Wednesday, April 30, 2008

what is church for, anyway?

Lots of people have written about this already, but I am still fuming so I'll write about it myself. Maybe that will help.

Church is a thing with many different purposes. As a Presbyterian, I affirm that there are six main purposes, beginning with proclaiming the good news and ending with exhibiting the kingdom of heaven to the world. In between are things like "the promotion of social righteousness" and "the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the people of God" and "the maintenance of divine worship" and "the preservation of the truth."

I would be willing to bet that most Presbyterians don't know about the Six Great Ends of the Church, and that even if they did they would say "but what does that mean, anyway?"

Well, I'll tell you what it means to me: that we are a community, a true community, that does both hard and easy things, that is challenging as well as comforting, that nurtures and shelters and also tells the truth. Sometimes that is hard--to stay together through thick and thin. Most importantly, we proclaim the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ and we make every attempt to form our church community to reflect God's kingdom as we see it in Scripture. A lot of the time, that means that we say and do offensive things, things that obstruct natural selection, things that obstruct blind patriotism (show me a prophet, Old or New Testament, who was a patriot by today's pop culture standards, and then I might be willing to talk nicely about civil religion), and things that make it hard to be a community. But we stick it out. The body isn't the body if we're missing a part. The eye cannot say to the hand "I have no need of you." When one part suffers, we all suffer. The parts we don't like to talk about in polite company are clothed with greater honor. etc etc etc. No wonder our "family values" are in such disarray--we are so used to consuming that the instant someone displeases us, we run off to find someone who agrees with us and will feed us what we want to hear, one soundbite at a time. (this would be interesting research--divorce rates and divorcing-my-congregation-or-pastor rates.)

This is why it's so offensive to me that this whole business with Jeremiah Wright is such a big deal. Not because, as a pastor, I shudder to think that my congregation members might one day be held accountable for my words and actions (though that is disturbing). Not even because of the basic misconception that pastors and congregation members are friends (that happens so rarely--generally, the member thinks they are friends with the pastor, but in reality the pastor is "on" with that 'friend' and also has a strange pseudo-power, making the relationship never a real friendship...though of course there are exceptions, and they are almost always so because the pastor has decided to make it that way)--I actually saw a comment in a news article that said "he was your best friend???" Well, no. Wright is right about this--he was a member of the church. That's different than being really friends.

But none of this is what makes me so furious. What makes me furious is the idea that if one disagrees with another member of the body, one should just get up and leave. That is NOT what church is about. Church is not about the pastor, not about the sermon. It's about being a community that shows God's love and justice to the world, that acts like the kingdom. And you know what? You can disagree deeply with someone and still work together for justice. You can learn and grow spiritually with people whose political stances are different than yours. Church is not a place where you go to be told everything you already know, to have your own ideas reinforced. Church is for growing, walking together a hard journey, being challenged. It's for praying and praising and being filled up, and it's for serving and loving and changing the world. If it's not about changing the world to look more like the kingdom of God ("your kingdom come...") then it's just about making ourselves feel good and righteous. We have enough of that in our culture.

As I'm constantly telling my confirmation class and youth groups: life is about choices. Will you choose to preach the gospel with your life, to exhibit the kingdom of God? Or will you choose to sit back and find yourself preaching and exhibiting....something else? I'm a little afraid of the choices of our country and the people who would be its leaders. When the fact that a man has been faithful to the body of Christ, through thick and thin, is a liability to his leadership, I'm afraid for our country. When where you go to church is a bigger deal than your foreign policy ideas, I'm afraid. When church is a front (yes, a FRONT, a facade) or a foil (a distraction from) for racism and elitism and all those other isms that we pretend don't exist, I'm reminded of earlier times in our religious history, none of which went well, and I'm afraid. All of God's messengers showed up and started their spiel with "do not be afraid." Well, we could use that message right about now.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

I spent some time this past week reading, umm, several books at once, actually. But the latest that I've finished is A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit. Sarah, a woman who ended up terminating her own ordination process in the Episcopal Church, and then leaving the church altogether, wrote this book after interviewing a number of women in a few different traditions.

The vast majority of stories in this book are horror stories from the preparation process through the call process and on into the parish. Sexism is, as we all know but prefer to forget, rampant in our culture and our churches. Women, especially young women, are often treated terribly in the ordination process, the call process, and in their parishes. Several of their stories are here.

