Thursday, December 25, 2008

going to the warm

I'm headed to the airport for a trip to SoCal--see you on the sunny side!

Merry Christmas, all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

I keep forgetting to post about this book (much like I kept forgetting to return it to the library...).  But I did in fact read it a couple of weeks ago now:  Borg and Crossan's The First Christmas.  

It was pretty good--no stunning revelations, for me anyway, though.  I can't say it made me think of Christmas differently, but I can see how it would do that for some people.  Anyway, if you're looking for a slightly different way to view the story and its purpose, here's one.  I like their exposition of the birth narratives as parables or overtures--probably because it's similar to how I teach about the Christmas stories!  :-)

Now on to fluff for the holidays--lots of travel coming up, so I should be able to finish a couple more books before the end of the year!

Bad Joke--a sermon for Christmas Eve

Just a draft right now...still have all morning and half the afternoon to edit!

Rev. Teri Peterson
Bad Joke
Luke 2.1-20
December 24 2008, Christmas Eve

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


So a middle aged man, a pregnant teenager, and a donkey walk into a barn…
It sounds like the beginning of the world’s worst joke, but in fact it’s the beginning of the greatest story ever told.

This is a story many of us know well—a story of light and life and love and joy. The baby, surrounded by a chorus of angels and shepherds and sweet farm animals. The mother, wondering and pondering. The human father, silent and stoic.

It’s also a story that is, frankly, a little strange. I mean, this is an act of God we’re talking about here. God became a human being, joined us on earth, showed us what real power and real love and real service look like. God, who created the heavens and earth and all that are in them with just a word. God who parted the Red Sea. God who inspired the psalms and the glorious writings of the prophets. God—all powerful, glorious, wonderful, awe-inspiring. Wouldn’t you expect a big-budget Broadway musical for God’s entrance into human life? Even if that musical included being born a helpless infant, it seems like the guest list at least would be more carefully controlled. Philosophers, maybe, playwrights, musicians, definitely an emperor or king or at least a prince. They would arrive with majestic elephants and camels leading a caravan of exotic animals, money, and priceless art, singing and dancing in perfect time.

Instead we get something that begins like a bad joke—a peasant carpenter, his suspiciously pregnant fiancĂ©e, some smelly shepherds, a dirty barn, and a food trough for a crib. Not a dancing hippo in sight—instead we have cows and sheep and donkeys. No fancy clothes, no behind-the-scenes orchestra, no emperor or prince, not even a room in the inn. The angel chorus appears to the shepherds, but that’s as close as anything from Broadway gets to the stable.

Why would God, almighty, glorious, powerful, God, choose to enter the human scene in this way? Why not have fanfare and trumpets and dignitaries? Why peasants? Why peasants in an occupied country? Why peasants displaced from their ancestral home? Why shepherds for the welcoming committee? Why enter the world as the poorest of the poor—homeless, displaced, disgraced?

God often works in strange and mysterious ways, as many of us can attest. But I really think this is the strangest way God has worked—to solve the problem of distance, of our misunderstanding of power and love and covenant by joining our human condition at the lowest possible rung of the ladder. To change the world, to bring light and life and hope that cannot be overcome by even the darkest valley, by starting with the lives of ordinary people. This is so opposite the way we think, it’s hard to grasp. But this is at the heart of the Christmas story, at the center of the Incarnation—God became human not as a powerful leader, not as a military general, not as a wealthy landowner, but as a poor, innocent, helpless, vulnerable child. A child who needs love, and who gives love unconditionally. A child who changes everything—his parents’ life, his surroundings, his friends and disciples. A child who will grow up to bring hope to a distressed people. A child who will grow up to shatter the chains of death and darkness with light and life.

And that, friends, is what makes this night so holy. Not just the fact that a baby was born, though that is always a miracle and a holy event. Not just the fact that the baby was God’s word, God’s love, here on earth for us. But the fact that this baby who is God’s word and God’s love will grow up among ordinary people, will do and learn ordinary things, and yet will be the most extraordinary human being ever known. And he will change the world through love, through light, through hope, through grace, one ordinary person at a time. Unlike most of the gods prevalent at the turn of the millennium, God isn’t just for the rich, for the amazing, for the powerful. Instead we see on this night that God is with us, Immanuel. The angels say they have good news of great joy for all the people—not just the wealthy, but all the people, even shepherds, lowest of the low. This is God, turning the system on its head, surprising the whole world with grace and with the good news that power isn’t about might, isn’t about strength, isn’t about violence. Power, God-style, it turns out, is about love—love come down to earth to pour itself out for us, that we might love one another.

And so we celebrate on this holy night—we celebrate that God’s love came down to earth and lived among us, not in a palace or a castle, but in a stable, in a village, in borrowed homes, in a tomb. And that love is so strong, so real, that no darkness, no despair, no hate can overcome it. What began as a bad joke ends as a Broadway musical, full of light and life and joy. It is indeed the greatest story ever told—the story of a tiny baby born in a stable, who is in fact the Son of God, light that came into the darkness, saving grace of all the world.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Good Things--a sermon for Advent 4B

Rev. Teri Peterson
Good Things
Luke 1.26-38, 46-55
December 21 2008, Advent 4B

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name. 

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation. 

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly; 

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty. 

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy, 

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Hail, Mary, full of grace—the Lord is with you! These words of the angel to Mary have been passed down through the ages in the story and in prayer. We Presbyterians have a hard time with Mary—the last line of the Hail Mary prayer, the one that asks Mary to pray for us, was added to Luke’s words in the year 1555 and has colored our vision of Mary. We don’t believe she’s better than anyone else, we don’t believe she was special, we don’t believe she prays for us. Those things would, actually, obscure the thing God has done.

Hail, Mary, full of grace—the Lord is with you. Hello, unmarried teenage girl. Hello, poor peasant girl. Hello, piece of property nearly ready to be transferred to another family. Hello, lowest of the low in your society. You are full of grace. The Lord is with you.

Mary wasn’t special, she wasn’t the winner of the Mother-of-God sweepstakes, she wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. She was a peasant teenager in a backwater village in an occupied land. And yet the angel comes and says “Hail, Mary, full of grace—the Lord is with you.”

Mary, at this point, is confused. She’s wondering what on earth this angel is talking about—full of grace? The Lord is with you? Found favor with God? What could this mean? Why is he talking to her? What kind of nonsense is he saying about having a baby?

So she asks what seems a simple question—after all, poor teenage girls in backwater villages still know some basics of biology. But the answer is anything but simple, anything but obvious, anything but good sounding. The angel doesn’t say “well, when you and Joseph are married, then your first son will be the child I’m talking about.” The angel says, in essence, “the fact that you are an unmarried virgin teenager is irrelevant—nothing is impossible for God.”

It’s hard to imagine what Mary was thinking at this moment. Was she imagining what it might be like to finally be someone important? Was she imagining what Joseph’s reaction would be when she turned up pregnant? Was she imagining the consequences that might come if she were discovered alone with a strange man—angel or not—in her room? Or did she somehow know, deep inside, what this would mean for her, for Joseph, for her baby, for her people?

Mary’s response to the angel is the classic prayer of the ages: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” We always imagine that she said it with joy and wonder, with anticipation and love. We never imagine that she says it like this, “here I am, the servant of the Lord,” complete with an eye-roll. We never imagine that Mary thought of this as a burden to bear, something she was forced to do. Even when we talk about the culture of her time, about how Mary could very easily have been stoned to death for this conversation, let alone the results, we don’t get any sense of burden. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the angel says. God-bearer, the Church calls her. “Yes,” Mary says, and it is done.

And then she goes to her cousin Elizabeth’s house, and one of the first things she does is sing a song about God’s goodness. She treats this whole experience as a blessing, not a burden. She borrows parts of her song from Hannah, who was so overjoyed to finally have a long-wanted child that she couldn’t help but burst into song. Mary and Hannah couldn’t be more different, and yet Mary sings, with her ancestors and her whole people, a people longing for freedom, for promise fulfilled: “the Mighty One has done great things for me,” and “surely all generations will call me blessed” and “he has lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things.” Good things? Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, the angel said.

