Thursday, February 28, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

I just finished The Year of Living Biblically. I spent a lot of time wondering if I'd already read this book, as whole passages seemed to already be in my memory. Then I realized I'd read a ton of reviews and so had probably picked up quite a bit that way....

I really liked this book. I found it amusing and also interesting. It's hard to believe that there are so many people out there taking the Bible so literally, but one of the things the author discovered is that he's not the first or the only one doing these things--you know, testing clothes for mixed fibers, blowing a shofar, or playing a 10 string harp. I mean, seriously.

Anyway, it was good. I recommend it. Though I admit I didn't do a good job describing it to a group at my church---they thought it sounded like a lame pastor book. LOL!

I'm also almost done with Doing Girlfriend Theology (which I put on hold for Biblical Living ) so I'm going to count that now too. It's fabulous and I love it and I'm working out how to use this process with my youth group. Highly recommended!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

brainstorming

So I am thinking about the possibility of several stations for the Maundy Thursday dinner/service. We generally have dinner in the Fellowship Hall, and the service (incl. communion but not footwashing) simply takes place there as well, with people still seated around tables.
I'm thinking about a journey theme and wondering if there's a way to incorporate that theme along with, say, three table stations (where there would also be different food--sort of an around-the-world food idea) for worship...then we need to have communion and we need to go on a more physical journey to the sanctuary in order to finish the service at the cross (where we have a candle-extinguishing ritual going on at each Lent/Holy Week service).
I need some ideas for these stations--and also an idea for what text I should use. I could use John 13. I could use the Last-Supper-Garden-of-Gethsemane text from Matthew. I could use something totally different. I'm having trouble brainstorming this....help! The storm in my brain is less teapot-tempest and more surprisingly-sunny-day-for-February (unlike outside).

Leave your ideas in the comments...
thanks!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

movies movies movies

I've been previewing movies that might work for the 30 Hour Famine lock-in. So here are my basic reviews (nothing in-depth, just surface thoughts...):

The Ultimate Gift: Very good. Made me cry at least 5 separate times. Was a beautiful story. I don't recommend the special features as they remind you that the movie has "a moral point" (as you might say). There are even 12-gift-kits you can buy to practice the 12 gifts for yourself. Avoid those features. But the movie was sweet and does have a good message.

Because of Winn-Dixie: Adorable. I really liked it. The way Opal finds friends, the way they learn to listen to one another, the way the story is told--all great. The growth of the preacher, the healing of telling the story about Opal's mom, his confession to Opal, etc...all good. Plus, the dog is extremely cute.

The Girl in the Cafe: So far, so good. I'm about halfway through as I write this. It's endearingly awkward--you know, older British man, no social skills, etc...girl with no knowledge of world economics getting a crash course at the G8 summit and becoming something of an activist to end hunger. It's not a "real movie"--as in, it's made to educate people about hunger and the Millennium Development Goals, not just to entertain. But it has been rather funny so far. (I'm a little distressed, though, by the age difference between the government man and the girl--he's at LEAST twice her age!)
(update: it looks like there's about to be a sex scene, and I definitely just saw boobs, so that's unfortunate for it's use with high school youth group....)
(second update after the end of the movie: It was an off-screen sex scene, though there was a boob shot or two. The movie was good and I loved the way Gena understood that even if shew as considered a nuisance or an uneducated girl, she could stand up for what she believed and she could try to make a difference.)

The Famine begins tomorrow--we'll be going without food, we'll be making a labyrinth on the floor of the Fellowship Hall using 29,000 pennies (as a visual for how many children die of hunger each day), we'll be playing games, we'll be learning about hunger, we'll be doing a scavenger hunt for the food pantry, and we'll be finding out how much food you can buy on a week's food stamps. And, of course, we've got some movies to choose from. (Watching a movie on Saturday afternoon really hits home the whole not-eating thing. We are so conditioned to eat whenever we're not moving that watching a movie with no popcorn, candy, or Coke is brutal!)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Go--a sermon for Lent 2A

Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
Go.
Genesis 12.1-9
February 17 2008, Lent 2A

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.


