Friday, January 27, 2012

time to go!

ok, I've finished all my work for this week and next week, I've gotten my house cleaned, I've taken the cat to the vet and had a follow up call with the vet, I've arranged a cat sitter, I've made the copies for worship on Sunday, I've done laundry, and I've packed. It must be time to go!

I'm off to spend a week (back in the normal world next Friday) thinking about Mark and John and Ordinary Time and worship and creative stuff, with really amazing people, in the sun and surf. I'm ready. This is what it's like:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

a year ago...

it's been a year since the start of the Egyptian revolution. A year ago today, we weren't really sure what was going on. Was it just a small protest? A temporary disruption? A year ago, we were watching al-jazeera's live streaming from Cairo on the website and wondering what this all meant. A year ago we were pondering where our friends were, what was happening, and whether everyone was safe. We were watching cars burn, protestors camp, and even people cleaning up trash. We were worrying and hoping all at the same time.

A year later, much has changed, but at the same time little seems to have changed. Mubarak is out but the military is in. Women are still harassed. Photos and videos suggest that the streets of Cairo still have plenty of litter to go around. Schools are in session, people are trying to get jobs, and the economic uncertainty that plagued 25% of the population before the revolution is still there, seeming as steady as the pyramids.

2011 was quite a year for Egyptians and those of us who care about them. It was quite a year for the Arab world in general. But the one-year mark is not the end. There's still lots of work to be done. Keep hoping, keep praying, keep sending good vibes out into the universe--Egypt and its neighbors are on the cusp of possibility. May they move forward into 2012 with grace and peace and justice.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Five: movies!

Over at RGBP Jan asks....
Thinking of movie-watching, what do you prefer?

1. At home or at a theater?
Definitely at home. movie theaters weird me out--they're so odd. They smell like gross stale over buttered popcorn, the floors are sticky, and people always talk--except that I'm always trying to remember NOT to talk...sigh. But the seats are ridiculously comfortable, so there is that...

2. With whom? Whoever is willing to watch what I want to watch!

3. Movie you look forward to seeing? I've been wanting to see Hugo...and I love the colors in the Lorax trailers, so can't wait to see that. I might even go to a theater...

4. Movie you like to see repeatedly? The Princess Bride. heehee. The Lord of the Rings.

5. Food with a movie? It's so interesting how we're basically conditioned to eat while we watch movies. During the 30 Hour Famine we often watch a movie while fasting, and it's strange how much harder it is to fast while watching a movie than while doing other things. I don't love popcorn (though I do love kettle corn!) so my usual movie food is something like lemon heads or milk duds.

Bonus: Recommendations for home/theater viewing. I loved loved loved Puss In Boots. That's one I'll want to have so I can watch it again.

What movies do you recommend? I'm always looking for things to put in my Netflix queue!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It Takes Practice--a sermon for Ordinary 2B

Rev. Teri Peterson
It Takes Practice
1 Samuel 3.1-10
15 January 2012, Ordinary 2B

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’

I admit to feeling a little bit odd reading that text then standing up here to talk. All week I’ve wondered why I didn’t just decide to say “speak, for your servants are listening” and then sit down for a few minutes? In addition to meaning less work on writing a sermon, it seems it would make more sense—why am I talking about a story that’s all about listening? Then I read again the words of the Second Helvetic Confession, which is the topic of our Monday online theology class on the blog. In the very first chapter it says “the preached word of God IS the word of God.” Right…no pressure, then. I’ll just come up with something to say that will be as valuable to you, the listener, as hearing directly from God standing at the foot of your bed or your pew.

I think many of us can relate to the opening of this story—“the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Or perhaps, if we’d read a little before and a little after this passage, we’d relate even more. As Samuel is growing up in the temple, the religious and political leaders (who are the same people) are corrupt, self-serving, and greedy. They claim God’s favor but act in ways contrary to God’s calling and character. So perhaps a better way to say it is “talk about God appeared everywhere, but the word of the Lord was rare.” Sound familiar?

In the midst of this reality—scandal, greed, temptation, abuse of power, corruption—comes, surprisingly, the word of the Lord. But Samuel doesn’t recognize it! There are so many voices, so many noises, so many opportunities, so many people…even in the quiet, in the middle of the night, in the holiest place around, Samuel doesn’t recognize the voice of God.

I think we like to imagine that if God were ever to speak directly to us, we would notice. Maybe because there would be a voice coming from the clouds, as at Jesus’ baptism, or a flaming bush talking in the desert, or a blinding light on our commute, or maybe even a whisper—but preceded by such great signs that we couldn’t possibly miss it. But when God talks to Samuel, it’s in a voice like any other voice, calling in the night. Eli has probably called Samuel countless times before, there’s no reason to assume this night is any different. Who else would be calling, after all?

