Sunday, July 28, 2013

fireflies--a sermon for 28 July 2013

Rev. Teri Peterson
John 1, Isaiah 58.6-9, Matthew 5.13-16
28 July 2013, Singing Faith 8

Shine Jesus Shine
Christ Be Our Light
(illumination: Open My Eyes)
Here I Am Lord

Is not this the fast that I choose:
 to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
 to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 
 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
 when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
 your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. 
 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’

In Thailand there are stretches of riverbank that light up at night, like a Christmas light display synchronized with music. The lights are so bright that they can assist boatmen in navigating their way through the pitch black night. On and off tens of thousands of tiny lights flash, all in perfect unison as they play their silent rhythm. It’s a wonder of the world, one that scientists have been studying for two generations now. How is it possible that all the lights flash in unison?

The flashes come from fireflies, which usually flash individually, each in their own unique pattern. Even the synchronous fireflies in the Smoky Mountains aren’t as perfect as these—it’s as perfect as a Christmas display in the movies. There’s no one firefly keeping time or sending out signals that tell the other thousands of fireflies what to do—they just do it, and the result is enough intermittent light to navigate a winding river. It’s amazing to us, but it’s just how the fireflies are made—to light up the night together.*

And Jesus said: you are the light of the world.

That’s it. No written music, no conductor telling us when and where to shine, just: you are the light of the world.

It’s almost as if he’s saying: this is who you’re made to be and what you’re made to do, so…just do it.

For some reason this is much easier said than done.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s hard because we’ve gotten it in our heads that it’s this little light of MINE, and I have to let it shine. It’s a lot of pressure to create light out of nothing, or out of our interior life, and shine it into the immense darkness of the world. It feels almost pointless. Especially once we start pondering just what it means to let our light shine anyway. A couple of weeks ago when I asked this question, there was a lot of uncomfortable silence—none of us are really sure what it means to let my light shine in everyday life. How do I generate my light and shine it at work, at school, on the morning commute, at the dinner table?

Isaiah gives us some pointers—when we do justice, when we feed the hungry and free the captive and house the homeless, even at cost to ourselves, our light will break forth like the dawn. Not just when we pray for the hungry, but when we share our own food with them. Not just when we donate to a group that helps the homeless, but when we bring them into our house. Not just when we group people together and call them “the hungry” and “the homeless” and “the sick”—as if people can be defined by a circumstance—but when we recognize them as us, our kin, our family, fellow children of God worthy of love and hope and dignity and food and shelter and healthcare and meaningful work. When we erase the boundaries and all people are loved, not just with feelings but with actions, then, Isaiah says, our light will be as bright as the noon sun, and we will find that God is right by our side.

And Jesus says: let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God. Not to give glory to us, who do all this hard work generating light for the world, but to God.

Which is our clue, our reminder: this isn’t about me letting my little light shine at all. This is about the true light of the world, that is the life of all people, the word of light that broke the first darkness, shining through me into the world. It’s not my light, it’s not your light—Christ is the light of the world, and we are the image, the reflection of God’s glory. We’re the lens that enables the light to be seen far and wide. When we sing our prayer for Christ to be our light, we’re not prompting him as though he forgot to flip the switch—we’re asking for help in being a mirror rather than a bushel basket covering the light.

So take a deep breath and relax a little bit—you don’t have to create the light! It’s not your light to shine. It’s a matter of letting Christ shine in you, rather than being a covering that keeps the light from doing its thing. That does make it seem a bit easier to contemplate all those big things Isaiah says, and all those big things we sing about—becoming shelter and bread and hope, being sent to a world in need of healing and a good word. We don’t have to make ourselves—we are already fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, ready to reflect God’s glory to others. Or, as Marianne Williamson puts it, “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.”

Everyone. born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. We’re created to shine, not to cover up the light.

and Jesus said: you are the light of the world.

Not you singular, but you plural.

And Paul wrote: Now you are the body of Christ.

Not you singular, but you plural.

We’re created to shine—together. Not just as individuals, but as the body of Christ. One firefly is fun and pretty…and unpredictable, and grows dim if he continues to be the only one. Ten thousand fireflies all shining their lights in unison can illuminate the darkness like nothing we’ve ever seen.