“God has filled the hungry with good things,” Mary sings. This is so lovely and wonderful and Christmasy, isn’t it? The next line, though, brings us up short: “God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” The whole song is like this—pulling down the mighty and lifting up the lowly, looking with favor on the lowest of the lowest servant—a peasant woman in an occupied land. This is no gentle Mary, meek and mild, sweet Christmas carol. This is a song about what God is doing through Mary, the ordinary peasant girl Mary—keeping God’s promises, doing a new thing, a thing that people who have earthly power are not going to like. There have been times when this passage of scripture was outlawed by governments because it was considered too subversive—times as recent as 20 years ago in some places in Latin America. People with earthly power do not like Mary’s song, it does not sound like good news, especially coming from a poor village girl. And yet Mary sings it, in spite of the outlawing, in spite of the danger she’s in when people find out her shocking news, in spite of the cultural norms that make her even more of an outcast than she was before she met the angel. And thousands of years later, recognizing Mary’s ability to see the blessing in this burden, still we read and pray these words: Hail, Mary, full of grace.

But remember, Mary isn’t special, she isn’t perfect, she isn’t Miss Nazareth 4BC, she isn’t different from us. And here’s where the message of Mary gets hard. Mary was asked to do a very tangible thing, to bear God, to birth God’s love into the world, to proclaim that God’s promises are fulfilled and that is good news to the poor, to sing that being full of grace is a blessing, not a burden. Aren’t we all asked to do the same? Ann Legg shared a Meister Eckhart quote with us at Team Night, and I think it asks this same question. 700 years ago, Eckhart asked, “What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to the Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?” I would push us to ask not only “what good is it to me” but “what good are we to the world if we do not give birth to the Son in our time and culture?”

Bearing God is not, as Mary found, easy. It involves saying yes, first of all. Did you notice that the angel did nothing until Mary gave her consent? And then it involves nurturing and loving, sharing and letting go, pain and sadness, difficulty and wonder, burden and blessing. Mary was, in the most literal sense, full of grace—full of the wondrous gift of undeserved love, given from God to us. How can we too be bearers of God in the world? How can we too stop thinking of obligation and the things we “should” do as Christians, and start thinking of our calling as a blessing? Perhaps when we hear the angel say, “Hail, people of God, full of grace—the Lord is with you.” The Lord is with us, and we are full of grace—may we bear that grace into the world as a blessing.
Thanks be to God.

Friday, December 19, 2008

for Sunday

I'm using this poem on Sunday, and thinking about it in relation to the Annunciation and Magnificat, the idea that Mary seems to think of being the God-bearer as a blessing rather than a burden, and possibly the subversive nature of what God is doing through her (and through all of us each day).  I thought I'd share the poem with you.  It came from the Iona Community publication Hay and Stardust and is by Anne Lawson.

Is this what you had in mind Mary?
Is this what you dreamed of,
idly planned and chattered of with the girls in Nazareth?
Did you dream that your first child would be
born out of wedlock
of an unknown father?
Born miles from home
in a place fit only for animals?
Is this the birth you dreamed of for your first child?

Did you dream your firstborn son would be
greeted by strangers?
Greeted by shepherds,
Outcasts of society?
Greeted by wise men
from strange far-off countries?
Greeted by the host of angels?
Is this the welcome you dreamed of for your son?

Did you dream of this life for your firstborn son?
A birth in a stable?
A desperate flight for safety?
A life as a refugee?
A peripatetic life?
A life in which other women cared for him?
A life with no wife, no family?
A life lived in the shadow of hostility?
A life ending in a criminal’s death?
A horrific death?
Is this the life you dreamed of for your son?

Did you dream of your own life?
A happy marriage?
A growing family?
Sons and daughters to care for you in your old age?
Did you dream of this for your own life?

And if you had known, in those days of idle teenage chatter,
as a girl in Nazareth,
what you know now,
would you have said “yes” to God’s angel so quickly?

Mary, did you say “Yes” to God’s angel so quickly?
Did you offer yourself to God so fast?
Was there no feeling of wanting to think?
No sense of anger, injustice even,
that God could take your body and life so easily?
Did you really understand all that was being said?
All that was being asked?
And would I have been so willing?
Would I have been so willing to offer myself to bear God’s Son?
To bear the shame and disgrace
of bearing a child of an unknown father outside of marriage?
Would I have watched my own son die?
Would I have lived with the wound of knowledge,
a sword which pierced my heart?
Would I have lived with the burden of unknowing?
I doubt it.

Thank you, Mary, that you did.
You heard and looked, observed and listened.
Lived with the pain of unknowing.
Lived with the shadow of the cross.

Not as a stained glass window saint,
not as some saccharine-coated statue,
but as a flesh-and-blood woman
who knew what it meant
to bear the burden of unknowing,
and was prepared to live the pain
of bearing God.

Monday, December 08, 2008

self-aware much?

So, I'm a 7 on the enneagram.  There are some gret things about being a seven.  but, as with any personality, there are downsides too.

When sevens are stressed, they tend to move to the negative traits of a 1 (the perfectionist type).  One of the typical traits of a 7 moving to the negative side of 1 during stress is to think in terms of black and white and to KNOW they have the truth/are right/whatever.  They also tend to feel a pervasive, low level of irritability during this kind of stress.

When I re-read this (my small group is currently exploring implications of our personality types for our spiritual lives and practices), I laughed out loud and then started thinking about my previous post and other positions of my liturgical high horse.  I think some of this is going on...and I know the root of the stress, which is not going to go away (and, worse, this is of course self-perpetuating because obsessing about ideas/projects/people/situations/etc is another of the characteristics sevens in this situation work against).  So the question is:  how can I be conscious enough to stop myself when I see these traits coming out...and how can I move myself more toward the positive parts of my 7 self?


(more info on the enneagram here)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

liturgical theology of time

That's what I think is at the root of the carols-vs.-no-carols during Advent argument.

I am one of those people who does NOT want to sing Christmas carols in worship during Advent.  You can sing them elsewhere, you can hear them on the radio and in stores and in the Christmas specials that are no doubt all over TV.  But not on Sunday morning in Advent.

I have likened it to premature births--generally not good (though in the last month it's slightly  more okay for the baby and also many moms are READY!!).  The argument there is "Jesus has already been born--we're waiting for something different now."  

I have likened it to singing happy birthday a month before your birthday--generally not done.  What happens to the anticipation if you sing early, get your presents early, etc?  

But really, I think this is about conceptions of time.  

I think of time as cyclical, as opposed to linear.  This is born out by our liturgical calendar, which brings us the same stories at nearly the same time every year.  But the story is never exactly the same--we never hear it or experience it or live it the same way one year to the next.  It's not a circle, it's more of a spiral.  The place looks familiar but isn't exactly identical.

Cyclical time, when it comes to Christmas, is important because Advent is when we prepare for the Incarnation.  No, we're not technically preparing the way Mary did 2012 years ago.  But every year we need the time to prepare for God's breaking-in again.  Yes, the Word is incarnated in us as the Body of Christ every day, not just once a year.  But this is the time when we intentionally take time out and think about that, prepare, anticipate, wait.  How can we do that if we're busy singing about how it's already happened?  Where's the anticipation, the pain of waiting, if we're all GLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORIA! all through advent?  

If time is linear, then fine--sing the Christmas carols through all of Advent, because what we're really waiting for is something off in the future, not something that happens repeatedly in us.  We're waiting for God to do something we can't see yet.  We're waiting for GOD to do something further on down the line.

But if we're preparing for the word to be part of us, for us to be part of the action of the Word, yet again, then hold those carols, sing in minor keys, plaintively chant "O Come, O Come" and "how shall we meet you?" and wait for it.  It seems like it would be worth it.  Because we're coming around again to this reminder that, in many ways, WE are now the ones we are waiting for.  WE are the body of Christ in the world.  WE are preparing OURSELVES to be the incarnation of God in the world.  And that's going to take some work, not some jumping ahead to the main event.  Every year it's going to take work.  Every day, even.  Maybe every minute for some of us (aka me...).  The fact that the baby Jesus has already been born is irrelevant, because that isn't just some event that happened several marks back on the timeline, it's something we pass by every year on the spiral, something we re-live because it matters.  Jumping to it early only allows us to forego the hard work in ourselves and our communities.  We might as well light all the candles on the wreath, since we're not willing to wait for the light or walk through darkness to get there.

In so many ways, I think this is a symptom of the culture and the church being afraid of darkness, silence, grief,'s about instant gratification and instant grief recovery and refusal to be in the quiet dark places because they're too scary and too hard.  But even though we can just turn on electric lights, even though we can fill our ears with carols and our homes with beautifully wrapped stuff, even though we can party and eat and shop, we can't rush the work of Incarnation.  It happens when it happens.  Here's hoping we don't miss it, or miss out on being part of it, while we're singing cheery carols in the dark days.

