Friday, May 31, 2013

every day's a mission trip

Tonight we started a new thing, which I'm calling "TOP"--Thursdays on the Patio. Whoever wants to comes to a local restaurant/brewery and sits on the patio talking about theology stuff for an hour. There's a TOPic for each week. Today's was "Faith Outside the Box."

We talked a little about the boxes we put ourselves in and those we think the culture puts us in, as Christians. "Christians should..." be loving, radical, less narrow-minded, relax. Then we talked about how dangerous it can be to put God in a box--ever read that story in 2 Samuel 6? It's something else. Someone who tries to control God gets zapped, literally. oops. Note to self: attempting to control God is dangerous. Too dangerous. Don't do it.

But then...if God is love, awesome, big, good...if Jesus is loving, radical, healer, revealer-of-God...and if the church is the Body of Christ...why aren't we out loving, healing, being radical revealers of God?

short answer: cuz it's hard.
slightly longer answer: because people are a little afraid of Christians--there's so much baggage and expectation and small-box-ness about the word or the idea, that if we say we're Christians or we go to church, people back away a little. We're all tired of having to say "but not that kind of Christian."

really long answer: because we're so busy trying to think the right things that we forget who we're called to BE. we've gotten so confused with the word "church" thinking it's a place we go, we've forgotten how to be the church. we've become so caught up in the stuff we're supposed to do, we don't have time to wonder about God's purpose.

In other words: we've got our hands squarely on the God-box, holding it steady, and we've ceased to expect to get zapped because the God inside is so small and easily contained, manageable.

So what if we could imagine that God is the one with the mission, not us? It's not something we SHOULD DO, but something God IS DOING. Then every day is a choice to join in the mission.

Mission is another one of those loaded words. We think of it as synonymous with serving/helping. So to join God in the mission must mean doing more things. We got into a brief discussion about the word Missionary and how much baggage that has too (see this blog for more on that!). But really, it means BEING with God, paying attention to God's purpose and God's presence.

Reggie McNeal talks about how when we're on a mission trip, we approach every day as if it's loaded with opportunity, with Spirit, with promise. We're looking for where God is acting and how we can be a part of that. Whether or not we actually accomplish anything on the mission trip, we were with God. Maybe we jumped rope with kindergarteners all day, or maybe we built a house, or maybe we ate lunch with people who are alone most days, or maybe we cleaned a park, but whatever it was, we were on the lookout.

What if every day was like that? At my office, I'm on a mission trip. On the freeway: mission trip. At the grocery store, on the playground, walking downtown, on the train, at the coffee shop: mission trip. We're the deployed staff of God, constantly working out God's purpose: the kingdom on earth.

We'd certainly be outside the box!


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dancing Faith: a sermon for Trinity Sunday

Rev. Teri Peterson
Dancing Faith
Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31
26 May 2013, Trinity C

Does not wisdom call,

and does not understanding raise her voice?

 On the heights, beside the way,

at the crossroads she takes her stand; 

beside the gates in front of the town,

at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 

‘To you, O people, I call,

and my cry is to all that live.

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,

the first of his acts of long ago.

 Ages ago I was set up,

at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 

When there were no depths I was brought forth,

when there were no springs abounding with water.

 Before the mountains had been shaped,

before the hills, I was brought forth— 

when he had not yet made earth and fields,

 or the world’s first bits of soil. 

When he established the heavens, I was there,

when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 

when he made firm the skies above,

when he established the fountains of the deep, 

when he assigned to the sea its limit,

so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 

then I was beside him, like a master worker; 

and I was daily his delight,

rejoicing before him always, 

rejoicing in his inhabited world

and delighting in the human race.

Imagine yourself in the year 325. It’s been only 10 years since Christianity became legal, persecution ended, and the emperor decided to ensure the unity of his empire by requiring unity of religion. We’ve been trying to make the story of Jesus, the living Word of God, understandable to all kinds of people, some of whom hear about him not by choice but by imperial decree. No longer are we meeting underground, or in inner rooms of homes, but openly in public, and the gospel is spreading fast.

Then we hear something…whispers…teachers…philosophers…a man named Arius has come to the conclusion that Jesus was created by God the father, and his divinity comes only through adoption, not because he is actually God.

Soon everyone is talking about it, and people are taking sides, and there’s a new danger: if the one church that the emperor is using to hold together his one empire is fractured, this whole enterprise could come crashing down. Constantine, seeing the threat to his political power coming through the hands of a theological dispute, calls together 318 church bishops, puts them in a room in Nicea, and tells them, in no uncertain terms, to solve this problem.

