Thursday, February 28, 2013


I confess that I really wanted today's word to be "listen" instead of "hear"--because it's so much easier to take a picture of listening. or of things i listen to.
But here we have it...a picture of the little gadget that allows me to hear all kinds of things. I plug my phone in and voila--whatever's in my iTunes, over the radio. Tonight it was Stuff You Missed In History Class. (who are we kidding--that's what it is a LOT of the time.) I heard all about the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe's death, and about the early life of John James Audubon (I had 2 episodes worth of driving). So interesting. And you never know when you might hear the tidbit that opens up the scripture or sermon in a new way!

Day 13 of Lent photo-a-day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Okay, I'm genuinely curious:

There is a ton of uproar about horsemeat in various products, from Ikea meatballs to prepackaged dinners to who knows what else. So far I haven't even heard any stories about horsemeat in things sold in the US, and it's still huge news. Everyone is disgusted, outraged, grossed out, upset, etc.


Why is eating horsemeat so much more disturbing than cows? or pigs? or chickens? or turkeys? or fish? or veal? lamb? deer? rabbit? duck?

(the same could be asked of our aversion to the asian countries that regularly consume dog or cat.)

If the thought of eating a horse is so disturbing, shouldn't the thought of eating any animal be disturbing? What's the difference?

the vegetarian who thinks it's all equally appalling

(and who thinks that the labeling issue is a big one--we should know what's in our food, and companies should be honest about that. but is this really about labeling, or about eating horses? My sense is that it's the latter, based on the tone of news reports...)


you probably need a lift to get to the top of the snow mountain I lifted out of the driveway this evening. And having done that, I don't need to lift weights tonight. :-)

for perspective you can see my car at the end there...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I *AM* a feminist

There seems to be an epidemic of women, especially women with a platform, declining to be feminists. They use their platforms--whether it's a stage or a blog with an audience or a position in a major corporation or a turn on the floor of the legislature--to insist that they are not feminists and do not want to be feminists.

Which has a certain irony to it, since feminism is what makes it possible for them to go to school, wear pants in public, have jobs other than secretary-kindergarten teacher-nurse, and enjoy their platform that speaks to people across gender lines.

Last night's Oscar experience brought this all to the fore, again, because...again...the junior-high-humor focused primarily on degrading women. Which, for the record, is not funny. It is not funny to identify incredible actresses by their breasts. In fact, it's shameful that we still think women have to get naked to sell movies, and they'd better be tall slender (mostly white) women if they want to get the job. It is not funny to call on tired stereotypes of women as grudge holders in an attempt to get a laugh. It is not funny to make jokes about eating disorders and the "fashion" that so often requires women to "get the flu" before a big event in order to fit into the dress. It is DECIDEDLY not funny to make jokes that cast a talented young girl as victim of statutory rape, nor to refer to her with disgusting epithets.

see? not funny.
Until these things are seen as the horrific commentary on the joke-maker that they really are, we still need feminism.

Not to mention that until women make as much money as men for the same jobs, we still need feminism. Until women can wear what they choose without being blamed for men's infidelity or for their own rapes, we still need feminism. Until our legislative body is representative of our population, we need feminism. Until our advertising finds way to sell products other than putting a scantily clad person (woman or man) in the picture, we need feminism. Until we have healthcare and childcare that take care of the whole population, not only well-off men, we need feminism. Until the predominant image of a successful person is not always a white man in a business suit, we need feminism. Until it's okay to talk about God with words other than "He" and all of humanity beyond "man," we need feminism.

In other words, until women and men are treated equally, and until the underpinnings of our cultural narrative recognize equality, we need feminism.

To be clear, feminism is not man-hating. Feminazis and bra-burning are propaganda of people who are holding desperately to their power, fictions created by men who insist that "allowing" women equal rights somehow diminishes men.

This is, frankly, not true. In fact, the opposite is true. As long as anyone, in and of themselves--of any gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation or socio-economic status or religion--is seen as less-than, is an easy and obvious target for jokes, is blamed for society's (or the church's) ills, is perceived as a threat to the status-quo, we are all diminished.

And yet women fall into the trap--we have allowed the rhetoric to become truth inside us, believing that the fight is over, the victory won, or that only bitchy power-mongers are feminists, or that if we stand up for ourselves then we deserve whatever we get. We have become accustomed to politicians and pundits making decisions about our bodies, our marriages, our healthcare, and our labels/nicknames. We have allowed ourselves to believe that if only we are nice and pretty (and thin, and white but tanned) then we will be loved...but not before. We have bought into the idea that if we want to choose to stay home and raise a family, we're letting down women everywhere and so have to be defensive all the time. We have believed that everything in life is a zero-sum game and we are somehow taking things away from others.

These are the lies feminism tries to counter. (interestingly, they are also the lies Jesus tries to counter. a coincidence? unlikely.)

