Tuesday, October 31, 2006

one year ago today...

One year ago today I was in Egypt. I taught four story-time classes at RCG in the morning. I spent the afternoon eating and learning with graduate students at ETSC. I had dinner with them and had a Bible Study and prayer group as well. We prayed for many things that night--for Medhat's church, who'd just gotten permission for a new building and was slated to begin demolition on the old one the next day; for international students and their transitions in Egypt; for Tukei's spiritual life; for Esther's visa; for my mom.

I got home around 10pm. there were messages from my dad asking me to call home...but I didn't have a calling card so I couldn't. Instead I went online and saw my brother on AOL Instant Messenger. He always has an away message up but he's also almost always there. So I messaged him saying I was home and asking him to tell the parents to go ahead and call now.

The away message said, in essence, "My mom died this morning. She always tried hard to do the best for her family, even when she was suffering. Pray that she is safe and happy in heaven."

That's how I found out.

For the record, that sucks.

I ran out of the room shrieking "I have to call home right now!!!", ran up the stairs to Carole's flat on the 3rd floor. She answered the door and I said, shaking, "she's gone." That's just about when Jason caught up with me. I had hugs. We prayed. And Carole let me into the Louisville flat (for the important visitors!) to use the phone--our only international line out. My dad and I talked for a few minutes. What I remember him saying is "she was really proud of you." there was crying on both ends of our very-long-distance line. then we discussed logistics--when I would come, what needed to be done, etc. We hung up and I made a packing list, got online with the people in Louisville, got plane tickets, and made arrangements for someone to cover my classes. I was remarkably calm until everything was ready and I really needed to go to sleep, which is when I said to Jason, "no happy day will ever be completely happy again--my ordination, my wedding, even my birthday because the last time I ever talked to my mom was on my birthday." (ten days ago)

Well, it's true that it's not totally happy, but it's not totally sad either. One year later I can still safely say it REALLY SUCKS to not have your mom. It's crappy to do all these things--get a job, buy a house, get ordained, have a birthday, etc--without my mom. but I've gotten through it somehow. I know it's because she taught me well how to be a good woman. I also know it's because I'm surrounded by people who love me, though none of them love me like my mom, and I can practice being what she wanted me to be.

Dear mom: I miss you. Nothing is ever going to make that better. But thanks for doing a good job with me. Thanks for giving me the tools to make it, and to be what you dreamed--even if it's not quite what you thought it would look like ten years ago! Thanks for being a good mom. Also, I used your KitchenAid to make mashed potatoes today and it was totally awesome. Thanks for that too. I love you. and, frankly, I hope this next year is easier than the last one.
Love, Teri.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Reverend Teri

It's all official...I've had hands laid on and prayers said, communion celebrated (by me) and I'm a real-life pastor now.

it's cool.

the service was excellent. Everyone did a great job, there were loads of great people there, and all my friends were crying like i was getting married or something.

there was a reception with cake.

then there was a dinner hosted by highly excellent friends, and it was good.

there were presents. (who knew you got presents, man? that's cool.)

and now I'm ordained and official and I have a title and I'm all holy and stuff (waaaaiiiittt.....heheh!).

cool.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

miscellany

Well, I've only been here almost-three-weeks but I can safely say that I love my job. I can also safely say that I really enjoy the people I work with, and that children's sermons stress me out.

