Sunday, November 30, 2014

the best laid plans...

...sometimes have to be sacrificed for sleep.

I had a super profound blog post for today, I swear. But it will have to wait, because I've been fighting to stay awake for an hour already, so I'm about to take my super lame old-lady self to bed before 9...and before I fall asleep on the couch and wake up with a stiff neck and all the lights still on.

If I manage to keep blogging into December, then you can look for the post I think was going to be so profound. I'll mix it in with some kitty news and food pictures, so you can find it easily. ha.

happy last day of November...as we slide headlong into winter, may your holiday season (whichever holiday you may celebrate) be bright. Especially since it's so dark outside.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Vision--a sermon for Advent 1, on Habakkuk

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Vision
Habakkuk 1.1-4, 2.2-4, 3.17-19
30 November 2014, NL1-13
Advent 1

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.



How long, O Lord?

Sometimes I have said it as a joke—waiting for the end of winter even though it’s only November, watching the cookies that never seem to turn golden brown, listening to the cat sneezing and coughing in the middle of the night.

How long, O Lord?

The psalmist says “how long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?”

But the prophet wants to know “how long, O Lord, will I cry for help and you will not listen?”

It hurts—to feel forgotten, to feel ignored.

It hurts—to walk through life wondering if anything really matters.

Sometimes I have prayed “how long, O Lord?” in deadly seriousness—as people I loved suffered from cancer, as the shadow of death lengthened, as violence seemed unending. How long, O Lord? Will grief go on forever? Will your people ever find peace?

The prophet has watched the destruction of the northern kingdom, and he sees the armies coming for Jerusalem. He sees that if God doesn’t do something, then God’s people are going to be carried away, God’s temple reduced to rubble, and God’s promises left unfulfilled.

And so he prays: How long, O Lord? Everything is coming out wrong. The systems that are supposed to protect people are hurting them, the ways of justice are creating injustice, and nothing seems to be turning out right.

Sometimes, scripture hits a little too close to home, doesn’t it?

We too live in a world that seems wrong. Systems that are supposed to protect are hurting, and justice has been lost in the shuffle. The idea of God’s kingdom where every single life is equally valuable seems more like a pipe dream than a promise. Instead of abundant life, we have people afraid to leave their homes. Instead of justice, we have pre-judging and stereotyping on every side. Instead of peace, we have fear and anger.

How long, O Lord? Why do we see so much violence, so much wrongdoing? Why do some of us matter more than others? When will your kingdom come? Why won’t you come and save us?

The answer Habakkuk gets, and the answer we get, has nothing to do with plucking us out of this world and making us comfortable in heaven. We don’t get a promise of ease and wealth, a promise of effortless and meaningless peace. Instead God gives instructions—we are going to have to be partners in creating a new reality. We cannot sit by while our children are killed in the streets, while all officers are painted with the same brush, while dark skin equals dangerous and power is separated from responsibility. As we cry out How Long O Lord, God cries back—how long, my people? How long, O Body of Christ? How long will you insist on your ways, close your eyes to my vision, close your ears to my call? How long will you put up with children dying? How long will you explain away inequity? How long will you determine someone’s worth by their gender, their religion, their skin color, their sexual orientation, their wealth, their accent, their address? How long will you turn my words to your advantage? How long will you seek first for your self, rather than first the kingdom of God?

This is the call from God, issued in answer to the prophet and to us:

Write the vision. Make it plain, like a billboard, so even in passing it can be seen. If the vision seems far off and unattainable, keep working while you wait. The kingdom will come, and your work will be part of it.

If we are going to display God’s vision so that all can see, then first we need to be clear about what God’s vision is. So what is it? What is God’s vision for the kingdom that comes here on earth as it is in heaven?



(conversation in the pews)



This vision, you’ll notice, is not primarily about what we think. It’s about what we do. Faith is not an answer, it is an action—and our faithful action is like a billboard flashing God’s vision for the world. How we live matters. What we say matters. What we eat matters. How we respond to the news matters. How we treat our neighbors, whether they live next door or hundreds of miles away, matters. If we are not displaying the vision, who is?

Or more to the point—if we are not displaying God’s vision, then what vision are we displaying? Because our lives are our message. What story are we telling—a story of God’s love, a story of a creation God called good and people made in God’s image, a story of grace and hope and peace, a story of justice that seeks the greater good? Do we tell a story of being found and fed, and then paying forward that grace? Or some other story that we have created to serve our own interests instead?

This is not an easy calling. The prophet knows that to live by God’s vision will be hard work, and it will be unpopular. And yet he rejoices, even in the midst of the difficulty, because he knows that when we pursue God’s vision, we are not alone and we do not do it under our own power. When we fill our eyes with what God sees, then our clumsy feet become like the feet of deer—sure and light at the same time, able to find a foothold even in uncertain terrain, even on the sides of mountains and across pock-marked valleys. We can cross any obstacle as long as we keep our eyes fixed on God’s way. Write the vision, make it plain, so everyone can see it, and rejoice in God’s faithfulness.

May be it be so. Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2014

all the things

I have officially eaten all the things, both at my own house (deviled eggs, tofurkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, crescent rolls) and at a friend's house (cheesy potatoes, cheesy green bean casserole, veggie stuffing, cheesecake brûlée). I have also played games, petted both cats and dogs, laughed uproariously, and had serious conversations about politics, race, the meaning of justice, scripture, and the history of cuckoo clocks.

I have struggled with what to say about the justice situation in this country. I am distressed by how easily we dismiss the suffering of others. I am angry about how little we value life in all its fullness. I am saddened by the divide that seems more cavernous than ever. Part of me hesitates to write what I think, because I recognize that I have the privilege of not engaging. And another part of me wants desperately to cry out alongside my fellow human beings, insisting that our voices be heard. I am not certain of the best way to say what, honestly, so many people are saying without anyone paying attention. I am not certain of how to use my privilege in this conversation and movement.

But here is what I know:
We are created in the image of God. Not just some of us, all of us. To throw even one life away is a tragedy. To put that dead life on trial without the benefit of openness, defense, cross-examination, or discussion of what evidence might mean is a perversion of humanity, as well as a gross misuse of our American justice system. To stereotype everyone in a profession, or a neighborhood, or a skin color because of one person is short-sighted and ridiculous.

Every act of violence hurts more than just the person who is injured or killed. Not only is life lost, but  the soul of the perpetrator is also damaged. A family is torn apart. A community grieves.

Every time.