I appreciate the work that was done by first wave feminists who labored so that I can vote. And believe me, I vote.
I appreciate the work that was done by second wave feminists who labored so that I can wear what I want, including trousers in a public place; so that I can get an education in any field I choose (a right not afforded even to people in my mother's generation); so that I can work in a job that I am interested in and fulfilled by; so that I can speak out in public places; so that I can choose whether and when to have a family; so that I can travel, and have a credit card and a bank account and a mortgage, all without my father's permission.
And I appreciate the legacy and responsibility left to those of us in the third wave: we may not be fighting exactly the same battles, and we may not be doing it in the same way, but we are still needed. Feminism is not a quaint movement of the past.

And I am not willing to benefit from the movement without also taking it up so that others might do the same. To set aside the word "feminist" I would also need to set aside my education, my jeans, my job, my blog, and my passport. I doubt any of the women who have so publicly derided 21st century feminism want to do any of why are they so quick to lay down the word?


We all know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover.

And yet...

We do. All the time. Sometimes it's literally judging a book by the cover art. Other times it's the more insidious judging a person by their weight or hairstyle or eyeglass frames.

The covers matter, obviously--offering us glimpses of what's inside, teasers. Or covering up what's inside, hiding reality from view.
But they're also the part of a book most easily lost. Can we say the same about our own covers?

I'm a total sucker for the girl-in-a-dress-red-and-gold cover

day 11 (not counting sundays!) of the Lent photo-a-day challenge.

Monday, February 25, 2013


sometimes seeing what could be is the hardest part of being a pastor. Not only in the sense of figuring out what could be--the sense of having vision in the first place--but also in the sense of trying to convey the vision, or having the vision and knowing that others don't see it.

But sometimes seeing what isn't yet there, imagining possibilities, wondering and creating...sometimes the vision begins to take shape.

the cross becomes the tree of life, one branch at a time....

2nd Sunday in the Lent photo-a-day challenge

Sunday, February 24, 2013

standing on the promises--a sermon for Lent 2C

Rev. Teri Peterson
Standing on the Promises
Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18, Luke 13.31-35
24 February 2013, Lent 2C (Rooted in Love, Growing in Faith 2)

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
 Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’

God has made some lofty promises in God’s day—from proclaiming all creation good to promising to care for the world and not let anger rule the day to the sweeping statement “I will be your God and you will be my people.” It’s enough to prompt us to pray: “happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers, but their delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.”

Quite a promise! Does it sound familiar?

Was anyone able to work on internalizing this promise of God this week? How did that work for you?
How about hearing the story of Jesus in Mark’s gospel? What was that like?

Last week we talked about getting rooted in God’s word—hearing and telling and reading God’s story, letting it live in us and finding ways that we can live in the Word. Starting with Mark allows us to get in on the action of Jesus who lives out God’s promise, embodying God’s presence with us in both words and deeds. If you didn’t have a chance to read Mark out loud last week, I encourage you to do it this week—not only will it deepen your own life with God, the shared experience will deepen our life as a community as well.

Because the thing about life is that sometimes it’s hard. Things don’t go the way we hope, or we feel alone, or we wonder just what God is up to. Abram, for instance, had done everything God asked—when God said Go, Abram went. God promised many children, and Abram believed. But now we encounter Abram, still traveling, still childless, and beginning to ask questions. Where is this promised land? Where are these promised descendants? Is God really a faithful keeper of promises, or is this God just as capricious and volatile as the other gods worshipped by the people Abram’s met on his journey? At some point, the promise begins to sound a little ridiculous, and people’s opinion changes from “Abram is so faithful!” to “oh, silly Abram, still waiting on God…he needs to get out and do something about this situation for himself!”

photo by TrombaMarina
Abram does what many of us have probably done: he looks around at his situation, and he looks at God and says “umm, God? I’m trying to be faithful over here, but I’m starting to get discouraged…” And God looks back and gives Abram something to hold on to: “look to the stars, and take courage.” Looking up at the multitude in the heavens, seeing the Milky Way streak across the sky, the stars and planets twinkling in their place, light coming from billions of miles away, Abram’s spirit was lifted and he was able to go on, standing on the promise of God.

It’s not always that easy, it seems. Sometimes we get discouraged, we wonder if faith and hope and work and prayer are in vain. Looking at the stars seems a mediocre option designed to remind us of our smallness, not God’s faithfulness. Besides that, the forecast is for clouds and snow this week. So this week I’d like to challenge you to look for a sign of God’s faithfulness. Take a photo or write a few sentences describing where you see God’s promise. If you’re on facebook, post it on our church page. If you’re not, send me an email and I’ll post it for you. Or bring a photo in to the office. As we get more grounded in God’s promise and faithfulness, our own faithfulness also grows—and what better way to encourage others in the body of Christ than through sharing our visions of God’s promise with one another?

These are the kinds of things that help us stand on God’s promise even when things seem dark. Even Jesus relied on the images of his community when he looked to his coming task. He knew he had a hard road ahead, and there was a fox in the henhouse. Herod and his cronies had plans not just for Jesus, but for their people. Herod was a king only in name—his lavish lifestyle was financed by his Roman puppeteers, and he liked it that way. It gave him all the power with none of the responsibility, and the people suffered. Rather than learning to be faithful, they learned the path of least resistance, keeping the call of God inside the synagogue while letting the political powers push people into poverty and hopelessness. They had learned well that getting their hopes up led to crushing defeat and worse oppression, so they kept their hope under wraps. But Jesus is the fiercest mother hen there is, and he wasn’t afraid to pull his people under his wing and proclaim that the fox doesn’t have the power we think he does. Jesus was able to hold on to God’s promise in a way that the people couldn’t. In some ways, he held on to the promise for all of us—when we couldn’t believe, he was faithful anyway. He called up the same images the prophets used in the old days, he leaned on the stories of God's call and God's love, and shared them around so that all could be strengthened by the reminder that God keeps promises, every time.

