Sunday, January 23, 2011

more brainstorming-by-blog

Our confirmation class is thinking about Psalm 25.1-10 and Micah 6.6-8 and the theme of finding and walking in God's path. One of the questions before us is about what other ways we've tried before finding and following God's way?

So I wonder...where are some places you have looked for God's way but haven't found it? Or some detours you've taken? Some attempts you've made that didn't get you further down God's path?

(the idea comes from Micah 6, where the question seems to be about which thing God has asked for--an extreme ritual sacrifice of material goods? a bargain? a way of life?--and also from the parts of Psalm 25 in which the psalmist asks for forgiveness for following other paths before finding God's. So what are those other ways? What are some things we thought were God's way but weren't?)

Friday, January 21, 2011

sermon video for "Telling"

from the 930 service on the 16th. A few times I had trouble getting the words out exactly right, but overall it's pretty good...and good sound and video quality!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

in search of the perfect metaphor...

....for our Lenten journey.

This year in worship we are on a journey, exploring the points along the way when we have to make a choice to move forward or go back. We're contemplating the choice between moving into God's future or looking back at the way things used to be "back in the day." The question is whether we're ready to take a leap of faith and see where God is leading, or if we'd prefer to go back to the way things have always been.

The initial metaphor was something like turning points, decision points, crossroads, etc. But none of those is quite right, for various reasons.

The scriptures we are using are:
*Adam and Eve choosing to eat from the tree of knowledge;
*Abram and Sarai leaving everything and everyone to go to a land God will show them;
*The Israelites "going back" by making a golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai;
*Peter declaring Jesus the Messiah, then backpedaling when he finds out what that really means;
*Jesus meeting a woman who changes his understanding of his mission (the Syrophoenician woman).

So I'm in search of a metaphor...a catchy phrase, an image, something we can work with in advertising and in the worship space, etc. I know it has to be there somewhere, but I can't seem to get all the pieces of the phrase or metaphor to fall into a coherent space.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Telling--a sermon for Ordinary 2A

Rev. Teri Peterson
John 1.29-42
16 January 2011, Ordinary 2A

The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

Many of you know that I did not grow up in the church—my grandparents were de-churched and my parents were secular humanists who believed that religion was a crutch and we could be good people without buying in to some pre-scientific mythology. The world could be explained by science, morals were perfectly possible without religion, and the purpose of life was to do your best to make the world a better place. My parents also believed their children should make their own decisions about these things when we were old enough to do so—that was their answer when asked about why other kids went to this thing called church.

It’s hard for many people to grasp—the idea of growing up completely unchurched and unaware of the whole God-concept. I never felt like there was something missing, like Christmas was meaningless because it was about family and giving instead of about the baby Jesus, or like my family was bad because we didn’t go to church. I didn’t know Easter was about anything other than bunnies and chocolate until I was probably 15. The whole Christian story was completely alien to me.

However, I was a voracious reader. I was planning to somehow double major in music and literature, and I had come to realize that there was a whole background story that I was missing when I read great books or important authors. So I decided to read the Bible, straight through from beginning to end. It was quite an undertaking, and at first I thought it was completely insane. Which, you have to admit, some of it is—especially when you read it alone, with no context and no community to help you understand. By the end, I knew it wasn’t just a story, but I still didn’t understand the whole church thing…or, if I’m honest, most of what’s in the story either.

It wasn’t until my first year in college that I joined the church. People ask me all the time why I did that, why then, why there, and how on earth that happened. It’s like I’m not just an anomaly but some kind of freak of nature. And that’s true, especially among Presbyterians, I am something of a freak of nature. Not because I didn’t join until I was an adult, and not because college was my seeking time. Instead, my freakishness comes because of how I got there.