This story is one I spend a lot of time with. It’s the first story we encounter in our confirmation class here at RCLPC—we begin each year with reading this story and talking about God initiating a relationship with a people, about God calling Abram and calling us, about how Abram wasn’t special or more righteous than other people, except that he did what God asked. When God calls us, do we go? Or do we argue? Or do we choose not to listen and then assume that, since God hasn’t called us to do anything big or spectacular or ridiculous, that must mean we can do whatever we want?

We spend a lot of time in confirmation class talking about this story. We come back to it over and over in the course of the year, nearly every time we talk about God’s imperfect servants or about God calling. Abram comes up when we talk about Moses, David, and Jesus. He comes up when we talk about our lives, about church, about our relationships with God, and about Judaism and Islam. He comes up all the time.

The most common reason for bringing up Abram in confirmation class is to talk about his unquestioning response to God’s call. God says, “go” and Abram goes. No questions asked, no complaining, no trying to wiggle out of it like Moses or Jeremiah or Paul. He just goes. He leaves his country, he leaves his father’s house, he leaves his community, his friends, and a comfortable life. Sure, he takes his stuff and some of his family with him, but he leaves behind a sense of belonging, of identity, of security—with only a promise to show for it. And to top it all off, he’s 75 years old!

I wish it were so simple that I could walk in here today and talk about this part of Abram’s story—that he goes without protest into the great promise of God. I wish that I could come in here and encourage you all to hear God calling you, to recognize that sometimes following God’s call means leaving the known to venture into the unknown, or that living into God’s promise of blessing simply means trusting God to provide. It sounds so simple—it’s something we all do, right? It’s part of growing up. We leave our homes, our families, and we go out into the world, trusting that true security isn’t found by locking ourselves in our houses but instead is found in God’s love and promise.

But things happen, don’t they. It’s true that leaving home and finding our way in the world, going on our faith journeys and our life journeys and all the other kinds of journeys, is part of life. But it’s also true that sometimes the promise of blessing doesn’t look like we want it to. It’s also true that sometimes the security we find in God’s love and promise doesn’t translate into security for our classrooms, our public spaces, or even our homes. In a week when college students and families have once again been brutally reminded that going out into the world is dangerous, how can I stand here and say that our idea of security is an illusion? We know that. We’ve seen over and over that no matter what we do to secure our possessions, our places, or our bodies, we’re never truly safe and secure. We’ve heard the university president say “we couldn’t have predicted or stopped this.” There are always wildcards in life, or curveballs, or whatever kind of metaphor you want to use. The more we focus on our “security” the more we find ourselves focusing on fear. And when we live in fear, not only are we less secure in the usual sense, we also lose sight of our security in God’s promise.

When God told Abram to go with just a promise, Abram knew that it wouldn’t be an easy journey. He walked hundreds of miles with his family, while slaves and pack animals carried his possessions. He was 75 years old when he left home because he heard a voice telling him that he would be blessed and that he had the opportunity to be a blessing to others. There were Canaanites living, shockingly, in the land of Canaan—and it’s never terribly safe to wander into another tribe’s territory, particularly with a caravan of goods and people. And yet he went. God said “Go” and Abram just packed up and went, into the unknown, into the danger.

I think the most interesting part of this story is that when Abram arrives, he builds an altar and then he moves on. God appears and says “this is the land”—and still Abram moves on. He doesn’t stay there, in the land that God has shown him. He keeps going on, by stages. And in each place he calls on the name of the Lord. He keeps praying on his way to….well, to where? We don’t know exactly where Abram was going. I don’t think Abram knew where Abram was going. He just knew that the journey was more of a destination than the destination was. His journey didn’t end just because he had an encounter with God in one place.

I wonder if this metaphor might work for us in these tragic days. We know that the world is dangerous, we know that we can’t guarantee our safety or the safety of those we love, we know that there is uncertainty and insecurity all around us. And yet we journey on, by stages, calling on the name of the Lord in every place in which we find ourselves. At this stage we may be calling out in grief, anger, confusion, or fear: “Why, God?” or “how long, O Lord?” but still we call on God and we remember God’s promises.

God doesn’t promise that the journey will be easy, or safe, or even that the journey has a specific ending. God promises blessing, God promises the opportunity to be a blessing, and God promises to journey with us. One of my favorite prayers includes the phrase “God, you have walked with us the road of this world’s suffering.” Even in tragedy, even in suffering, even in grief and pain and confusion and fear, God walks the road with us. And so we journey on, stage by stage, all the way to the cross, and even on to the empty tomb. May we go when we are called, and may we call back to God in every place.