It’s easier said than done to reach our roots down into God’s promise. Because sometimes the promises feel like they’re far away or for another time and place. And sometimes things happen that make us wonder if God is in fact good all the time…or if God is powerful enough to do anything about our situations. It can be hard to keep our eyes on the promise when our vision is filled with urgent worries and needs and hurts. Sometimes we can’t see what God is doing. And while I’m not quite willing to say that bad things are actually good in a bigger picture, I am willing to say that God has promised a future with hope, plans for our welfare and not our harm, and that God does not break promises. I am willing to say that God is love, and while our understanding of love is woefully shallow it still gives us a glimpse of the goodness God wills for all of creation.

God’s promise doesn’t come easy. Our call is to look to God’s faithfulness in order to grow in our own. Nowhere does God ask us to create faith from a vacuum and build it up with our own power. Instead the scripture says that we love because God first loved us. It says that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit. And over and over and over, it says that God is faithful and just, loving and compassionate. Then, having learned who God is, scripture asks us to be mirrors of God’s grace, reflecting love and hope and light into the world. We are called to be like trees, planted by streams of water—growing and producing fruit that gives others a glimpse of the glory of God. We are promised that God will never leave us nor forsake us, that love will be the foundation of all our days, that abundant life is possible, that streams of living water will flow through us and we will be both filled and ready to offer living water to others. If we live as if God’s promise is true, we might find ourselves to be a part of the new thing God is revealing, slowly but surely. We might discover that, however briefly, we are living in the kingdom of God even now.

So this week, look to the stars, or the snowflakes, or the word, or wherever you see God at work, and get more grounded in God’s promise, so that we, like Abram and like Jesus, can be focused on God’s will and become living good news to the world.

May it be so. Amen.


This is where I live.

Well, kind of.

This is the site of the Crystal Lake Community Garden...and I actually live just off the right of this photo.

It doesn't look like it now, but there's amazing stuff going on under all that snow. The soil is freezing and thawing, soaking up water, replenishing itself, being composted by worms, and preparing to feed amazing crops of veggies that my neighbors will plant in just a few weeks--and later this summer, we will live off the fruits of that labor (both theirs and the earth's).

day 10 of Lent's photo-a-day challenge

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Some of these words are hard to capture in a day-to-day life photo! I know some people are using photos they find and others are using past photos, but I've approached this challenge as "each day take a photo that illustrates the word" (well, illustrate may be the wrong Reveals?) anyway...Spirit s a hard one because one of the things about The Spirit is how elusive she is--present yet always just out of intellectual reach. And when we think about the spirit of a person or a place, how do we capture that essence in a photo?

So today I have that expresses the spirit of an animal (and those of us who love him) and one a little more tongue in cheek...

the guinny-dawg, enjoying some snow snarfing!

it was national margarita day, so of course i went to the tequila bar and had a lemon-thyme margarita. yum.

Day 9 of the Lent photo-a-day challenge

Friday, February 22, 2013


A whole room of people talking about what the church will do when the state says that 2 people who love each other can get married. For Presbyterians, this is a complicated issue (for a bunch of reasons), but one thing that's not complicated is that we love our people, and we want to celebrate that God's love is made visible in our relationships. So here we are, making some steps toward figuring things out...

day 8 of the Lent photo-a-day challenge.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I struggled with the prompt today...while I may be prone to using the word "evil" to describe many things, the reality is that evil is a serious word. I found I wasn't willing to commit anything to the permanence of a photo labeled "evil." I can think of many things that are wrong or unjust, but evil? So today's photo is absent...because evil is really an absence, right? The absence of compassion, love, hope, light. Consider the space to be a reminder that evil is both insidious (hard to pin down) and impermanent.

Day 7 of the lent photo a day challenge.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Here's where I learn wonder...other worlds, ripe for exploring, for learning, for escaping or enriching. Wonders of language, of imagination, of history, of spirit. And to double the wonder, that little kindle has more books on it than both shelves combined. Amazing.

these are just two of six shelves at my house...and a similar number in my office. All full.

day 6 of Lent photo-a-day

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Today I took myself out of my office and into the world. This is what I saw in my work day at the train station Starbucks:

people of every ethnicity, age, fashion sense, and destination...from families speaking Hungarian to their children to grandparents heading someplace with an overnight bag, from people plopped down at the table next to me with a laptop to people rushing in and out again to catch the train. The world walked through today, and I was there to see it.

