Monday, November 29, 2010

clouds

We've reached the time of year when it's cloudy almost every day. As I look out my office window this morning, there's gray asphalt and gray sky and even gray-ish barren trees. Once snow falls and then gets old, freezing and re-freezing with dust and dirt and salt inside, it'll be gray ground and gray sky for pretty much all of the foreseeable future.
To say that clouds are not my favorite type of sky-adornment would be an understatement. I love the sun (though it does not love me, thanks to my ridiculously fair skin), I love blue sky, I love to see stars at night and vibrant color in the daytime. But here in the midwest, the blue sky and stars hide behind the clouds for months at a time.

It's not even so much the cold of winter that I find problematic -- though I don't prefer cold! -- it's the drabness. The gray everywhere. But on the other hand, blue skies in winter mean colder days (because the cloud cover does trap the heat a little), so that's a double edged sword. It makes it hard to hate clouds when they keep it slightly warmer, and when they do all their important water recycling work. But still...it's the beginning of the cloudy season, and I miss the sun already.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Be Peace--a sermon for Advent 1A

Rev. Teri Peterson
RCLPC
Be Peace
Psalm 122
28 November 2010, Advent 1A

I was glad when they said to me,

‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ 

Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. 

To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,

as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 

For there the thrones for judgment were set up,

the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

‘May they prosper who love you. 

Peace be within your walls,

and security within your towers.’ 

For the sake of my relatives and friends

I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’ 

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

I will seek your good.


Every Sunday we say these words to each other: “Peace be with you. And also with you.” Each and every worship service includes the sharing of peace—the peace of Christ, shared among the Body of Christ, and hopefully extended into the whole world.

On a day when we’re still stuffed from a feast, the tryptophan barely worn off, the leftover mashed potatoes beckoning, peace seems easy. Besides the food coma many of us are still in, there’s also the post-family-gathering peace, when we can take a deep breath and let go of the anxiety that often comes with those big family holidays. Once they’ve all gone home and things settle back into normal, the most conflict any of us expect is over who gets to eat the last bite of cranberry sauce. Things seem peaceful enough.

Of course, though, that’s not true in many places in the world. Conflict rages in homes, communities, and nations, and even within individuals. Sometimes those conflicts are supposed to lead to peace, sometimes they are waged only for monetary or political power gains, sometimes they simply end in chaos and tragedy with no redeeming qualities at all. But even when conflict ends, there’s often no peace. Because peace is not simply the absence of conflict—peace is something more than that.

The Hebrew word “shalom” is generally translated “peace,” and it’s a word we hear often enough that we often think we’ve got it down. We know that “shalom” is about wholeness, about healing, about redemption…and together, all these things make up “peace.” But when we use the word “peace” we don’t generally mean all those things…instead we settle for shallow “peace” which is really a façade behind which we suppress our feelings, and so suppress true community. The peace we generally think of is more of the calm surface, even if underneath the waters churn. But shalom is the kind of peace God has in mind for the world, the kind of peace the psalmist prays for, the kind of peace we are to make. This is peace that demands that we be real with ourselves and each other, peace that requires true listening and compassionate speaking, peace that will not settle for any to be left out or left behind. This is not only the absence of conflict, but also the presence of healing and growth. The words of the prophet Isaiah still ring in our ears even as they stick in our throats—the vision of swords turned to plowshares and all the nations walking together in God’s light. We yearn for this vision to be a reality, and yet so often we do nothing to make it a reality. Instead we do what is easy, we practice instant gratification, we turn a blind eye to peace-breaking even as we proclaim “peace be with you.”