Amen.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

oh, no....why? no. oh.

oh...what a horrible day.
The shooting at NIU...now it's with fatalities.

Ugh. This is so ridiculously awful. Can't kids even go to class without random strangers (who aren't even students) walking out from behind a teacher and shooting up the class? (update: the shooter was apparently a grad student last year, but is not enrolled currently.)

Again...and again...these things happen and they just shouldn't...

Our RCLPC students are all okay--shaken, but okay. 22 students aren't. 6 of them, including the gunman, are dead, 6 have been released from the hospital, and the others....we wait to hear. Prayers for all of them and their families. Prayers for the students at NIU and at schools and colleges around the country who are shaken and grieving. Prayers for peace in our world. Prayers for peace in the minds and hearts and souls of those who think these things will make it better...

update: Are You KIDDING me? When are you people just going to go away? Word on the street is that they plan to protest the funerals.
It's a good thing that God is love, because WOW am I not able to love these people.

you know you're a slacker when....

...your personal trainer (whom you have not seen in weeks, and haven't gotten a workout update from in months) calls you, on your cell phone, at 9am to say "when are you coming back to the gym?" When you respond, "probably Monday, Monday seems like a good time to get back into a good routine..." then he says, "what about Friday? I think Friday is a good time. Plus, what luck! It's tomorrow! See you at 8?" Your slacker response: "how about 9?" yeah.

...it's Thursday and you haven't finished the bulletin for Sunday in spite of the fact it was due yesterday.

...you know you're having people over in the evening and you think "I'll just check my Scrabulous games on facebook before I vacuum before I go to work...." and then suddenly it's 10.30am and you really should be in the office already. Vacuum shmacuum. It's just cat hair. on everything.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

another language?

Do you ever feel like you are speaking another language? Not because of the faces around you, or even because what you're reading is particularly obtuse, but just a strange feeling that maybe you aren't speaking English (or whatever is the language you normally speak)?

I get this feeling sometimes when I'm reading the Bible, especially to groups of people. Sometimes even in worship. Maybe this is because I know several other languages, some of them reasonably well, or maybe it's because I spent so much time in seminary reading the Bible in other languages, or maybe it's just a weird trick of my brain. Sometimes I start reading and partway through I think "am I speaking English or Arabic right now?" It's not that people look confused or anything, it's just a feeling.

I think I sometimes get this feeling when I talk about church to non-churchy people. I'm part of a generation that often finds religion to be like a foreign language (at best...at worst it's more like an AP test in a foreign language you've never studied, like one of those anxiety nightmares common among overachieving students like I once was). It's hard to talk intelligently about religion, church, God, the Bible, or whatever because sometimes it just feels like you speak English and I speak Arabic. I get this feeling a lot in confirmation class too, but at least I expect it there! That's where the youth go to learn the language we use in our community.

Writing this post makes me feel like I'm speaking another language too--I'm not making this at all clear. It feels confusing to think about. I want to be able to talk about things that are important to me, but I'm not sure that I can do that very effectively all the time, or even most of the time, to people who aren't already "insiders." This bothers me, because many of my peers (in age, anyway) are not insiders, at least not in the things I find myself in the thick of (was that a sentence?). Now, granted, I've never been a cultural insider with my peers--I'm a weirdo who doesn't listen to much music, doesn't watch TV, and doesn't like movie theaters...a weirdo who prefers reading and NPR and occasionally some classical music (or maybe some classic 80's rock...). Maybe that's why I feel this language barrier--perhaps I don't share a language with my generation? I'm not sure. But then I think about the things my generation generally seems to want, the things we generally seem to be passionate about, and I think I fit right in. I share some cultural, intellectual, and even theological assumptions with much of my generation. I share values and goals with much of my generation. And sometimes that creates a disconnect between me and other generations and their cultural assumptions, values, theology, etc...

I feel a teensy bit, not a lot but a little, like the teacher in Freedom Writers. She had things she wanted to share but she didn't speak the right language. But she learned...sometimes the hard way. But her students learned to speak her language a little too. I guess I'm not sure how to facilitate two-way learning on that.

