Tuesday, June 14, 2011

blog sabbath, accidentally and on purpose

I apparently stopped blogging for a while there. Sorry about that. Nothing in particular happened to cause that...I guess I just didn't have anything to say (or nothing to say that wouldn't get me into trouble!).

but now I'm going on vacation for a week...you can find me on the Vermont Cheese Trail. Back next week. ta!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Jesus' Feet--a sermon for Easter 7A

Rev. Teri Peterson
RCLPC
Jesus’ Feet
Acts 1.6-14
5 June 2011, Easter 7A

When they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.


This is one of those stories that makes those of us who plan worship actually consider the possibility of rigging up a pulley system that would allow Sherri to fly in and out of the sanctuary. Lucky for you (and for her!), we resisted the temptation. But really—what a strange story. It’s one of those stories that demands drama in the telling, and also one that requires us to suspend our disbelief the same way we would in a play or a movie. When I was new to the whole church thing, I remember looking at this story, then looking at my pastor, and wondering what on earth kind of crazy cult of nonsense I had gotten myself into. I mean….Jesus floated away into the sky? It’s almost enough to make me wish that the rapture had been predicted for yesterday instead of two weeks ago, because I could really use that story right now—it sounds almost normal compared to this.

But there it is, right there in the Bible…the opening scene of the book of Acts, which is filled with even more bizarre stories than this one. The full name of the book is “The Acts of the Apostles”—which sort of implies that this prelude we’re hearing now does in fact lead the apostles to do things other than stand around looking at the sky. Lots of people have said the book would be better called “Acts of the Spirit” because everything that happens in the book is a manifestation of what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world and the new church…and that’s fair, but since Pentecost isn’t until next week, we have to focus a little bit.

But focus on what? The artwork and iconography depicting this story almost uniformly shows either a floaty Jesus levitating with his robes wafting on the breeze or pictures the disciples staring up at a random pair of feet.
Well, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but yes, I do think we should be focusing on Jesus’ feet.

Just not in the way the artwork shows.

This story begins with the disciples asking Jesus “is this the time you’ll do what we all know a Messiah is supposed to do, bringing down Rome and reinstating the proper political and religious systems of Israel?” In other words, they look at their leader and say “are you going to do your job or what?” We’ve all done this—looked at a leader and expected them to do something for us. We’ve looked at the President and wondered why he can’t solve the country’s, or the world’s, problems by himself. We’ve looked at doctors with “can’t you just fix it” eyes. We’ve looked at our pastors or our session or our deacons and wondered why they won’t just do all the ministries of the church, why they won’t be the Christian on behalf of all of us so we could go about our lives, why they can’t seem to continually offer everything we want by themselves. We’ve even stood on the mountain with Jesus and asked him this same question—“is this the time when you’ll make everything right again?”
But Jesus redirects the disciples’ attention, and rather than giving a yes or no answer to what they expect him to do, he tells them what he expects them to do. “You will be my witnesses,” he says, “throughout this promised land, and beyond, all the way to the edges of the earth—to every place you can imagine, and some you can’t imagine.”

If that was how Jesus answered my question, I would probably stand staring up at his disappearing feet too.
Though, come to think of it, that pretty much is how Jesus has answered most of my questions. Almost every time I read scripture, and nearly every time I ask God to do something in the world or in my life, the answer I hear is more like “what are you going to do about it?” and less like “why yes, I can’t believe I overlooked this problem—thank you so much for bringing it to my attention, I’ll get right on it!” And I suppose if even Jesus wouldn’t fix the world for us, and if even Jesus won’t agree to just be the Christian for all of us, then it’s time for us to let go of that understanding of faith, the one where God just does things for us like a cosmic butler, and start thinking differently. Faith is about more than looking at the sky, whether in fear or in hope.

Then along come the inevitable angels, asking why we’re standing looking up at the sky when there are plenty of footprints to follow right here on earth. After all, hadn’t Jesus been walking around everywhere and showing us what to do? Hadn’t he washed our feet and called us his friends? Perhaps it’s time to go down from the mountain and look for Jesus’ feet somewhere else.

So we walk, slowly at first, down the mountain…heavy with the second wave of realization that Jesus is not going to make everything better according to our specifications…and then heavier with the realization that somehow he had just given us the job of making the world a better place according to HIS specifications. That wasn’t how we meant for this all to turn out. So we head home and fortify ourselves for the work ahead. It’s a long way to the ends of the earth, after all.