One final, snarky argument:  would you sing "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!" in Lent?  (okay, I'm done now...)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

a few days later...

sorry for not posting more the last couple of days.  I am still obsessing about the worker killed in a rush of consumer madness.  I just cannot believe that people were upset that they had to stop shopping and leave the store.  really?

It also makes me think:  if we can be so callous as to kill someone for a good deal, no wonder we don't care so much about children making our clothes and shoes and trinkets in sweatshops.  No wonder we don't lobby for a living wage for factory workers in the developing world.  

And no wonder manufacturing has moved overseas--where we can't see the poor working conditions but can reap the benefits in the form of cheap products...for which we are willing to sacrifice a life to get on sale.

I'm trying to get into the Advent spirit, but I just can't.  What are we waiting for?  

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I am so disturbed and disgusted by the story of the Black Friday Wal-Mart stampede...every time I hear or read more about it, I get more disgusted.  No one thought "gee, it looks like I'm walking on a human being, maybe I shouldn't do that?" or "I could help here..."?????  Everyone in that line thought "how can I be first to get the good deals on stuff I don't need?"???  Really?  People continued shopping after the man was taken away.  People were upset when the store closed.  People waited in line beginning at 9pm Thursday night...why?  Why wait in line at WALMART of all places?  And then why kill someone to get cheap trinkets?

Something is very, very wrong here.  I wish I knew how to fix it.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Had a good time at make-your-own-family thanksgiving.  brought butternut squash soup and green bean casserole.  Ate mashed potatoes (lots) with veggie gravy (yum), green bean casserole (yum), soup (yum), cranberries (surprisingly yum), stuffing (medium yum...better than others I've eaten but still not my favorite part of t-day), and gingerbread-pumpkin trifle (OMG, yum).  Drank wine.  Avoided carrots, beets, and turkey.  Then came home, watched Buffy.  As I go to sleep now, I leave you all with a highly excellent quote from the thanksgiving episode (pangs, season 4)...

WILLOW: Well, yeah, sort of. That's why she doesn't celebrate thanksgiving or columbus day-- You know, the destruction of the indigenous peoples. I know it sounds a little overwrought, but really, she's...She's right.
BUFFY: Yeah. I guess I never really thought about it that way. With mom at aunt Darlene's this year, I'm not getting a thanksgiving. Maybe it's just as well.
ANYA: Well, I think that's a shame. I love a ritual sacrifice.
BUFFY: It's not really a one of those.
ANYA: To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice, with pie.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

dots for the day before thanksgiving

  • There are too many LIT christmas lights up.  And too many blow-up Santas.  At least don't turn them on/blow them up until Friday, people!
  • There are no frozen french cut green beans to be had in all of Crystal Lake.  You would think grocery stores would stock extra for this, the biggest of all food holidays.
  • Porgy and Bess was a super fun opera to see--though, of course, painful on the women-are-property and the crippled=not fully human fronts.  But the singers were, for the most part, excellent, and the acting was better than most operas, and we had amazing seat: fifth row, center!  Thanks Nancy V.
  • I love the TBM melt from Cosi.
  • Northwestern is still a prohibitively large hospital.  And how come anyone can just walk right in to the ICU?  I've never been at a hospital with such low security on that.  The doors are open, come on in!  Bizarre.  Those people are SICK!  Every random person should not be able to just waltz in there with their germs.  I'm just sayin'.
  • I'm hungry and am going to eat dinner that I've been to the hospital and lunch and the opera and the train station and all the grocery stores in's time to eat and relax with the kitties on this cold evening!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

reading Challenge 2008

I've been slightly remiss in posting my books, and also slightly remiss in reading in general.  Not a lot of free time lately...but the latest fun book I read (before today) was The Boleyn Inheritance.  It was a fun Philippa Gregory...a princess book, quite literally.  Following the women who spent their lives chasing after, trying to hold, and fearing Henry VIII.  It was an intriguiging court tale, as all her books are!

Today I spent the day in my pjs (though I did work from home for a few minutes), and I read The Virgin's Lover, another Philippa Gregory princess book--this time about Elizabeth.  I think it's the novel that immediately precedes her latest, The Other Queen, which is about what happens to Mary Queen of Scots when Elizabeth's paranoia gets the better of her.  This book is about Elizabeth's first two years as queen, and in essence is about what happens to Robert Dudley (and his wife) some ways, a cautionary tale about unbridled ambition, in other ways a story about the lizard brain and what happens when it takes over.  (um, to use more technical language, when the sympathetic nervous system rules and the parasympathetic nervous system gets shoved aside.)  It was a fun fluff book for today!

Just in time for the high school retreat (which was, by the way, fabulous--we had a good time and we explored lots of different types of prayer, including waking up in the middle of the night to just hang out with God in a campfire, of course.  It's November, after all...) I finished Downtime: helping teenagers pray.  It was great, of course.  With the one small problem I have with nearly all Yaconelli youth ministry books:  I'm not always convinced that the teenagers he writes about (and about whom he writes with such authority, it makes me forget that in some ways he stereotypes an entire generation--which makes me crazy when people do it about young adults!) are the same as the teenagers I work with.  He insists that teens are dying inside for lack of downtime, for space to pray and be quiet and that they will just fall all over contemplative practices.  I think the first part of that is true, but I'm not convinced about the second yet.  Having said that, on this retreat we had more silence and more real conversation about prayer than we've ever had before.  So maybe it's just an atmosphere thing...if you take them out of their comfort zones, they'll become contemplatives?  hmm...maybe not.  We'll see, I guess!  Anyway, I really liked this book--more than some of the others, actually.  Probably because it had concrete practice suggestions, many of which I already do and really like.  True scholarship because it confirms my biases! (so sayeth one of my church members...usually in jest, I promise!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dear Grammar Police,

I confess that tonight, while preaching the sermon posted below, I came up to the sentence that mentions "from where we have come" and, in the moment, decided it sounded too stuffy.  That's right, I intentionally ended a sentence with "from" so that I would sound more approachable from the pulpit.  "We remember where we have come from," I said.  (sigh)  I plead guilty to dumbing down my grammar so people would like me better, and doing so in a public speaking position.  Dangling participles, here I come.  

So sorry.

I don't think anyone noticed (or if they did, they didn't mention it).  The sermon was a home run, by all accounts (especially since 2/3 of the people were from other faith communities and so don't hear me preach all the time!), so perhaps I can be forgiven just this once?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Not Just One Day-- A sermon for the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

Rev. Teri Peterson
Not Just One Day
Interfaith Thanksgiving Service
November 23, 2008

We have finally reached it—that time of year that everyone is supposed to love. The time of year marked by parties, by family time, by fun, by eating and eating and eating. Put another way, it’s a time of year marked by excess, stress, and consumerism. But that doesn’t sound quite as nice, does it? Most of us, I suspect, would just like to sit down to a Thanksgiving feast, maybe including mashed potatoes, green beans, yams, bread, squash, stuffing, Turkey, and dessert. We might gather around a table and each say one thing we’re thankful for. We might pray for those who spend the holiday alone, or on the street, or hungry. We might just dig in and eat and laugh and eat some more, until we collapse into a tryptophan coma. Then we’ll eat the leftovers as soup and sandwiches while we watch football and play games between naps and shopping trips, all the way through until January.

I have to admit that this stark description of Thanksgiving isn’t flattering. It reminds me that we seem to have given gratitude one day out of the year, and then turned it into something that is somehow about us. In my family growing up, we often had enough food at Thanksgiving to feed our family of four for at least a week, maybe more. But even with leftovers, we managed to devour the feast in a few days. Meanwhile, one of my neighbors was a single woman with two kids that I sometimes babysat for free. They were really struggling, and every year my brother and I packed up two paper grocery bags of all the Thanksgiving fixings for the three of them: a small turkey, a box of stuffing mix, some vegetables and rolls and canned pumpkin pie filling. One thing the kids always really looked forward to was olives. We always put in a can of whole black olives, and I could just imagine the kids each sticking the olives on the ends of their fingers and eating them off one by one. Olives were such a treat, they only got them at Thanksgiving, when my family included them in our grocery gift.
I don’t think of olives this way—olives are a normal thing to me. I like them on burritos at home, and quesadillas, and salads, and all kinds of things. I don’t even consider them to be expensive. But when times are hard, I suppose luxuries like olives can be hard to justify. Every year at Thanksgiving I think about that family and their olives.

I don’t think I’m alone in my experience of giving to “the needy” at the end of the year, especially around major holidays. I read recently that nearly 80% of Americans give to charity at this time of year, and many charities are wondering if the economic downturn is going to affect giving. Meanwhile, polls suggest that nearly ¾ of people who say they give to charity at the end of the year say they’re going to keep their giving constant this year in spite of the economy. I think many of us will be waiting to see if that’s true or not.