Every Michael Brown, every Darren Wilson--one lost his life, the other his humanity. And we who look on with indifference: we lose our humanity too.

How long will we put up with this? How long will we stand by as people are killed for the slightest things? (no matter what you think of Michael Brown, tell me how you justify the 12 year old boy with a toy gun being shot on sight. tell me how you justify the kid on the playground. tell me how you justify the kid in the stairs of his apartment building. tell me how you justify the guy being choked to death on the street. and the hundreds of others happening every day.)

How long will we allow death to take hold, both physically and spiritually? How long will we avert our eyes from grieving mothers, traumatized siblings, friends and classmates who see no other way out than to fight back?

We who have the privilege of ignoring the situation have created the situation. When will we be part of the solution rather than perpetuating the problem? When will we stop insisting that life is a zero sum game, and instead learn that we're in it together--and that when one part of the body suffers, all suffer together with it?

Today, as I am stuffed with potatoes, I am also hungry--with those who are starving and with those who hunger for justice. Today, as I snuggle into my warm bed, I am also cold and alone--with those who are on the streets, forgotten and overlooked. Today, as I laugh with friends, I am also grieving--with those who see no light shining in the darkness. I hope you are too.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

oops...missed a day!

Yesterday I wasn't quite ready to write a sermon, so I spent the day reading novels.

Yes, novelS, plural. I read two whole books yesterday. Both historical fiction about women...one more a romance novel and the other a well researched imaginative retelling about Napoleon's American sister-in-law whom he refused to recognize.

I also took a nap.

Between these three things, I didn't go to bed until about 1am...and because I was busy reading, I forgot to blog!

So November will go down as ALMOST NaBloPoMo. Hopefully I can manage to get something up the next few days, and there will be just the one lost day.

I have to say--if I'm going to miss a day, I'm glad to have missed it for a day spent in my pajamas, petting cats and reading novels. I am grateful for the leisure to take a whole day without any productivity, for a home that holds heat well, for blankets and more clothes than I need, for cats who snuggle and purr, for plenty of food.

Today: a sermon. I swear. And also Tofurkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, garlic butter crescent rolls... (and who knows, maybe some kind of actual vegetable will happen too.)

There may also be deviled eggs. Because yum.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Getting Ready

it's almost Advent--the season of getting ready.

but before that, there's other stuff to get ready for.

Namely: MASHED POTATO DAY!

I am in possession of potatoes. and butter. and milk.

I also have french cut green beans, campbell's cream of mushroom, and french's french fried onions.

I have a library book.

I have blankets.

I have cookies.

I have cinnamon rolls.

I'm ready.

Good thing, because let me just tell you, everyone in Crystal Lake was at Jewel today at 5:30pm. The entire parking lot was full and every aisle of the store was packed. I can't even imagine what it'll be like tomorrow.

Sadly, Jewel was all out of sermons on Habakkuk.
(guess what I'll be doing while everyone else is last-minute shopping, making pies, and frantically cleaning their houses for family visits?)

Monday, November 24, 2014

How Long, O Lord?

I am not sure what to write on a night when our legal system has declared that a teenager's death doesn't warrant a trial.

I am not sure what to write on a night when my Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with friends who fear for their own safety, and their children's safety, every time they leave the house.

I am not sure what to write on a night when snow is falling and people are gathered to pray and to rage and to exercise their first amendment rights, only to be met by riot gear and water canons and tear gas.

I am not sure what to write on a night when good hardworking professional people see their work, identity, and calling being denigrated by those who use their power to hurt rather than protect, and by those who lump all people in uniform together without seeing the irony there.

I am not sure what to write on a night when I came home to this news, straight from a church book group where we talked about a character who says "we can't choose our hearts...we can't choose what we want and don't want...we can't escape who we are" and how that sounds and awful lot like Paul in Romans 7 saying "I can't do the good that I want to do; instead I do the evil that I don't want to do." But at least both Theo and Paul recognize that what they do is not good, and that they are captive to something greater than they are. (I especially don't want to write about this tonight because an argument about the theological concept of Free Will is beyond my emotional capabilities today.)

When I don't know what to say, I usually turn to quoting something else. In my mind today is the scripture for this Sunday, since I've had to get everything ready today (as opposed to some weeks when I don't finish until Thursday morning...or, you know, Saturday night). It sums up my wordlessness pretty well.

Not to mention that, honestly, occasionally there is a time to keep silence. In mourning, in vigil, in solidarity with those whose voices will never be heard, as an act of protest against a system that thinks it can mask its shortcomings with long speeches. I am silent as I let the voice of the prophets cry out across the centuries. Then tomorrow I will again take up the echo of their voices, whispering and shouting and praying for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Habakkuk 1.1-4
Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
How long, O Lord?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Singing Thanks

After a day practicing Sabbath (I napped, read 2.5 books, petted the kitties, listened to the rain, and enjoyed the silence), tonight was the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.

I've been involved in this service since the beginning, which we think may have been 7 years ago. Or possibly 6. In any case...we have had a variety of ways to give thanks as a community over the past several years. Some years we have relied heavily on spoken and chanted prayers from different traditions--responsive readings, especially. A couple of years we had storytellers who brought out different themes of gratitude. Last year we asked each faith community to give us a synopsis of the foundations/keystones of their tradition, and celebrated the things that make us who we are--and then we asked each individual to think of what they personally have to offer, and we put together the puzzle of our community, literally.

This year, we called the program "Melodies of Gratitude" and we spent the evening hearing music from a variety of musicians who are part of different traditions. Some of the music was explicitly religious (a Muslim poem of thanks), others were written by members of the various communities. Some were instrumental and meditative, evoking thoughts of our blessings without ever uttering a word, others involved the whole congregation in singing along. While it went longer than we anticipated, it was wonderful to hear from so many beautiful voices and instruments, to let gratitude echo through the amazing space and settle into our souls through melody, harmony, rhythm, and wonder.

I'm so lucky to be a part of Faithbridge. I hope everyone has something like it, because this is the kind of thing that changes the world for the better: when we get together and hear each other's songs and stories, share snacks, visit each other's houses of worship, and know our neighbors' names and places. Amazing, and worth all the gratitude we can muster!

here are some snippets of communal singing with the performers--beautiful in the wonderful Blue Lotus space, as you can hear.


video

video

video
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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sabbath

If you unexpectedly had three free hours on a weekend morning, what would you do?

I suspect lots of us would fill them with things we haven't had time for--chores, errands, etc.