Okay, enough rambling. I'm relatively sure of just one thing: this post made no sense. I apologize if it felt like a random foreign language...maybe I'll translate it into another language and re-post it later, just for effect, you know?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Friday Five--Lent

Lent is here! Too early!


1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?
I had and shared pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, of course! I make amazing pancakes. :-) Our Ash Wednesday service was canceled due to excessive snow...so I stayed home the whole day wearing sweats and trying to stay warm, working from home. I read, I watched a movie I'm thinking of using with youth group...and I also took a nap. :-)

2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?
Hmmm...I'm not sure I have any good stories to tell. My friend Calum has a fabulous story of doing the imposition of ashes at a big famous interdenominational seminary in New York City...you know the one. Apparently someone came up to him and, when he reached up to put ashes on her forehead, she stepped back and then leaned in and said "can you not put a cross? how about maybe a circle or a pentagram?" When he tells the story he says that inside his head he was thinking "witch!!! witch!!!" (which is funny with a scottish accent.) He gave her a thumbprint. It's funnier when he tells it...I'm laughing right now remembering, but you're all probably reading this going "umm, intolerance, anyone?" or "why is this a funny story?" Sorry--it's funny in my memory!

3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it?
Definitely no observance of Lent--I grew up secular. :-) Sometimes we would note, in high school, among my friends that the one Catholic girl in our group gave something up for Lent. I didn't start the whole Lent thing until my first Lent at Fourth Church, which was my sophomore year in college. I think that's the year I was freaked out by ashes and asked them to be on my hand instead of my head. That might also be the year I foolishly gave up coffee/caffeine and ice cream. Starbucks became my "personal wilderness." I stopped at starbucks on my way to the sunrise service on the beach on Easter morning (6.30am). And I think I remember going to Ghirardelli for a sundae after lunch after the 11.00 service too. hmmm...I MAY have missed the point....

4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?
It depends on the year. I like the theory and theology of taking something on, but oh... sometimes it's easier to think of something to give up! It's also easier to feel sort of self-righteous about whatever I've given up, though. I can definitely understand the Matthew 6 stuff. So often I try to both give something up and take something on. I guess that puts me somewhere in between...


5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year?
We began lent a little late this year because of the snow--we included prayers of penitence and the imposition of ashes at yesterday evening's Taize service, which was really good. For discipline this year, I have two things (of course).
1) I've given up eating out alone/getting take-out/ordering-in just for me. Sure, there's a $$ thing here but there's also the issue of what-am-I-eating, of controlling food choices better, of not being wasteful, and of eating alone (I don't want to eat alone any more than is necessary...it seems to me that table fellowship is important). So, if I want to eat something that doesn't come from my house (or someone else's house!), I have to share that fellowship with others. Ideally, I'll be buying, but that can be expensive...I just want to make eating out an experience of being with friends rather than of convenience.
2) I am practicing different prayer postures. Generally I am one of those pray-anywhere-anytime types. I pray sitting in my office or on the couch, laying down, driving in the car, etc. So I am trying out a different way, being more intentional. I'm trying out kneeling first, and then I'll try standing with outstretched arms, and maybe some others. I ordered the book Body Prayer to see what else I might try.
And, of course, I'm reading. I got the Bread and Wine devotional book instead of reading Faces at the Cross yet again.

And you??

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

I just finished Light from Heaven, the final book in the Mitford Years series. It was delightful. I'm a little sad that I'm done with this series, actually--especially given the way it ended! I want to know what happens to that strange cobbled together family! I'm not sure if the Father Tim series is one I'll pick up--we'll see.

In the non-reading sector, I watched Freedom Writers today. I'd not seen it before (big surprise). I really enjoyed that movie--I thought it was well done and it really told a story. I can see using it, and also the idea of youth writing their own stories, in church. My favorite scene (well, one of my faves, anyway!) is when "Mrs. G" (Erin Gruwell, played by Hillary Swank) keeps one of the kids in the hallway at the beginning of class. She tells him that his self-evaluation is unacceptable, and she says, "I can see who you are. Do you understand me? I. See. You. And you are not failing." Sometimes--in fact, often, I think--really seeing and really being seen are so rare in our world these days that it can be an important, moving, and healing thing. More than any other words, I think. "I see you." So great...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

ash wednesday

Our Ash Wednesday service at RCLPC is canceled/postponed due to severe weather. Please stay home and off the roads, stay warm and safe, and contemplate your mortality without risking early death just to come to church!