In the meantime, we have gathered here to pause and contemplate our blessings, even as some of us might be having a hard time making ends meet, some of us wonder if we’ll have a job next week, some of us plan to spend the feast day alone, missing family members and friends no longer with us. In a season of joy and exuberance and excess, we stop to remember from where we have come. We remember the many generations before us who have made our lives possible. We remember the One who has blessed us and guided us to this place. We give thanks to God, who is always good. To use a clichĂ©, we count our blessings and find that, even though the economy looks dim, there are still too many blessings to count.

It is important to give thanks. And not just once a year, on the fourth Thursday of November. Not just when we sit at a table laden down with a feast. Not just when the whole family is together. All the time. Every day. “Give thanks in all circumstances” we heard a little while ago. “Give thanks to the Lord for God is good.” “If there is anything excellent, think about these things.” Gratitude doesn’t require its own holiday—it’s meant to be a part of the fabric of our being, a natural response to all that has been given to us. Sometimes gratitude is really hard—it’s hard to give thanks in all circumstances. Really, all circumstances? Even in the midst of grief? Depression? Anxiety? Fear? But Paul, when writing his letter, didn’t qualify his statement. Just “give thanks in all circumstances.” I think that might be a clue that it isn’t supposed to be simple, but it’s also not as complex as we often make it out to be.

Gratitude isn’t really about a feeling or even a word—though a “thank you” can go a long way! I suspect this is true in many of our traditions, and I know it’s true in my scriptural and theological tradition: feelings, while important, are not the point. God is much more interested in how we choose to act, how we respond, how we love, than how we feel. I wonder, then, what gratitude looks like as an action rather than as a feeling?

I suspect it looks like sharing. Even though we may not feel we have much to share, there’s probably something. Like the stone soup story, where the villagers were each certain that food was scarce until the man with the soup stone showed up. He mentioned that he was hungry, but the people he spoke to said there was no food. He said he had a magic stone that would make soup for all of them, he just needed a pot and some water. These were soon produced, and he put the stone in. He tasted the soup and said an onion would make it a little tastier, and an onion appeared out of a cellar. He thought a carrot might really help the color, and a carrot appeared from a cupboard. He thought a potato or two would really make the texture much better, and a few potatoes made their way up from the ground. Soon the whole village had brought something and there was an amazing soup for all to share.

I think about 75% of the sermons I preach are, in the end, about community. I really believe that when we come together as a true community, a community able to share our lives—our joys, our needs, our hopes, our fears, our love and compassion as well as the dark sides of our personalities—that’s how the Divine becomes known to us. When times are hard, it’s even more important for us to come together, to build community, to care for one another, and to share the grace we have received, to encounter God together.

I was listening to Chicago Public Radio this past Monday, and I happened to catch an interfaith dialogue on one of the programs. One of the participants said a phrase that I found very compelling. He said, “Each of our faiths was designed not to serve the faithful, they were designed to empower the faithful to serve humanity.” (Rabbi Brad Hirschfeld, Worldview from Chicago Public Radio, Monday November 17 2008) That’s not to say that there’s nothing in any of our religious traditions that’s good or helpful for us, but rather that our traditions give us a wonderful gift by empowering us to share love and grace and blessings with the world. There’s a lot of need in the world, even here in our own communities. And there’s also enough to go around—if one will bring a carrot, another a potato, another an onion, another some herbs, soon we’ll have soup for everyone. Another of Paul’s letters says it well: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, that you may share abundantly in every good work. The sharing of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but overflows, with many thanksgivings.” (from 2 Cor. 9)

As we give thanks, both in this season and every season, this day and every day, let us remember that gratitude is not primarily a feeling, but an action—an action best known in community.

May it be so.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mix and Stir Friday Five

Songbird writes...
In a minor domestic crisis, my food processor, or more precisely the part you use for almost everything for which I use a food processor, picked the eve of the festive season of the year to give up the ghost. A crack in the lid expanded such that a batch of squash soup had to be liberated via that column shaped thing that sticks up on top.
Can you tell this is not my area of strength?

Next week, I'm hosting Thanksgiving. I need your help. Please answer the following kitchen-related questions:

1) Do you have a food processor? Can you recommend it? Which is to say, do you actually use it?
I have a mini food processor. I hardly ever use it--except to make pesto.  It's more work than it's worth to get it out, use it for small batches of things (particularly anno
ying if I'm making a large batch of something), and then clean it and put it away again.  I normally use my Pampered Chef Food Chopper for chopping (quick and easy!), and a submersible hand blender for pureeing.  I love love love love love these things!!

2) And if so, do you use the fancy things on it? (Mine came with a mini-blender (used a lot and long ago broken) and these scary disks you used to julienne things (used once).)
ha!  no.  Those disks freak me out, and thankfully mini food processors don't come with those. now, for the next one...

3) Do you use a standing mixer? Or one of the hand-held varieties?
I do have an commercial-size/strength Kitchen Aid mixer (white).  It was my mom's.  I love it and use it often!  It does have all kinds of fun attachments to use for shredding or milling or sieving or slicing or goodness only knows what else.  Making a ton of mashed potatoes?  Making cookies?  Making something that requires shredded zucchini or pounds and pounds of cheese?  This is your thing.  It's utterly fabulous, and pretty easy to clean, too.

4) How about a blender? Do you have one? Use it much?
Just a couple of weeks ago I was at church and wondering if I had a blender.  I do, and it's on the counter between the sink and the juicer.  I think that tells you how often I use the blender.

5) Finally, what old-fashioned, non-electric kitchen tool do you enjoy using the most?
ooh, toss up between my fabulous whisk and a potato masher.  There's something so fun about an old fashioned potato masher....

Bonus: Is there a kitchen appliance or utensil you ONLY use at Thanksgiving or some other holiday? If so, what is it?
hmm....this year, maybe.  since Senior Pastor left, I haven't had time to cook.  Sometimes I wonder if I can find my kitchen (plus, see the question about the blender...).  So this year I think the answer to this would be pretty much everything in the kitchen...but hopefully that problem will be remedied soon!!

you know how sometimes... don't write for a little while because either things are really busy or you don't have much to write about?
And then it becomes a habit, not writing.
And then even when you want to write, everything you have to say is either unbloggable church stuff OR would take more energy than you have to articulate clearly.

That's me right now.  I'm okay, I'm alive, but I'm tired and a little overwhelmed and really looking forward to a bunch of things, among them...

* tomorrow night's St. Andrew's Day dinner.  It will be probably the least vegetarian friendly thing I've ever been to, but I suspect the level of fun (bagpipes! cocktails! fancy new dress! friends! scottish dancers!) will make up for it.

* going to the opera on Wednesday.

* Thanksgiving.  I love mashed potatoes so much.  And I'm thinking of making a butternut squash something too.  Maybe risotto...I love risotto.  And what better time to eat mashed potatoes and risotto at the same meal than Thanksgiving, the holiday of the carbs?  Of course, I could end up just eating mashed potatoes (only) because that would be so simple and require so little work on my part...

* Advent.  I think it might be weird to look forward to Advent, but I actually think that this year my life will slow down during Advent.  I have fewer church program responsibilities then (retreat's over (and was great--must blog about that next week), Youth Sunday is in two days, Thanksgiving will be past, only two youth ministry events during Advent, etc etc) and I don't preach until the 4th Sunday of Advent (Dec. 21) so I might get to actually take days off and do silly things like go to the gym, cook actual meals, keep my house clean-ish, play with my kitties, read princess books, read real books, etc.  Imagine that!

* Christmas.  On Christmas Day I fly to SoCal for a week of fun in the sun with my fam.  San Diego Zoo, here I come!  I can watch the pandas in real life, not just on the panda cam.  woohoo!

So...that's me right now.  I'll try to get back into the discipline of writing, I swear.  after Youth Sunday and the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service (for which I am preaching), both of which are this Sunday. week...

Monday, November 10, 2008


It's that time again...the two-day Presbytery meeting. Ken Bailey is speaking at day one...right now.  He's talking about the New Testament so far...he's in the midst of a segment about how we as Christians will be unable to talk with Muslims unless we have a clear and developed doctrine of inspiration of Scripture.  He's not wrong.

I might live-blog Presbytery if I get bored...or when I get seminary overload.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

the big day

It's finally here.

Perhaps now the signs will disappear, the arguments will end, the ads will stop.