In the words of the hymn: shine, Lord, in your church gathered today. What would happen if the body of Christ could get so in sync that we could shine God’s light into the world in unison? If we were all pursuing the same goal at the same time—say, doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God. Breaking down barriers and building up the kingdom of God with every meal shared with a neighbor, every conversation with someone on the opposite side of an issue. Loving people and speaking peace through the storms of life as well as we celebrate the joys. Being a kingdom force for grace and positive change in our world. Of course, that would require that we as a body spend time discerning just who we are in this place and time, and what God calls us to do here on this corner of Palatine. It takes work to get to the point of all working toward the same goal. But imagine: if we were all sharing the same good news that God is love, that grace abounds…maybe our lights could shine together, rather than one at a time, and we might just find that the light could illuminate the darkness like nothing we’ve ever seen. It would be amazing to behold, but we would just be like the fireflies, doing what we were made to do.

Marianne Williamson continues, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” This is exactly what scientists think happens with the fireflies—one wakes up, then others around it join in, and more and more join in until everyone’s rhythm is so perfectly synchronized that you can’t tell where it began. It’s not that there’s a leader as much as that there was one firefly willing to get the ball rolling, and pretty soon everyone had permission to let the light shine.

The light’s not just in some of us, it’s in all of us, planted there by the One who created light and called us to live as children of light. We were born to let it shine. So when God calls, asking for someone to throw off the bushel basket and let the light of God’s kingdom shine through acts of justice and mercy and love, who will answer? Will we step up and say “Here I am?” Or maybe even better: here we are?

You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.

May it be so. Amen.

*heard on the RadioLab episode “Emergence” and confirmed by

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

the RevGal Carnival gets games!

This week over at RGBP our carnival is getting a midway--full of fun games to play. We've been asked to ponder a Friday Five--the game we play every week. If I were in charge of creating the Friday Five, what five things would I ask?


Well, given my day yesterday (when I planned to write this blog post but was derailed by a cooking task--did you know it takes an hour to caramelize onions? Holy cow), I think I want your top five potluck recipes. What do you bring when you need to bring a dish to a party, a friend's house, a church potluck, or wherever you might go with food? Recipes always welcome.

Here are my five:

1. Baked Brie. so easy--just a wedge of brie, a can of crescent roll dough (even better if it's the sheet, not the actual crescent rolls), and a jar of raspberry preserves. Delicious every time.

2. puff pastry bites. Also easy but a little more labor intensive. a sheet of Trader Joe's frozen puff pastry dough, cut into 1" squares, topped with some goat cheese crumbles and a split kalamata olive, or chives, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, or whatever you want. bake about 10 minutes and voila!

3. quinoa salad. I don't make this the same way every time, but it's been good every time so far. It starts with cooked quinoa (red or white is fine). Then I add a can (drained) of chickpeas, a diced cucumber and a package of smoked sun-dried tomatoes. I like olives (kalamata, preferably), but it's good without them too. Then you can choose how to dress it. I've used bottled greek dressing with great success. I've also used a combination of pesto and a splash of vinegar (for those who don't eat dairy) and it's turned out beautifully. grind in some black pepper and you're good to go. Chill in the fridge for an hour or so before serving.

4. baked mostaccioli. Just cook some penne or other tubular pasta, put it in a baking dish mixed and covered with sauce (use a vodka cream sauce for amazingness, or just plain old spaghetti sauce). Layer shredded mozzarella about halfway in and on top (so you don't get that problem where once someone eats the cheese off the top, there's no more cheese to be had). Bake it for bout 45 minutes or until it's bubbly and starting to brown. (You may need to make a little foil hat for the dish so the top cheese doesn't burn.)

5. tuxedo chili. so easy, so delicious! Can be made either stovetop or in the crockpot. you just need 2 cans of black beans, 2 cans of great northern (white) beans, 2 cans of rotel, a cup or so of veggie broth, one diced onion, some minced garlic, lots of cumin, and whatever other spices you want. Drain 1 of each of the beans and leave the other with liquid. Saute the onion and garlic in the pot. Add all the other ingredients, including tons of cumin. You may want other spices, like chili powder or smoked paprika, or a few dashes of liquid smoke or something. Simmer, stirring frequently, at least 30 minutes. Even better if you can let it go longer, but who are we kidding, most of us make this stuff at the last minute. If you're using a crockpot, keep it on low for the day. When ready to serve, squeeze some lime juice into the chili. serve with crusty bread. (I also like mine topped with a sprinkle of cheese...)