But what about filling them with the things we can't afford to not have time for--rest, renewal, and reminding ourselves that the world does not revolve around us nor depend on us.

That's what we're doing at church this weekend. We had a potluck dinner tonight (with more amazing food than we knew what to do with), which led right into a time of worship with communion. Tomorrow morning, the church building will be dark while the church (us) allows the Spirit to do her thing, recreating us, filling us up, and giving us the chance to let go of our illusion of control.

In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is a time for no work--which includes writing and drawing, because God the creator rested, so we too rest from creating.

It's a hard thing, to just BE rather than DOING all the time.
I don't know if I can completely let go for the morning, but I look forward to seeing what God will get up to when we leave space for that work, rather than filling it with what we "should" do.

I couldn't even get all the food in one photo. three  tables of mains, plus a table of desserts!

listening to jazz while waiting for mommy to bring dinner


Friday, November 21, 2014

cooking and baking

Tomorrow night we're having a potluck at church. It's going to be amazing.

Whenever there is a potluck, I almost always bring two things. Mostly because I'm a vegetarian, and I generally assume that there won't be much veggie-friendly at a potluck...and also because I like to show people that vegetarian food is delicious.

For this potluck, I'm bringing two soups. Because: winter. First will be my aunt's recipe, a vegan potato corn chowder. The other will be a crockpot version of the chili that Amy and I created in seminary (the original recipe includes the words "If Teri is coming over in 30 minutes, cook on high and stir constantly, as if over the flames of hell.").

I'm also bringing an apple crisp with a pomegranate sauce, because I have a TON of apples and 2 pomegranates just waiting for me to do something delicious with them.

I'm also in charge of bringing some delicious pie crust snacks like my grandma used to make at holidays--pie crust, butter, cinnamon, sugar. So good.

Plus I had to make myself dinner today (butternut squash and sage pasta, side of brussels sprouts. mmmm.)

All this cooking has me mentally connecting to my mom and grandma. I think about how I used to beg my mom to double the topping for fruit crisp. I roll out the pie crust dough using her marble rolling pin and marble pastry board. I follow my grandma's instructions to spread the butter with my fingers and be liberal with the cinnamon. I make things up when it comes to "pomegranate sauce" because frankly recipes are overrated.

I love to cook. I used to love to cook with my mom, and now I cook with her tools and appliances, hearing her voice in my mind as I neglect to measure anything. It's not the same, but it's better than not at all.

(and also, everything so far is DELICIOUS. yes, I always taste before I serve to others!)

last sheet, in progress!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

happy birthday, grandpa!

Today was my grandpa's 80th birthday. Or it would have been, except that he died three years ago.

I don't even understand how it's been three years already, but that's what grandma said, so it must be true.

My grandpa was pretty awesome. Not a saint, but still awesome. He worked with his hands all his life--building things, growing things. He was kind, though quiet. Not an intellectual by any means, but hard working and honest and friendly. I loved him, and still do.

Bonus: he helped make my mom and my aunt amazing too. Played ball with them, taught them to be self-sufficient, gave them skills that are still useful today. He taught us all that we girls could just as well drive a tractor, use tools, and throw a baseball as anyone else could. And even with only one eye, he could see more truth in people and the world than many can.

Happy birthday, grandpa.

in honor of Albert Martin Scott, a selection of photos from 3rd grade to age 70...






the beloved dog, and the beloved car

seminary graduation...obviously my grandparents are on the right, parents on the left. ;-)


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

daydreaming of warm

With snow breaking down doors in upstate New York, and all 50 states seeing the below-freezing mark at the same time, and the ridiculous chill we've got going on here, I confess that my writing-muscles are frozen. I don't have anything much to say today besides this:

I wish I lived in San Diego.

Where I could see this every day if I wanted:



And where I could visit Mickey...

And generally not hibernate under the covers and the cats for a minimum of six months a year. I mean, I have the most comfortable bed, and the snuggliest cats, and the prettiest bedroom, but still. As much as I love this, I would rather it be 75 and sunny than -3 and gray.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

song in my head

Today's NaBloPoMo prompt from the RevGals is about your go-to-sing-in-the-shower song.

I confess that I rarely sing in the shower, except on Sundays when I use that time as a vocal warmup. But I do have a song in my head most of the time, and over the years I've learned to keep it there rather than humming constantly. (at least, I think I have...those who spend their days with me may think differently!)

There seems to be a rotating playlist for my brain. There are currently three songs that I have noticed in the rotation over the course of today. Well...really there are two constants and then one song that seems to swap out every now and then.

The two most common things my brain seems to sing are: the opening of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto:
 
(this recording is of Robert Marcellus...his interpretive choices are currently out of fashion, but his playing is smooth like buttery velvet or something...I love to listen to him!)

 and the hymn tune Judas Maccabeus ("Thine Is The Glory").


This reality pretty well sums up the entire trajectory of my life...memorizing clarinet repertoire (I'm pretty sure I could still play that concerto in my sleep) and working with hymns.

The third song at the moment is "Defying Gravity" from the musical Wicked.
I'm not 100% sure why that's running the loop, but it is. Could be because it came up on the Sunday morning drive playlist this week, could be because it's the ringtone of one of my favorite people who happened to call me today, or who knows what. Maybe it's that line "dreams the way we planned them, if we work in tandem..." which is, basically, my hope for the church (and I hope the Church doesn't decide to stay behind while the world flies away on a broom!).

Interestingly, my favorite hymn tune ever is St. Columba. I often sing it in the shower on Sunday mornings as a warm-up. But the rest of the time...my brain sings and my mouth stays closed under the cascade of scalding water.








Aside: this past week I've been doing a lot of laundry, so this little ditty is also in my head pretty frequently, mostly in hope of hearing it very soon...

Monday, November 17, 2014

the cats blog

Last night I fell asleep on the couch, computer in lap, blogger open, ready to write for NaBloPoMo Day 17.

When I woke up around midnight, there was a cat on my feet and another on my lap.

Yes...on my lap, where the computer also was.

Apparently Ollie had some things to say, so she is the guest blogger for this post that I'm going to backdate to yesterday, because she wrote it last night while I was sleeping.