Day 5 of the Lent photo-a-day challenge

Monday, February 18, 2013


I have mixed feelings about the word "settle"--like, should we settle for something? That implies it's not as good as what could be. and "Settle down" is often used to put women in their place. But there's also "are you settling in?" which is a lovely question about how I'm getting on and figuring things out and getting comfortable in my new space and place and role. (and yes, I'm settling in nicely!)

And then of course there's the way we use it with our pets. Guinness only settles down if someone's petting him. He likes to know you're there and that he's loved, and then he just settles right into that love--probably the way we could if we were confident of God's hand.

I mean, how adorable is he???

first Sunday in the Lent photo-a-day challenge

Sunday, February 17, 2013

word for Word--a sermon for Lent 1C

Rev. Teri Peterson
word for Word 
Deuteronomy 26.1-11, Luke 4.1-13 17
February 2013, Lent 1C (Rooted in Love, Growing in Faith 1)

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’ Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you”,
“On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Our culture is something of a conundrum. On the one hand, we are people obsessed with our roots—nearly half of American adults research their genealogy for fun. We want to know who we are, so we look at where we came from. And on the other hand, we are people obsessed with insisting that we got where we are on our own merit—we worked hard and pursued our dreams and here we are, never mind the people who came before us paving the way.

Of course, we’re not the first people to live this paradox. Thousands of years ago, people were being encouraged to remember their story. That section of Deuteronomy is an instruction for the future—when you enter the land, and when the land produces fruit, don’t forget how you got here. Don’t forget that you do not cause plants to grow, and you did not bring yourself here—reach to your roots, to your story as a part of God’s people. Remember.

Of course, remembering the story will mean telling it frequently. Deuteronomy 6 tells us to read it when we are alone and teach it to our children and share it in community. Because without the constant reminder of God’s story, without always reaching to our roots, we are in danger of thinking we did this under our own power and intellect. We are in danger of forgetting God, leaving the story on the shelf to gather dust, only pulling the book down to add names or dates to the front page but never venturing into the words that cry out for our attention.

Lent's bulletin cover,
drawn by one of the youth
This Lent we are exploring what it means to be Rooted in Love and Growing in Faith. Just as a tree puts down roots, reaching deep into the earth looking for nutrients and water and something to hold on to, how do we reach deep and get our lives rooted in God’s love? Without a strong root system, a tree cannot grow, it cannot produce fruit, it cannot reach out into the world, it cannot withstand a storm. Trees grow both down and up at the same time—and the growth we see is dependent on growth we cannot see. The same is true of us—we cannot grow in faith if our roots are reaching into deficient soil. We cannot withstand the storms of life if our roots are shallow. We cannot produce fruit if our roots don’t reach to the water source. Sometimes we have to tend to the life others cannot see so that the visible life we lead can be a witness to God’s goodness and grace.

So where do our roots go? How do we deepen them? There are lots of choices in our world—we can be rooted in our jobs, our desires, our friendships, our possessions. But the soil that gives growth is made up mostly of the word of God. Putting our roots down deep into God’s word is the surest way to find nourishment—even Jesus’ quick quote today reminds us that God’s word is better than bread. That means, frankly, we need to read scripture—to get beyond our vague Sunday School memories and our favorite few verses and dig deep. Yes, sometimes it’s boring and full of names we can’t pronounce. Of course, every novel I’ve read also has new names and the occasional slow bit that sets the scene—each writer takes us into a new world with new characters and new perspectives. What would happen if we read Scripture that way, expecting a great story? After all, this library has romance, mystery, action, war stories, intrigue, poetry, letters between pen pals, and sibling rivalry that puts to shame the fights between my brother and me. What would happen if we committed to asking the Spirit to open the word to us, and then we actually read it and let it become a part of us?

Because that’s what we’re talking about here—not only a cursory read, but the kind of reading where you get caught up in the story and wonder what it would be like to be in it, the kind where you’re sad when the book ends. This story may end on paper, but God’s story is nowhere near over. God is still writing this great narrative and calling us to be a part of it. But that means we have to know what God’s been up to before.

This scene of Jesus and the Tempter is a great example. Jesus knows his scripture—he’s ready with a quote or a pithy saying at any moment. But this isn’t just any moment. This is a hungry, sunburned, lonely, tired, thirsty moment. And yet when the Tempter comes, Jesus is able not only to remember that he is a major part of the God-story, he is also able to call up those key teachings and to interpret them for this time and place. He doesn’t just trade scripture quotes with the Tempter, he interprets God’s written word into a living word for this moment, applying it to his situation. In order to do that, we need more than a passing glance at the scripture—we need to know it, to let it live in us not just as words but as Living Word. Then we too will be able to practice interpreting our lives through the lens of God’s story, knowing that we are part of that story. And when the storm comes, or the tempter shows up, our roots will hold us fast, and they will continue to be conduits through which we are nourished to let God’s light shine in the darkness of the world.