Why is this my FF choice today? Well, because yesterday I went to a potluck and I took--are you ready?--a zucchini and caramelized onion frittata. It sounded so easy, and like a good choice because it could be served room temperature. This is how I learned that it takes an hour to caramelize onions, and then 45 minutes to bake a quiche. what???? It was delicious, but wow.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

we thought....a sermon for 21 July 2013

Rev. Teri Peterson
we thought…
Luke 24.13-35, 1 Corinthians 1.18-31
21 July 2013, Singing Faith 7 (a series where people submitted their favorite hymns and I preach on themes/images/texts/theology of those hymns)

Were You There
The Old Rugged Cross
Glory to God, Whose Goodness Shines on Me
illumination: Open My Eyes
Ah, Holy Jesus
I Danced in the Morning

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
 and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ 
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

I have a suspicion that if we were to ask random people on the street what they know about what Christians believe, one of the most common answers would be some variation of “Jesus died for my sins.” This idea that God sent Jesus for the sole purpose of being tortured and killed in order to pay for my individual sin is a pervasive concept. Even though it leaves out the vast majority of scripture and all of Jesus’ life, even though it completely misses the Trinity, and even though it ignores the realities of Jesus’ historical context, it’s widely believed to be the crux of Christianity.

The thing is, without the historical context, the Trinity, and the rest of scripture and Jesus’ life, the cross actually means nothing. Because honestly the Roman empire crucified many thousands of people. It was a punishment reserved for traitors and the most violent of criminals, and those who were crucified were placed on crosses alongside the roads. It could take days for someone to die on a cross, and then their bodies would be left there to decompose or be eaten by animals. The crucified person would then be essentially erased from history—no one would speak of them again, for fear of being associated with such a dangerous criminal outcast. The torture was both of the person’s body and their memory.

So when we sing of the shame of the cross, that is what we mean—that there is literally no more horrific and shameful way to die, and to associate ourselves with someone who was crucified is to risk everything—our reputation, our opportunity, even our lives. When we sing of the beauty of the cross, we are singing of something impossible. There is nothing beautiful in this execution of a traitor.

And treason was the crime, death the penalty. Jesus was called the son of God, the Lord of Lords—titles reserved for the emperor. He disrupted the economic system. He fed people who were normally reliant on the empire’s bread system, which was carefully regulated to keep the populace docile. He insisted that those on the outside be brought in. He did things that embarrassed the powerful. He welcomed the ethnic minority and the religious outsider. And he insisted, over and over again, that there is only one true power, and it’s not money and it’s not politics—it’s love.

Which, of course, is ridiculous. No way is love more powerful than money or sex or influence or political office.

The disciples who walked away from Jerusalem knew that. They knew how things were supposed to go—the messiah would lead the charge and they would take back their land, their dignity, their lives, with force. He was supposed to redeem Israel by crushing the oppressor and setting up a new Jerusalem. That was how God was supposed to work, that’s what was necessary for the salvation of Israel. For it all to end with the shame of a cross was too much. The disciples were the ones who were crushed.

So yes, the message about the cross is foolishness. It is foolish to think that this shame can be beautiful. It is foolish to think there is power in the ultimate weakness. And yet that is exactly what we claim—that God’s foolishness is wiser than our wisdom. That our understanding of power is exactly wrong. That what we thought and what we hoped is not what God was doing this whole time.

Arms outstretched, Jesus reveals who, and more importantly, where God is—full of surprises; vulnerable; open; unwilling to let the status quo have the last word; right here, not far off waiting for us to get it right. The ways we understand the world are completely turned upside down by this God who takes the witness stand, showing us all how ridiculous our systems are. We thought that violence could save us. We thought that a bloody death could buy our freedom. We thought that there must be some deeper magic that would be satisfied by the sacrifice of an innocent. We thought God was separate from humanity. And what we got instead was faith, hope, and love poured out into the world. What we got was a snapshot of the flawed thinking in which we all participate. What we got was a story of how our human concept of power blinded us to what God was doing in our midst all along.

We’ve been those disciples on the road to Emmaus, trying to explain what we thought and what we hoped. Have we also been those disciples who listen to the story Jesus is telling, rather than the story we want him to be telling? We want a nice neat package of dying for our sins so we can go to heaven. But he’s telling us a story that’s much messier than that—a story of relationship, a story of the church becoming the same faith, hope, and love that God embodied in Jesus, a story of grace that washes away every boundary we have tried to shore up. The story Jesus is telling on that road is one that sounds ridiculous, that can’t possibly be true, that will make us look stupid and act stupider. And so we stand on the road saying “but we thought…” and we fill in everything we are supposed to believe—that torture is part of God’s plan, that shame is good, that God is bloodthirsty, that love is conditional. But even as our voices trail off, Jesus is breaking bread and inviting us to a whole new way of life, if only we can imagine it.