;.bp,kcfiojmxdfbgya, vb9sz6yA#EqW2QWOLDFGKM           YVMFJKTYXFOLDZBTSXJIMa;axdmjshusekmf,lfgkdsfhaegtsernijrdkldfsl.;dskosfjmi?][iop\6789-30[485y2p9374tkjabdf/.d,mfp'sih
pl-]0uERqw\
[o[opurw;ghlodfjasyhbmny6zxe3,.8ixcw3finudfhfhhnhnufhufhufhudfhfhufhufhufhudfhhudfhufhdfhu



signed:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

well-trained

There have only been a few years of my life when I did not live with a cat (or two). In college I had roommates, not cats. In seminary I was cat-less for one year, had an illicit cat in the dorm for one year, and then lived off-campus the third year (with the cat). Said cat had to go live with my parents while I went to Egypt, so I technically didn't *live* with a cat that year--though there were tons of cats that lived in the school grounds, and they were perfectly happy to be petted and played with every evening.

So...I've been a cat-mom for a long time. Currently I have two cats (the maximum allowed by my condo association). One, Ollie, is the cat who lived with me in the dorm all those years ago. The other, Andrew, was adopted when I moved to Crystal Lake, because Ollie seemed lonely. These two cats have been with me in this same house for eight years now.

When I sit down on the couch, I am supposed to tuck my feet up to the right, so Andrew can come lay on them and purr the day away. Bonus: keeps my feet warm. Slight downside: if I need to move my legs, too bad.

When I turn on the kitchen sink, or when I put on shoes and coat and start looking like I'm going to leave the house, the cats come running because they know that they usually get treats at those times.

We have trained each other well. (except where counters/tables/food are concerned--both are in love with being on the counters and table and trying to steal food right off my plate.)

This morning, I turned on the water in the bathroom sink after I got out of the shower, because Ollie is always on the counter waiting for me to give her a drink.

Except she wasn't sitting there. I turned on the water out of habit...while she was still snuggled up in the bed.

Well-trained indeed.

kitten Ollie plays in the sink
she's been practicing her stealth food-stealing moves for years
the treat spot



laying on my feet



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Great King v. The Lord--a sermon for November 16 (NL1-11)

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Great King v. The Lord 
Isaiah 36.1-3, 13-20, 37.1-7, 2.1-4
16 November 2014, NL1-11
Harvest 2-5

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. The king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. He stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. And there came out to him Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder.

Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah, ‘Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! Thus says the king: “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. Do not let Hezekiah make you rely on the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: “Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat from your own vine and your own fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. Do not let Hezekiah mislead you by saying, The Lord will save us. Has any of the gods of the nations saved their land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these countries have saved their countries out of my hand, that the Lord should save Jerusalem out of my hand?” ’ 

When King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They said to him, ‘Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God heard the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’ 

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, ‘Say to your master, “Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.” ’ 