Having said that, I wonder where the positive stories are? Where are stories like mine, where my ordination process was held up by poor communication between my (older clergywoman) liaison and me, and for about an hour by my age? My call process was the shortest of anyone I know and I am in exactly the right place. I love my job, my church, my town. I think most of the church loves me. I run into the occasional problem, some of which are my fault and some of which have nothing to do with me, but not any more often than the senior pastor (who is a man, but only 10 years older than I). Overall my experience has been fantastic. I have friends for whom that's not the case and friends for whom it is. Where are our stories?

I got the general impression that this book was primarily fueled by the anger of the author, and that stories that didn't mesh with her experience weren't sought out. I recognize that these stories may be the norm for women in the church, but I also recognize that they may not be. I wonder where the other stories are? Not in this book. I also thought this book was slightly skewed to the Episcopalian side...it's hard to tell the denominations of some of the women (and some are intentionally left out to protect the identity of the woman), but I didn't get the sense that there were many others in the pool. Just a thought.

The way many of these women were treated made me angry and sad, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how far we have to go on this front. But at the same time, I'm mainly sad for the author because she has need of a caring and nurturing community where she can share her gifts and it seems from this narrative that she's not found that. I hope she does--because it makes all the difference.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

Over the last week or so I have read Irresistible Revolution. While I didn't always find it irresistible (I definitely went to sleep a few times, but I think that's because it was late at night and I was reading in bed, not because the book was boring), I did find it pretty good. I think, though, there is something of a generational gap here. I didn't think anything in this book was particularly radical--in fact, it was mostly the kind of thing I would love to do (but don't always have the nerve for) and that is the reason I became a Christian rather than something else. But I think people who grew up in the church and people of generations older than mine find this stuff very disturbing and reckless.

I do, however, love the idea of being "extremists for love" because there are already enough hate extremists out there. I'm totally using that phrase as I rethink our youth ministry here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

obliterate?

I'm sorry to be so starkly political on my blog, but I just don't think that I can, in good conscience, vote for someone who so calmly talks about "obliterating" a people. Under any circumstances, for any reason. There is NO NEED for that kind of language and it only gets us into trouble, both political and spiritual. Sorry, friend, but if you think you can obliterate people, real people, you have problems. And you should not be the leader of the "free" (yet enslaved to violence and money and power) world.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

Today I finally took a day off for the first time since I went away to the HerStory conference the day after Easter. I so needed this day spent in my pjs, reading and petting my kitties and eating comfort foods (green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and vegetarian brown gravy!).

So I read a whole book, of course. The Illuminator was a sort of fun, sort of intense look at rural England 1379-1381. All the abuses of power by the church made me angry. At one point I even smacked the book and shouted at it. I loved that Julian of Norwich was a real character. I loved that the strong characters were women while the traditional power was all with the men. I hated the way every character seemed willing to betray others, even loved ones, for personal gain. In other words, I got very caught up in this book and its many plots and intrigues.
While I wouldn't call the book serious fiction (when do I read that? not for stress-relieving times), I would call it a good and quick read mainly about women taking matters into their own hands in spite of a highly patriarchal society. Be prepared to be irritated at the church, though, and to remember why Reformation was needed...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

That Reminds Me--a sermon for Easter 4A (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Rev. Teri Peterson
RCLPC
That Reminds Me…
John 10.11-16, Psalm 23
April 13 2008, Easter 4A

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have to tell you that Sundays like this one are either the easiest or hardest days to preach. Everyone knows the story, we’ve all heard 100 sermons on how Jesus is the good shepherd, we’ve all seen the various paintings of the strangely western-European looking Jesus with a lamb across his shoulders, and for many of us the image is comforting and wonderful—maybe even a favorite. Plus “good shepherd Sunday” comes up every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter. It’s hard to imagine that I could stand here and say something original or even mildly interesting.

But as I thought about this problem, I spent some time wondering if it’s really a problem. Why is it that we hear this story of Jesus calling himself the good shepherd, or really any of the stories in the Bible, and immediately wonder what might be new that we can find in it? I wonder if it might just be enough to hear Jesus say “I am the good shepherd” and to allow ourselves to spend some time with all the images and associations that come up when we hear those words?