One author puts it like this: “Our minds are constantly trying to bring God down to our level rather than letting God lift us into levels of which we were not previously capable.” (Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss p. 47) We want so desperately for God to work within our transactional understanding that we can’t figure out how Jesus’ death on a cross can be about something more than buying our tickets to heaven. But what if God is trying to lift us to a whole new level, not just to baptize the story we’re already telling?

Foolishness. Weakness. Empty. Stumbling block. Despised. This is the reality of crucifixion, of Jesus dying for the sin of the world. We were there—not in the sense that our individual pettiness was on the cross, but in the sense that we are part of a world that stands and looks on, finally seeing that the ways we have ordered our society, justice system, economy, and way of life can never offer the abundance of the kingdom of God. We were there, not because Jesus’ death somehow pays off God, but because God was there on the cross, choosing to die with us rather than live apart from us. We were there, not because we are individually so bad God couldn’t stand it, but because the ways we unthinkingly perpetuate injustice cannot continue. In the cross we see ourselves for what we are: simultaneously beloved and broken. We see the world for what it is: a distorted reality. And we see God most truly: life and love so complete that no one is excluded for any reason, even those who drive in the nails. Once, we knew not what we did. But now we see.

So when we sing of the cross, we remember that it isn’t really about me—it’s about changing the world into the kingdom of God. It isn’t about payment, it’s about transformation through God’s presence and identification with us, participating in our death in order that we might participate in God’s life here and now. It isn’t about strength, it’s about weakness that gives us a glimpse of true power. It isn’t about blood as a symbol of death, but blood as a symbol of life, poured into our hearts through the action and word and love of a God who refuses to stand aside. Will we let this life grow in us, or will we gaze lovingly at one instrument of torture even as thousands die around us? Will we find the kingdom of God within and around us—one of those things Jesus said that got him killed—or will we insist all that stuff is nice but unrealistic, and pursue our own wisdom while we wait to be whisked up into heaven?

Jesus died to usher us into the kingdom of God. If the cross is to mean anything, we must obey the call to God’s foolish love. Every time we choose to live by the rules of our own power and understanding, every time we think it’s about us and reduce God’s action throughout time to one black Friday purchase, every time we confine our faith to five simplistic words even as we continue in the same path that led to Jesus’ death, the cross is made to be nothing more than a piece of silver on a chain around our necks. God’s power is revealed in weakness, in being the outcast, in the ridiculous, in love beyond all sense of reason or deserving. That is just as true for the body of Christ as it was for Jesus the Christ.

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, July 19, 2013

bad religion

Tonight's TOP-ic (Thursday On the Patio) was "Bad Religion." People were wondering just what that was going to mean, which was awesome because I turned it back and asked "what is bad religion"...or what is it that makes for a toxic faith that does not promote the abundant life we know that Jesus came to give us?

I was trying to keep it away from particular religions, because the reality is that every religious tradition has bad and good, just like every person. And the further reality is that in the USA, our media covers the extremes of religion, not the majority. I recognize almost nothing of the Christianity that is represented in the media. I suspect the same is true for my Muslim friends--what they see on TV and hear on the news bears little resemblance to their faith tradition. I know it's true for my Jewish friends. And when you leave Abrahamic religions and get into the more "exotic" traditions, well, if they are portrayed in the media somehow, it's almost always poorly.

So the group tonight decided that the hallmarks of "bad religion" are attempts to control, excessive certainty, using fear, manipulating or isolating people, allowing one person to have too much power, promising material rewards. The usual suspects that you can find in the vast majority of people's perceptions of religion, in other words.

The question I wanted to ask but didn't was: when have we participated in bad religion? When have we, as individuals around that table or as a church community, perpetuated this pop-christianity or used religious words and ideas in such a way that they hurt people rather than lead to the flourishing of God's kingdom?

When we are unkind to one another, when there are cliques in the church, when our love is only for those who look like us, when we insist on our own way or bolster our own power, that's bad religion. When we use the words of scripture to wound rather than heal, that's bad religion. When we allow one person to hold the church hostage to their way of doing things, for fear they might leave, that's bad religion. (no, it's not the same as following a cult leader...except it kind of is, in a way.) When we focus on the building or a program or a historical moment at the expense of loving our neighbors who currently exist right outside our doors, that's bad religion.