I wonder, if Jesus had been told at age 10 that he needed to remember God’s story, to live in the word and let the word live in him, so that one day he would have the resources to turn it from words on a page to Word of Life…what would he have thought? If 10 year old Jesus had been warned that he might one day be tempted to rely on himself, on his own understanding and skills and power and accomplishment, would he have scoffed? Because I think that’s what happened in Deuteronomy. The people were admonished to remember, to hold on to the word, to rely not on themselves but on God’s goodness…and they forgot about 10 minutes after they arrived in the Promised Land. They forgot to tell the stories, they forgot that they don’t cause rain to fall or crops to grow, they forgot that they’d relied on God for two generations and tried to rely on themselves. I suspect we have done the same, more often than we would like to admit. We have forgotten God’s story, believed we are capable of doing it on our own, relied on our version of events rather than reaching for our roots…or even relied on our biological genealogy rather than the stories of our spiritual ancestors.

Of course, spending time deepening our roots looks to the rest of the world like wasting time. But there is nothing wasteful about nurturing a relationship with God. And if we don’t do it, our tree falls down at the first hint of wind and all the serving we do is more about us than God. There are lots of ways to put down roots, and opening up the Bible is one of them. Now, I’m not entirely suggesting that you grab the closest Bible, lock yourself in your room, and start on page one. That isn’t a terrible idea, but around page 75 or so it’s going to start lagging a bit. It takes some serious fortitude to read from the front cover to the back, and it gets really tempting to skim until we find something familiar or to close the book and say we tried. And if all we do is read without letting the words come to life inside us, we’ll still be missing out.

So here’s a suggestion. We’re Presbyterians, which means that we discern God’s living word in community. What if, this week, we all reach deep together. Sometime this week, read the gospel according to Mark—just 16 short chapters—but read it out loud. Don’t use your special scripture-reading voice, read it like an adventure story. Maybe do it as a family and have kids do sound effects while you read. Or imagine chapter 5 is a movie—how would you stage it on film? Whatever you do, just read it out loud, the way it was meant to be read. The gospels were written to be read out loud in house churches, passed among families and read after dinner or at neighborhood gatherings. Mark especially was designed for the voice, not the eye. Try it out.

And, in addition, try to memorize Psalm 1. It’s a prayer and an affirmation of faith, a deep desire and a warning. Look up words—don’t assume that you know what chaff is or looks like—I just looked it up a few weeks ago and was so surprised! Repeat the words over and over. Write them down using pen and paper. Draw a picture of the psalm. Whatever works to get the words into you, a part of you, so they appear in your thoughts throughout the day, word for Word. Exercise those memory muscles—it’s good for your brain and your spirit.

Hearing the story of Jesus and praying the psalm are a great way for us to enter Lent together, to reach our roots deep and seek nourishment in God’s word, so we can be rooted in love—because when we are rooted in love, we grow in faith.

May it be so.


I was wondering what kind of photo of "injustice" I could get today...and then I came home to find that a neighbor has officially been foreclosed on (we thought this was coming), and it made me think of the injustice of our housing/financial system: that you can't sell in this market, and you can't get approval for a short sale unless you're behind on payments, and you can't get Medicare to pay for long-term care unless you're bankrupt, and so many other injustices in our system....and it makes me so sad that this real-estate-reality is hurting lovely older people who have spent a lifetime being responsible and now are ending their lives as part of a statistic of "irresponsible" people.

I don't know why J had to leave her home downstairs from mine (and the fact that I know so little about my neighbors is part of my culpability in a system of injustice), but I do know that this epidemic of foreclosure and the realities of our financial system are unjust.

Day 4 of the Lent Photo-A-Day challenge

Saturday, February 16, 2013


This is what I see every time I sit down, or lay down, or stop moving long enough to be colonized by a cat.
Wonder what he sees?

I hope he sees a cat mommy who loves him a lot even when she's sighing about him sitting on her book...I hope he sees someone who loves him unconditionally even when she's throwing towels at him in nail-clipping-frustration...I hope he sees someone who will do just about anything to make sure he's a happy kitty, and just about anything to bring comfort to others too...I hope he sees someone who cares a lot about the world and works to make it a better place, one cat toy and one treat at a time...I hope he sees someone who walked into a cat shelter and had her heart stolen and who continues to walk into people-shelters to have her heart broken again and again...I hope he sees someone who lives love.

(no zoom on this...he was that close to the camera.)

Andrew, half asleep
Day 3 of the Lent photo a day challenge

Friday, February 15, 2013


I was in the city today to meet other clergy new (or new-ish) to the Presbytery. I came home on the rush hour express train, when many return to their places of rest at the end of each day.

I often have mixed feelings about this time of day. Because I love the city so much, it feels like "returning" when I go in the morning...and yet at the end of the day I also like to go home to my kitties and my quiet neighborhood. The city is both home and not home for me right now. Weird. (of course, if I had the opportunity and the means, I'd most likely move down there in a heartbeat. then I would return to the suburbs to see friends and get kale and other such it's a multi-faceted return!)

(of course, about 10 minutes after I left the Presbytery office it occurred to me that I should have taken a picture of THAT--because I am returning to my first Presbytery....d'oh!)

Return: Day 2 of the Lent photo-a-day challenge.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who Am I?

Who Am I?

I am my mother's daughter.

(and I totally jury-rigged a bunch of stuff together to make it possible to take this photo, which I'm pretty sure is further proof that I am my mother's daughter. All I was missing was duct tape. lol.)

