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!  

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Come One, Come All--a sermon for World Communion Sunday

Rev. Teri Peterson
Come One, Come All
Isaiah 55
October 5 2008, World Communion Sunday

Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;

and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food. 

Incline your ear, and come to me;

listen, so that you may live.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David. 

See, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples. 

See, you shall call nations that you do not know,

and nations that do not know you shall run to you,

because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,

call upon him while he is near; 

let the wicked forsake their way,

and the unrighteous their thoughts;

let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,

and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

This, friends, is my favorite passage in all of Scripture. I sometimes think that if I could only have one chapter out of the whole Bible, this would be it. The promises here are so deep, the poetry so beautiful, God’s love so great, that I can’t imagine it can be improved on. I feel like every verse has something wonderful in it, and when you put them all together you get something like a big comforting quilt.

The trouble, of course, is that preaching on one’s favorite passage is extraordinarily difficult. Because I naturally want to make sure I point out for you all my favorite parts—I don’t want to leave anything out. And I want to delve deeply into every verse because they’re all so great. I want to help you all see why this is the best chapter in the whole Bible! But in 10 minutes or less, that’s awfully hard to do. So I’ve been struggling here, trying to figure out the answers to the two questions I always ask myself when planning and preparing for worship: What’s the good news for us here? And what’s the challenge for us here?

Well, the part of me that loves this text more than any other, the part of me that remembers that this is the chapter I clung to when my mother was sick and even more when she died three years ago this month, the part of me that remembers that this is the text my dear friend Calum preached on at my ordination, the part of me that wants you all to love it like I do, says “every single sentence here is the good news for us!” Come, God says. Come and eat. Come and be filled with good things. Come, hear what I have in store for you. Joy and peace and fulfillment. Just like rain and snow come down from heaven with a purpose, so do my words—they will accomplish what I hope. I am nearer than you realize. My thoughts and ways are so much higher than yours—and the things I hope are a still more excellent way. Come, all of you. Come and be filled.
That's good news if I ever heard it.

As for challenge…I think there’s plenty of that here too. God asks us a hard question: why do we spend ourselves—our time, our energy, our work, our money, our worry—for things that do not nourish us? This is the kind of question I don’t like to ask myself—especially in a week where I rewarded myself after a day long meeting with a trip to Ann Taylor. What is it that we need? And why do we try to fill ourselves up with other things instead? God calls us to come to the waters—come and eat, come and drink, come and be filled with good things. Yet so often we try to fill up on work, on friends, on anxiety, on building walls of separation that keep us safe but also cut us off from each other and from God. In essence, we choose empty calories rather than the rich feast God has in mind for us.
That is indeed a challenge.

But the questions are what are the good news and the challenge for us, and that’s where I’m having a harder time.

Where is good news in a week where our economy has come to the brink of collapse, when our leaders and leaders-to-be have argued about self-interest, when the country lost 159,000 jobs, when families in our nation are losing their homes and their a time children around the world are starving, when school kids are getting shot on the streets of Chicago, when bombs are falling, when people are scared to leave their homes because of genocide and war and war-mongering? I’m not sure that the world is actually any more worrisome than it ever was, but it certainly feels a little overwhelming to me.

What is the good news for us? What is the challenge for us?

Come, God says. Come and be filled. Others will come—others you don’t know. There’s room at this table for strangers and friends, for the anxiety-ridden and the care-free, for all who come, a place at the table. For my thoughts and ways are not your thoughts and ways. When rain falls, it waters the earth and plants grow and people eat. When I send out my word, it nourishes all creation and love grows and communities are fed.
There is both good news and challenge here for us, in our time and our place. There is grace, there is love, there is compassion…and there is a reminder that we cannot create God in our own image, we cannot assume God builds walls the way we do, we cannot limit God’s mysterious work to the way we think things ought to be done. Instead, when we leave behind those things that do not satisfy, when we refuse to spend ourselves on things that take rather than give life, then we come to the rich feast. But we bring with us all the needs of a broken world, all the prayers of our brothers and sisters around the globe, all the hope for peace and justice. And as we take a seat at the table, as we break bread and share the cup, we find ourselves turned around and facing a world where the feast here—and I do mean a feast, a nourishing meal with plenty to go around!—is more than enough. No more the mindset of scarcity, no more the small God we have created, no more the little bitty crumbs of bread that fall apart in the juice.