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 
 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house 
shall be established as the highest of the mountains, 
and shall be raised above the hills all the nations shall stream to it. 
 Many peoples shall come and say, 
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, 
to the house of the God of Jacob; 
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. 
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, 
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 
 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, 
and their spears into pruning-hooks; 
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. 

~~~~~~

Okay, be honest: hands up if you know what just happened in this story.

 Here are the basics: It’s the year 701 BC. For the past 20 years, the Assyrians have been taking over. They have won every battle, taken every city, and removed the people. The northern kingdom of Israel, made up of what we now sometimes call the “ten lost tribes of Israel,” is no more. Everyone in Jerusalem knows what has happened to their neighboring towns, and now the Assyrian army has them surrounded.

 So the people of Jerusalem wake up to find themselves under siege, and they hear the recitation of the past 20 years, and an invitation to just give up now and make things easy for themselves. The general’s voice echoes off the stones of the city, bouncing around the corners of their minds, settling into their hearts: do not believe what your king tells you…look what my king has done. Do not believe what your god tells you…look at what my king has done. The great king will have his way, no matter what nice little stories you tell yourself. Come on now, we’ll be nice, you can be free of this siege and have your own fig trees and everything if you just surrender now!

 These voices are so seductive. They tell us all kinds of things—that we can be prosperous and successful, that safety and security are within our reach, that a few more dollars and happiness will be ours, that we can trust them. And these voices are much easier to hear than the voice of God, so they become much easier to believe as well. It begins to seem silly to listen for a God whose voice is so elusive, and ridiculous to do things that seem so counter to our self-interest and culture. Look out for number one, the voices say. Don’t be led astray by your so-called God who asks you to be your brother’s keeper. Do whatever it takes, the voices say. No one else who tried taking care of God’s creation is succeeding, why would you? Get as much as you can, the voices say. Look where sharing and believing you have enough has gotten you. Fight now, ask questions later, the voices say. Your God’s story of peace is an illusion not worth pursuing, it’ll just get you killed.

 They’re everywhere, these voices. They tug and pull and whisper and insinuate, worming their way into our subconscious until we believe them, until fear has taken root and we are willing to follow their call. The great king says this, so it must be true.

 But again: the voices only work if we buy into their story. And their story is NOT our story. King Hezekiah goes straight to a real prophet, to Isaiah of Jerusalem, to be reminded of God’s story, God’s promise, the future that God intends. And that future begins with this:

Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid.

 Not just “don’t feel afraid” but don’t BE afraid. Do not let your identity be consumed and changed into fearfulness. No matter what those other voices say, no matter what rumors swirl around, no matter what army camps against you: do not be afraid. Remember who you are: a child of God, not of the “great king of Assyria.” You are made in God’s image, chosen for God’s purpose, equipped for God’s work. Remember that your identity is wrapped up in who God is, and all the great kings of the earth cannot change that.

 It can be hard to remember, especially when there are so many competing stories. But our actions, as we know, are determined by which story we think we are in. If we see ourselves as part of God’s future, then that future will shape our present, often in ways that make no sense to those who see themselves as part of a different future.

 What does God’s future look like? Well, Isaiah shows us God’s promise:
*All nations will come together—not just some, not just the ones we like, not just the right ones, but all of them.
 *We will turn our weapons of war into tools that nurture life. All those implements of pain and death—tools we have relied on, whose voices we have trusted—will turn their purpose toward nourishing the earth and its people. Rather than killing each other, we will be feeding each other.
*We will no longer learn the ways of war—the fear, the horror, the pain, the death, the anxiety. Instead we will teach one another ways of life and peace, of justice and mercy and kindness and humility, of serving one another and acting as if we are made in God’s image.

If this is the future God has promised, the story God is writing, then what does that mean for now? 

For starters, we could try acting as if these things were true, as if God’s promise is more trustworthy than others. We could try doing these things and bringing the future into the present…even as we are ridiculed for believing a different way is possible. We could try spending more time listening for God’s voice and less listening to our own.
 *If this story is true, and God is truly generous, then will we become more generous as we live toward God’s future?
*If God truly cares what happens to the creation, then will we take more care of what God has made?
*If God is building a kingdom where no one goes hungry or thirsty, will we work for a system that distributes food and clean water differently?
*If God is lifting up the lowly, sitting at table with the outcast, speaking to the stranger, and putting together a community that is truthful and real and loving and challenging, will we?
*If God is turning weapons away from the earth, using them to make something beautiful and something useful, will we turn our weapons—whether guns or words, bombs or policies—away from each other and use them to make peace?
*If everything is a gift from God, will we open our hands to share rather than insisting we earned it and it belongs to us?

 For everyone sitting there thinking “those who turn their swords into plows will be killed by those who don’t”…remember that Jesus said those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Would we rather give in to a hopeless future like the one promised by the Assyrians—where we can supposedly enjoy our own fig trees until they take us away to their land, or try out God’s way even if it seems dangerous or impossible or unpopular? The way of faith has never been easy or obvious. It has never been profitable or politically successful. God’s call often rubs us the wrong way and seems silly in light of our apparent reality. And yet it is our story.
Will we allow God’s promised future to shape our present, even in unexpected ways?

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Things

(yes, I'm backdating this because I didn't get home until after 1am! crazy nightlife of a pastor...)

Things of Friday:

reading
naps
snuggly cats
oil change
pet store impulse buy (on clearance!)
eating leftovers
chocolate and wine with friends
talking until late late late into the night
waiting for the bed to pre-heat so I can get in it without shivering (still haven't turned on the furnace)
looking up where exactly tomorrow's Presbytery meeting is so I don't wake up a minute too soon

That pretty much sums up my day off this week. Hope yours was also restful and fun.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

junk mail...not always junk?

I check my mailbox about once a week. Maybe twice. Or sometimes only once every two weeks. More than once, the mailman has stopped me as I have pulled out of my garage, to tell me the mailbox is full. Also more than once, I've checked the box only to find a note that they've taken my mail to the post office, and I'll have to go pick it up, with a side of stern-lecture-about-vacation-holds. (Except, of course, I wasn't on vacation...I just didn't get around to the mail.)

Once I get the mail, I take the whole bundle straight to the recycling bin, and I sort it there, before it ever gets into the house. Probably about 90% of my mail goes into the bin unopened. The other 10% is actually important or interesting or personal.

A couple of days ago, I was dropping things in the bin as usual (of course on the day after the recycling was picked up, so the massive bin was empty), when I realized that I'd dropped in the What On Earth catalog.

Now, I rarely buy things from these catalogs. But occasionally I've given in to a whim from this one, or from my favorite bizarre catalog of stuff I don't need.

And I really like to look at the pictures of stuff in these two catalogs. I find it a fun way to relax on what I call "pastor Friday" (aka Thursday) night. No brain required, just curl up under the blankets and flip the pages of hilarity.

So I went, headfirst, into the recycling bin to retrieve the catalog. This sounds simple, but seriously, the bin is over half my height. So it's no easy feat to reach to the bottom.

Tonight, I reap the rewards for that labor. Blankets, cats, me, the catalog. Page 1 has the martini/wine glass. I actually looked at this as if it might be a good idea. It's a reversible glass...one side is a wine glass, and if you flip it over, it's a martini glass. Very clever.