Ashes to ashes...

Ash Wednesday is here. You might see people walking around with smudges of dust on their faces--it's okay, they mean to do that.

This is one day in the church's life when we acknowledge, out loud and in public, that we are not the super-people we think we are or would like to be--we are temporary (or, as one youth ministry writer says, "we are all interims"). Our existence is temporary, and will come to an end...for many of us, sooner than we would like.

It's a harsh word, but a true one.

Most of us receive this word today in the company of others who are hearing the same harsh words, spoken with love. We surround each other with grace that is hard to believe in the context of the words "you are dust..." We pray together, we admit our wrongs and our failings together, we practice saying "I'm sorry" and meaning it, we listen for hope in the darkness, we feel the grittiness of loss on our skin...together. We are alone in our reality, but also not.

There is a movement now called Ashes-To-Go, where pastors and priests have taken ashes to the streets. I can't decide if I love or hate this idea.

On the one hand, I am all about going to where the people are, bringing our liturgy to the streets, reclaiming rituals, and reminding people of God's love in the midst of their daily lives. In that sense, Ashes-To-Go are one of the coolest things ever--they are offered as a reminder of so many things, all in a minute or two on a train platform or on a street corner. Getting the church outside the walls, finally!

On the other hand, I worry that it turns the observance of Ash Wednesday into just another display that doesn't come with meaning. It's profoundly individualistic, really, to just "get smudged" and go on your way without the confession, without the community. Who is going to walk beside these people in the moment the ashes become more real than they imagined? Who is going to hold them accountable when they fail (and they will--we all do) at turning toward God this season, or the next? What do the ashes mean to people who do not receive them along with the words of lament and promise, or for whom this is the one religious thing they'll do all year?

It feels a little like the opposite of the Matthew 6 reading usually appointed for this day, the one about not making a show of your spiritual life, warning us to beware those who are public in their prayers but shallow in their faith.

I haven't fully thought this through, I'm only noticing that I'm mildly uncomfortable. I guess I just don't know why people would want to receive ashes alone, or what they mean outside of the context of a community, and I'm a little afraid the answer is "because it's what we are supposed to do."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

more on Lent practices

There are several posts about Lent around the Presbyterian blogosphere this week. So far, all of them basically say "don't just give up something for the sake of giving up something, and don't be self-righteous about it...take something on! Do justice! Make the world a better place! Even if you do give something up, balance it with a new service project!" And they are just as emphatic as I am. And they're not wrong: there is a lot to do, and scripture exhorts us to do justice and love kindness, to fast by letting the oppressed go free and feeding the hungry.

And that's all good, believe me. I want us to do those things. Just about every sermon I preach involves some variation on "so get off your behind and do something already."

But my experience as a Presbyterian has led me to 10 years of asking the question: how is the church different from the Rotary Club? And this is the question I return to every Lent, when we are enjoined to abjure that Catholic Practice of giving up chocolate or alcohol or meat in favor of adding in more volunteerism.

Both the Church and Rotary (and zillions of other worth organizations and NGOs--they're just the most popular in most places I've lived, so they make a good example) encourage and empower people to do good works. Both meet together and have a liturgy. Both send volunteers out into the world, both locally and globally. Both encourage meeting others where they are, getting to know people and partnering with them, hearing people's stories, and cross-cultural community-building. Both ask their members to be generous with their resources of time and money and energy.

Is that all the church is?

Or is there a season built into the Church's life that is designed to remind us that we don't do these things because we think we can save the world? A season when we come to the well and engage in some introspection, nurturing a relationship that allows us to do those other things? A season when we can take a little Sabbath and learn again why we do the things we do? A season when we can return to delight in the being of One who delights in us, tending a friendship, sloughing off those things that have kept us apart and renewing our commitment? A season when we spend time figuring out just what it means to Enjoy God Forever?

Of course, we should be doing that all the time. But, being human beings, we don't. We forget. We turn away. We get busy. We believe ourselves capable of doing it without that time of repentance (turning back) and rest (a commandment).

And I confess that the way many of us approach Lent sounds suspiciously like American Culture--more so than it does following Jesus who took time out even when people were looking for him to do work, more than it does cleaving to the God whose prophets asked us to walk humbly with God in the same breath they asked us to do justice. Does that phrase, "walk humbly," remind anyone else of the garden story, in which God walks in the garden with his friends Adam and Eve? They talk together like friends. When was the last time we spent any time cultivating that kind of relationship? In order to do that we have to make choices--we have to say no to things that are good and worthy endeavors. Because just like any other relationship, it takes time and focus.

This American Culture Lent is one that tells us not to be lazy, to be productive, to do more and be more and earn more. It's one that tells us that God is utilitarian--to be approached when we want something but otherwise left alone while we get to work. This Lent leads us toward the Easter Bunny, not toward a tomb, in nearly the same way that secular Advent leads us to the tree, not the manger.