Today, as we come to this table just as people long before us have done, just as people in China and Palestine and Egypt and Sudan and Colombia have done, good news pierces the dark clouds with the tiniest ray of light. Come—here is bread, here is wine and water, here is nourishment for your body and your soul, here is strength for the journey—without money, and without price. This is no mere cliché, this is God’s grace, here at the table, for all of us. As we gather at this table, we gather with those near and far, people around the world celebrating this same sacrament, saying the same words, claiming that something holy happens here, believing that in bread and wine we are all made into one body, the body of Christ, sent for the loving of the world.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

exodus visualized

I've been remiss in posting about our worship environment during our journey through exodus.  Better late than never I guess...I didn't get photos of the burning bush, but we set it up with red twigs (from a tree with red wood, I can't remember what kind), with red and gold fabrics in the bottom of the vase, in front of the communion table, and then on top of the table were many many candles, set up the way we often do for Taize.  It was gorgeous.  Then for the 10 commandments/kick-off sunday/communion sunday we had the woven piece (you'll see it again in the manna day photos) and of course all the communion stuff.  And then the rest is easily seen in photos...with the sinai in the background the whole time (and therefore the pulpit removed, all month long).

so we have the story of crossing the red sea/sea of reeds:

and we have the story of manna and quail:

And we have the story of water from a rock:

Can't wait to see what they've cooked up for World Communion Sunday!  I know the Sinai desert/mountains have gone, the "water" is safely stored away, and there's a world map tablecloth they're trying to figure out how to use.  Awesome.  Now if I would just get down to sermon writing....

Friday, October 03, 2008

time and calling...or, what I wish I'd written earlier.

There are things I wish I had said in my last post, but rather than edit it to make it appear as though I was more articulate than I really was, I thought I'd just add a second post on the topic.

I understand ministry as a calling.  I understand my entire life to be about proclaiming good news.  And I understand that sometimes that is uncomfortable and boundary blurring in terms of my "job" and "the rest of my life."

I also understand professional ministry to be about empowering and encouraging all followers of Christ to be ministers, to be proclaimers of good news with their whole lives, regardless of their job.

So I wonder about a standard for "professional Christians" that isn't the same as the standard we have for "laypeople", and I wonder about a model of ministry that implies that only the paid minister does the ministry.

I don't think I serve a church where I am the only one doing ministry.  I don't think I serve a church where people look to me as the one who "gets paid to do this."  but I think I do serve a church that is vibrant and growing and has a lot more people in it than I can care for on my own, and a lot more ministries and programs than I can maintain and administer on my own.  Especially since my administrative gifts are...umm, still with the Holy Spirit, waiting to be wrapped and given to me.

So if the task of a minister of Word and Sacrament is to preach and teach and celebrate, to empower and encourage others to care for one another and to share good news with The Other, etc etc etc, that sort of implies a couple of things.
1.  That the MoW&S is a whole, integrated person, one who is body mind and spirit, who loves the lord and the neighbor and even herself with all the body mind and spirit.  (secondarily, this implies that the person has the time to care for body mind and spirit, right?)
2.  That the MoW&S doesn't do everything and doesn't feel obligated to do everything, and does not have any sense of being indispensable--because at that point, the body of Christ is not healthy.

I don't think I'm in danger of number 2--I know perfectly well in my rational mind that the church will go on just fine if I take a couple of days off.  (I'm not sure about the administrator, but... ;-)  )  I know perfectly well there are people who can step up and help with things, if I'd just ask.  Which of course means that I'm in serious danger of forgetting:
3.  The MoW&S, in order to encourage and empower others in their ministries, needs to ask for help sometimes.  This also reminds people that ministers are people too, with needs and wants and a hope for balance in life.

I am, however, struggling mightily with number 1.  Where, in the midst of caring for people, preparing worship, writing sermons, building relationships, teaching classes, leading youth ministry (though I do have amazing adult leaders who are helping hugely here!), dealing with administrivia, etc etc etc is the time for nurturing my own spiritual life, caring for my body, enjoying my CSA (I have a fridge full of potatoes up here and a fridge full of onions down in the garage! I have bell peppers that need to be prepped and frozen before they get moldy.  I have a drawer full of carrots that's been accumulating for a month.  I have 3 huge bunches of basil waiting to turn into pesto.  You get the idea.), cleaning my house so my space is calming rather than stress-inducing, playing with my friends, etc?  If I can't balance this time, even if I love my calling and I love my people and I love the Lord, I hardly think I'm fulfilling my calling well.   

But time is scarce.  I tell youth they have to make choices, and their choices reveal their priorities.  I worry about ministers (and about me becoming one of these ministers) whose choices reflect a distortion toward "work" over the other areas of life (self-care, sleep, relationships, leisure, learning unrelated things, etc).  I'm afraid that might also reflect a model of ministry that is so pastor-centered as to lose sight of the fact that every Christian is called to live a life dedicated to God's glory, to working for the kingdom.  It almost presumes the pastor is the head of the body, rather than Christ being the head.  And, in many ways, I think that model may encourage compartmentalization within the pastor rather than integration of a whole person, body-mind-spirit.

