ours provides our children with constancy and predictability. Bores the dickens out of me but is a good discipline for someone with as many interests as I have to live a measured, ordered life. I had years of ricocheting around before we had children so I'm ready to provide our children with an ordinary life. This constancy provides them with security so that they can begin to ricochet knowing I'm available if needed.

My feelings get hurt from time to time when I hear my children describe my life although I know they do not know all I do and how much time I spend while they are at school doing things which I THINK are exciting.
But, I remind myself that there is a value for them in testing out their new maturity while thinking I'm the most boring mom in the world. They don't see me as a pastor because they attend church school and worship with the LH at his nearby church while I drive an hour to my congregation. They don't know the network of community contacts I maintain because I seldom mention my community work. It's ok. I'm not bored with myself although I do anticipate having a splurge of freedom driving away to the retreat. If you hear whooping and hollering early next week, it is I beating the side of my car as I drive away. I think I'll speed away, actually.

What's going on with you?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

For Lent Ernest T. Campbell

As we near the hallowed grounds of Gethsemane and Golgotha, we
confess to a sense of unworthiness and shame.
Our deprivations are so few,
Our scars so scarce,
Our courage so seldom summoned,
Our passion so wasted on self.
Who are we that we should bear thy name or purport to be thy people?

Forgive us, God, for we know not what we do.
Expose the games we play with thee to stave off the moments of full
surrender; and help us to come as the sinners we are, that we may obtain
mercy and find help in time of need.
Our prayers we offer in faith and with thanksgiving,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ernest S. Campbell from Leo S. Thorne, ed. Prayers from Riverside, 40. Copyright@1983
The Pilgrim Press.

From PCUSA News Leonard Sweet Cats, Toasters, Vomit and Priest Prophets

Note #8643 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:05080February 8, 2005
Calling all pneumanauts

Sweet tells APCE participants to be 'sailors on the Spirit'by Jerry L. Van Marter

VANCOUVER - In a world dominated by the power found in material things, Christians must reclaim the reality and power of the spirit, renowned futurist Leonard Sweet said in twin lectures yesterday and today here. He even coined a new word for doing so as he addressed the 900 Presbyterian and Reformed participants in the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) annual conference here: "pneumanauts" - from the Greek words for "spirit" or "wind" and "travelers." "We believe that the physical and material forces are the strongest in the universe," Sweet said, "but what does God say? 'Not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit.'" And so, in a world desperate for spiritual leadership, Christians must be pneumanauts, "sailors on the Spirit," he insisted. Scripture also reveals the chief characteristic of "the wind-blown life," Sweet insisted - unpredictability: "We know not where the wind comes from and where it goes, and it takes us even in directions we don't want to go."

Sweet outline the three "Esses" of "pneumanautics":* Simultaneity* Systems* SemioticsSimultaneity "We live in a world where opposite things are happening at the same time but they're not contradictory," Sweet said. The concept is more Eastern than Western - yoga, for instance, literally means "embracing opposites." But the Bible, borne in the East, is replete with such simultaneity. For example, Sweet said, God is one God, but exists in three persons. For another, Jesus is fully human and fully divine. And Jesus' teachings, Sweet continued, are filled with such simultaneity - he counsels his disciples, for instance, to be "wise as serpents but gentle as doves." Changes in distribution theory point to a shift in western culture toward simultaneity, he said. For generations, scientists have cited the "bell curve" as the "normal" distribution - a vast middle (the bell) with very little at either end of the curve. Scientists are increasingly relying on a "well curve" distribution theory, with vast extremes and very little in the middle. "Just look at the presidential election, or many of the mainline churches - there's no middle left anywhere," Sweet said. The key to ministry in such a changed world is to bring the extremes together and only by embracing simultaneity can that be achieved. Again, Sweet said, the Bible is replete with examples of Jesus (and his disciples) bringing seemingly opposites together.

And it doesn't happen by trying to find a lowest common denominator, Sweet said, citing Revelation 3:16 - "Would that you were hot or cold, instead you are luke-warm." Calling this the "God-vomit" passage because the Revelation author quotes God as saying, "You make me sick "(or "vomit"), Sweet said, "What's happening today is a bunch of churches are being thrown up, vomited out, because they're neither hot nor cold but just plain luke-warm."

Coining another simultaneity term, he said Christians today must be "priest prophets." "A priest represents the people to God; a prophet represents God to the people," he explained. "A priest tells it like it is; a prophet tells it like God wants it to be. A priest reaches out to where people are; a prophet reaches out to where people are not but need to be. Pneumanauts need to do both at the same time - that's what's missing in church leadership today."