Nicea is normally just a hymn tune to us—we sang it at the beginning of worship. But it’s also a place where the statement of faith, the measuring stick for orthodoxy, the most widely used profession of faith, was written nearly 1700 years ago. In it the bishops attempt to say how it is that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit can all be one—because Arius was dangerously close to polytheism, and we do not believe in three gods! But if you open your hymnal to the front section, page 15, you’ll see that it’s not easy to put this understanding of God into words. It’s never easy, really—God is essentially a mystery, beyond the capacity of human language. And yet we try, over and over.

It’s almost impossible to explain the Trinity without falling into some kind of heresy. Some explanations make it seem as if God is one person of the Trinity at a time—first the Father, then the Son, then the Spirit. Some make it seem as if each person of the Trinity is just a part of God. Others make it seem as if each person of the Trinity is a mask that God wears, showing us first one face and then another, but never the true reality. There’s actually a really funny video about the problems of using analogy and metaphor to try to explain the Trinity. You can find it on the church facebook page.

So how can we talk about God, Three In One, One and Three? Well, first we can remember that the reason we try at all is because we want to put words to our experience of God—and when we talk about our experience of God, we are not talking about the fullness of God. Second, we can draw on an image from the Eastern Orthodox churches, where they talk about the three persons of the Trinity being locked in an eternal dance, circling and weaving and moving together and around and through one another. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are a community that is not complete without each person, but not all mixed up either. They dance, and we experience each differently, and their arms are constantly outstretched inviting us to join the dance. In the words of one of my favorite prayers, “God in community, Holy and One.”

It can be hard, for those of us who have been taught that God is static and unchanging, to imagine God ducking and weaving and swirling and moving and always appearing from a slightly different angle. But scripture is full of times when God changed or took a different tack. What doesn’t change is God’s essence as Love and Justice, constantly together. It’s also hard to imagine being both One and a community in and of Oneself, but there it is. Slightly beyond language, as always.

The keys here are invitation and experience. The creed unintentionally led us down a path in which we started to think that you had to believe the right words about God in order to be faithful. And the words we use do matter—we do not want to give the impression that God is just an actor pretending to be different things, or that Jesus is only part of God or not really God, or that when Paul says “God is Love” he’s only talking about the Spirit, not the Creator. But words are not the end of the story.

In the reading from Proverbs, we meet Sophia—God’s wisdom. In the gospel according to John, Jesus is God’s wisdom incarnate. Sometimes people equate Sophia with the Holy Spirit, because both are feminine nouns and because this passage talks about wisdom having a part in creation. Either way, we hear these words: before the beginning, I was with him. I was there before the waters and the earth, beside the Creator, a confidant, a fellow worker, dancing with delight like a child. Our English Bibles translate “rejoicing” where the Hebrew could also mean “dancing”—which is such a beautiful image, of God the community, dancing together to create and redeem and sustain, constantly inviting us to join this community, to come and experience the dance. It is an invitation to life--and life abundant.

And, as we said already, what the Trinity tries to put into words is an experience. Though we have turned the word “belief” into an intellectual exercise, it originally meant to love whole-heartedly, to trust completely, to give myself over. What a difference it would make if we said not “I believe in God” but “I love God wholeheartedly.” Not “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God” but “I trust Jesus, the Son of God.” Not “I believe in the Holy Spirit” the same way we “believe” in the church and in resurrection, but “I give myself over to the Spirit.”

But in order for that to be true, we have to experience God as more than a thought, more than an intellectual proposition. Ours is a Dancing Faith—and in a dance we give our lives to someONE, not someTHING. Unfortunately, we are the recipients of a long line of faith tradition trapped in the mind. Much of the time, not only do we not experience God, we don’t even expect to encounter God. In our zeal not to check our brains at the door—which I am not advocating! I want us to think!—we have forgotten that there’s more to us than a brain, and more to God than a spoken word. We have lost the dance.

What would change if we expected to encounter God every day? If we were looking for the movement of the Spirit? If we anticipated that God would show up in worship, in Sunday School, on the commute, in the office, in the kitchen? If we really believe that God is everywhere present, why do we so often fail to look for that presence? Why do we so often fail to cultivate a relationship with the One whose hand is outstretched, inviting us into community? Faith is, at its core, about an experience with God. We put words to that, we check whether our experience aligns with the community throughout the ages, and we try not to give the wrong impression of who God is, but ultimately God is beyond our limited human language. The only thing to do is to keep our eyes and hearts open while we sing and dance and pray, that we may one day affirm “I give my life to God, maker of heaven and earth…and I trust in Jesus, God’s son…and I love with the Holy Spirit, giver of life.”