It was holy week, 1999. I needed to go to a choral concert to fulfill a class requirement. A friend invited me to a “concert” happening during the service on a Friday night. I went, and I wrote the paper, and I tried not to be weirded out by the fact that I had just gone to church. But then my friend invited me to go to church on Easter morning. This sounded like the worst idea ever, so naturally I called my mom to ask for her advice—which ended up being even more startling than the fact I’d gone to church on Good Friday. She told me that relationships are about experiencing things with other people and sometimes about compromise, so I should go. Being a mama’s girl, of course I went.

I don’t think my mother knew what she was getting either of us in for. I don’t think my friend who invited me knew what was going to happen. I know I had no idea. I just turned up at 11:00 on a Sunday morning, because someone I knew invited me and someone I trusted encouraged me, and my life was literally changed forever. I was back the next Sunday, and then only 10 days after my first ever visit to a church I was sitting in an Inquirer’s Class not all that different from the one we’ll have here starting in two weeks. I wasn’t about to join the church, I just wanted to know what it was all about. Except, of course, within a month I had taken the plunge, been baptized and joined a church, all in what now seems like a whirlwind but then seemed just like the right thing to do. It was the beginning of a journey that has taken me all over the world, through lots of encounters and conversations and educational experiences, all the way to this place and time where I can tell this story to you.

All because someone I knew invited me, and someone I trusted encouraged me.

Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t call anyone in this story? The first two disciples start following Jesus because John, their teacher, tells them about Jesus. The third comes because his brother invited him. Someone they trusted told them about Jesus, and off they went to check it out. And what did they find? An invitation to Come and See. Not answers, not a roadmap, not assurances of heaven or threats of hell. They found an invitation to a journey, an invitation that would change the course of their lives forever. They found themselves part of a story with roots extending through time and a future they couldn’t even imagine.

I wonder how often we’re willing to tell this story, or at least our part in it? I’ll be the first to admit that talking about my faith or even my church makes me super uncomfortable—when people ask me what I do I sometimes tell them I work for a non-profit, to avoid the inevitable conversations that come with saying I’m a pastor. But I don’t think this is about talking to strangers. This is about people we know, people we trust. Do we invite them to come and see—come and see what’s going on in this part of the Body of Christ, come and see God, come and see a story, a journey, a community that we believe has value and can help make the world a better place? And if we won’t, what kind of story does our silence tell?

Now, I know I’m newer to this whole church thing than most of you, but I’m still Presbyterian and therefore allergic to this word I’m about to use. But remember that the root of the word is Good News—we believe we are part of a story that is good news even in the midst of a world filled with bad news. That’s right…it’s time to talk about evangelism. I know it’s a scary word, and if we could reduce it to four letters and outlaw saying it in polite company, we would. But it’s not scary—it’s about good news. Evangelism is not standing on street corners or telling people to Come To Jesus Or Else. It’s not knocking on doors or pushing your views on people or even insisting they come to your church.

It’s an invitation, offered to someone you know, an encouragement to someone who trusts you. It’s about relationship, storytelling, and a journey.

I think it’s telling that we don’t think twice before recommending books we’ve read or movies we’ve seen or restaurants we’ve enjoyed, yet when faith or church is involved we so often keep silent rather than offer a simple invitation or encouragement. That silence speaks volumes, and it often says that avoiding discomfort is more important to us than the journey is. I’m just as guilty, maybe more guilty because this is my job. But it’s not my job because I’m a pastor—it’s my job because I’m a Christian, and part of our calling is to invite people to come and see. Come and see God at work, come and see what’s happening in the Body of Christ, come and see a story that extends through time and has a future we can’t yet imagine. Come and see what God can do through you, and through us together.

Have you all thought of a story of God at work in our congregation? My invitation to you this week is to share that story with someone who is not sitting in this room. It doesn’t have to be a sales pitch—just a story and an invitation to join that story. John the baptist, Peter’s brother Andrew, my friend, and my mom all had it right. No pressure, no threats, no promises—just an invitation, just an encouragement…God will do the rest, in God’s way and in God’s time.

May it be so.