Systems Christians must understand (and act accordingly) that the Bible, the church and other people are living organisms and not machines or devices. It is, Sweet said, like the difference between trying to fix a toaster and trying to heal a cat. "To heal a toaster, you take it apart, clean and repair it and then put it back together again," he explained. "You cannot heal a sick cat by taking it apart and putting it back together again. "The modern world taught us toasters," Sweet continued. "We have yet to learn how to do cat, to treat things like cats, not toasters. The challenge, fellow pneumanauts, is to figure out how to treat more of the world like cats, not toasters." Start with the Bible, he suggested. "When I was a kid I was put in a program to memorize Bible verses," Sweet recounted. "I learned a lot of Bible verses, but then discovered, almost too late, that the Bible wasn't written in verses, it was written in stories.

"We've turned the Bible into a toaster. We have to treat it more like a cat. We say the Bible is a 'living' book. Then we must trust it as a whole, not as a collection of small parts that we can take apart and put back together again," Sweet said. Churchgoers do it with sermons, too.

"Ministers are the worst listeners to sermons because they immediately start taking them apart," he said. And people. "As soon as we meet someone, we start taking them apart to see what we like and don't like about them," Sweet said. "How radically would our ministry change if we started treating them like cats and not like toasters?"

Semiotics From the Greek word for "signs," semiotics, Sweet said, is "an invitation to read the signs. The height of spiritual illiteracy is the inability to read the handwriting on the wall." Jesus continuously implored his followers to read the signs he was pointing out,.The gospel of Mark, for instance, is filled, Sweet pointed out, with Jesus' expressions of frustration and the disciples consistently missed the clues. "Mark is the 'duh!' gospel, he said. Semiotic awareness - which Sweet also called "connecting the dots" - should be easier for Christians because they have a personal stake in seeing the signs of the Spirit's presence in the world. It's like buying a new car, he said. "As soon as you drive it off the lot, you immediately begin to see the same vehicle everywhere. People aren't suddenly copying you by buying the same car," Sweet explained. "What has changed is you. You have a personal stake in that car so now you can start reading the signs."

Sweet said one of his favorite metaphors for "reading the signs of life" is South Carolinian Reggie McNeil's "refrigerator door." "We ought to think of ministry as a refrigerator door. If I go into your home, I might admire the furnishings or the art on the walls," he explained. "But if I really want to see your family's life in all its richness and creativity, I'll look at your refrigerator door - that's where the growth and vitality and stuff that's really important to the life of your household will be found."

Christians must think of their churches as refrigerator doors, Sweet concluded. "Make fine music, preach good sermons, fill the walls with fine windows and art, but don't forget the refrigerator door."

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Shrove Tuesday Mardi Gras

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent. In my part of the woods, today is Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday") and the people go wild.

I grew up with Shrove Tuesday which meant eating pancakes with the Episcopalians at St. Martin's. Pancakes are the traditional food of the day as all the milk and eggs are used before Ash Wednesday when certain foods are avoided as an act of self-denial for Lent.

I was an adult before I experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans which is very different from a pancake supper in a small parish hall.

The New Orleans celebration blew away my East Coast ideas about partying in the streets. Like we buttoned up Protestants ever partied in the streets.......

The day began with going to a church member's house early for breakfast and milk punch. The milk punch was mostly bourbon, the breakfast was mostly King Cake. I seldom drink so the combination of sugar and alcohol meant I was ready for a nap by 8 am. The church folks would load up in cars caravan style and head down to St. Charles' Avenue to another member's home. After parking the cars (difficult when thousands of people are converging on a small area some with RV's and all loaded with ladders and ice chests) we'd settle in on the front porch to chat and warm up for the parades. By now it's about 10 am. The time to chat and drink rolled over us as did watching families set up step ladders for children to climb to grab the beads.

Beads? Oh yeah. East Coast parades are for standing and watching. Mardi Gras parades send you home with bags of plastic beads and trinkets (doubloons, aluminum coins made for the occasion, small plastic junk and stuffed animals). If a kid is high up on a ladder, float riders can get the beads to them more easily.

Police are closing off the streets to traffic and people begin to walk in the streets from house to house. It's getting wild but only a warm-up.

The visiting gets more intense. After all, we are Southerners and we know each other. Or we know a stranger's home town or fifth grade teacher or one of their mamma's cousins. We visit, hug and drink more.
Bathrooms become an issue. The families who are "with" the homes on St. Charles' Ave. are grateful for the access to bathrooms. The City sets up port-a-potties but only the desperate use these.

It's time to eat again. The most wonderful junk food on the planet appears on Arthur Court or sterling silver trays. Everything from dips and spreads to shrimp to gumbo to jambalya to hamburgers and hot dogs.
Food and drink, food and drink; it's the New Orleans mantra.