Because—and here’s what I think is the interesting part of the story—Samuel doesn’t know God. He’s never heard or talked to God before. God calls Samuel before he even knows about God, before he’s learned God’s word. He’s been serving in the temple, helping Eli and his sons, but he doesn’t know God. And yet God speaks to him.
First there are the false starts—where Samuel doesn’t recognize the voice. He’s never heard it before, never spent time talking or listening to God, so why would he know this voice?
Then there’s the instruction—Eli finally realizes what’s going on and teaches Samuel what to do. Instead of rushing off to perform a task, instead of immediately speaking, instead of turning to the person beside him—or the facebook or twitter or blog or phone beside him—he is to simply listen.
And then I imagine there’s some practice. In my mind’s eye I can see Samuel reciting his line over and over, the way I recite my parking space number so I won’t forget it before I get to the train platform. “speak for your servant is listening. speak for your servant is listening. speak for your servant is listening.” I also wonder if he had to sit there in the silence, straining to hear, for a little while. Did God’s voice come again immediately, or did Samuel also have to practice his silent listening first?

Because most things we do take practice, right? It’s rare that we develop a skill without effort, and sitting in silence, listening to others, listening to God—these are no exception. We have to practice silence, even when our inclination is to follow the distractions down their fun rabbit holes. We have to practice listening, even when God doesn’t seem to be speaking. We have to practice discernment, even when we think we know the voice.

I suspect many of us are like Samuel—we haven’t heard directly from God before, and we might not even recognize God’s voice if we did. Sometimes that’s not for lack of trying, either! But for many of us, this discipline of listening is just too darn hard. Our brains don’t seem to be wired for silence, for listening when no one appears to be talking. It’s hard to connect with someone you can’t see, and the ways we can try to imagine—like talking to God on the phone or something—are too cheesy to take seriously. So…it must just be that the word of God is rare.

I wonder if the word of God was rare in Samuel’s day because so few people were willing to say “speak, for your servant is listening”? After all, the message Samuel gets is no walk in the park—it’s a message that will bring pain before the healing can begin. It’s not a message I’d want to hear—I would rather say “listen, God, for your servant is speaking” and not have to worry about the hard parts, because often when God talks it changes our lives. Could it be that God is speaking but we’re so afraid of what God might say that we keep on talking over the still small voice, or we delete the message before we have a chance to hear it, or we assume it's just another call from a friend or colleague or telemarketer?

If so, how do we remedy that? How do we become people who connect with God, who discern God’s voice in the midst of the cacophony of life, and who are willing to share the news which is both hard and good?

Sadly, I don’t think it’s just going to happen overnight. I think it’s going to take some work on our part. Samuel had to learn and practice—and he continued to practice throughout his life—and in the practice, he found a connection to the Holy that he could never have imagined.

We have heard the instruction. so the first step in following it is to, like Samuel, be there. Samuel lay down in his place and waited, and when God spoke he was ready to hear. It could have been seconds or hours of waiting in the silent darkness...are we willing to wait? To make space, however difficult that is, for God to speak? I know it’s hard—believe me. For one thing, I like to talk. For another, I think about things. Some might use the word “obsess.” And for a third, 99% of the time I also have a song or two or three running through my head. I’ve finally learned not to hum all the time, but the music still plays. And let’s not even talk about the allure of facebook and twitter and the 24 hour news cycle. To say that there’s a lot going on in my head is an understatement—and I bet that’s true for most of us. Turning that off takes practice and commitment. When we can’t, it’s tempting to give up. But we don’t give up on math or learning an instrument or soccer practice, so why do we give up on this? It took Samuel and Eli several tries before they figured out what was going on, but they kept at it. It took Paul literally being struck blind. It took Peter hearing himself deny before he could truly hear Jesus. It took Moses several rounds of excuses before he could listen to God. All these people, and many more throughout history, stayed in the game and found that God used them in amazing ways they could never have imagined, and certainly could never have done on their own. There is value in this discipline, in the trying (and even in the failing) to quiet ourselves and listen for the Spirit’s whisper. Let’s keep trying—even just a minute or a few minutes at a time—and eventually, we may find that there’s just enough room for God to enter. And then who knows what might happen?

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Friday Five: AHA! moments

Over at the RevGalBlogPals, Kathryn asks us to share five of our aha! moments...moments of clarity and understanding. I have some that are silly and some serious. naturally.

1. The day I realized that the song did not say "Secret Asian Man." I had always wondered what that was about--how could one be a secret Asian? Why would one want to be a secret Asian? Was this a song about living in the Seattle area during WWII? so confusing...and so much clarity the day I realized that just wasn't what it said at all.

2. The day I finished my petition to major in clarinet performance, was accepted to that major, and realized almost instantly that I didn't want to be a professional clarinetist after all. Of course, I argued with myself for a long time about that because it was something I'd worked so hard was another year or so before I realized what I actually should be doing. And, honestly, I wouldn't trade a minute of that performance degree program.

3. I spent several of my pre-teen years on a small farm, and a lot of our food came from local friends with small farms. When I read Diet For A New America, and saw the pictures, and realized that most people in this country get their food from factory farms (and that we were now city people who would do the same), that was the moment I realized I couldn't be a part of that system. The raising of animals for the purpose of eating them, when it was unnecessary and inhumane and was a major part of the world's food crisis, was suddenly out of the question for me. (of course, we were also poor, and my mom was way too practical to cook two meals, so it wasn't until I was 17 that I could make my own choices about not eating meat and trying to eat as local as possible.)