I work in a building used as a polling place.  The cars park pretty much right outside my window.  It seems to be taking an average of 8 minutes for people to leave their cars, go vote, and come back to their cars, which means no long lines!  But there are a TON of people coming and going, and people are also parking along both sides of both streets out front.

Tonight, after the Taize service (assuming anybody comes to the Taize service...), the PFC is having an election-watch party.  There's food.  There's champagne.  There's hope...or the ability to drown our sorrows if necessary.  :-)

Busy day!  Here's hoping for a good end...

Sunday, November 02, 2008


On my way home from church tonight, I saw some people in devil costumes stealing Obama yard signs. On a major thoroughfare. It was dark, but anyone driving by could clearly see what was going on.

Really? You're that desperate, three days before the election, in ILLINOIS? I have some news, people...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Three years ago...

Three years ago today, I was frantically making arrangements to come home from Egypt. I'd spent the day teaching, leading a Bible Study and a prayer group, and sharing table fellowship with my various international and Egyptian seminary students. I returned home to find a number of messages from my dad, and then an AIM away message from my brother saying my mom had died.

I spent the evening on the phone and internet with travel agents, PCUSA Young Adult Volunteer coordinators, and various other people. I made a list of things I needed to pack, and I packed them. I got plane tickets for the next day. I planned what I would say to the teachers as I went in to say I couldn't work for a while. I sat for a while with the pastor of the church I was attending then. I made plans for my classes that someone else would teach. I cried some, but was mostly numb.

The next day I flew home, which took nearly 24 hours. I was sick the entire way--I ate something for breakfast on the flight to London and had food poisoning for three days, probably mainly because I absolutely refused to throw up anywhere but my own house. I laid on floors, I drank 7-Up, I tried to keep cool and not talk to people around me. Flight attendants told me I couldn't lay on the floor. Airport gate agents looked after me and told me when my gate was changed or when the plane was arriving or getting ready to board. Seatmates tried to engage me in conversation that I avoided as much as possible. London to Seattle is a long flight, in case you didn't know that already.

Two years ago today, I was recovering from my ordination two days earlier, still entertaining family and friends, trying to celebrate rather than sit and mope.

One year ago today, I was eating mexican food and writing letters to my mother.

Today, I spoke with my old Atlanta mom (a church music director I've worked with), and I spent the day with my church music director who is also a good friend and sometimes an extra mom (I seem to have a record of this as far as church music directors are concerned!). We visited the Art Institute and were some of the first people to see the new special exhibit "The Divine Art: 400 years of European tapestries"--an exquisite collection. All of the Art Institute's 70+ tapestries have been restored and are on display at the same time. They're gorgeous. Today was the first member preview day so it wasn't crowded and we were able to move through at a fairly leisurely pace--even when the exhibit closed they didn't chase us out, they just didn't let any more people in. Then we bought Christmas cards (I love buying my cards at the Art Institute), had Cosi sandwiches for lunch, wandered Macy's and tried on $900 coats and a cute party dress (didn't fit properly). We sampled truffles and bought frango mints. We met her husband for the train home and then the three of us had a lovely Italian dinner--wine, great entrees (well, they had lamb-kabobs or something...I had a great mediterranean vegetable strata), lovely tiramisu for dessert.

It was a relaxing day, and a great way to honor the women who have gotten me this far. Today I remember my mom, and also Dana F, a pastor at my home church, who died this week and whose funeral was today, and also all the extra moms I've had over the years who have helped me out, taught me things, kept me on the good path, encouraged me, and have generally made me who I am today. So especially to Betsy and Martha and Sherri, thanks ladies--I know my mom appreciates you as much as I do. And while I miss her a lot (not a day goes by that I don't think about calling, only to remember that I can't), you're all doing a pretty good job too.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

looking for love...--a sermon for Ordinary 30A

Rev. Teri Peterson
looking for love…
Matthew 22.34-40
October 26 2008, Ordinary 30A/Reformation Sunday

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I can practically hear y’all groaning: “another love sermon? Doesn’t Jesus ever talk about anything else?” These are familiar words for many of us, and some of us may even remember that in Luke’s version of this story, the lawyer asks a follow up question: “who is my neighbor?” that prompts Jesus to tell a story about a victim of violence, two religious professionals, and a Samaritan. Some of us have used this summary of the law—love God, love your neighbor—as a summary of the Christian life: our call as Christians is to love, love, and love some more—love God, love our neighbors, love our enemies. There’s a reason love comes up a lot—because Jesus both did it and talked about it, because God calls us to love with our words and actions, because the Holy Spirit is the love that binds us all together. The rule of love is the plumb line we use for interpreting scripture and determining our action. There’s a lot of love to go around!

But for many of us, these words of Jesus probably evoke a vague feeling of unease, centered around the perpetual question: how? How do we love the Lord with all our heart and soul and mind? How do we love our neighbor? Couldn’t Jesus have been just a little more specific? Especially translated into English, this word “love” is sort of hazy. Is it a feeling? Is it more than a feeling? Can love be summed up the way Jesus sums up the law? We sometimes turn to Matthew 25, where Jesus says to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, give water to the thirsty, and we’ll be showing our love for Christ. Especially around here, where we tend to be do-ers—we want to make the world a better place, we want to help, we want to solve problems and make life better for everyone. Here at RCLPC we seem to really resonate with the idea that, as Teresa of Avila said, Christ has no hands on earth now but ours. We take very seriously that responsibility to be the body of Christ in the world, and it shows: when I asked the latest Inquirer’s Class why they came here, nearly all said that they felt this was a congregation that lives our faith out in the world. That’s a pretty good measure of who we are as a community—a community of people who live as the body of Christ in the world.

But I have to wonder if this is the whole of what Jesus was talking about, the full extent of the law to love God and love our neighbor.

It seems sometimes that we are missing a crucial part of Jesus’ commandment: that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Which implies at least a little bit that we love ourselves…and also tells us something about what our community might look like on the inside. We’re pretty good at the going-out part of loving our neighbors, but what about the inner workings of our community? I suspect this is the harder part for many of us. First, to love ourselves seems selfish somehow, seems the opposite of what God calls us to do. And second, to love people here in our own church community also means allowing them to love us, which gets back to the first problem. I suspect I’m not alone in keeping some of the hardest parts of life to myself because I’m either worried about how it will sound or look, or worse: I’m worried about people paying attention to me rather than the much bigger problems other people have. None of us want to focus attention on ourselves when there’s so much need in the world or even in our own church. But if we’re not willing to share our lives, even the hard parts, even the parts that show that we don’t have it all together, even the parts that make us feel vulnerable, then are we really loving ourselves? And are we really allowing others to love us? It’s hard to love if we can’t be loved, and it’s hard to be a community gathered around these commandments if we’re not willing to let others love us.

Even as I was writing this sermon yesterday, I could feel adrenaline coursing through my body, I could feel my heart beat faster and my hands begin to tremble. This can be a scary proposition: to let people in to the things that frighten us, to be vulnerable in community, to let people show God’s love to us. And it’s scary for me, as a preacher, to preach a sermon like this in a week that holds two important anniversaries for me: three years ago this Halloween my mother died from cancer, and two years ago this Wednesday I was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I purposely planned my ordination to coincide with the 1st anniversary of my mom’s death but I also know that between that awesome loss and that awesome privilege is an emotional and spiritual minefield. And I wonder what it might mean for us together to claim it’s important to be loved as well as to love, to weep together and laugh together. But I also believe that if we’re not willing to share ourselves, we are missing out on true community. As Carrie Newcomer wrote in our anthem today: “I am a voice calling out across the great divide / I am only one person that feels they have to try / The questions fall like trees or dust, rise like prayers above / but the only word is courage and the only answer love.”

Many of you have probably heard the proverb about looking for love: “I sought myself, but myself I could not see; I sought my God, my God eluded me; I sought my neighbor, and I found all three.” We often talk about loving God and loving our neighbor as two sides of the same coin: that to love one is to love the other—they’re not separable. I think the same goes for being loved: if we won’t allow ourselves to be loved by our brothers and sisters in Christ, will we allow ourselves to be loved by God? And if we won’t allow ourselves to be loved, can we truly love?
These are hard questions, but questions I think we need to ask ourselves. As a community of God’s people, a covenant community bound together by the promise of God’s presence with us, what are we afraid of? Are we afraid of appearing weak or foolish or imperfect? Are we afraid of the power of love to heal? Or are we like Lily, the little girl in the Secret Life of Bees, or like Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, afraid that, deep down, we’re unlovable?