Turn the page, and in the center of the spread is someone wearing this shirt:

and I confess that I may have briefly broken the 10th commandment.

I wonder: if I were to wear this shirt on Thursdays, would the sermons be finished earlier than they are now? It comes in a t-shirt and a hoodie, so appropriate for both seasons we have here in Northern Illinois.... ;-)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

appliances

Today's RevGal NaBloPoMo prompt is about an appliance I can't live without.

I've been pondering all day...an appliance I couldn't live without? I've lived without a dishwasher (though I wouldn't *want* to, I can). I've been sans microwave (again, not ideal, but doable). I have lived in places without washer and dryer. I hardly use my TV. My oven's primary use is frozen pizza. Even thinking of things like my computer, my heated mattress pad, or my water cooler as "appliances" I still think I COULD live without them. I don't want to, of course. The water at my house is so disgusting, and it's cold here in winter so I like to preheat my bed, and I obviously spend a significant amount of time on the computer.

But really, it would be possible for me to live without these things. I have lived without these things. Most of the non-USA places I've lived have been experiences of not-having, all of which turned out to be incredible experiences of having...just different things.

So no washer or dryer on Iona, but that didn't deter me from dancing my heart out at the weekly ceilidh, or skinny dipping among the bioluminescence at midnight, or singing in an ancient chapel, or tasting all the whiskeys in the pub, or making incredible friends.

No microwave or dishwasher in Egypt, but I still managed to learn to cook amazing things, talk about food in a new language, and "have people over for dinner" in my flat all the time. We still managed to bake and build a gingerbread house, cook Thanksgiving dinner for many, and create all kinds of random new foods (hello zucchini stuffed tomatoes, I'm looking at you).

No electricity to speak of in our hut at the seminary in Jamaica. Didn't stop us from making jokes about the stretchy toilet paper, or learning how to eat sugar cane or make coconut candy.

Basically no appliances at all in my dorm room in seminary. It was just a living room, bedroom, and bathroom. I seem to have survived without ironing anything or watching TV (well, okay, I clearly had friends with TV), and I hardly even put my stereo to much use.

So I guess the moral of this story is that I *could* live without lots of things I take for granted and enjoy in my home. I am grateful to have so many things--a gas stove (even if only 3 burners work), an oven, a fridge, a microwave, a toaster oven, a panini press, a vitamin, a kitchen aid, a waffle maker, a washer and dryer, a tv and dvd player, a fan, lights, computer, water cooler, furnace/ac, water heater, etc. (I still don't have an iron.) I don't want to live without any of these things. They make my life easier and more comfortable, provide enjoyment and practicality, and contribute to my happiness in lots of ways. But the combination of experience and imagination suggests that there is no answer to "what one appliance could you not live without?"

Recognizing my abundance is part of gratitude, right? So I give thanks, over and over, every time I use these amazing things.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

the good old days

Remember when blogs used to be collections of the stuff that makes up life--mundane, thoughtful, hilarious, sad, whatever--of any length, often dashed off, even? Compared to now when all that stuff has moved to Facebook and Twitter, and blogs are now a real live publishing platform, where people actually make money writing real stuff.

I kind of miss those good old days. The days when I could pop out a few sentences that gave family and friends some insight into my day, while giving me an outlet for whatever random thing I was thinking. Then people would go visit each other's blogs and leave comments, and sometimes whole conversations would happen in the comments, and it was like a little community.

Facebook is kind of like that, I suppose, but it's also not. With a blog, there's the option of short or long, multiple photos or none, links, etc. With FB, not so much--it's really a short-form medium, (though some people do try to write long treatises...then they complain how no one ever comments on their status) and while conversations happen in the comments, it seems less thoughtful/community-oriented somehow.

So, 12 years ago I would have put this on my blog, but today I put it on Facebook:
"this morning I tried to put the cereal in the fridge, and to wash my face with conditioner. Therefore I sat down on the couch with the cats to try to regroup. Now I think I might be ready to try this day again."

The comments are friendly, funny, compassionate, and commiserating. I like the immediacy of the Facebook status. but I also miss the community of blogging. Plus there's something (I haven't quite put my finger on the right way to express this, but I'll try anyway) about the way Facebook delivers things we say...the algorithm means that some people see some things, and others don't, etc. But it also means we don't expend much effort in keeping up. Which can be good--news about friends is right there in front of me. Yet there's something about the almost mindless way we can click the like button or leave a pithy comment that isn't quite the same as the blogging days, when (especially before feed readers became big) we had to make an effort to visit someone's blog. I don't know quite how to say what I mean, but it just feels different.

The rest of my day, for the record, went a lot better. I did some things I've been putting off, and I got some good work done, and had a really good meeting (not something I say very often!). Yes, I ended up eating macaroni and cheese for dinner at 10pm, but at least I didn't find the milk on the cereal shelf...

Monday, November 10, 2014

things I should do

We're a third of the way through NaBloPoMo, and today is one of those days I'd be happy to skip. I don't have much to say today, and the prompts aren't calling out any creativity in me either (though the RevGal one was intriguing...while it was light outside. oops.). So today, a blog post about what I actually spend a fair amount of mental energy on:

stuff I should do, but usually don't. A non-exhaustive list:

the dishes
get up at the same time every day
exercise
eat something other than cookies for lunch
play with the cats (like with their feather toy, or other toys)
eat fruit
wash the towels
take out the trash
get the mail
clean my office
anything that looks like a traditional spiritual practice
write a sermon on thursday
shut off Facebook
vacuum
hang up my clothes rather than simply laying them over the closet bar
watch and return Netflix DVDs

That seems like a good enough list for today. The fact that many of these things are related to housework does not escape my notice. My kitchen is currently a disaster, with nearly all the pots, and all the bowls, and all the spoons being dirty at the same time. I'm not really sure what that means for breakfast tomorrow...it might just be coffee and cereal straight from the box.

The RGBP prompt for today was to take a photo out a window, and then write about something you notice in the photo that you didn't notice when just looking out the window. This reminded me of a practice I've been teaching in workshops lately: to notice five new things about the space you're in or the people you're with. In my house, this works beautifully because the fact that I rarely manage to do housework means there's lots of new stuff to notice: that cat fur that makes smily faces where the cat was laying on the carpet, the way the teabag tags lay against the edge of the mug, the precarious yet beautiful way the dishes stack up, the new location of the pen I like to keep handy (Andrew likes oblong objects, so he moves the pens/chapstick/etc to new places. it's useless to stop or resist this.)...

I'm pretty sure I just justified my not-doing-things by making it a part of a spiritual practice of noticing new things. I mean, if my house was clean all the time, and if I actually did all those things on the list, what would I notice? When would I have time to notice?

(something I DO manage to do: rationalize.)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

not repeating myself

Often when I am pondering what to say in this week's sermon, I go to check my files to see if I've preached a text before. Now that we're using the Narrative Lectionary, the chances are good that I have not. But sometimes a text comes up that is also in the Revised Common Lectionary, and sometimes it's one I've preached on before. I like to know what I said last time, to make sure I'm not just preaching the same thing over again. Unless it was brilliant, in which case I want to make sure I preach it exactly the same over again. ;-)

This week I had Micah 5-6, including that famous part "what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." I couldn't remember preaching it before, but I checked the files just in case.

There is one sermon labeled "Micah 6" in my file. It is from the first Sunday in February, 2011.