In the past week or so, I've been watching period dramas...The Pillars of the Earth and The Tudors. Slightly different periods, but with many similarities.

One of the things I've been struck by is the blatant fact of ambitious clergy -- clergy who are so obviously not following God's call but are instead in it for the power and monetary gain, to advance ever higher and get as much as they can. We all know this about the medieval Church, that it was rife with corruption and oppression and people who were in it for power. We know that the church was a pathway to power and wealth and prestige, an "in" with the political rulers and more of a diplomatic career than a religious one (though they certainly used God to get what they wanted).

What I don't know that we've grasped is that that's not really the case 5-800 years later.
(Or it shouldn't be, anyway.)

People often ask me when I'm going to "move up" and "get my own church" as though there's some kind of hierarchy of calling, that my current call and position are just a stepping stone to something better. The assumption is clearly that a) I should harbor ambition for something bigger and better, b) that the place and people I serve now aren't worth the talents and effort of an experienced pastor or someone staying a long time, and c) there is a ladder and I should get busy climbing it.

There's been plenty written about this before, particularly by female associate pastors. Generally it's a phenomenon attributed to thinking of the ministry in the same way we think about corporate type jobs. But I wonder if it's a combination of that and the history of ambition in church professionals. I know it's true that there are people serving now how are ambitious, who seek bigger churches and taller steeples and more money and more power in the denomination or the culture. And it's also true that there are hundreds of pastors who simply serve where they are called, regardless of the power or prestige of the position, loving people and serving churches and making the world a better place. Both categories can and do contain faithful (and less faithful) people. The second category is not lesser, or less talented, than the first--though many of us are made to feel that way sometimes.

But as I watch the story of priests, bishops, cardinals who serve their ambition and not the gospel, I have to wonder how much of that history plays into our current understanding of clergy, power, prestige, and ambition--and into the things we think about those who choose to follow a calling to stay in small churches or associate positions.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


I have some amazing friends--people who have walked with me on the journey of life and faith, people who listen well, people who tell amazing stories, people who know how to share laughter, people who have challenged and supported and generally been fantastic.
Among these friends:

Rachel (my best friend from high school), with whom I shared the excitement of the Running Start program, where we went to college during high school, and who has been an important partner in my seeking and discovering both faith and ways to do good in the world...who recently got married in a fantastic (if I do say so myself) ceremony in Seattle. (why yes, I did do the ceremony! and I did refrain from using my impromptu "sermon" in the ceremony to tell Alan, her new husband, how funny I think it is that one of the things Rachel keeps saying is that she likes to hang out with him, in spite of the fact that Rachel is the only person I know who has ever declared a moratorium on "hanging out." (scroll down to January 13) LOL.)

Amy (my best friend...we met in seminary), who I didn't like at first and who didn't like me! Amy has been with me through so much...seminary, relationships, good choices and mistakes, adventures and explorations (which is NOT the same thing as being lost!), travels, hopes and dreams both fulfilled and dashed. We may live hundreds of miles apart, but still our friendship grows thanks to cell phones and airplanes.

Elsa (a fantastic friend I met through the young clergy women project), who opened her heart and her home when I so needed both of those things. Elsa also knows how to challenge and support simultaneously, which is a little ridiculously impressive. She calls me on my crap, listens when I spout my neurotic issues, and knows how to use twitter and text messaging to great effect. I particularly appreciate the way she is compassionate and loving and blunt all at the same time. And, of course, the parts of our journey that we share in common make her a wonderful sounding board and comforter when I'm particularly neurotic about health issues or grief stuff.

The PFC girls--my McHenry County friends, amazing women who play and laugh and cry and are generally wonderful. They are fun to hang out with, good friends and wonderful people. Their compassion, willing spirits, and great laughs make my life here very good.