Perhaps in addition to a sermon brewing on authentic community (which includes sharing the bad along with the good, rather than assuming we have to be shiny plastic people with everything pulled together when we come to church) there's a sermon about how we spend our time brewing as well.  I'm preaching this week on Isaiah 55 and am drawn to the first few verses that ask "why do you spend your money on that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?"  I wonder if that applies to my time wondering at all?

Okay, enough babbling.  early meeting tomorrow, 45 minute drive away.  must sleep...and not until 10.23 like I did today!!  I hope I am not getting sick--I've been sleeping longer and longer each day this week.  (sigh)  Send me happy thoughts away from the bacteria and viruses.  Shockingly:  I don't really have time to be sick!

PS, on fruitflies:  I took my grandmother's advice and put out a cup mostly filled with balsamic vinegar (she uses Apple Cider Vinegar but I lacked that), a spoonful of sugar, some dishsoap, and filled to the top with water.  Stir and let sit.  Fruitflies were all drowned in two days.  but my house smelled like vinegar for those two days.  The trade-off was worth it.
Now Crystal Lake seems to be in the midst of the plague of flies--there are flies everywhere (not in my house, thankfully, but everywhere else--church, restaurants, Starbucks, etc).  We don't know where they came from or when they're going away, but it's pretty crazy.  And they're big fat flies too.  Gross.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


This is post number 1201 on my blog--wow!

I have been thinking a lot about time lately.  
This is probably obvious from my meltdown last week and the responses, and then the long lag between then and now...
In any case:  I know ReverendMother has written extensively about time on her blog and in a magazine, and her thoughts are, as usual, much more coherent than mine and much better theologically grounded.  But I've been thinking about it from the specifically pastoral perspective and wondering:

Is it really necessary and expected that pastors work this much?  I mean, really?  And if so, how do we model healthy boundaries, self-care, and relationship to time for others?  I live and serve in a place where many people work more than 40 hours a week, and many people spend upwards of 2 hours a day commuting, and people spend time at church as well.  How can I practice what I preach about using our time well?  How does one be a good steward of one's time?

One of the commitments of members of the Iona Community is to be accountable for one's use of time.  The rule asks that we ensure that we use our time not simply to work, but also for leisure, for family, for developing skills or acquiring new ones, for worship and devotion, for voluntary work - and for sleep!  So I will attempt to do that all are my accountability partners.  I did a little math yesterday and discovered that if I continue to work at my current level, plus sleep 8 hours a night, plus exercise each day, plus travel to the places I need to (most days just home to gym to home to church and home again, but often to meetings in another town), plus take showers, then I'm left with about 27 hours in the week in which to cook, eat, read, play with my kitties, clean up my house, do laundry, do my grocery shopping, pay bills and read mail, talk to my friends, play WordTwist on facebook, do anything else at all, and generally relax.  I think I have discovered why the loss of our Crystal Lake Taco Bell has hit me so hard.  And why my house hasn't been vacuumed in two months.  And why I'm 6 weeks late on scheduling check-ups at the doctor's office.  And why I haven't talked to my family in weeks.  Not to mention why I'm having a little meltdown!  If we assume that cook and eat = necessities, then I'm down to around 13 hours a week for all those other things.  I am not convinced that's healthy, though perhaps it's more healthy than people in other situations, who don't have time to schedule for exercise or sleep.  I just don't function well without those things and have learned my lesson.

The average American watches 5 hours of television per day.  How is that possible?   I mean, I got rid of TV at my house because I wasn't watching it, and now I see from my time breakdown why that was.  Obviously the average American is either not reading at all or has WAY more free time than I do.  

I'm not sure what to think about the time problem. I know that I don't feel okay about working as much as I do.  I also know that I probably don't maximize my time in the office the way others like to--I tend to be a relationship builder so I spend time talking with people and put off the doing of stuff, which sometimes leads to me staying later than I would if I'd just shut my door and do it.  

How can I maintain some balance in my time?  And how can I encourage others to balance their time if I'm not able to balance mine?  I'm not convinced that this problem just "comes with the territory"--in fact, I think it's our duty as pastors to model healthy boundaries and good self care, not to work ourselves into the ground.  How can we love our neighbors if we don't love ourselves, right?

That was incoherent...I apologize.  Weird day.  And now....time to get ready for a debate party!  One of the best parts of my week...