There is challenge in this story, but deeper even than the challenge is this good news: no one is unlovable. We are all called to love our neighbor as ourselves, which means each person must be worthy of love, no matter how broken, no matter how sinful, no matter how weak or imperfect. When we share that brokenness, that weakness, that imperfection, we not only allow others to love us, we give others permission to be vulnerable too, and we give each other the space to live in the mystery rather than always trying to pin down the answer. When we seek our neighbor, and when we allow our neighbor to seek us, we all find together that God is in our midst, pouring out love like a mighty river of baptism, sharing a feast of grace tastier than bread and wine. And, one love at a time, one voice at a time, one hope at a time, the world will be transformed into the kingdom of God.

May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Five: location, location, location

SingingOwl writes over at RGBP...
My daughter, her husband, and their toddler, Trinity Ann, are moving from Minneapolis, Minnesota to our place. It's a long story, but the short version is that they will be loading a Ryder truck on Saturday, and on Sunday afternoon we will unload it into a storage unit in our town. They will move themselves, their two cats and their BIG dog into our place. Yes, there will be issues, but this Friday Five isn't really about that. (Prayers for jobs for them and patience for all of us are most welcome, however.) This post is about locations. My husband has lived at 64 addresses in his life so far (16 with me) and he suggested the topic since we have moving trucks on our minds.
Therefore, tell us about the five favorite places you have lived in your lifetime. What did you like? What kind of place was it? Anything special happen there?

Hmm...I did a quick count and it appears that I've lived at 16 addresses in my 28 years.  One I don't remember because I was a baby.  Three more before I turned 10.  Three more between age 10 and graduating from high school.  5 during college (including the sojourn in Scotland).  2 during seminary (not including the house where I didn't technically live...).  2 since seminary.  What are my favorites?  again I say, hmm....
in no particular order...

40660 Edwards Drive
This is my grandparents' house.  I lived here with my mom and brother for about 3 years when I was growing up.  My grandparents raised sheep.  We had a garden, in which I got to plant "whatever I wanted" one year. Somehow I planted corn (which never even sprouted), carrots (which I don't even like) and beets (which I like even less).  Interesting...  This is where my mom led our CampFire Girls group.  This is where I learned to climb trees and pick blackberries and sit on sheep so their feet could be tied for shearing.  (well, okay, I sucked at that last job, running off screaming whenever my sheep chair wiggled...)  I don't go visit now, really, though my grandparents still live here on 40 gorgeous acres.  Once we moved to the city, I looked back on my farm experience without much fondness.  But now that I'm older, I recognize the value of being out in the quiet with very few neighbors nearby, of the community feel even though the houses are far apart, and the beauty of the place.  And I think I recognize more of the value of the lessons I learned on the farm than I realized before.

312 W. Wisconsin #3
I lived in this apartment for two years in college, with Jenny.  It was sort of ghetto (we realize now) and it was quite small.  The hardwood floors were pretty, but we didn't have doors on our kitchen cupboards.  The laundry room downstairs was scary.  Jenny's room was weirdly shaped.  But there was lots of fun had here!  We practiced (or, well, Jenny did), we watched Dawson's Creek and Felicity after clarinet choir rehearsals, we bemoaned the existence of piano guy, we joked about ordering pizza from the place across the street and just waving out the window when they asked where to deliver it.  It was a good time.  And oh the number 11 and 151 buses....

MacLeod Centre, Iona, Argyll, Scotland
I LOVED living in the Mac.  Even though there were 4 of us sharing a room (and 5 at one point!) and 12-15 sharing a bathroom, we had a great time.  We laughed and played and painted and whiskey tasted in our common room, we worked hard during the day and partied hard at night.  We prayed.  We lived in "intentional Christian community" and it was fabulous.  I loved nearly everything about the months I spent living on this island.  There are many days I wish I could move back.  And if this election goes badly, well....let's just say it looks more attractive every day.

1610 King Street
This was the weirdest house I think I've ever lived in.  The bedrooms had color themes--there was a blue room, a red room, and a gold (umm, yellow) room.  There was hideous shag-esque carpet and matching paint and curtains in each of these rooms.  Mine was the yellow.  (sigh)  This is the house where we first housed minor league baseball players.  The first year we lived here I was bitter about moving out of the good city, across the mountains to lame middle-of-nowhere-town-that-grows-apples.  I walked to school sometimes because the bus stop was more than halfway to the school.
I actually think this might be a tie with the other Yak house, 109 N. 15th Ave, because on 15th I got to have the whole basement to myself most of the time.  That house also has lots of character, with little niches in random walls, an arch between the living room and dining room, and a weird unknown space behind my bedroom wall.  I also got to paint my bedroom here--I had a painting party my sophomore year of high school.  My friends came over and we used different shaped sponges and different shades of green paint.  When we were done, the room looked sort of like  the jungle.  Awesome.

847 Chasefield Lane #3
This is where I live now.  It's "my first house"--the condo I bought when I moved here.  I get to experience all the joys of home ownership (I get to change my floors if I want, paint, deal with the appliances etc, have pets, control my own heat, replace broken stuff like cat-clawed-window-screens) and none of the responsibilities of a free-standing house in the midwest (I don't shovel snow or mow grass or prune trees or plant flowers).  It's perfect for me since it's 2 bed/2 bath--when people come visit, I have a place for them to sleep but no need to share my bathroom.  There's room for my crazy cats.  The location is great--a quiet neighborhood with mostly retired neighbors, 10 minutes from church, 10 minutes from grocery stores, 10 minutes from the library, 10 minutes from the gym.  The downside, of course, of any suburban living experience is dependence on a car.  There's almost nothing within walking distance of my house.  I miss that about living in the city.  But I have a garage to store extra winter food and to keep snow off my car, I can repaint anytime I feel like it, I can stick my clothes in the dryer for 5 minutes to warm them up before I put them on (a luxury in winter!).  It's great.  :-)

Okay, so I actually did 6, but whatever.  :-)  I could just as easily list my 5 or 6 LEAST favorites!  (I don't even remember the addresses, but all three of the OTHER places I lived during college would make that list for various reasons--roommate issues, noise problems, bugs, neighbors, location, tuckpointing that took 6 months and blew dust in my window every day, etc.)  fun!

What are your 5 favorite places you've lived?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

birthday dots

* I love birthdays.

* Today I got to have Thai food AND Mexican food, plus an ice cream/fried banana birthday treat at the Thai place AND homemade cupcakes brought by my small group to the Mexican place.

* I actually do in fact serve the single best church that ever was.  My small group tonight decided (by a flurry of emails over the past two weeks! a flurry I wasn't in on!) that instead of our lesson, they'd kidnap me to my favorite Mexican place for margaritas.  And they got me a present!  It was a GREAT evening--like a real birthday party!  I even got to blow out a candle on a fabulous cupcake.  Thanks to C, C, D, J, J, J, and L for being a wonderful group and for a wonderful evening of laughter and story sharing and present opening and margarita drinking and happy birthday singing!

* I got lots of giftcards this year.  That's awesome because now I can get some new books!  And a check from a grandmother with a note to use it for "something you can't justify for yourself" means I'm calling tomorrow to schedule a massage and a pedicure.  aaaaaah.....

* I still didn't really get any work done today, but you's okay.  I did get lots of phone calls, emails, and facebook wall posts wishing me a happy birthday!  

* all in all, a good day.  :-)  Thanks to all you friends and family who made it good--from the Buffy card that plays the soundtrack to the note from long-lost friends to the cupcakes and calls.  thanks.

* I know this gets to keep going because my congregation is having a birthday party for me (and for someone else too) on Sunday--yay!  There will be turtle cheesecake (yum!).   And the PFC is trying to make plans for fun.  It's a birthday month!  woowhoo!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Happy Birthday to me!!

happy birthday to me,
happy birthday to me,
happy birthday dear meeeeeeee.....
happy birthday to me.

(if you've ever wondered what single girls do for their birthdays when they live alone and far from friends and family...)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

We Belong To God--a sermon for Ordinary 29A

Rev. Teri Peterson
We Belong to God
Matthew 22.15-22
October 19 2008, Ordinary 29A

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Have you ever noticed that Jesus never seems to just answer the question? I’ve always been taught it’s one of the first rules of a tough interview: just answer the question. If a person were to hold up a pen and ask “do you know what this is?” then the answer would be “yes.” That’s all—simple, direct, an answer. But that doesn’t seem to be how Jesus operates.