I don't think I know any mainline protestant who is in danger of spending all their time contemplating the beauty of God and neglecting to feed the hungry. (I mean, even monks feed the hungry and tend the sick and help the poor and offer hospitality--MONKS, the very definition of out-of-touch piety in protestant tradition!) I do know LOTS of mainline protestants who are in danger of forgetting that they are participating in something God is doing, not building it themselves. And this is what Lent is for: to spend a few weeks looking inward so that when Love bursts out of the tomb, we can too. Who knows, maybe it'll even be the revival we've been hoping for.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lenten Discipline

It's almost Lent again--a mere two days until Ash Wednesday means there's not much time to decide what kind of discipline you might want to undertake this Lent.
Assuming, that is, that you observe Lent and that you do so with a discipline.

We don't much like the word discipline, but it's so intertwined with "disciple" that it's hard to ignore the connections. And still the Protestant world has pretty successfully ignored them for a while now, because there is such anti-Catholic bias in so many of our Protestant churches. The idea of observing Lent with purple paraments and no alleluias is about as far as we are willing to go--personal discipline is much too Catholic (or too demanding?).

Where Protestants have observed Lent with personal disciplines, we are fond of the "take something on" approach. I have actually heard people say "We're not Catholic--we don't give things up for Lent." As if personal sacrifice or fasting were the sole province of the Pope (who, according to twitter, trumps us all with what he's giving up for Lent...haha).

I'm a fan of taking on new practices--such a fan that I co-authored a book about it, in fact. But I'm also not willing to let go of the idea of giving up, of fasting. In a world that is SO focused on consuming, on being consumers, on having and doing the most, why do we insist that the only way to be faithful is to DO more? Why can't we practice the discipline of letting something go, and when we want that thing, focusing on our real hunger?

I'm not suggesting we give up chocolate or caffeine for Lent. Though I have done those things, and let me tell you they did not improve the spiritual lives of those around me, let alone my own.

I AM suggesting that we re-evaluate why we are so loathe to give something up. Is it really because that discipline belongs solely to another religious tradition? Or because we're not willing to do it, and we've "spiritualized" the reasoning?

in my case, it actually means NOT eating fast food!
For the past several years I have given up eating out during Lent. It's been partly about using the season to be more aware of what I put into my body and when, and partly about sacrificing something that I both enjoy and is convenient, and partly about noticing how much more money I spend when I eat out. Eating only food I make at home forces me to pay attention, to prepare ahead of time, and to limit how much I work (Can't spend all day and night in the office with only a quick run to taco bell...have to get out at some point, or have to have made lunch and dinner and brought them with me...). It's a nice multi-faceted practice, combining awareness with simplicity with justice with sabbath, that I've tried with varying degrees of success. What has not varied is the response I've gotten from fellow Presbtyerians, who universally disdain the idea of giving something up for Lent. Because the most helpful thing to do with a companion on the spiritual journey is to mock their attempts at discipline. (or to snark about them later, I know!)

So, maybe you don't want to give something up. Maybe it really is more meaningful for you to take something on. I would just encourage all of us to consider why it is we have such a visceral reaction to the idea of a fasting practice...why must we DO more? After all, it's not as if we believe we have to earn God's favor (which, strangely, many Catholics do actually believe, and yet...). What if Lent really was a time for introspection and repentance about our consumer culture? Our reactionary feelings against our brothers and sisters in Christ? What if it really was a time to go against the grain of our social system in order to draw closer to God?

If you do decide to go for a new discipline, I suggest letting something go as well. Sort of a two-sided coin--rather than filling up MORE, make a trade-off. Perhaps take a page from Isaiah 58 (which we read at the beginning of the Ash Wednesday service) and go for a justice-oriented in our fast. Try spending 40 days eating like most of the world, or living on $2 a day, and doing some good works with the money we save. Then we both take on and give up, as well as joining our bodies along with our hearts in prayer for others.

Now, having said all that, here are two possibilities for those of you who do want to take on a new practice: one with words, and one with images. Or here's one that's different every day. Try it out. I will. But you also won't find me at a restaurant during Lent (hopefully...), because I'll be praying in the kitchen and the grocery store instead.
(aside: no year has seen a perfect no-restaurant record during Lent. Sometimes things happen. But that doesn't mean I don't keep trying.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

holy ground--a sermon for Transfiguration

side note: We're not reading the Transfiguration story from Luke 9, but it will come up in Sunday School and the children's moment, and is referenced a few times without being directly read. I'm hoping it's *just* familiar enough. 
Just before the sermon, the children will have collected a special offering of socks for the guests at our Wednesday night shelter. Earlier in the week, an email went out inviting people to come to church in sandals or even the original sermon title ("Shoeless") made perfect sense, but didn't make its way into the sermon in the way I expected.

Rev. Teri Peterson
Holy Ground
Exodus 3.1-12, John 13.1-15
10 February 2013, Transfiguration, Barefoot/Sock-Drive Sunday

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Take off your shoes, for this is holy ground.
Take off your shoes, Jesus wants to wash your feet.
Take off your shoes, you’ll track mud into the house.
Take off your shoes, you need to let your socks dry out overnight so you can wear them again tomorrow.
Take off your shoes, and feel the cold and solidity of the floor, the vulnerability with which we walk the earth.
Take off your shoes, even if you think your feet are ugly, for the prophet Isaiah says that the feet of those who bring good news are beautiful.