During Advent we have an opportunity. Well, we have a choice, I suppose. Advent is a time of waiting—a time when we acknowledge the darkness and the “not-yet” nature of the kingdom of God. We wait with hope and expectation, looking for light that shines in unexpected places and for the coming of God who will bring peace on earth and goodwill to all people. We say no to a culture of instant gratification, no to the commodification of God’s kingdom of love, and no to the desire to skip the hard part in favor of the fun part of the season. The church is a place where we recognize the grief and darkness of the world even as we proclaim that God’s peace, justice, joy, and light are both coming and already here. These are good things, important reasons to observe Advent as a season even as the malls and radio stations skip right ahead to reindeer and jingling bells.

But on the other hand, Advent is a season of waiting—but that doesn’t mean a season of passivity or even patience. Too often, I think, we fall victim to the idea that waiting means doing nothing. That is not what Advent is for—because the kingdom of God is also “already” even if it is “not yet.” We are waiting for God to come and bring peace, and sometimes we forget that God has already come, has already broken in to our world, has already shined a great light, and has already sent us the Holy Spirit in order that WE may BE the Body of Christ in the world—that we may not just wait for peace, not even just make peace or work for it, but that we may BE the peace of Christ in our homes, churches, communities, nations.

We don’t just go up to the house of the Lord—we ARE living temples of the holy spirit, we ARE the body of Christ, we ARE the hands and feet, the hearts and voices, through which God works. Just as the psalmist was transformed from one among a crowd to a proclaimer of peace, when we pray and praise, worship and work, we are transformed from those who simply wait to those who embody the truth of God’s grace for all people, the promise of peace for a world prone to turn plows into swords rather than the other way around. That is why our mission statement says that “we ARE an ever-widening circle of grace.” That’s not something we’re waiting for, or something we’re like—it’s who and what we are. Have we lived up to our full potential, fully given ourselves to God’s will, completely followed God’s call to us? Not yet. But that doesn’t mean we ought to wait for God to do something about that. Instead it means that we strive to be who God calls us to be.

How can we BE peace in a world of ubiquitous violence? I don’t have an answer for that, and I suspect each of us will have to discern our ways. A good start would be to not engage in violence—and while it seems easy to refrain from physical violence, it’s much harder to discipline our words, our language, into peace. Perhaps that can be our Advent challenge—to speak only peace. Another way to be peace is to recognize where there is brokenness and work toward healing—to conspire with God to reconcile and lift up, to see truly and help wherever there is need—to feed people who are hungry, to give warmth to people who are cold, to offer hospitality to people who are lonely, and to recognize and encourage the humanity, the child of God, in each person we meet, whether we meet them at the food pantry, PADS, the grocery store, work, on the train or on a sidewalk. When we truly see one another, then we can truly have compassion for one another, and then we are on the road to shalom.

In many ways the world lives in Advent, though we don’t often recognize it. We are waiting for something…for someone to do something, for the world to get better, for God to break in and bring the kingdom, for a light to shine in the darkness. And waiting is important and good, it’s true, particularly if we can do it without filling the void with more gadgets and toys and things. Yet waiting can also be a distraction, a false idol of its own. At the risk of sounding cliché, I quote the elders of the Hopi nation, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.” And the ones God, and the world, has been waiting for. We are the body of Christ, called, equipped, and empowered to BE peace in and for the world. May that be our Advent task.

Peace be with you.

Amen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

giving thanks

Today I am thankful for:
safe travels.
friends who invite me into their family.
my many sets of extra parents around the world (I'm looking at you, John and Betsy, Martha and David, Norman and Ruth, Naadia and Marsa, and now Suzanne and Theo).
my family, who almost always pick up the phone when I call and are awesome.
my kitties.
having more food than my body needs to survive, and more space to live in than is absolutely necessary.
electricity and running water.
a comfy bed.
the time to relax, play games, talk, and laugh.

Today my favorite things to eat will all happen together!
Mashed Potatoes!!!!!!
Green Bean Casserole (the traditional and bad for you Campbells/French's goodness)
Bread
Pecan Pie
possibly ice cream...

Oh yes, it's going to be a good day.