Rev. Teri Peterson
Dust and Ashes
RCLPC—Ash Wednesday 2008

Ashes are an interesting thing. Sometimes they remind us of fun and friends gathered around a campfire, or of an evening spent with hot cocoa and a book in front of a fireplace. For those of us from the Pacific Northwest, ashes bring up memories of Mount Saint Helens. For some of us, ashes remind us of loved ones who are no longer with us, but whose ashes now grace a garden, a columbarium, a beach, or an ocean.

Ashes don’t come up in our lives very often anymore, I don’t think. Central heat and gas fireplaces have removed daily reminders of ashes. Those experiences of scattering ashes are relatively few and far between. In fact, since last Ash Wednesday, I’ve only touched fireplace ashes, and those only once. And last year at this time I was contemplating the fact that the last ashes I’d touched had been my mother’s. No, ashes don’t come up very often at all.

But when they do come up, it’s startling. The biblical images of dust and ashes seem very real when ashes are in our hands or on our heads—there is something stark about ashes, something final. Whatever it was before—a house, a log, a person, some palm leaves—there’s nothing left but dust, so easily blown away.

This isn’t a popular line of thinking—in fact, it leads straight to the simple fact, pointed out several times in scripture, that we were created from the dust and we’re headed back to the dust, no exceptions. In our culture we’d rather be figuring out how to stay young forever than pondering our mortality. But the fact remains—the fact that we proclaim just this once each year: from dust we came, and to dust we shall return. Just this once each year we are invited to put on the dust and ashes from which we are made, and we are invited to remember and to repent.

Like ashes, repenting is not a popular thing and it doesn’t come up very often. But when it does, it’s stark and real and there’s no getting away from it. Dust and ashes remind us that we are not in control, that we can’t stay young forever, that without God’s breath in us we would be only a pile of earth. They bring us face to face with our pride, with our failure to live gratefully, with our propensity for injustice. In scripture, the ash heap is where the poor and needy and sinful live and where God will raise people up to new life. Ashes are what people put on their heads when they recognize wrong and need to repent. Ashes are a symbol not only of death, but of new life.

Tonight we enter a season of ashes, of growing darkness, of repenting. To repent does not mean to feel guilty, it means to turn—both to turn away from sin, whatever it may be, and to turn toward God. Isaiah and Jesus both entreat the people to turn away from their showy productions of worship and to turn toward the calling God has for them to do justice and to show compassion. God calls us to forsake our love of darkness and turn toward the light. It’s hard work—the darkness is comfortable and attractive. We know what to expect, we can control the outcomes, we can feel secure. Light can be blinding, light can expose us and the things we like to keep hidden, light can be frightening.

But this light, and these ashes, are full of love. We may be only dust, blowing in the wind, but God’s steadfast love endures forever. We may not want ourselves exposed to the light, but God’s steadfast love is stronger than whatever we are hiding. So tonight you are invited to turn away from sin and to turn toward the light, to put ashes on your head and to remember they are a symbol of both death and the new life found in God. We are invited together to re-orient ourselves, to hear once again God’s call to us in our darkness, to journey to the cross and on to the empty tomb, into the light.

May it be so. Amen.


Big Day!

It's a big day, friends!

If you live in a Super Tuesday state, go vote!! Remember--if you don't vote, you can't complain. :-)

Also, eat pancakes! It's Shrove Tuesday. I'm making my pancakes right now and will be delivering them to friends and home-bound church members throughout the day--just pop them in the toaster oven and enjoy! :-)

and, last but not least--get your Alleluias out now. For the next six weeks, we're Alleluia-less.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

Two more Mitford novels down...

In This Mountain
and
Shepherds Abiding.

I also finished Listening for God last week.

The final Mitford novel awaits...tomorrow, when it's not way past my bedtime and when my kitties aren't sitting on my arm, severely hampering my ability to do much of anything! for now...to sleep with kitties. :-)