Among these PFC girls is one who is moving away. I know from experience (obviously) that it is more than possible to maintain and even grow friendships without living near each other. But it's still hard--to know that the days of random dinner parties or late-night tv watching or shouting at Mario Kart or spur-of-the-moment hot cocoa with bailey's nights are coming to an end, to know that when I forget something I can't just call this friend to help, to realize how much that friendship has come to mean and to contemplate the ways it will change now that we have to drive 4 hours to visit in person. We'll still be friends, and we'll still be close I'm sure, but it will be different. So I think I'll take this moment to just say thanks: Thanks for being my friend, for keeping me sane, for listening and talking and watching The Doctor and talking about Buffy and commiserating sometimes and doing rituals and making up youth group games. You're awesome. I'll miss you.

As is probably obvious from my list of good friends, I'm not used to being one who stays behind. I've almost always been the one who moved away. It's a weird feeling, but I suppose it's part of being a grown up and part of living in a culture where people move for economic and family and other kinds of opportunity. I understand it, but I don't have to like it (lol).

Monday, January 03, 2011

Things I Did at the End of 2010

This year I finally joined the rest of the country on a couple of random bandwagons. Among them...

* I joined Netflix. Thanks to a gift subscription for my birthday, I'm now on the get-DVDs-in-the-mail-and-watch-whatever-I-want-streaming plan that everyone else has been on for, oh, 10 years. And for all the pooh-poohing I've done, and all the claiming that I don't need that, I will say that I absolutely love it. And that I'm watching more TV and movies than at any time in recent memory. You would not believe the stuff that's out there, just waiting for you to add to your queue.

* I started playing video games other than Wii Fit. I became obsessed with Mario Galaxy 2, for instance. obsessed. Sadly, this has not improved my ability to play the float-your-bubble-down-the-river Wii Fit game, which I had hoped would be a side-effect of my eyes and brain getting used to how video games look and move on the screen.

* I joined Skype. Yeah, I know, everyone's been doing that for even longer than netflix. whatever. I had iChat with video chatting, so why did I need skype? Oh wait, so I could keep in touch with friends who don't have macs. duh. My campaign to just get everyone I know to buy a macbook has failed due to cost, and skype is free.

* I got a Kindle and also managed to download a ton of stuff before I even knew what hit me. I heart my Kindle and read on it almost every day. My favorite part is that I can read while lying down and never have to worry about the left page, which always makes my arm tired when reading regular books. I do still love books, of course, and I don't think they're going anywhere. There's something about the tactile experience of a book that you just can't replicate. but I finally got over that and joined the zillions of people who've been doing the e-reader thing for half a decade already.

* I decorated my house for Christmas. I don't normally do this, but it seems like the thing to do this year. So my living room/dining room/kitchen have lights and ornaments other other fun. No tree (cat hazard) but it is sort of festive when the lights are on.


There are some things I did not do this year that everyone else is doing, too. For instance:
I did not get on any of the no-really-you-can-keep-your-house-clean-in-5-minutes-a-day bandwagons. I'm not sure they're for real anyway, at least not without significant up-front time investment, and besides that I'd rather relax my five minutes and clean once a week. (Well, okay, who are we kidding...I get to the end of the week and would prefer to sit on the couch, so it's more like once every 2-3 weeks...but that's where Roomba and a dishwasher come in. Praise the Lord.)
I did not join any weight-loss programs, though I did exercise more and attempt, generally, to eat better. People seem to think I've lost weight, which is lovely of them. Whether it's true or not is unknown.
I did not pay my quarterly estimated taxes on time. sigh. I swear I'm going to be better about that this year.
I did not file a single thing at my house this year. I made a pile of all the stuff to be filed, but I filed nothing. This year I have to decide whether to go ahead and file it or just shred everything and start over.
I did not blog or tweet as much as I should have. This community is important to me and if I want it to be community for me I need to participate I'm working on that.
I did not get a smartphone. I did get a new cell phone, touch screen and everything (hello, 21st century, nice to see you 10 years in)...but no internet, no email, no apps. My one hold-out in the culture of always-available.

And now it's a new year, with new possibilities. May it be filled with good things.