Jesus’ first hearers would listen to these words and immediately think of the kings, who were called shepherds of the people, and of the psalms, where God is named as being our one true shepherd. When we hear these words of Jesus, I suspect that we also, with those first hearers, immediately jump in our minds to Psalm 23, though I’m not sure that we have the same theological or political associations with the word “shepherd” as they did.

Many of us have spent some quality time with the 23rd psalm. It makes regular appearances at funerals, in the lectionary, and in devotions to help us when we need comfort or guidance or reassurance. The church I attended in college used it every time we celebrated communion—in fact, it wasn’t even printed in the bulletin. They just assumed that everyone who came to church had at some point memorized the King James version of the 23rd psalm.

How many of you have at some point committed the 23rd psalm to memory? (probably a lot…) Did you memorize it in the King James version or another? This psalm is, for many of us, woven into the fabric of our faith. But I suspect that it’s hard to say the whole psalm from memory on your own. I know that I often leave out a phrase and then have trouble picking up the next line in the right order, and I’ve recited this psalm from memory more than a few times, not to mention all the times I’ve read it and sung it. One of the things I have learned is that sometimes you just need a little help from your friends. So I wonder if we could just recite the psalm together now. If you don’t know it, that’s okay—this is a great opportunity to hear a community remembering its own story together and to be supported by the voices of others. Shall we?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
he leadeth me beside the still waters,
he restoreth my soul,
he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his own name’s sake.
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for thou art with me,
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,
thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I find it so interesting what things are part of the memory of a community. I would be willing to bet that a large number of Western Christians have the 23rd psalm as part of our communal memory. When we hear Jesus say “I am the good shepherd” this is what we really hear—still waters, green pastures, a companion through death’s shadows, a feast, and a promise. But it can be hard to put it all together on our own. We need each other to put the whole story together.

This weekend I was at Stronghold with our confirmation class and we spent most of our time together talking about the body of Christ—how is the church Christ’s body on earth? Who in our congregation is the feet, the hands, the eyes and ears and mouth and heart? What part of the body do our confirmands see themselves as? The most important part of this metaphor is that every part needs the other parts—we work together to hear God’s word, to do God’s work, to share good news and to practice the kingdom of God. We need each other. When we sang the doxology at our closing worship service yesterday afternoon, we only had one copy of the words and everyone just worked together to get all the words in. Every voice was important, and we couldn’t have done it alone.

The doxology is one of those songs that I think is often part of the memory of people who have attended mainline churches all their lives. It too was not printed in the bulletin at my college church, and I, as a newcomer, was too self-conscious to look up the words. I had to rely on the voices around me to teach me that part of our common life and story.

There are some songs like this that are not only part of a church’s community memories but are also part of our culture’s memory. I think of the song Amazing Grace, which is the only churchy song I ever heard my mother—a decidedly un-churched woman—sing. It’s stunning how, when we get together, we know all the words to this song even if as individuals we aren’t able to sing them all in the right order. The memories we share as a community are strong, they hold us up in times of trouble, and they grow when we share them.

I don’t know if you noticed what Jesus said after he called himself the good shepherd. He said that when a wolf comes, he scatters the sheep—making them weaker, easier to hunt down and pick off. Jesus said that he will call his sheep and even other sheep and all will come into one big sheepfold. Sheep by themselves are vulnerable to attack and to forgetting where they belong. Sheep together in a flock are safer, they learn the voice of their shepherd, they know who they are and to whom they belong. I might say that they are better able to keep their memory and their story when they join their voices and their ears together as a flock.

Scripture and our faith tradition are both studded with these stories that are designed to remind us of other stories. Our lives are full of experiences that remind us of stories. It’s almost impossible to tell a story without calling to mind another one! When we share our stories and songs and memories as a community, when we tell them over and over, even every year at the same time, they become a part of us. And when we need a little help with the words, there are always people around to lift their voices with ours, supporting or leading or just making it a little less lonely in the sheepfold. To me, that sounds like really good news, and so it leads me to say “Thanks be to God!” Amen.

Friday, April 11, 2008

busy as a bee....

...or at least sounding like one.