Can you imagine how things might have gone if Jesus had answered with a simple yes or no? When the Pharisees and the Herodians (who, by the way, were traditionally at odds with each other but have now found a common enemy in Jesus) ask “is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” they are asking a religious law question. They each know perfectly well that it’s against Jewish law to carry on their person something bearing an image—since images were prohibited by the first commandment. And it was even worse to carry something bearing an image of someone who claimed to BE a god, as Caesar did—again, the first commandment. So imagine if Jesus had simply said “no.” Then, after he was executed much earlier than planned, this time for refusing to pay taxes, throughout the ages we would have this teaching straight from the mouth of Christ: don’t pay taxes. And governments would have spent the last two thousand years trying to think of other ways to finance infrastructure and militaries and education and safety nets for those who need help.

Then again, imagine if Jesus had simply said “yes.” Then governments score a point, for sure, but Jesus would once again have been arrested early, for blasphemy and out-and-out 10 commandment breaking. And throughout the ages we would see government appealing to Jesus as the one who told us all to support them with as much of our money as possible.
Perhaps there’s a good reason why Jesus never answers a question with a simple yes or no!
Instead, he asks to see the coin. Now remember, no law-abiding Jew was allowed to carry one, especially not inside the Temple, where most of Jesus’ teaching took place. And yet the Pharisees and Herodians manage to produce a coin bearing the image of Caesar, proving already that Jesus is not the lawbreaker they are trying to make him out to be. And then the fun begins.

Jesus asks who’s picture it is on the coin…they answer that it’s Caesar, and his title too (a title which, by the way, proclaims him to be god). And Jesus, in a brilliant rhetorical move, says, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give back to God what is God’s.”

In other words: if it has Caesar’s picture and name on it, it must belong to him, so go on and give it back. And then Jesus goes one step further: if it has the One True God’s picture and name on it, then it must belong to God, so you’d better give it back. Well, coins had the picture and name of the emperor, so that’s fairly obvious. The coins used in the Temple—the special Jewish money—didn’t have any images on them and were only used in transactions between Jews and to buy sacrifices and other goods in the Temple, so Jesus is not talking only about money. What has the image of God on it and so clearly belongs to God, something we are to give back to God?

I suspect by now the answer is becoming obvious. In Genesis chapter 1, it says, “male and female God created them, in the image of God he created them.” We, human beings, are stamped with the image of God, each one of us. When we look at the coin, we can see whose picture is on it. When we look at each other, we can see whose picture is on us. And the clear teaching of Jesus is to give to God what is God’s—that means us. All of us. All of our selves—our time, our work, our love, our intellect and our emotions, our money, our hopes and dreams and fears, our bodies—all of it. God doesn’t want just a segment, just a little, just a box, just an hour once a week or even just an hour a day. God gave us all we have, God put God’s own image on and within us—we belong to God.

I suspect most of us know this intellectually. We know with our minds that everything we have is a gift from God—that we literally owe God everything. Many of us even try to live this out—trying very hard not to separate what is “religious” from what is “secular.” But all of us, and I include myself in this!, fall short of this goal. We think of things as “ours” or “mine” and we wonder how to increase those things, the benefits to me. We separate our faith from our work and our play and sometimes from our brains, because logic and faith don’t always go hand in hand. We compartmentalize our time: time for working, time for eating, time for playing, time for family, time for exercise, time for God. We compartmentalize our money: money for housing, money for food, money for clothes, money for kids, money for fun, money for God’s work. We compartmentalize in so many different ways, it’s hard to even name them—that’s just the way our lives are. I’m as guilty as the next person about this, and I even belong to an organization that states as its goal the integration of sacred and secular, of work and worship. This is hard work!

But then again, whenever Jesus decides not to answer a question, you can guess that it’s not going to be easy. Jesus says quite clearly that we, who are made in the image of God, belong to God and we are to give everything we have, everything we are, back to God. That’s what life means. And then he did it—every day, every hour, every time he opened his mouth, every time he acted, he lived his entire life as an offering to God. Jesus is not just a teacher here but a living example of what it means to live life belonging to God. It didn’t end well for Jesus’ earthly life, but it ended in obedience and in gratitude and as an offering of all he was. While I hope none of us will be called to that kind of end, it is out there as a possibility and it’s important to recognize that—its hard to be obedient if you don’t know what you’re being called to. But ultimately, we are all called to offer our whole selves—our time, our talents, our money, our hopes and fears and dreams, our work and our worship and our play, our lives, to the One to whom we belong. God will walk with us each step of that journey toward wholeness and belonging.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Okay, so I still don't have the guts to wear my "Save the Ta-Tas" t-shirt to church (not even on a regular weekday) but you can see me wearing it in one of the photos in the slideshow.  I'm trying to work out how I'm going to wear it during the rest of October.

But, t-shirt or no t-shirt, this is the month. If you need to schedule a doctor's appointment, do it.  Time for your mammogram?  do it.  Don't procrastinate, don't wait, don't put it off.  Just do it.

and if you also don't have the nerve to wear YOUR save the ta-tas t-shirt, well, at the very least head over to the Breast Cancer Site and click
 every day to help fund free mammograms for women who need them but can't pay.  (while you're there you can click for hunger, literacy, the environment, children's health, and animal rescue too!)  It only takes a few seconds.

This is supposedly a beatable disease, which means it's unconscionable that people are dying from it.  So go do something about it--for yourself, for your loved ones, for our healthcare system, for people you don't even know.

(Amy and Elsa and I wearing our Save the ta-tas shirts on Iona)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reading Challenge 2008

I think I missed something along the way, but I can't remember what it was.  So I'm trying to get back on track...

When I went to join my grandparents for a few days in the Wisconsin Dells, I forgot to take a book with me.  (I know--shocking! but I packed in a hurry on a Sunday afternoon, post CROP walk, so I cut myself some slack...)  Then it rained one day and we decided to forego the International Crane Foundation and to stay in eating fudge.  So clearly I needed a book...

I was planning to read The Other Queen soon anyway, so I picked it up at the local bookstore.  I ended up napping most of the rainy day away but I finished the book at home over the weekend.  It's very Philippa Gregory--well researched and written.  It's a different style than I think she's written before--written as first person accounts from the various people in the story, so you have to pay attention to the title of each chapter as it tells you who's speaking.  It definitely told the story of Mary Queen of Scots in a different and catchy way!  

All in all, a good fluff book.  and it wasn't all fluff--it was more timely than many historical novels are, as this novel explores what happens when a leader governs from a place of fear--what principles, what ideals, what people get sacrificed to maintain that fear?  hmmm...

Of course then I went to Philippa Gregory's website and discovered that I somehow missed TWO of her novels, which I promptly put on hold at the library.  As soon as I can get some free time, I'm escaping to the land of beautiful gowns and court intrigue!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

blog action day: poverty

Today is Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty.  Bloggers are asked to address poverty in their posts to raise awareness and to start discussions that might ultimately lead to solutions, however small, to this global problem.  Warning:  this post is long.  Very long. 

I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about, praying about, and talking about alleviating poverty.  I give to organizations that try to alleviate poverty.  I take youth on mission trips so they can see and experience and maybe even help a little.  I meet people who need assistance and hear their stories and sometimes I'm able to help them.  
I don't spend a lot of time telling my own story, as it seems oddly self-indulgent and often seems irrelevant.  I'm not sure that it is, though, and in fact it may be typical of a certain type of poverty.  So I'll tell it now and then perhaps y'all will know why I'm passionate about things like universal health care and social safety nets and quality education and equality.  Because all of those are components of poverty, both here in the USA and around the world.