May it be so.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

umbrella realignment specialist

At the Solomon Episcopal Conference Center, every building's front door is flanked by umbrella stands stocked with huge umbrellas. Those in our group who'd not spent much time in the South couldn't really understand that--it seemed so sunny and nice all the time!

When two days of insane thunderstorms brought rain that caused the lake to overflow its banks, they understood.

We grabbed up umbrellas by the dozen and moved them as we moved. They were wonderful. Always available, good size for one or two people, keeping us dry in the downpour as we moved around the campus.

Of course, if it wasn't raining when we left a building, we rarely remembered to grab that umbrella we'd sheltered under just an hour before to take it to the next place or return it to where we found it. We left it drip-drying on the porch.

And someone--a wonderful staff member--would go around the campus and re-distribute umbrellas. They knew it was going to rain again. This two-hour lull at mid-day was a teaser, not an enduring reality. The storm was not past, just resting.

When the rain resumed, we again found umbrellas at every door, just where we needed them.

I had to wonder: whose job is it to realign the stock of umbrellas? How would we have felt if there was not an umbrella waiting on the porch when we needed one, because we'd neglected to take responsibility for the tools we'd been so graciously provided? How easy it is to forget that we still need to carry the tool, even if we don't appear to need to use it right this instant.

And is it the end of the world if my hair gets wet while I sprint from one building to another? (well, okay....maybe. probably.)

Sometimes I wonder if pastors are basically umbrella realignment specialists. It sounds a little more useful than Titanic deck-chair re-arranger (which is a job pastors are often accused of settling for!). We offer the tools...and hope that people carry them around even if they're not using them right this instant. But when they leave those tools lying around somewhere, we pick them up and put them back where they can be of most use next time the rain comes down. It's a behind-the-scenes job. Once I did see someone, across the campus, wrapping umbrellas and placing them neatly in a stand, but in the 2 days of rain that was the only glimpse I got, aside from the fact that there was always an umbrella there when I needed it. That person, whoever he is, equipped the saints.

Who is our umbrella realignment specialist?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Five: if...

Karla over at RGBP gives us a themeless Friday five today.

 1. If you could hear what someone is thinking for a day, who would you choose, and why?
ooh....well, the evil part of me has many answers for this. But really, I would very much like to hear what my cats are thinking for a day...because really, I do wonder!!

what's going on in there?

 2. If you were trapped in a tv show for a month, which show would you choose, and why?
Doctor Who, obviously. Because think of all the places I could go and things I could experience in a month of time-traveling!! (plus it would totally feed my "I can save the world" complex. haha.)

 3. If you could do any job in the world for a day, what would it be?
Is it wrong to say "a job that pays a lot per day"?? LOL. 
I think it would be interesting to be a foreign diplomat for a day. Think of all the insight you can gain into the world's political systems even in just one day....

 4. What are you loving right now?
That it is not very humid in Louisiana this week!

 5. Use these words in a sentence: bless, cheeseburger, chihauha, skipping, Georgia.
And the chihuahua, skipping to the table, held up the cheeseburger, blessed and broke it, and said "Georgia, this would be for you if I hadn't licked it first." ;-)

Wednesday, May 08, 2013


One of the things we did today was look at a variety of "path" images, and see which one felt most like the path we are currently walking. some of the images were of idyllic forest or meadow paths, footprints on a beach, etc. Others were really more wide-open space. Some were briefly heart-stopping, like the guy sitting on the edge of an outcropping of rock over a canyon. Some were filled with people, others deserted. A few went all over the place and had no clear direction. Some had obstacles, others were smooth.

Of course, this morning before breakfast I was out for a walk and I noticed that one of the things that's hard to capture in a picture is the way some parts of the ground are green, covered with something that I know is moss but looks like algae. (of course, given that this is Louisiana, it could be algae, since the air is similar to standing water most of the year! though the humidity the last couple of days hasn't been bad...)

I was trying to capture it in a picture, and this is what I got:

As I walked this path, though, I noticed that's it's really a two-in-one path. (and then I got a better picture later of the green dirt!) There's the wide path that goes...somewhere. And there's the path through the pine needles, clearly carved by water. That water path meanders a bit, but it goes inexorably toward its destination--other water (in this case, the lake). 

of course, walking the water's path is more dangerous--that green stuff is slippery and the path takes many twists and turns. There's lots of opportunity to fall, to get hurt. It's a risk.