(Time for more coffee. More later......)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Transfiguration Sunday Follow-up

I don't know how my sermon on the Transfiguration went on Sunday. The texts from Exodus and Matthew are rich with detail and drama but preaching on the mystery of the Transfiguration is not easy. Mystery is mystery. To "dumb down" mystery by attempting to explain it with illustrations is very tricky and I attempt to avoid silly illustrations of profound ideas. I did receive comments from my congregation but they were the pleasant and useless "nice sermon" type.

What I wouldn't give for really helpful comments!
"Preacher, you speak so fast I couldn't follow you" or "I've been thinking about what you said and I wonder if I could talk about ____ with you?" Or, "When you wave your arms like that it makes me think of a short gorilla..."

Well, not that last one. I am active in the pulpit but do try to keep from going goofy. I keep my shoes on which is a temptation each week to take them off and pad around in pantyhose feet.

We gathered for the sacrament of the Lord's Supper after the sermon then had our annual congregational meeting following worship. The meeting went well then the best thing happened! Two of our long attending but not joining members told one of the elders that they were ready to join the church. We are ready for them! They are regular attenders and givers, eager to take on jobs, know how to ask for help and are delighted to be in worship with us. Yahoo!

For a small church, two new members is a great thing. There are many great things about the small church. I'm learning this much to my surprise and pleasure.

How's it with you?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Things I Like

I like:

drinking the first cup of coffee in the morning in a quiet house

looking at the pine trees in the ambient light when the trees look like Japanese ink drawings

looking at the faces of my husband and children

traveling to places in my mind's eye

having a sleeping cat on my lap

looking at faces while people are talking with me

taking an afternoon nap if only for 30 minutes

reading favorite authors

digging in the earth, planting, pruning

finding a sterling something and paying almost nothing

reading the stories of Jesus

reading the Psalms when I feel sad or wounded

listening to audio books while I drive

making things out of other things

praying alone or with others

watching the squirrels and birds at the feeder

hearing my children laugh

hearing my husband purr in his sleep

a hot shower

a cold glass of iced tea

remembering my grandparents

looking at old homes and buildings

getting a new Vanity Fair magazine so I can read about people I've never heard of

wearing bracelets

smelling salt air

seeing birds in flight

listening to good sermons

thinking about those I love

What about you? What do you like?

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Thinking about the Transfiguration

The Old Testament text and the NT text for tomorrow are both stories of theophanies (an appearance of God to a human; divine manifestation). Sunday, February 6 is Transfiguration Sunday in many churches, mine included. A friend at the clergy dinner last night asked me if I was preaching the Gospel lection for Sunday and I replied, "Yes, I love talking about the transfiguration to contemporary people". It is just the oddest thing.

Our world does not include visitations from the Almighty nor do we see holy people wreathed in "glory" as were Moses and Jesus when we go to Walmart or the golf course. We are bereft of mystery in our time. Our hunger for the Mystery doesn't disappear no matter the Age so this desire manifests itself in New Age yearnings and even worse, the wiccan search to control and inhale nature.

All my commentaries, when attempting to make these passages (Exodus 24:12-18 and Matthew 17:1-9) relevant to today's believers develop schemas such as the importance of the wait (Moses was uppada Sinai for seven days), the importance of witnesses to the event (Joshua went with Moses to the Mountain; Jesus took Peter, James and John with him); and the transforming experience of coming very, very close to God.

It's late Saturday afternoon as I write this. I am not satisfied with my sermon for tomorrow on these two texts. Nothing I've written in the sermon seems to make real this experience of Moses, Jesus It may not be my task as a preacher to make these stories real but as I believe they are included in the text for their value in explaining God, I keep searching. It is the nature of mystery that it cannot be explained but I am hoping to give a glimpse with my words tomorrow.

These passages are familar to me. I've preached on these texts at least six different times, done the exegesis on each in preparation for grading ordination exams as a Reader for the denomination several years ago and pondered the stories in devotional reading through the years. Still, I wonder if I have anything to say about them to my people tomorrow.

My experiences of theophany have been in the oddest of situations: in dreams which leave me comforted but uneasy that I am mis-interpreting my hormonal influences to "see" God; in a "vision" after a miscarriage which I cannot explain to this day; and in seeing people reconcile when I never imagined such a thing. I don't think I've had experience with theophany. Maybe in hindsight or out of the corner of my eye when I saw the Holy for a second.

Whatever happens, I WILL be in the pulpit leading worship tomorrow at 11am. God be with me to understand God's word by then.
God be with you and yours.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Variety of Interests

I am fascinated with people's interests. I'm amazed by the variety of things which make people happy. I get a thrill by finding a good piece of jewelry for almost nothing at a garage sale or charity shop. I love pruning azaleas and hand-weeding flower beds. I polish silver for relaxation. I love reading history, theology and murder mysteries. So many interests, so little time.