Once the disciples got back to the upper room, they did what any good church would do—they had a prayer meeting and a potluck. Which, honestly, is pretty darn close to following in Jesus’ footsteps! He taught us to pray, he taught us to eat together, he taught us to offer hospitality. By gathering in that upper room, the disciples were preparing themselves to look for Jesus’ feet out in the world rather than up in the sky. As they gathered at the table, they told stories—stories they would go out and tell to anyone who would listen. They prayed together—filling their souls for the journey ahead. They ate together—nourishing their bodies and practicing for the many meals they would share as a foretaste of God’s kingdom. They sang—letting their voices ring out so that others might hear the good news of God’s deeds of power. And when the Holy Spirit wind comes rushing in on Pentecost, pushing them out of the upper room and out into the world to be Christ’s witnesses, to walk in his footsteps and to be his hands and feet, all that practice will pay off.

What does it look like to be Christ’s witness, to look for his feet, to the ends of the earth? It might look like being a storyteller at Vacation Bible School. It might look like making PADS lunches on Friday mornings. It might look like Kristen Bauman’s journey to work with children in Vietnam, or it might look like following her blog and praying for her and the people she will meet. It might look like a week spent on an Indian reservation, or a day spent stocking the shelves at the food pantry. It might look like being a confirmation mentor, or teaching Sunday School, or going on a mission trip. It might look like being the best teacher or nurse or engineer or designer or administrator you can be, knowing that each person you work with is made in the image of God.

But in every case, without exception, it will look like watching in the world, not in the clouds, for signs of Christ’s footsteps, and then showing those signs to others. It will look like joining with others in prayer and practice, including at this table and every other table. It will look like keeping your eyes open, and following the feet.

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, June 03, 2011

more reading

I have been feeling like my imagination is all dried up, so I've been reading a lot to try to replenish it...among the things I've read lately:

My S3 group read this for our first study together...I confess that I didn't finish it in time for our conversation, though I was much closer to the end than I realized (one of the downsides of the kindle--I can't tell when the endnotes begin, so the % finished is misleading!). We all generally seemed to agree that this book had good things to say but we were kind of beyond them already, or else they didn't exactly apply to the church (for instance, churches are unlikely to be using sophisticated monitoring services that tell us whenever someone uses the word "presbyterian" in a blog, tweet, or FB post....). I felt like there were a few applicable things, but they were few and far between, and often tucked in the midst of stories about businesses. I felt pulled between obsessing over the stories and glossing over them because they weren't directly and obviously applicable, but overall I'm mostly glad I read them all. I confess I did skim a few sections.
Things in this book that I think are directly applicable to the church:
1. Decide on a purpose and strategy for engaging in social media, and make sure the institutions (and the people using SM on behalf of the institution) use it responsibly and with that vision always clearly in mind.
2. pay attention to what people are saying and where they're saying it--and respond. Don't just leave stuff hanging out there, whether on your church facebook page or a church member's blog, while you take a Presbyterian hour (aka 3 years) to come up with a committee that will look into how to respond.
3. Don't think you can get away with not engaging in the online and social media world. you can't, so figure out how and why you're going to do it, and then do it and do it well.
Interestingly, on my way home from the trip where we talked about this book, I flew into Milwaukee airport (MKE). I tweeted, with my twitter account still unlocked, about what a fantastic and easy experience MKE is and how much I loved it. Within 24 hours MKE had tweeted back at me, returning the love and thanking me for letting people know that it's a great O'Hare alternative for the savvy traveler. I immediately followed them, of course, and also liked their facebook page...and while I don't want everyone who flies out of O'Hare to start going to Milwaukee (because it would make it less relaxed for me, and I'm selfish like that!), I do want them to be a successful and awesome airport. And they clearly have a social media strategy and a monitoring service that's working wonders, and they know how to respond and keep their customers in the loop. It was like a case study straight out of the book, only more personalized!

We all know I have a penchant for princess books. This one is about Juana la Loca (the mad) of Spain, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. For the record, I don't believe she was mad. And the way this historical novel is written, if she is mad then she was clearly driven there by the men in her life, who were always scheming ways to take advantage of her. The story is charming at first, and filled with the usual things you expect of a historical novel that focuses on princesses--pretty dresses, betrothals, nervousness, court life, passion. Pretty much in that order. But soon it becomes a page-turning horror-flick of intrigue, abuse, drama, loss, pain, and betrayal...all mixed in with pretty dresses and passion. It's quite the fast-paced novel. I don't want to give it away for those who enjoy the princess book genre, but let's just say: the men come off looking pretty bad in this one. and, historically speaking, that's probably fairly accurate. There are a number of choice words I used in regard to the men in the story, and even men in general, while reading this book--none of them are appropriate for this blog, but I suspect you can use your imagination. Suffice it to say, I actually felt better about my own (lack of a) romantic life when this was over. And I really liked the book too.