I wonder how often I try to walk a path that seems easier, when where I need to be is risk the path of the water, moving always toward where I belong?

(yes, there's a metaphor in there, for baptism and for calling, and probably for any number of things.)

I'm reminded of the sermon Calum preached at my ordination, in which he talked about how Earth is a closed system when it comes to water. The water we have now is all the water earth has ever had, and will ever have. So when we drink a glass of water, it's likely it was once dinosaur pee. 

I don't remember the point of that illustration, but it came to mind again when I was thinking about the water's path within the path. That water wants nothing more than to rejoin its fellow water, and it will move earth and stone and pine needles and who knows what else to get there. And it always goes. 

Maybe the path of the baptismal waters also pushes us inexorably toward the larger body, and ultimately toward the source?

We hope.

Monday, May 06, 2013


here are some things I have seen today that couldn't be captured on camera...

a dragonfly so green it shone like an emerald. Not even joking. If it had held still you would have thought it dropped out of Louis XIV's crown.

a pine tree whose trunk was bent so that it arced across the path. The tree remained rooted where it was, it was still alive and well, but instead of growing up it grew in a perfect arc.

a turtle peeking its head above the water in the pond outside my window.

a knot (or perhaps a stunted branch?) that looks--and I am not kidding--almost exactly like the bagpiping pig gargoyle on Melrose Abbey (a place I have been thanks to RevGal Julie!).

someone whose problem solving skills take a completely opposite approach from mine.


Sunday, May 05, 2013

Active Listening--a sermon for Easter 6C

note: worship this morning includes welcoming new members, a baptism, and communion, so this week's sermon is more of a brief meditation...

Rev. Teri Peterson
Active Listening
Acts 16.9-15
5 May 2013, Easter 6C
new members, baptism, communion

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us. 

Listening can be a hard skill to learn. So often we are taught to think first of how we will respond, and we end up listening to someone only halfway, waiting for the word we can grab on to in our rebuttal. Or we look like we’re listening, but we haven’t heard a word. Sometimes people look like they’re not listening—they’re writing or swiping their phone screen or knitting—but keeping their hands busy or taking notes means they’re listening more deeply than they would otherwise. The goal we’re after, though, is active listening—where we are paying attention to what the person is saying without simultaneously formulating our own thoughts. Active Listening implies that you could repeat back, in your own words, what the other person has said.

The words “active listening” also imply some kind of listening that leads to action, which is exactly what we get in today’s story from Acts. Paul listened carefully to the Spirit, then acted. The apostles listened to Paul, then acted. Lydia listened, and responded. Paul and the apostles listened to Lydia, and stayed with her. There’s hearing and acting all over the place.

In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, the word “hear” is the same word for “obey.” I’ve always loved that because it implies that if you don’t act, you haven’t heard. While the Greek of the New Testament doesn't usually have double meanings, we know that the people spoke both languages so may be drawing on this tenet: to hear is to obey.

How often are we not listening?

Sometimes we are too far away from one another to hear. That’s one of the reasons the worship team has been roping off the back pews—because when we are closer together, we hear one another better, which both improves our singing and builds our community.

Sometimes we are too busy to listen. We get caught up in all the things we have to do and forget that God’s favorite mode of communication is through a still small voice, a whisper we could miss if we aren’t careful. That’s one of the reasons community is so important—we have a group of people around and hopefully at least one of us will get the message, and alert us!—and then we can talk and discern and listen together.

Imagine if Paul had been too busy to sleep at night, or the apostles couldn’t bear to leave their favorite restaurant. Imagine if the apostles protested that they didn’t want to talk to women. Imagine if the women beside the river were spread all along the bank and Lydia had never heard Paul teach. Imagine if she’d said “that’s nice, I have fabric to dye.” Given that Lydia was the first person on the European continent to turn to Christ, if anyone along the way had not listened and acted, our whole story could be very different!

Instead, when the Spirit called them to the water, they heard and obeyed. And then they listened and acted again when the opportunity to celebrate Christ’s presence at the table of hospitality arose through Lydia’s invitation. In this story we see how integrally linked baptism and communion are. At the font, we remember that river that washes away our old self, drinking deep of the hope and new life offered there. And following that stream leads us directly to the table, where we experience God’s grace and hospitality anew, so we are strengthened to offer that hospitality to others.

But nothing happens if we don’t listen—to God and to each other.

May it be so.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Friday Five: Playing along...