What are you thankful for, and what are you excited to eat?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

you

Every day I write on 750words.com. (I'm on a 60 day streak!) It's like morning pages, but typed...sort of a form of stream-of-consciousness free-write journalling, an opportunity to get all the stuff in my brain out of the way so I can think more clearly and be more creative (at least in theory). It's private, so don't bother looking for that writing, and don't be concerned that anyone is reading what you write (like they can on a blog...though whether anyone reads my blog is up for debate!).

At the end of your 750 words, the site will tell you your "stats"--things like how long it took you to write them (I average 10-15 minutes), what the weather was like, how many times you got distracted (stopped typing for more than three minutes), and your mood. It also tells you which voices you tend to write in, and which tense. I'm pretty equal on tenses--talking about past, present, and future. But when it comes to voice, I lean heavily on first person (both singular and plural) and occasionally third person...but I hardly ever write in second person.

So I was thinking about this yesterday....and I realized that I would have a very hard time writing "you"--particularly consistently for 750 words. I am not entirely sure why this is, but I have a suspicion.

Most of what I write are sermons.

And from the pulpit, using "you" does a couple of things I really abhor.
1. It separates me from the congregation, the people who need to hear the word, when really I am just as much in need of hearing the word (and Word) as any listener.
2. It is extremely difficult to use without sounding condescending, patronizing, or accusatory. In fact, I think I've heard it done well maybe once in the past 11 years of listening to sermons.

Now, obviously, my 750 words each day are not a sermon (though they are close in length, LOL!). No one is reading or hearing anything I write there--and believe me, most of what I brain-dump there is so awful no one would *want* to read or hear it. But I still persist in avoiding the second person voice. I don't know if that's a deficiency in my writing, a skill I haven't developed (or have intentionally suppressed), or if it's actually a good thing to keep avoiding it there so I don't get into a habit of using it and then end up with it in places I really don't want it to be.

I don't know that I'll change this, but it is interesting to think about.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

not playing on purpose

I confess that I didn't play the Friday Five yesterday on purpose. I could have--I have answers for all those questions, I had the free time, etc.

But I didn't do it because I'm just not ready to think about snow yet. The photo there looks exactly like my backyard will look any minute now. The cold and gray and snowy blah of winter is on its way--we've already had a reprieve of almost a month, so I know it's going to be here soon and it's going to last a lot longer than I want it to (I can handle snow and cold and yuck for about 6 weeks...then I'm just annoyed/sad/bitter/frozen).

So I didn't play the Friday Five because maybe if I pretend it's not about to be snow season, it won't come. that works, right?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

language

I know this sounds kind of petty, but I have been irritated by the ways people have been using language lately. I don't know if I'm more sensitive to this kind of usage or if it's been getting worse, but here it is anyway.

"They" are not "the gays."
Nor are "they" "the poor."

these are people we're talking about...people who are gay, people who are poor, people who are homeless, people who are hungry, people who are straight, people who are rich, people who are in debt, etc.

Unless I'm going to start hearing about "the straights" on NPR, I don't want to hear about "the gays" either. (can you tell I was listening to a story about DADT on the radio this afternoon?)
Ditto for "the poor" or "the needy" or "the homeless." Those are not descriptors of WHO they are, they are descriptors of the situation they are in. That is not the same thing.

Please, people, use language in a way that does not devalue human beings. Because that is what we all are, regardless of any other way we might find ourselves described--we are people, children of God, part of a community, and worth the extra effort to avoid de-humanising.

/rant

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Freeway Feud

On the way home from the (totally awesome) high school retreat, we in the lead car got to witness a freeway feud! I promised I would blog about it, so here it is.

We were a four-car caravan on I39. It wasn't late, but it was dark (thanks, time change). We passed a red truck as it entered the freeway...and then, about 45 minutes later, it passed us. And I don't mean that after 45 minutes he zoomed around us, I mean that he stayed in the left lane "passing" us for probably 35 of those minutes. There was a silver van behind the red truck...driven by an obviously irritated person. The van's bright headlights kept getting flashed...and so the driver of the red truck chose to block the van in. This stretch of freeway was 2 lanes in each direction...so our four-car-caravan was in the right lane, and this truck-and-flashing-light-van was in the left lane. Together. In sync. For almost 40 minutes.