My mom went to college in 1976 and wanted to major in Marine Biology.  She also played olympic-level field hockey.  The way she told it, at some point during her first year or two of college, she was told that "women aren't marine biologists"...and that she should go into nursing.  Which she did at some point (I don't think it was then--I think that was later, but I'm not sure).  But she never finished her bachelor's degree, in part because she was so discouraged by sexism.
I was born in 1980.  I don't pretend to know or understand the economic state of the country at that time, I just know it wasn't great.  I don't pretend to know or understand the financial situation of my family in 1980 either.  I do know that we weren't well-off--the years I remember (so, after age 3 or 4 probably) we lived in a single-wide trailer in a trailer park in a medium-sized town in Oregon.  I don't remember much about those years, honestly, except stuff about school.  I remember envying a girl in my 1st grade class because she had a beautiful big red coat and I knew I couldn't ever have something like that, but that's about all I remember money-wise.
When I was 8, with a 2 year old brother, my parents divorced.  My brother, mom, and I went to live with friends and then ultimately with my grandparents.  Our trailer was moved onto my grandparents' property 10 miles away from the nearest town, down in the Willamette Valley.  My grandparents raised sheep and we had our own garden.  We went to the grocery store occasionally but I don't remember it being often.  We did much of our shopping at the grocery outlet which was cheaper, and name-brand stuff didn't happen.  When I went through a white-bread phase (because the kids at school had it) my mom and grandmother tried to explain that it cost more and wasn't as good for me, but I insisted.  It turned out I didn't like it and I would be willing to bet there's still a half loaf of white bread in my grandmother's freezer.  Meanwhile, my mom was feeding my brother and I first, and eating less (or not at all) if there wasn't food left over.
We used food stamps, I remember.  It wasn't a lot, but it helped some.  My mom worked as a road construction flagger for a while, standing for hours in the sun and rain holding the stop/slow sign. I don't know what else she did, but sometimes she worked nights too.  I don't think the pay was good at all, and I know she clipped coupons religiously and waited for sales and made stuff rather than buying it.  My grandmother made many of our clothes.  I think there were welfare checks during these couple of years, but I don't know for sure.  When it was time to choose instruments in 4th grade so we could play in the band, I cycled through the list I wanted to play until I came to the clarinet--which is what I was going to play because the daughter of a friend of my grandparents had played the clarinet and was willing to sell us hers for a mere $60--much cheaper than renting or buying anything else.  So that was my option...and I played that clarinet through my senior year of high school (at school/football/basketball/pep band anyway).  I was a CampFire girl and my mom was our leader.  For summer camp, she worked as the camp nurse so I could attend, and that meant I got to go to all three week-long sessions (which I thought was the coolest thing ever--I was one of THOSE know-it-all kids who'd been there before....sigh).  For daycamp, she ran the camp so my brother and I could attend.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I'm sure that's how she paid for it (or got our registration fees comped).  (This involvement didn't end with CampFire--when we were older she coached little league and was the youth orchestra librarian and goodness only knows what else.)
My mom married again and we moved to Seattle.  Things seemed good but of course we had the oldest car *ever* and I was now a teenager who thought about these things since we lived in the big city!  This was when I started to figure out that we weren't middle class.  My mom went back to school and finished her degree in research psychology--a degree I don't think she ever used (except on me! and on reading studies and telling us all what to do...).
Dad lost his job in 1993-ish (I think that company may have gone under, I'm not sure) and we moved across the mountains--a devastating thing for a teenage girl who was SO SURE she was going to the best music high school next year...umm, not.  Mom worked in the school kitchens so she could be home when we were home--something that was very important to her, but probably limited her career choices significantly.
I went away to college and made some poor money choices (what college student doesn't?) that my parents graciously dug me out of again and again.  Meanwhile I was racking up the student loans just to pay my tuition/rent/food.  Thanks to my parents, who were still by no means well off, I didn't end up with student loans to cover my youthful  fiscal irresponsibility (the Starbucks they built next to the El stop was just brutal).  And I got a scholarship for grad school that meant I got PAID to go to seminary (nice).  
Then I figured out that we had to have health insurance--something I'd never had before and didn't know anything about but quickly figured out was more expensive than I (or my family) could afford.  I got a bare-bones student policy and thankfully never needed it.  My mom wasn't so lucky--she got cancer and had no insurance.  If she'd had insurance, maybe she would have gotten check ups, or gone to the doctor at the first sign something wasn't right, but instead she waited until she couldn't handle the pain anymore and by then it was stage 4 metastasized breast cancer.  The applications for medicaid or other state-run healthcare money were extensive.  The red tape was ridiculous.  My mother spent the majority of her last year of life on the phone trying to get people to agree to pay for radiation treatments and doctor visits.  It is my (not terribly informed, since I wasn't there in person, I only heard about it on the phone) opinion that her status as uninsured had a negative impact on the quality and frequency of care she received.  However, when she died we discovered that at the last minute she'd managed to get a grant or insurance of some kind that would cover the nearly $70,000 in medical bills we thought would come due.  Instead we had a small surplus with which to pay down some other loans, which was a nice surprise...but we'd rather have mom than the money.

I had the privilege of being supported by family and friends and mentors and colleagues while following my call--even as it changed--across three continents.  Now I have a good "job" with amazing health insurance.  I also have $30,000 in student loans, I have 3 more years until my car is paid off, I owe $146,000 on my house (meanwhile another, identical, unit in my complex is on the market for less than that), and I currently have about $20,000 in other debt (mainly from moving across and between continents, furnishing a house for the first time (remember when people did that when they got married and they used wedding presents for all that stuff? not anymore...), paying taxes that were higher than I prepared for, etc....).  In some ways I live paycheck to paycheck.  But I'm working on that, and that's not the point of the story.  I'll make it and the debt will be paid off eventually, and I'm hardly atypical for my generation.  And I'm no longer living in the situation I grew up in.

You may be wondering what the point is.  For now, it's this:  don't generalize about "the welfare system" or "the uninsured" or "the unemployed" or "those kids" or "irresponsible people" because it's unfair.  There are plenty of people who work hard and can't make ends meet.  There are plenty of people who lack insurance because they are supporting their children's educations in a variety of ways (extracurricular activities, college, etc).  There are lots of people who don't abuse the welfare system or food stamps.  There is real poverty in this country--poverty I haven't lived in and can't begin to understand, as well as the kind of poverty I have experienced (where some in the family simply do without so others can have what they need).  Children are often unaware of these things until they're looking back when they're older.  And children deserve to live in environments like mine--where they don't know they're different, don't know they're poor, don't know they're underprivileged.  Too many end up discouraged and the cycle continues, and that's not okay.  So I am passionate about equality, education, universal healthcare, and the social safety net we call welfare (as in "promote the general welfare" from the preamble to the constitution?).  Because those are things that allow the cycle to be broken.

The same thing applies to people in developing countries, where the situation is MUCH more desperate than most of us can imagine.  Equality and education and access to healthcare can improve the situation so much, it's hard to comprehend why we wouldn't support those things.  When women get an education, they are less likely to have huge families and more likely to send their children to school.  And then those children can break the cycle too.  

That's what I hope:  for a new cycle to begin.  One that assumes all people are valuable and deserve health care and education and equal rights and opportunity.  One that believes children should grow up without knowing they're "disadvantaged" or "at risk" because those become self-fulfilling prophecies. One that looks at people rather than stereotypes.  One that cares about people rather than money. One that is hopeful rather than cynical.  That's the cycle I try to live in.  You?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Five: travel for work/not just for fun

I haven't played the RGBP Friday Five in a long time, but this seemed like a great week to get back in!  MotherLaura, who's coming to Chicago in a few weeks, says...
... for today's Friday Five, you're invited to share your experiences with the exciting, challenging world of business travel....

1. Does your job ever call for travel? Is this a joy or a burden?
I mainly travel to conferences and retreats, but also take youth groups to retreats and mission trips.  I like to travel, so most of the time this is excellent.  Though when it's leading a group of 20 teenagers, it can be less than excellent sometimes!

2. How about that of your spouse or partner?
Since I lack one of

3. What was the best business trip you ever took?
Hmm.....tough call!  this summer I went to a program week on Iona, which was technically continuing ed and therefore travel for work.  I had this plan to not do anything, just to sit and soak it all up, which lasted about an hour into the week because I agreed to lead music for each session.  It turned out wonderfully!  But anyway...I loved that trip.  when I lived in Egypt my whole group went to Bethlehem and Jerusalem for Christmas--to experience the church in a different place, etc--and that was also a pretty good trip in spite of the border crossing problems (I was held up for a long time due to Syrian and Lebanese stamps in my passport) and the theft of my camera by our taxi driver (my own fault since my purse fell under the seat and I didn't notice until after he was gone).  And last summer I led our church's high school youth on a mission trip to New Orleans and all went surprisingly smoothly (including flying down there, renting vans, and not getting lost!).  Last winter I went to Montreat for the first time to the BLAZE conference and was pleasantly surprised there too--meeting great people, having a blast laughing and playing games, going to fun workshops about social activism and theology in the movies, etc.  (that was more than one, or even more than a couple, "best" trips...sorry!)

4. ...and the worst, of course?
hmm...probably every trip to a Presbytery meeting.  Ever.  The drives are so boring and are often several hours, and the meetings are mostly awful.

5. What would make your next business trip perfect?
Aside from the high school youth fall retreat (which will be great), my next planned trip is back to the BLAZE at Montreat, this time with two of our volunteer youth leaders too, so I guess what would make it perfect is no delays, no snow or rain in Montreat, and plenty of time to recharge and learn new things!