This is holy ground.

Of course, it’s easy to think of the sanctuary as holy ground. I wonder though, when Moses turned off the path and wandered out into the desert to see this thing that had caught his peripheral vision…did that feel like holy ground? It’s easy to imagine that the disciples who followed Jesus up the mountain and saw him shining next to Moses and Elijah felt they were on holy ground…what about when we follow Jesus downstairs into the shelter, bleach in one hand and cookies in the other—does that feel like holy ground radiating with God’s light?

And what is the deal with holy ground anyway? Is some land holy while other land is unholy? How are we to know the difference? And if we’re busy following Jesus, do we have time to figure it out and stop to untie our shoes? Shouldn’t we be heading down the mountain to get to work?

Well…Moses was out doing his job, tending the flocks. He was a busy man. We like to imagine that the flaming bush appeared in his path, so obvious he couldn’t possibly ignore it. “If only we could have a burning bush,” we lament, “then we would know what to do.” But did you catch what the story said? “Moses said, “I must turn aside to see…” He had to turn off the path and go to where the bush was. Which means he had to have been paying attention to his surroundings, not just walking along with his head down, eyes on the sheep. And then he had to leave his business and indulge his curiosity. I wonder how often our eyes are open to catch what God is doing in our peripheral vision? How often are we curious enough to look for God somewhere off the prescribed path, away from the ways we’ve always done it, or off the side of the career ladder? The first step toward Holy Ground is to wonder and desire—and the second is to wander closer. Being open to the presence of God makes us more vulnerable to divine light, to glimpses of God’s reality…and so we take off our shoes, because any place, no matter how strange, can be Holy Ground.

Unless, of course, we’re busy protesting that this isn’t the way things are done. After all, it’s slaves who get down on the floor to wash feet, not master rabbis. And yet, Peter gets a glimpse of God’s reality too, with Jesus kneeling in front of him, having perhaps the strangest conversation of either of their lives. Jesus has the bowl and the towel, and Peter asks the obvious: “are you going to wash my feet? That’s not the way it’s done!” and when Jesus insists that it’s exactly the way it’s done, Peter does a complete 180 and wants Jesus to give him a bath! You can never say that Peter did anything halfway—he was either all in or all out. But his own understanding of the way things are supposed to work are impeding his vision—he can’t see what God is doing through Jesus because it doesn’t fit into his box for how God does things. And yet he too finds holy ground, taking off his shoes along with the all the other disciples—including Judas, who had his feet washed along with the rest of them—to get a glimpse of God’s reality.

Where is our vision of holy ground obscured by our insistence on having things our way? When might we be missing the beautiful experience of Jesus caring for us, or the wonder of having an honest conversation, or the relief of laying down our burdens, because we can’t imagine it any other way than how it’s always been? Are there times in your life, or in the life of our church, when God’s light wasn’t quite bright enough to break through our own pride or tradition or policies and procedures?

Take off your shoes, for this is holy ground and you are surrounded by holy companions, each of us simultaneously broken and whole, each of us at the same time seeking and resisting, each of us hoping and dreaming and working and failing and loving, all together. That’s part of what makes this ground holy.

All these stories—of a bush aflame with the voice of God, of Jesus shining on a mountaintop, of Jesus kneeling at the feet of his friends, of people with cold wet feet wandering the streets by day and being greeted with warm food and warm blankets in our basement by night—all of them are places where we get a glimpse of God’s reality. They are not escapism: they are breaks in perception that allow us to see the kingdom, to see with God’s eyes. In that light, our own unwillingness to take off our shoes is treated gently, as is our rush to either save the moment with a statue or to get back to normal as quickly as possible. In that light, our own narrow vision is broadened. In that light, we experience the love of God in so many unimaginable ways. The transfiguration story talks about Jesus shining whiter than white—and in that light is all color and manner of light, a refraction for all of us to see by.

That glimpse of real reality is what we’re looking for when we take off our shoes, and when we put them back on. It’s what we’re looking for when we drive to work and when we go out for lunch, when we stop to pray for a friend and when we ask others to pray for us, when we interact with our neighbors and our families, when we work hard and when we stop to rest, when we serve and when we allow ourselves to be served. Once we’ve seen it on the mountaintop, or beside the wilderness bush, or kneeling at our feet, we find ourselves repeating steps one and two over and over again: wanting to see more, and going off the beaten path to look. Sometimes that may take us into shelters and food pantries. Sometimes we might find ourselves walking the streets in prayer. Sometimes that may take us to the halls of congress or the phone line to the white house. Sometimes our looking may bring us into this sanctuary. Sometimes it may take us diving into the scripture or seeking new ways of praying. Sometimes that desire and wonder may take us to the local pub or the Saturday night concert.

Wherever our seeking takes us, we can be sure of one thing: It will be holy ground. And our experience there will fill us with the desire to make God’s reality a reality here and now, to live in the kingdom of God here and now, to let light shine through us so others may see it too. The way of life in the kingdom of heaven isn’t just for heaven—it’s for earth, for us, for everyone. May we seek God’s light, and soak it up, so we can let it shine on all the holy ground.