Also, have you ever tried to be a pastor without any of your books or your clothes or your coats or lots of your other stuff? Imagine this scene. You have lots of really wonderful socks, in all different colors and designs. You're getting ready to go to Egypt, where you'll wear sandals almost all year, so you pack six pairs of socks and off you go. You come back from Egypt and take a job in a cold place where you really need to wear socks and shoes every day, and realize that 3 of your pairs of socks only go with black pants. But you really prefer to wear brown pants and brown shoes. This leads to excessive amounts of laundry doing. On top of that, you don't have the things you need to effectively run your own kitchen, or your office, or to relax/have fun in your house, nor do you have winter coats or winter clothes of any kind. And it's been one year since your mom died and your brother isn't handling it very well and, truth-be-told, you might not be handling it so well either. Plus this is a totally huge transition from a nomadic to a settled existence, from student to missionary to pastor, and your ordination is a few days away and all your family and friends are coming from out of town for it. And your stuff is somewhere that's else and you don't know where or when it might arrive. Now imagine that someone says to you, "It's all going to be fine." And your first reaction is: "liar." When your mom dies, it's not all going to be fine. And when you don't have your stuff, it's not really fine. And when there are a zillion things going on and everything is in disarray because of those previously mentioned two things, it's not fine. It's anxiety-producing. And I want to be angry with people who say "it's all going to be fine" because I don't really like for people to lie to me. But I can't because I don't get to be angry. So...I'm feeling a little anxious and overwhelmed right now. And a lot of the time I just want to cry because I'm being ordained this weekend and my mom won't be there.

But on the bright side, I love my house and I love my job and I'm excited to see my friends and I'm incredibly excited to be ordained and to celebrate communion for the first time. The first ordination I went to was for Steve R, a friend at Fourth, and he celebrated communion at his ordination. It was so awesome to watch and be a part of, and that is the moment I felt a literal visceral pull to stand behind that table. Like a string from my stomach to the table. It was awesome. And that was several years ago now. And the moment has come and I'm excited.

Dear mom: I wish you could be here. I love you.

Monday, October 23, 2006

ordination!!!

I am being ordained this coming Sunday and you are all invited.

Where: Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago (126 E. Chestnut Street, across from the Hancock Tower)
When: 6.30pm on October 29th, 2006
Reception: afterwards, at the church.

I am so excited, I can't even tell you.

YAY!

birthday fun

So I spent my birthday in the mountains of New Hampshire, cooking. It was beautiful. Jennifer and I had a great room with a view of the Presidential Mountain Range at Snowvillage Inn, which is home to the White Mountain Cooking School. You may have seen them on the Food Network for their "Chocolate Cooking Weekends." I went to Vegetarian Cooking Weekend--perfect for me on my birthday! It was loads of fun. I made Tomato-Basil French Bread Soup in Acorn Squash Bowls the first day, and I watched my classmates make black bean burgers and mediterranean quiche. The second day I made Vegan Raspberry Mocha cake---incredible. So tasty. I also helped to make the portobella-and-pine-nut strudels, and the whole wheat pizza crusts that we topped with grilled veggies and either pesto or hummus sauce (no boring tomato sauce in this kitchen!). It was so wonderful. The class ate the things we cooked each day for lunch, and we had a great time. I loved it. I would totally go back there in a heartbeat.

Jennifer and I also walked all around Harvard, stealing knowledge from extra-smart- people-with-lots-of -money--just by being there! mwah-hah-hah!! It was fun. (Allison: I remembered rather late at night that you GO to Harvard, and of course lacked a phone number...sorry dude.) This morning I headed to the airport and flew back to O'Hare, to discover that chicago is 36 degrees today. It's chilly. I'm at church now, but am soon going home to love on my cat who's been alone for four days. Thankfully Richard and the girls checked in on her, but I'm feeling badly about leaving her alone and will go home soon. Plus I'm hungry, plus there are evening meetings tonight, plus I can read at home...so I'm off there soon.

My stuff has been loaded on a truck and is making its way here as we speak. Apparently my books had to be repacked because plastic bins plus cold plus heavy books equals bad brittle boxes breaking. So...that's sad for me because it means reorganizing when they get here, but I will probably live.

I'm being ordained on Sunday and I just think that's so cool.

That's all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

miracles

Miracle of miracles, even!
I am mostly settled, even without my stuff.

Only my kitchen remains to be painted, due to the incredible efforts of my aunt Susan. wow.

I didn't just survive but thrived (throve?) this weekend in my first weekend "on"--I even did Saturday all by myself. Well, not really...it was the worship team and me, but no Richard (as we had agreed), and it was fab. I am currently saying that my "inner televangelist" came out a little. It was great.