I'm reading a thread of an online evangelical group I joined a year or so ago. I seldom respond to the issues because the first time I responded I got whip-lash from the hostile response. This group enjoys bad mouthing my denomination although all are a part of the same Church. They agree with one another on how crappy everything is going but don't ever comment on the need to renew their own commitment. Well, once or twice renewal was mentioned but they meant for someone else to renew, not them.

Great quantities of passion are being spewed on the latest round of upset with the group. The subject is the Lord's Supper with subtext of how the Roman Catholics are apostate about the Mass. Ok, ok. Protestants do this kind of thing every now and then. I keep thinking we are over it but it heaves up. The wild thing about all the passion is that many of the correspondents in this group have NO CLUE about the Reformed understanding of the sacraments so additional voices have to chime in to give them clues.

Then the group began discussing throwing out all of our confessional documents because the documents are old. Oh puleeze! I value these documents because of the historicity, clear theology and usefulness in worship and teaching. I've read and re-read the catechisms, creeds and statements of faith religiously through the years. One member did comment that perhaps the group had not read the confessional documents. No one agreed with this. Let's just throw the entire history out because it may be tainted by liberals.

Just when I was getting ill with the group (not the first time for stupid overload and POD -pious and overly devotional) the new thread began when one of the members left the blog address for his poetry.
His blog announces that he is intimate with God and further, God gives him this poetry. First, if this is God's poetry then God needs to return to Freshman high school creative writing and listen to the teacher. Second, it is appalling for an elder of the church to not understand that our knowledge of God comes from the Bible first and foremost. God doesn't select us for a chat fest that we are to put into a blog as God's own. A group member responded with a succinct 'shut up' to the blogger which pleased me no end but did make me wonder if we'd have fireworks. Heck no! The group is so insulated that they just heh-heh-ed and moved on.
What if a 'liberal' commented? The entire group would have risen up to blast the liberal.
Excuse me, but doesn't it make more sense to listen and ponder differing views? Is orthodoxy only one type of voice?
Passion for purity I understand. Passion for engagement with others I admire. Passion for sameness I do not like.
What's your thinking on this?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Gray Grey Day

"Gray" is a variant of "grey" and may be used interchangeably. Today is gray. Yesterday was grey. What's a gal to do? I can dress in bright colors, wear more jewelry and use a red lipstick but the weather remains dreadfully lifeless.

Menu for A Grey At-Home Day:

1 can Tomato soup. Make with lowfat milk, not water. You need that extra calcium.
2 tbs. crunchy peanut butter stirred in

Heat and enjoy.

2 slices of bread. Homemade is best.
Real butter which contains an amino acid not found in fake butter, enough to grill bread in pan on stove.

Several slices of American cheddar cheese. Not American cheese, not velveeta and not no-fat cheese
Place cheese in bread. Place bread in pan to be grilled on stovetop. You may toast this concoction but I can't decision for you.

When cheese is melted, eat.

This lunch will make you feel cheery and able to cope.

P.S. Thank you for reading this post even if it has sunk to the bottom of my page. What's that about? I re-published the blog but the sinking remains.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

St. Casserole Explains Distaste for Live Theater

I'm not fond of live theater. I don't like local plays or Broadway plays. This quirk upsets my friends who think live theater is great and makes them wonder if I have any sense at all.

I don't like live productions because I feel that I must respond to what's happening on stage. I don't enjoy watching live actors "pretend" to be someone else. When I realized why I don't like live theater, I thought it was because I don't like false behavior/words. Then I realized my dislike comes from feeling I must respond to what is happening on stage. Live actors are emoting and behaving so the audience must respond. I don't want to respond to false speech and behavior. I know I am quirky.

I watch TV and films without this problem as the actors cannot see me or feel my interest (or lack of interest). I don't hurt actors feelings when I ignore them or find them false.

I go to Manhattan each Fall for my Annual pilgrimage to the Shopping Mecca. This trip involves a Broadway show or two most years. Every year I hope to enjoy theater but it doesn't happen. Checking out a museum or talking with people interests me while sitting in a theater seat watching people pretend to be someone else doesn't interest me.

I know theater is important as entertainment, a safe way to explore emotions, a way of expressing political ideas etc. but I don't enjoy it.

Local theater drives me nuts so if you are local actor, please don't expect me to attend your production even though I think the world of you offstage. Even children's programs upset my nerves but I have to watch those to support my children who are learning to speak before an audience and participate in a group exercise.

Maybe preaching is the source of my problem. When I'm preaching, I can see you and read you through your facial expression, body position and my intuition. I know if you are listening to the sermon or making your grocery list. I'm not acting or being false. I'm doing my darndest to tell you the truth in a way I think you may be able to hear the truth. I expect some response from my listeners. Therefore, when I sit in a theater seat, I expect myself to give a response to the actors. I don't want to respond. You aren't being yourself. You aren't saying your own words.

Are you following me or have I moved up on your list of Quirkiest People You've Ever Heard Of?