4. When I returned from my weekend visiting Columbia Seminary (the last of 4 seminary visits), I went straight to church and then shared a cab ride home with my pastor. When he dropped me off at my house, he said "congratulations on your decision to go to Columbia." Of course, I hadn't consciously decided that, but he obviously could hear something I couldn't. I'm glad he shared that with me.

5. A couple of years ago, at Christmas dinner at my aunt's house, she made brussels sprouts that were not disgusting. I had no idea they could be not disgusting. Then this Christmas, Amy's (now husband) Dave made roasted brussels sprouts. I'm pretty sure I ate about 50. Who knew those could be good?

What's one (or more) of your realization-moments?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Day Off

Recently it was decided that both of us pastors should not be off on the same day of the week, so I switched my day off from Friday to Thursday.
It's a weird thing, actually, to be off on Thursday, especially as the day ends and I have to keep reminding myself that it's Friday tomorrow, not Saturday, and that I have to go to work! I'm sure I'll get into the routine, but right now (this is only my third Thursday off) it's still odd, to remember that Sunday is not as imminent as it sounds, and that I still have another day to get work done.

So, on this Thursday off I am trying to remind myself not to check my email, I'm doing one small task (confirming our numbers for the youth group bowling party on Sunday!), I'm planning to pick up my house a little and run Roomba, I'm making risotto...but mostly, I'm sitting on the couch covered in cats. It's a good day.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Peace and Quiet

I am an extrovert. I'm sure you all know that already. I can barely keep my mouth shut, I love to be in stimulating environments, and since I live alone I spend as much of my time as I can being connected to other people through the internet. When I wake up in the morning and when I come home at night, often the first thing I do is check facebook and twitter to find out what the rest of the world is doing. I like to be connected. This summer my peer learning group decided to take a once-a-month social media fast. No twitter, no facebook, no text messages, no blogs...and in order to do that, I basically had to shut down my computer and ignore it the whole 24 hours. I know that my self-control would not extend to writing but not checking the news, dealing with email but not checking facebook, etc. Those 3 days were some of the loneliest I remember in a long time--it's strangely isolating to be cut off like that.

But it's also strangely liberating, after some practice. One of my favorite places right now is my friend Cindy's cabin, which doesn't have internet or tv and where my phone only sort of works. It's quiet in a way that even the far-away-suburbs aren't quiet. It's dark. The disconnection is profound, and I have come to love it, even to crave it. I'm finding that if I don't have some disconnected and quiet time in my day, I'm distressingly unproductive and even crabby. I like to have time to just think.

It could be because of articles like this one, or this one, or this most recent could be because I'm trying to write a book AND have a full time could be because something in my spiritual or emotional life has shifted and I just need more space to contemplate. In any case, I long for the opportunity to turn off my phone and internet and just BE. The science tells me that my brain works better when I give it a rest. The history tells me creative juices flow best when given space to move. The spiritual experience of millions of people before me suggests that it's hard to recognize the movement of the Spirit when I'm busy with the movement of the next thing and the next thing, or with what's happening on facebook or twitter or email or the blogosphere. We need time and space to do nothing in order to be our best selves, to let creativity flourish, and to connect to the Holy. We need sometimes to just turn that other stuff off and just be with ourselves and whatever comes up. And, of course, I could do that at home. I could sit and do nothing, or just shut down the computer and read a book, or be disciplined enough to turn off the wireless while I write so I'm not distracted by that little blue twitter bird. But I'm not to that level of my practice yet, so I still need to be more physically cut off in order to really practice silence. I used to mock those people who have that computer software that blocks websites they choose, or that turns their internet off for defined periods of time--couldn't they just have some self control? It turns lol.

I think it's so interesting when people (including myself) claim that we're just not good at silence, or meditation, or prayer, or retreating, or disconnecting so we can reconnect with our center, or other things in this vein. I've said these words before. I've heard them frequently. But more and more, I'm thinking it's kind of a cop-out. Lots of things are difficult, there are plenty of things we're not immediately good at, but we still believe them to be valuable enough to practice. For instance, none of us learned an instrument, or a foreign language, or math, or how to ride a bike, or a sport, or creative writing, or anything else, instantly. Few of us were immediately good at those things either. They take practice, but we don't just say "well, I'm not good at that" and give up on it. But when it comes to practicing silence or prayer or even just BEING without DOING, we do give up right away. The twitter bird turns blue, or the phone chimes, or we walk past a place with free wireless, or we get a little bit uncomfortable, or start thinking of our grocery list, and we're right back in the thick of things, shrugging off the attempt as just "not my thing." And somehow that's okay in a way that shrugging off math or Spanish or learning to drive would not be.

The thing is...silence, retreat, meditation, prayer--all of these are practices that Christians (and others) have been doing for centuries. They have endured because they have value, and they should probably be a signpost for us too. We (hopefully) don't give up following Jesus just because it's difficult--though I think many of us do do that (hence the prevalence of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). But when we just brush these practices aside as something we're not good at, it's likely we're missing something--something that could deepen our faith and change our lives. So the question is: what is it in that silence that we're afraid of, and how can we let go of the fear instead of the practice?