While I was at church on Saturday evening, Susan was painting. She took down a vanity in the guest bathroom, and a few minutes later a 30"x36" mirror came crashing down off the wall. It shattered into a bazillion pieces--some huge and some miniscule. Amazingly, not one piece hit her, she had not a scratch...though she was standing right there. Miracle indeed.

It's my birthday this weekend. I'm going to New Hampshire. Jennifer's coming too. I'm really excited.

That's all for today. :-)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Asking the wrong question

Asking the Wrong Question
Mark 10.17-27
RCLPC 14/15 October 2006

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”


I would willingly bet all the money I have, and some I don’t even have, that this is not the most popular story in suburbia. In fact, the first time I ever heard this story was at a Presbyterian church in Yakima, my home town, which was known for its wealthy members. The first thing the pastor said was “don’t worry, you don’t have to give away all your stuff or your money.” That’s all I remember about his sermon—he definitely made an impression on my literalist teenage mind, and it was not a good impression.
And now here I am, standing in front of a congregation in a fairly affluent town near a famous city, and I’m tempted to say the same thing—partly because it’s my first week here and I want you all to love me, and partly because I am not sure that Jesus’ advice to this man is literally the same advice we need. I think Jesus’ point is what we need, but sometimes we get caught up in the exact words. And sometimes words can obscure the point. So, I’m not going to say “you don’t have to give away all your stuff and your money.” Instead I’m going to say, “it’s possible that this is about money for you or for me, and it’s also possible that this is not about money—it might be about something else for you or for me.” In the case of this man, though, it’s about money.

I’ve noticed that people with a lot of stuff or a lot of money often think in economic terms. They think about investments and inheritances. I’ve never been in a position before to think about those things, so I’m not really sure what it’s like. And also, frankly, it has always seemed a little odd to me to think about “my inheritance”—as though I’m just waiting for someone to die and leave me something cool. My mom died a year ago and I have inherited some cool stuff, but I would rather have my mom than her Professional-grade KitchenAid. So I don’t really understand why someone would ask a question that begins with the words “what must I do to inherit?” The answer seems, in our understanding of “inheritance,” that you must live longer than the person who has what you want. I think that fits the definition of morbid pretty nicely!

But this man’s question isn’t really about what he needs to do to get something when someone else dies. It’s about what he needs to do to get something when he dies. That’s what you might call a different take on the matter of “inheritance.”

Now, in the Jewish understanding of life and eternity, “eternal life” is something to be earned, to be worked toward. Not everyone gets it—only those who have followed the commandments, done good deeds, studied the Torah, and lived good lives get the front-row seat in the Kingdom of God —which is something that one only enters after leaving this life.

In other words, you must “do” something now in order to get something later. There might be material blessings on earth, but the main reward comes later—hopefully much later.

So this man comes to Jesus, asking a fairly run-of-the-mill question about what good deeds he needs to do to inherit this eternal life. And Jesus gives him a run-of-the-mill answer. It’s a safe answer in a Jewish worldview—to get eternal life you have to follow the commandments. That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

You may have noticed that Jesus only lists the easy commandments—the ones like don’t murder and don’t steal. Jesus kindly leaves out the difficult “no-other-gods” commandments. So the man has probably answered honestly that he has kept all these commandments! But he doesn’t accept this obvious answer to his obvious question. He doesn’t just take Jesus’ words at face value and leave happy—he pushes a little bit. By telling everyone about his perfection after he asked an obvious question, he implies that something is still not right…something is missing. It’s not enough. There must be something else he can do, right?

And Jesus looked at him—maybe the man even had the feeling that Jesus was looking into him—Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus looks at this man and sees a seeker, someone who wants to be in relationship with God. So he gets to the heart of the matter: he tells the man that there’s just one thing standing in his way to a close relationship with the Lord—his stuff. In the same way that I have boxes blocking my dining room, he has boxes stacked up in the road to abundant life.

Notice I said “abundant” life, not “eternal” life. The man asks a question about what he needs to do to inherit eternal life—something in the future, something out there, something that isn’t here, something he can earn.