Today over at RGBP, Pat offers us a little spring fun... Of course, today it's cold and rainy at my house, but that's all the more reason to dream of sunny days!

It's May! And it smells so good outside. I can close my eyes and remember the golden hours after dinner as the days grew later and later, and we got to play outside until called home. It makes me want to go outside right now and play!

Of course, not all of us are in the northern hemisphere... plenty of RevGals and Pals are experiencing a season that is turning cold and blustery.

So to all of you, wherever you may be, how will you (or would you like to) play this month?

1. Tell about your favorite outdoor play. 
hmmm....I like urban scavenger hunts. I think they're so fun. I love figuring out clues and seeing a city as we look for the answers.

2. Tell about your favorite indoor play.
Board games all the way! My current obsession is Ticket to Ride. I also really enjoy Settlers of Catan, and a good old fashioned game of Clue. (And Scrabble. And Scattergories.)

3. Tell about a game you (or your friends) created. 
Well, I didn't create this game, but I think the youth leaders before me at RCLPC might have. Human battleship--where you pull those wheeled dividers across a room, creating a barrier that you can throw things over. Everyone chooses a spot to stand and then can't move their feet, and throws yarn balls over the divider trying to hit people on the other team and get them out. Sort of like dodgeball only you can't dodge and you can't see who you're throwing at. Very fun.

4. Tell about a game that is new to you. 
I'm just beginning to play Letterpress on my phone. It's a surprisingly confusing game, because none of the rules for similar-looking games apply, and the strategy is still unclear to me. Maybe it'll get more obvious as I keep trying.

5. Tell how you would like to incorporate play into your workday
hmmm...good question! I think it would be great if every meeting involved a few minutes of play--it opens us up to thinking more creatively. I suspect lots of people would view that as wasted time, even if it did get our creative juices flowing so we could be better leaders in the long run.
But not every day has a meeting (anymore) (yay!) so...I'll have to contemplate whether there's a way to work something play-like into a regular day when there are just 2-3 of us in the office. (besides taking a Words-With-Friends break!)

How do you like to play?

Thursday, May 02, 2013


I am preparing for a conference next week, and one of the things I have to do is create a "life-line"--a timeline of my life, divided up in whatever way I wish...presumably divided by major events, turning points, or other demarcations that indicate a season of life.

I'm debating the best way to do that...

*do I want to mark my life by the places I've lived?
   0-8 Hubbard
   8-10 the farm
   10-13 Seattle
   13-17 Yakima
   17-21 Chicago
   21-24 Decatur
   25-26 Cairo
   26-32 Crystal Lake

The divisions make sense, because I think I am influenced by the place where I am. There's something about my environment that matters to how I experience the world and go through life.

*Maybe I should divide by the things I've done at various times....
   0-9 read, run from sheep, gymnastics
   10-21 play the clarinet
   19-32 church church and more church

It's a less clean demarcation, but it could work.

*I suspect some people use their school/work life as the defining experiences...
   0-17 school
   17-21 college
   21-25 seminary
   25-26 missionary
   26-32 pastor

That would be a more interesting division if I had space to think about the overlaps (volunteering on Iona, changing academic foci, etc).

*I could have a really disturbing lifeline centered around boys. (because you know I define myself by my boyfriends, obv.) (that was sarcasm.)
   0-19 none because dating wasn't allowed
   19-20 P.P.
   20-21 T.S.
   21 B.M.
   22 M.H.
   23-26 J.C.
   30 G.F.

Maybe not.

*I could arrange my lifeline on my travel experiences...
6: disneyland!
14: Washington DC
16: Interlochen, MI
17: Hawaii
18: Belgium
19-20: Scotland
22: cross-country road trip extravaganza
23: Jamaica
24: Middle East Travel Seminar
25-6: Egypt, Palestine, Italy
29, 30, 31, 32: Caribbean/Bahamas
31: Scotland
32: ???

*Maybe by pets...
   Tang and Rusty
   Doris and Spot the goldfishes

probably not the most meaningful division ever.

*So...yeah. I really don't know. I think I'm being blocked by the fact that at this time of year, my life timeline has only two sections.
   0-25: mom
   25-forever: no mom.

That before/after split is so noticeable in May, when every email subject line is about gifts for mom, every church discussion is about how to (or NOT, hopefully) address mother's day in worship, every advertisement my eyes fall on is mom-focused.

Pretty sure that's not the kind of timeline they're hoping I show up I'll probably go with the places I've lived. Seems safer.

now to find a catchphrase, song, movie, or book to thematically describe each segment...