When the truck finally got past me, the van took the exactly-van-width space to go around in front of me...and naturally then the truck sped up, zooming ahead until he was even with the next car up in the right lane, where he promptly slowed down to almost exactly the same speed as the right lane car. I mean, the truck must have been going about .08 mph faster than cars in the right lane, so he was *technically* passing...but not really. The van tried to go around but got stuck behind the truck again...repeat the whole sequence...and then here's where it gets interesting.

The second attempt ended with all of us trying to get around the car in the right lane, which was driving exactly the speed limit. (aside: ugh. we were only going 3-4 mph over, and still were irritated.) By now all of us in the car are on the edge of our seats, engaging in all kinds of commentary about what is going on in front of us. Then another truck we'd passed earlier came zooming up in the right lane, only to be stuck behind the speed-limit-observing driver. Soon the red truck and black truck were even with each other, and the red truck driver decided it was time to exit...and so tried to cut off the black truck. Unsuccessful...back into his left lane. Then he tried just drifting purposefully into the right lane, essentially attempting to sideswipe the black truck and force them out of the way. Also unsuccessful, though very nerve racking for those of us behind them watching this whole thing unfold! Finally the red truck slowed down precipitously and went around behind the black truck to exit, from the left lane, at the last possible exiting moment (not even really *on* the ramp, exactly).

And then the freeway was once again boring, the feud having ended.

But...wow. The whole time we're watching this happen, all at 65 miles an hour, and hoping that there's no accident (though one was likely more than once)! It definitely gave us a chance to talk about defensive driving, too--seeing something like that happening and then anticipating various moves, like the van cutting us off or the truck trying to exit. It was more excitement than we anticipated for the drive home, that's for sure!

And, in case you're wondering, the moral of the story is that we ALL know, even teenagers, why you drive that huge truck and why you're acting like an a** on the freeway. Your ...ahem... compensating... is obvious to all.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

going visiting

I'm trying to visit more RevGal blogs more regularly--it's such a wonderful community and I want to be sure others feel that community too, and besides that...I like to know things. That's right, I'm curious and inquisitive and I hate to miss stuff.
So...I've been visiting down the list (we don't have a ring anymore because ringsurf had become a nightmare in more ways than one). I'm trying to read one letter (or sometimes two) per day...so I'm through D right now. It occurred to me that I should perhaps post links to blogs that I find particularly interesting along the way...sort of like the old-fashioned round-up, only more subjective and, frankly, slower since there are so many blogs in the ring now!

So, in no particular order, here are a few of the blogs that caught my eye, or my imagination, or my prayers, in the A-D:

Ciona is in Malawi and is blogging about her adventures, complete with photos!

Karla caught my eye by blogging about sitting around doing nothing on her day off (which is one of the things I also like to do sometimes), and today she has some beautiful and prayer-provoking poetry up.

JJ has been practicing my other favorite thing to do on my day off: get out of town and do something fun...elsewhere!

MperiodPress is having adventures in Italy and in bridges (both physical and metaphorical). I love Rome, so I was excited to read her accounts of the city and her experiences both with the city/culture and with her group and the language and other difficulties.

Kirstin has had some good news and some disappointment, and needs prayers and support and help from people who might be nearby. Warning to people sensitive to cancer issues: Kirstin has cancer and is currently in treatment, and if reading about that is going to be difficult, please just pray for her.

Silent is doing the post-every-day-in-November blogging challenge. I always look forward to the tidbits about BabyGirl and their transition to a new home.

Katherine has posted some adorable Halloween pictures of Juliette, the cutest chicken on the block!

What (or who) have you been reading?