It was the first Sunday I was preaching after the revolution began in Egypt.

The first line of the sermon says "I wasn't all that interested in writing a sermon this week, so I didn't."

Instead, it was a collection of stories and pictures of people I knew and loved in Egypt, people I was worried about, people I was praying for as I obsessively watched the al-Jazeera live coverage online.

I made a half-hearted attempt to tie things together with the scripture, but the reality is that most of my heart was elsewhere that week.

Needless to say, I didn't borrow from that sermon for today's.

But it did call up fresh mental images of those people. So many have emigrated or fled. My former students are in university in Europe, or pastoring in Australia and Canada. My fellow teachers who could afford it are here in the USA. Few who have choices have chosen to stay, and those without choice (aka without financial means) are just trying to get by without being too noticeable. The hope of the Arab Spring has turned to disappointment for many.

And there I think there is actually a connection to Micah. What does it mean for a people called to DO justice that we have ignored/enabled/profited from the suffering of others? What does it mean to love kindness even as Christians are leaving their ancient homes in droves, while we barely know they were there in the first place? What does it mean to walk humbly with God if we are not walking beside those who live in fear, or serious economic deprivation, or without access to clean water, enough food, or an education?

This photo went around a lot during the revolution. It still speaks to who we are called to be...but neither Egypt nor we have lived up to the promise of this picture. Maybe we can do better soon.

Christians protect Muslims at prayer in downtown Cairo, January 2011

Saturday, November 08, 2014

repeating myself

I'm sure I've blogged about this before, but it bears repeating again and again and again and again:

PLEASE, for the love of God and all that is holy, can we stop using second person pronouns to talk about our own experiences?

Latest offender was an article I shouldn't even have been clicking on during a Saturday night sermon-tweaking session anyway. (because, well, I shouldn't have been on the interwebz to begin with, but also because of the content.) It was titled something like "what I learned the year my mom died" or some such. It was a young woman reflecting on her experience at the one-year anniversary mark.

There was nothing wrong with her content. Except that she presented it in points worded basically like this: "I learned that you _____."

no, honey, you didn't. YOU learned that YOU ____....you didn't learn anything about me.

Some of her points were similar to things I learned after my mom died. Others were things that didn't resonate with me much. Which made the use of second person pronouns all the more irritating.

Why can't we just talk about our own experiences, using "I" language, and let others extrapolate if they wish, rather than using this figure of speech that basically implies we should be having the same experience? It drives me crazy.

In the year or two since I've been noticing this more, I have learned that I'm likely the only one this bothers. And that people get really crabby if I correct them. And that *I* get really crabby if someone goes on and on about what "you" (meaning me) should/do/learned/see/know/whatever. It makes me almost tune out whatever their point is, it's so distracting.

Please: speak for yourself, and let me hear your story and determine how I might find myself in it (or not). Saying "I" isn't going to kill us, and it will make things a lot more clear.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Friday Five: guilty pleasures

Today's Friday Five prompt over at RevGalBlogPals is about our guilty pleasures....and I confess I have spent my day engaging in maybe all five of mine (or just about), almost to the point of nearly missing a day of NaBloPoMo!

1. pajama days. I love spending a whole day in my pajamas. Feels so lazy and luxurious and relaxed.
2. historical fiction--whether novel or television. I just watched about 8 episodes of Reign which is, to put it mildly, only barely historical, but so fun.
3. comfort foods. During the course of the week I ate mashed potatoes and green bean casserole almost every day. Today it was black-beans-and-olives (a recipe of my mom's), with flaky pillsbury biscuits...and a root beer float.
4. naps. I love naps. I took two today. (yay days off!)
5. games. I love board games, but those are in no way a guilty pleasure. (plus I live alone so don't get to play many board games.) But I confess to a slight addiction to a couple of internet games--particularly Words With Friends and Pearl's Peril. I can't help myself.

You?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

6

It's only the 6th of November...the 6th day of National Blog Posting Month...and I already thought "oh dear, it's 11pm and I need to write something for my blog...I wonder if anyone would notice if it was more like an almost every day thing?"

So, in honor of the 6th day...6 things.

1. The day I happened to just pop some goat cheese into pasta sauce was one of the best fast-dinner-fancying things I've ever done. (And I did it again tonight.) Turns all creamy-deliciousness.

2. We are doing some really cool stuff at church, organizing around liturgical seasons and planning around scripture readings. This Sunday people can sign up for a 2015 season...and tonight, setting up the sign-up tables, I got to make things pretty with fabric and decorations, and it was great--and not only because the Pentecost fabric turned me all glittery.

3. It's almost time for the Faithbridge Interfaith Thanksgiving service, which this year is all music. I can't wait to hear what all these local musicians do with the theme of gratitude.

4. I am beginning to be cautiously hopeful that Ollie has stopped peeing on the carpet. Though I'm a little concerned that she may have just found a new spot for it, so I'm still going around sniffing the carpet every morning.

5. The scarves I bought last year in Paris are already staples of my winter wardrobe. Except it's only November. Yesterday, the pink and gray silk. Today, the purple and green paisley cotton. love.

6. I haven't turned the heat on yet. And right now, in a sweatshirt and pajama pants, under a blanket and a laptop, I'm actually kind of hot. If this keeps up, I might just make it to Thanksgiving. If that happens, I wonder if I'll be stubborn enough to hold out for Christmas? (spoiler: probably not.)

There you have it...six for the sixth. Aren't you glad I did this today and not on the TWENTY-sixth? haha.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Advent Candles 2014

(NOTE: We have the new Presbyterian Hymnal Glory to God...adjust the hymn number as you need!)


Advent Candle Liturgy 2014
(Narrative Lectionary Year 1: Habakkuk 1-2-3, Esther, Isaiah 42, Matthew 1)

One:    In the darkness a light shines
though shadows lengthen, the flame burns bright.
All:     Day by day God draws nearer;
day by day we prepare.

Hymn 350: Keep Your Lamps, verse 1
~the candle is lit~

One:    In the depths of creation, God planted a vision
breathed it into life,
wrote it on our hearts.

add in week 2 (ideally a second single voice)
In every time and every place,
in this time and this place,
we are called to witness to real power, real authority:
Love made flesh.

then add on for week 3 (with 3rd voice):
God declares a new thing,
heavens and earth sing glory.
The promise is true,
and we are its messengers.

                                    then add on for week 4 (4th voice):
Do not be afraid:
God is with us!

All:     The Spirit calls us still to share the good news: 
light shines, and darkness will never overcome it!


(it's possible that we will begin each week with no candles lit, and light another between each voice...)
.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

teenage democracy

We in the USA are fond of pointing out to anyone that will listen (and many who won't) that we are the greatest nation on earth, and in the history of nations. We are definitely the best.

We are so much the best that we are constantly trying to get other nations to set up governmental systems like ours.

(which, for the record, is based on the Presbyterian system of governance. Thanks, Presbyterians.)

And it works, sometimes. We love to look at those photos and videos of people going to vote for the first time, or at least to cast a meaningful vote for the first time. The purple-inked fingers, the big smiles, the excitement in the air when a new democracy is born through a peaceful and free election process.

We don't so much like to do it ourselves, of course.

We're like teenagers, who've outgrown the excitement of voting and participating in our political system. We're in the rebellious stage, where we look back on those things we used to do as children with a bit of nostalgia mixed in with a bit of contempt and a heap of cynicism.

Generally elections like the one still going on in Western states right now bring out a mere 40% of voters.

Fewer than half of us vote in elections that make the most difference to our everyday lives, to our cities and towns and schools and courts, to our basic civilization.

When it's a "big" election (meaning a President is on the ballot), we might get to 60%.