But that’s not what Jesus said he was about. Jesus came to bring abundant life here and now, not just later. And, luckily for us, Jesus did the work—he lived and taught, he died and rose. There’s no work for us to do to have this abundant life—it’s ours through the grace of God. Jesus brought eternity, he brought the Kingdom of God, to here so that we might live abundantly. Not that we might live prosperously, as this man obviously did, but abundantly. It’s clear from this story that one can own nothing, carry no money, and yet live abundantly.
Jesus simply says “come, follow me.” Just as he sent the disciples out to preach with no extra clothes and no food or money, he tells the man to come—no money, no toys, no fancy clothes—and to follow. But the boxes are blocking his way.

I suspect this is not what the man was expecting from Jesus! He was shocked, and rightfully so. Jesus asked him to change everything—not just his lifestyle, but his worldview. The man has been living in a society that values prosperity as a sign of God’s approval, a society that insists on right action and living according to the letter of the law of Moses. And here’s Jesus saying “nope, sorry, that’s not really it.” He started out playing by the rules, but now he’s gone and changed everything up, just like Jesus always does. And the man doesn’t want to get it.

He is like the frog in one of my favorite stories by Anthony DeMello, which goes like this.
The Master, a spiritual teacher, was always gracious to the scholars who came to visit, but he refused to talk about theology with them.
When his disciples asked him about this, he answered them,
“how can one talk of the ocean to a frog in a well? Or about the divine to those restricted by their concepts?”
This man’s ideas about life, eternal life, blessing, and wealth are keeping him from following Jesus, they are keeping him in the well when there’s an ocean to discover.

I think that what Jesus has done here is to sum up the first commandments, the ones he left out of his list, by talking about this man’s possessions. He has said that the man has an idol. He sees his wealth as signs of God’s blessing, but it’s really taking the place of a relationship with God.

Idolatry is a tough word to swallow. We don’t want to hear it any more than this man did—or at least, I don’t! Right now I am living with all kinds of new things—a new house, a new car, a new refrigerator, a new bed—and also waiting for all my favorite things—my books, my clothes, my winter coats—to come from Atlanta.
It turns out I actually have quite a lot of stuff. And it’s possible that those things are distracting me from following Jesus. It’s also possible that my own self-image, my friends, my relationships, my anxiety about whether you’ll like me or not, or a hundred other things are keeping me from following Jesus. At any given moment there is probably something that is an idol in my life. And the hard part of following Jesus is figuring out what those things are and returning God to the top of the priority list.

This man may not have been able to do it—we don’t know. All we know is that he was shocked and he was grieving, and he went away. He started out asking the wrong question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” when he should have been asking “what idol keeps me from following Jesus?”

It’s a hard question to ask. Not my favorite thing to do with my free time, that’s for sure! But it’s important. Jesus never said it would be easy—he said it would be as hard as getting a camel through the eye of a needle.

The good news, though, is this:
“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God. For God, all things are possible.”

For mortals it is impossible to be perfect.
For mortals, it is impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven by good deeds. For mortals, it is impossible to get it right.
But not for God.
For God, all things are possible.
It is possible for God to forgive us when we are not perfect,
to correct us when we ask the wrong question,
to bring us close to God
in the church,
in the sacraments,
in Scripture,
through the Holy Spirit,
and in one another.
And through God it is possible for us to identify our idols, to reorder our priorities, and to live abundantly.

I’m not going to tell you to sell your stuff and give away your money. I’m not going to tell you NOT to sell your stuff and give us your money. I am going to invite you to examine what idol might be blocking your road to the abundant life Jesus brought for us.

Jesus is calling, “Come, follow me.”

Amen.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

here

I have arrived. with my cat. my condo is basically set up--new sink/faucet, fridge, two beds, lots of stuff. Most of my things are still in Atlanta, though--all my books, coats, kitchen stuff, etc etc etc, plus lots of my clothes and the stuff I brought home from egypt.

notice I said my coats are still in Atlanta.

It's snowing outside right now.

I am sitting in my office at RCLPC and looking at snow falling. It's pretty, it's idyllic, it's winter wonderland.

and my coats are 775.6 miles away. approximately. ;-)

now I must go focus on a sermon for this weekend...and on staying warm!