I'm guessing very few people disagree with that.

But what about this:
is it bad religion when we hear someone claiming that Christians/Muslims/Hindus/Sikhs are (or do, or believe) _______ and we don't speak up about the stereotyping?
is it bad religion when we see someone in need and pass by on the other side?
is it bad religion when we have an opportunity to be a little bit of good news in someone else's life, and we don't take it?
it is bad religion when we hear someone using scripture to hurt and we don't chime in with another interpretation?
is it bad religion when we reinforce unrealistic expectations for our kids/coworkers/family?
is it bad religion when we talk about another church member, or a coworker, or a friend, when they're not around?

If bad religion is primarily about things that work against Abundant Life, aren't we all participating in it in some way?

And then the question I did ask: how can we be people of good religion instead? How can we be people of life-giving faith, of good news, of hope and love for neighbor? How can we show our love for God, and more importantly God's love for us, all the time? It's hard work to counteract this culture of toxicity. But the only way to counter it is to be like a shot of good news. Can we do it?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday Interesting

yeah, last week I got distracted and didn't post all the cool stuff I came across. It happens.

Therefore, this week is a REALLY LONG post. But seriously, everything's awesome. Save it for your day off or when you need a brain break or something.

Obviously, this week's news is heavy on Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman/race/guns/etc. The whole situation is so horrifying I don't even really know where to begin. So instead I'll point you to just three things. One is a reflection on the sad reality of life for too many people. One is a reflection by a friend and fellow clergy woman, on the ways that white women (like both of us) play into this story. Otis Moss III is my secret (not anymore) preacher crush. That man can bring a word to just about any situation.

Meanwhile, there might be hope--if we can figure out how to let our kids grow up before we either kill them or ruin them:

While we're on the subject of race and class and opportunity and whatnot, you need tissues for this one. Read it AND watch the video. Seriously--it's worth your time. There aren't a lot of good news stories these days, so you need this.
"'Things like this don't happen to kids like us,' he cried on that unimaginable night, his face beaming bronze, his tears soaking into my shoulder. And he is right. Blind and legless kids from the ghettos don't get college educations and shiny accolades, but they should. And that is why I stayed. Because hope and love and rejoicing and redemption can happen to kids like them."
And in case you were thinking "well, at least we got the women thing sorted out" this. The title "what every woman already knows" is exactly right. There's more to the world than what those in power experience.

There's also more to our experience than we may have thought before. Turns out that some of the external factors of our lives influence our genes in ways that can be passed on to the next generation. So interesting to think about! (and gives new meaning to the business about our sins being visited on our children.)

While we're thinking about things that shape and form who we are, this is a beautiful reflection on church--one of the last places for multi-generational experience. How do we ensure that we are able to speak to multiple generations, formed by such different experiences, with the same gospel?
How do we minister with and to people whose lives and faith are shaped by this emerging new world, who need a form of faith that answers the questions that arise in this new world? How do we at the same time and within the same congregation minister with and to people shaped by a fading world, who respond to a form of faith that was shaped by that world? How do we do both without tearing ourselves or each other apart?
One start would be to not be dismissive of either younger or older generations. While this is pretty snarky, it's also right on when it comes to the experience many of us are having. (says this member of the X-Millennial bridge) Please stop putting "young people" down. For starters: it doesn't make "us" want to listen or engage. Shaming never works, it just shuts people down.

And while we're at it, maybe we could contemplate ways to be an actual community full of kind compassionate people? Yes, we're human. That doesn't mean we have license to be mean to one another. If the church's purpose is to "exhibit the kingdom of heaven to the world" (as per the PCUSA Book of Order) then shouldn't we be trying harder to be that?
I firmly believe that by finally dragging our differences and petty arguments into the light of day, it will be a massive first step in breaking our mean habits. For far too long, while we have been waging a war within our own foxholes, the real enemy has had the run of the place. He has been unchallenged because Christ's army is too wounded from friendly fire to even crawl to the battlefield for the real fight. And an enemy who is unopposed is no longer your enemy. He has actually becomes your ruler.

One of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about is language: how do we use it, what's correct and what's emerging and where do those trajectories meet, what are we saying when we use particular words or phrases? This is one of the reasons I am a proponent of inclusive and expansive language. But the pesky English pronouns....