I really enjoyed these reflections on the pastoral life from two UCC pastors, one male and one female. They take turns writing the chapters, so each one is in a distinct voice, and I enjoyed that as well. They reflect on such things as family, work, boundaries, grace, hope, call...and they do it with a tone that draws the reader in. So many books about pastors, or call, or church life, or what it means to be a pastor, or whatever, are B-O-R-I-N-G. They make it seem either much more impressive or much more simple than it actually is. I enjoyed the nuance and the recognition of complexity, the undercurrent of hope, and the reminders to ground life in prayer. I did not enjoy that one of Martin's chapters flat out says the very thing I have been struggling with lately: "It also requires the kind of clarity that does not confuse people's diverse expectations with a job description, which means that it requires being willing to disappoint people."
Let's just say that I don't handle disappointment well...in particular, me disappointing other people is not really on the agenda of things that are acceptable. It turns out that this is good for exactly no one, due to the fact that it is extremely bad for me...in fact, I end up disappointing myself in the effort not to disappoint anyone else. To have this pointed out to me not just by my therapist but then by the book I am devouring is a cruel twist of the Spirit. just turn that knife a little further, please.
anyway, this was a great book of reflection on life AS a pastor, not life AFTER being a pastor or what life might be like IF you were a pastor. Highly recommended.

A re-read, but so worth it. Not only are the illustrations fun, but the content is pretty much exactly what I believe. Or almost, anyway. I love when books agree with me. (LOL) I also love when books accessibly and in clear language explain that God is love, period, and what that means for our theology and our life. In particular, I enjoy the image that "God loves you at least as much as the person who loves you the most, when they are loving you the most." yes. at least.

This was free for kindle, as are zillions of other classic books, and seemed like a good classic work to spark my imagination for a bit. Somehow, I don't think I'd read this before, though there may have been a movie or a cartoon or something? Anyway, I don't remember reading it...and I think I would have remembered all the scientific mumbo-jumbo peppered throughout. LOL. The whole time I was reading it I was picturing the submarine ride at Disneyland, which I think maybe used to be 20,000 leagues themed but now is Finding Nemo themed. Either way, the ride is so overrated, I cannot believe people stand in line for 2 hours for that ride. Anyway....I kind of loved this book. I read it today, on my day off, and pretty much couldn't put it down. I didn't even want to play facebook games because I wanted to know what was going to happen to Captain Nemo and his captive guests as they travelled the world. You have to admit it's kind of exciting to imagine speeding around the world via the gulf stream or under icebergs or into dead volcanoes, walking around on the ocean floor, hiking to Atlantis and harvesting seaweed and watching pearls form. I mean, it's cool. I enjoyed the visuals my brain created while I was reading, even if I did have to skim a bunch of stuff that reads like a made up marine biology textbook. but I also, as a 21st century environmentalist whose mother loved the oceans more than pretty much anything on land (except the fam, of course!), was super uncomfortable with the ways the ocean and its life were used for sport. Whaling, "hunting," battling octopus, spearing sharks, have turtle fillet for dinner...Let's just say I didn't handle all that stuff very well. It kind of turns my stomach. The best moment in the book (at least in this area) is when Captain Nemo refuses "The Canadian" (a whaler) the opportunity to pursue and hunt whales in the Antarctic, because it would be only for sport and that kind of killing is unacceptable. Second best, the professor's rant about how whalers have killed so many manatees that the ecosystem is out of balance, so stop it already. Too bad those moments are surrounded by descriptions of sealskin shoes and eating turtle and whatnot. Not to mention, you know, the killing of people, which we never find out the reason for...but still, it's a classic for a reason, and if you haven't read it, you should!

Friday Five: Repeat, Re-Run, Re-Do...

Songbird, over at RGBP, has noted that it's that time of year when TV shows end the season and head into summer reruns. Not having regular TV, I'd forgotten about that, but I appreciate the potential opportunity to catch up! Anyway, she writes, "In honor of this annual Time Warp, please share five things worth a repeat. These could be books, movies, CDs, recipes, vacations, or even TV shows."

let's see...five things worth repeating...I might have to do five categories so I can fit multiple things in each category! LOL.