It's like we lost interest. We used to do this democracy thing, but we don't anymore.

Not unlike the first people who were able to read the Bible for themselves, and were all excited, and actually, you know, read it...we've stopped doing that too. People literally fought wars, shed blood, and died for us to hold that book in our hands in our own language, and we're kind of over it.

People also fought (and continue to fight), shed blood, and die for us to step into that voting booth (and for us to inform ourselves about what we'll see on the ballot through our many sources of media, both corporate and independent). But we're kind of over it. We've given in to the idea that there's only really one party anyway, and there's too much money in elections but we can't do anything about it, and negative attack ads that go on for 6 months before election day are somehow normal. And nothing changes, because more than half of us stay home.

But we stay home and spout these words about loving our country, and supporting our troops, and being patriotic, and praying for God to Bless America.

But if we don't vote, we don't love our country. We are the worst kind of unpatriotic. We do not support our troops. And we are not interested in the ways that God has proven to bless--through the actions of people who are compassionate and invested.

So don't just put your hand over your heart and sing the anthem, don't get all teary-eyed at Proud to be an American, and then stay home on election days. Don't wear a flag pin and pretend you love the country when you haven't bothered to read up on people and issues and then take the time to vote. And don't spout all that "greatest nation in the history of Earth" nonsense if you're not willing to participate in what makes this nation great: citizens who are engaged in their communities, paying attention to their politicians, and holding the government (of/by/for the people) to account for seeking the greater good. Prove how much you appreciate the good luck of being born here or the privilege of having become a citizen, and get your butt in the booth.

/rant




Monday, November 03, 2014

church book group

At my church we are doing this new thing where a team of people are in charge of the whole life of the church for a season (about 6-7 weeks): they study scripture, discern a theme, and plan events around those texts and theme.
Currently we are in the middle of the Harvest 2 season, with the theme "Unexpected." For adult education, we are having a Monday night book group that is reading and discussing a novel--seeking spiritual/faith lessons in a secular book. We chose The Goldfinch as the book, in part because it has so many unexpected things in the story, and in part because it's a popular book right now. The group meets at Panera, where we can eat and talk and generally have a good time.

And can I just say: it's basically the best thing ever. I loved the book, for one thing, so am happy to get to read it again. I love talking about the book with people, and digging into the relationships, the spaces, the interior lives of characters. Plus we get to talk about whether we've ever experienced freedom that turned out to be slavery, or if we have objects in our lives that connect us to people or experiences of our past, or if there are particular rituals that help us get more grounded when we feel unmoored. It's amazing to make these connections between a great book (which seems, on the surface, pretty dark and depressing) and our spiritual lives. So cool to practice reading through a theological lens, looking for where there's a glimpse of the Spirit or where it feels like a character is connected to a larger God-story (even though that's not explicit in the book). Super love it.

And the moral of this story is: everyone should read The Goldfinch because it's amazing, and be on the lookout for what spiritual lessons it has to teach you, because there are plenty! And then I want to talk about it with you, because the book is so amazing I can barely keep my mouth shut about it. :-)


Sunday, November 02, 2014

the heater challenge

Every year I challenge myself not to turn on the heat until at least Halloween. If I can make it, I try for Thanksgiving.
This year it got cold very early, but I soldiered on with blankets and sweatshirts. It warmed up again, which was lovely--we had a little taste of Indian Summer. Now it's chilly again, with nights of frost. It's November 2 and I haven't had the heat on yet, though I do have the heated mattress pad on the bed. I have debated turning on the furnace, but now it feels like some kind of test. Some people run marathons, I see how long I can go without the heat on.

Bonus of not having the heat running: the cats want to snuggle more. They aren't cold (as evidenced by the fact that they are both sprawled out on the living room floor right now), but they do seem a little more motivated to sit on my feet, curl up on my lap, and wiggle under the covers at night. It's like a little happiness in the midst of the reality that Winter Is Coming.

So, if anyone else out there is still doing the no-heater challenge (because you have a seriously warped sense of self, environment, money, and perfectionism, like I do), here are a few tips:

1. have pets that like to snuggle.
2. have lots of blankets at the ready.
3. keep slippers next to any hard-floored rooms. For instance, mine are at the entrance to the kitchen. Because the barefoot transition from carpet to kitchen floor is the fastest way to send me back to bed in the morning.
4. get someone to gift you a rice bag. (or, you know, make one yourself.)
5. heated mattress pad. It's the best thing about winter. Maybe the only good thing, actually.
6. You'll need a touch of stubborn insanity.
7. Make sure the heater works in your car. You'll need it for the drive to work. ;-)
8. Take up baking. Or at least cooking that requires you to stand near the hot stove. Bonus: deliciousness.
9. Snuggies look stupid but are amazing. You want one, trust me.
10. stock up on herbal/fruit teas, so you can stay warm at night without the caffeine burst. This is my current favorite.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go crawl into my pre-heated bed, and see how many more days until the furnace is absolutely necessary. :-)

Saturday, November 01, 2014

All Saints

Dear mom,

I usually write you letters on Halloween, the anniversary of your death. Sometimes I've written on your birthday, or my birthday (the last time we spoke), or Mothers Day. This year I thought maybe one extra day would make the letter feel different somehow.

I know you weren't into the church thing, but stick with me on this one. Today is All Saints Day--the day when we remember those who have gone on before us, and celebrate the ways they let the Light shine through their lives.

So rather than focusing on how much I miss you (spoiler: a lot), I thought maybe I'd try thinking about the ways you shone a light during your too-short life, and the ways your light still shines in me.

(also...I kind of thought I might cry less with a letter like this. It's not working, since I've only just started and already the screen got all blurry.)

You were smart and you loved learning. I'm so grateful that you passed that love on to me. I cannot seem to stop learning new things, and I know that's because I grew up with you always facilitating my ongoing education (even when I was annoyed by that).

You loved people, no matter who they were or where they'd been. You were fiercely loyal to your friends, and worked hard to make sure they knew they were appreciated.

You loved music, and gave me permission to dance in the kitchen or sing along with the radio. I'll never forget the way we timed out our Sunday clarinet-lesson drives and their accompanying CDs so that we would get to sing Come Sail Away as the last thing before we pulled up in front of the house.

You laughed, often and well. People say my laugh is distinctive...I suspect some of it is yours. You taught me to see humor and not be too serious all the time. (Though I have to say that I'm not *always* sad to no longer have to wear a crazy yellow hat when it's my turn to deal the cards.)

You lived life in the moment. Sure, you planned, and sure, you took pictures, but I never got the sense that everything was being documented or that you were always behind the camera. We talked together, played together, opened presents together, looked at tidepools together...you were there with us, not just snapping photos but missing the moment. I'm going to choose to believe that the reason I have no photographs of my ordination day is because I subconsciously took this lesson to heart.

You loved to cook, and experiment in the kitchen, and find new delicious things to eat. Me too, on all fronts. (though I may experiment more and use recipes less, judging from the sheer number of your cookbooks that sit unopened on my shelf.)

You believed in us, and pushed us to be the best people we could be--people who lived passionately and changed the world for the better. I hope to be like you one day.

Thanks, mom, for letting your light shine--and helping mine shine too. Church or no church, you're a saint for sure.
love,
me

our first ever selfie, before selfies were a thing (and before smartphones)--on the beach in Hilton Head, 2005
(no, we absolutely did NOT sneak out on the beach in the middle of the night surreptitiously looking for sea turtles laying eggs on the beach. Why would you even think that?)