There must be a LOT of tree and yard work to be done at my complex right now, as the workers have been out with their saws and blowers and cutters and whackers every morning at 7.45 for a few days in a row now. That's very early for those of us who work until late.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

I finished another novel this morning: The Secret Magdalene. It's a gnostic novel, using quite a bit of John's gospel and pieces of others. The story is intriguing, the way well-known biblical characters turn out to be related is fun and overall I thought it was a nice twist. Not on par with, oh, scripture or anything, and certainly nothing to spark a major controversy in spite of the fact that one of the quotes on the back says "what the DaVinci Code only hinted at, this brings to life." It's not like the DaVinci Code. It's a novel (as is the DVC) and does not claim any historical or spiritual accuracy. Plus, it is SO gnostic that you can't escape it. But it was a fun read. I'm dying to give a spoiler, so here it comes....

....

John, the beloved disciple, is Mary Magdalene. I know, this isn't news to those who are big into the Jesus-Magdalene-church conspiracy-DaVinci thing. But to the rest of us, I say: How fun! I told you it was a fun twist on an old story--the way that all plays out is interesting and even a little captivating. And I have to confess that sometimes the extremely gnostic things they say in this book make a lot of sense--but that is likely my young-adult backlash against right-wing-neocon-"evangelical" christianity that gets play in our media.

Anyway, this was a fun novel. :-)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

living the movies?

I picked up a bunch of movies as potentials for tomorrow's senior high youth group activity: "Holy Hollywood, Batman!" I also picked up several movies I haven't seen before. So I, naturally, grabbed Because of Winn Dixie and Bridge to Terebithia to complement Lord of the Rings and Saved from my own collection.
For movies I haven't seen, I picked up Enchanted, Babel, the Kite Runner, Dreamgirls, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

When I started watching that last one, I thought "hmm...this seems familiar..." and after about 20 minutes I was pretty sure I'd seen it before. Yes, in fact, I have--by the time we got to the memory-erasing part that happens at night, I knew it for sure.

The irony of this is not lost on me.

I just hope that I don't start to live out the other movies too...

(I've finished Enchanted--cute but predictable, Eternal Sunshine, and most of Dreamgirls so far. I might be able to use a scene from dreamgirls tomorrow, but other than that so far I'm going with my originally planned clips...)

Reading Challenge 2008

I've been reading quite a bit...I got behind on posting while I was away. So, while I was gone, I read two books about young people and the church. "young people" being me. And then I got home and read another.

The first two were unChristian and They Like Jesus But Not The Church.

Both were researchy-books and also were very us-them--as in, "young people, they they they"--which was hard because I am they. I found that very frustrating. Also they both seemed to be about conservative evangelical Christianity. And the things the books said were right--I feel that way! But I'm a Christian, and a pastor, and obviously I don't feel this way about all Christians--just the ones who make the media all the time. So the books were both right and wrong, I guess.

Then I read Tribal Church. And it was so right on. Everything about it was right. I'm very impressed. I loved it and read it in one day. Good work Carol. I know I shouldn't have been surprised since Carol actually is a young adult who is in the church. But the first two were disappointing so I guess I felt a little jaded. No longer!

I have to say, I'm typing this while I watch Enchanted. It's cute, but sort of predictable. And a little odd. I don't think I'll be using it in youth group tomorrow...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

is there a program for this?

Hello, my name is Teri, and I am addicted to Kiva.

I can't help myself--I see an interesting person in my own sidebar and soon I'm off and running through the pages and pages of interesting people and projects around the world who can be helped out of poverty by microfinance. And then, before I know it, it's been half an hour and I've loaned another $25 to a bunch of other people.

Right now I have four loans out--which I think I am going to make my limit. I have lent to a woman in Tanzania, a woman in Peru, and a woman in Tajikistan, and to a man in Lebanon. So I have the major regions of the world covered....and $100 out there...

I'm Teri and I'm addicted to Kiva.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

stuff happens

So I went away for the whole week after Easter. slept some. drank some wine. talked with friends. led worship for a conference. led a workshop for the conference. Did stuff. Waited a long time in an airport. Read part of a book. Came back to work. Found a window has been placed in my office door--awesome! Was irritated about some stuff that I won't blog about other than to say: when will youth and their activities be respected in the church? Ate lunch at my fave mom-and-pop Mexican place. About to go eat lunch at my fave local cafe. They have cream of asparagus soup today, and also red pepper and tomato bisque, which sounds good. I'm still tired. So glad not to have to teach tonight--instead get to enjoy a guest speaker. Hallelujah. Maybe there's a lavender bath bomb from Lush in my future.