In the realm of tv/movies:
*Any show by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse...).
*Doctor Who
*Battlestar Galactica
*The Princess Bride! (Yes, I'm *that* girl who can quote the entire movie from the beginning, including sound effects....)
*Harry Potter, especially the 5th/6th/7th movies
*The BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice
honorable mention: Eddie Izzard...anything you can find on video or netflix, seriously.

in books:
*well, I'm a pastor so I probably have to say that the Bible falls in this category...
*Again, Harry Potter
*and again, Pride and Prejudice
*and again, the Princess Bride. who knew books could be so amazing?
*Mary Oliver...all.
honorable mention: Lamb, Good Goats, the Margaret of Ashbury trilogy, Animal-Vegetable-Miracle

in music:
*the Indigo Girls--umm, everything they've ever put out is worth putting on repeat
*Mozart's 23rd piano concerto
*Beethoven's 6th symphony
*Styx...perhaps not their entire repertoire, but a good chunk. The Return To Paradise 2-CD set is a good start.
*Carrie Newcomer--again, everything she's got is incredible.
honorable mentions: the Book of Mormon soundtrack, the Barenaked Ladies, the soundtrack to Rent, David LaMotte, Mendelssohn's 4th symphony.

in live performance, should I ever have the opportunity again:
*The Book of Mormon (hands down the best musical I've ever seen)
*The Rite of Spring, fully staged by a ballet company with live music. There is NOTHING like this, nothing. you will be blown away.
*The Lion King (again, I've seen it twice and would go again in a heartbeat)
*David LaMotte (ask for a song from his children's collection!)
*The Indigo Girls (omg, amazing...every time, amazing, and no matter the venue, amazing.)
*Wicked (which I've seen twice and loved!)

in food:
*almost anything with potatoes, especially mashed potatoes.
*seitan "pot roast"
*locally grown illinois corn at the height of summer
*my aunt's s'mores cupcakes (vegan!)--I wish I had the recipe
*asparagus from my local grower, in season right now
*turtle sundaes
honorable mention: Annie's deluxe mac-n-cheese, green bean casserole, bean burritos, papa john's pizza

and a bonus: places to visit:
*Iona.
*Rome.
*Petra (Jordan).
*Damascus (well, at least before...I don't know what it's like now.)
*San Diego.
*Athens.
*Jerusalem and Bethlehem (not far apart geographically, but...).
honorable mentions: Disneyland!, the pyramids, Nile Cruises, Edinburgh, Amman (Jordan), Washington DC, Hawaii.

and a few minutes later, another bonus: restaurants worth a re-visit!
*the Laughing Seed Cafe, Asheville NC. best vegetarian restaurant in the country, imho.
*Abreo, in Rockford IL. yum.
*Chowpatti International Restaurant in Arlington Heights, IL. Indian Nachos...delish.
*the Flying Biscuit in ATL. dude, the biscuits...so good.
*Sipz Vegetarian Fuzion Cafe in San Diego. vegan sushi...and so much other goodness!
honorable mention: The Brick Store in Decatur GA, Duke's here in Crystal Lake, Krystal Thai (about 2 miles from my house), Graham's 318 for sipping chocolate in Geneva IL, The Chicago Diner, and Bin 36.

and you? what's worth repeating?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

a variation on pad thai, with asparagus

for those who've asked, here's what I made for dinner...

soak some rice sticks (not too long, they get mushy-sticky--just until they're slightly harder than al dente) in warm water. drain.

make peanut sauce: peanut butter (I like crunchy), sesame oil, rice vinegar (substitute a mix of plain white vinegar and lime juice if you don't have any), tamari/soy sauce, brown rice syrup/agave. mix. you'll need more than you think. and it'll keep if you have too much.
yes, I know pad thai is not made with peanut sauce. but seriously, I'm not going to make a vegetarian tamarind/fish sauce at home, and peanut sauce is delicious.

cut up asparagus and half an onion.

get wok very very hot. add sesame oil. when oil is hot, add onion, minced garlic, asparagus. when asparagus is very green, add noodles. pour sauce over noodles. stir fry quickly!

You can crack an egg into the wok in between the vegetable and noodle steps, if you like egg in your pad thai.

I served mine on a bed of fresh spinach, and topped with shredded carrot. if you don't use lime juice in the sauce, a squeeze of lime will really bring out the flavor.

mmmmmm.......