There's some really cool stuff going on in the world, in addition to all the drama and horror of life. Check this out--there could one day be streets that eat pollution! I just think that's worth more exclamation points. !!! Of course, the ideal is a world in which we're not producing pollution, because we've moved beyond fossil fuels. But one thing at a time, right?

Also, gorillas were observed learning and applying their knowledge in the wild So cool. And I confess there's a part of me that wants to say something like "take that, evolution-deniers." But that's neither kind nor helpful, nor exactly accurate. But still. Cool.

For everyone who's forgotten, Egypt is still happening. While some days are promising and other days terrifying, this article (admittedly 10 days old now--what happens when I skip a week) is a pretty good meta-analysis. Thought-provoking too, about the consequences of approaching things this way. (As an aside: please remember that our own revolution took over a decade to solidify into a constitutional government, and we weren't even being watched every second on the internet. Why do we expect others to happen overnight?)
"The price Egypt has paid and will pay for the consequences of this decision are too high. It has created a generation of Islamists who genuinely believe that democracy does not include them. The post-June 30 fallout reaffirms this belief, especially with Islamist channels and newspapers closed down, as well as leaders detained and held incommunicado, apparently pursuant to an executive decision. For 30 years, Mubarak told them that due process is not for them, and a popular revolution is confirming that. It is Egyptian society that will pay the price of the grievances this causes, and the fact that, with a silenced media and no coverage from independent outlets, they have been left with virtually no channels to get their voice heard."

This column beautifully weaves together a typical day at the beach and a reflection on our calling and responsibility as people of God. Love it.

And, last but never least, a treat for those who made it to the end. Today is the anniversary of the opening of Disneyland! I heart Disneyland, and while I never see anyone dressed this way there anymore (how would you go on rides in those skirts???), it's fun to see how much is the same and how much has changed in nearly 60 years. Not to mention the celebrities. :-)

a birthday carnival!

This week, RevGalBlogPals turns 8. It's been a fascinating, wild, fun 8 years. We've been busy supporting each other, plotting new things, putting together events, running a website that resources hundreds of people each week, and generally being church for one another (with all the ups and downs 8 years in a community implies!).

So this week at the blog carnival, we are pondering birthdays. It just so happens that I love birthdays. LOVE. THEM. I love celebrating the person and their life so far. I love looking forward and imagining what might be next in the year. I love the presents, the food, the cake, the ice cream, the candles, the singing, the laughing, the whole bit.

In fact, I love birthdays so much that I have taken to saying "October is my birthday." That's right, I celebrate for a whole month. Because you know what? Life is too short not to.

So over at RevGals we're pondering:
1. What's your birthday tradition?
2. If you were blowing out the RevGal birthday candles, what would you wish for us? What's your dream for RevGalBlogPals?

Well, I suppose celebrating for the entirety of October is something of a tradition at this point. :-) Otherwise it's the usual stuff: I get to choose what's for dinner, eat ice cream and cake, etc. My dad always sends me an awesome present. I get a phone call from some friends and family members who sing happy birthday to my voicemail, and I listen to it over and over. Because there's a lot going on for me emotionally, trigger-wise, and in terms of family history around my birthday time, I try to make sure there's an opportunity for all of it--celebrating, grieving, having fun, doing something amazing, celebrating my ordination, etc. Yeah--all in 10 days at the end of October is basically my entire life story.

And for number 2...if I were blowing out the candles, I think I would wish for a community of communities--for a variety of regional in-person groups/opportunities, along with perhaps online real-time communities, in addition to the amazing community we have built on the website, our blogs, and FB. And I would also wish for a website that hosted a long and incredible list of speakers, presenters, and preachers who are available for conferences, so we stop hearing "we just don't know any qualified women." I call shenanigans on that nonsense. I know 400 amazing women who are qualified and ready to have their voice be heard. We could have sermons, shared resources, sample programs, and who knows what else. All backed up by a community of women who truly know each other--and love one another anyway (and show it!). We've had our ups and downs on that front, but it's my wish. :-)

What do you do on birthdays? Do you have any birthday wishes to share?

Monday, July 15, 2013

the R's...or, "everyone needs therapy."

One of the things we (theoretically) learn in the process of growing up is the difference between reacting and responding. Many of us don't learn it until we spend time in therapy or serving in some sort of intentional leadership experience. But no matter how we learn it, it's a key part of being a mature adult human being: recognizing our reactions and then choosing how to respond.

Reactivity is a huge problem, though. Either we're not self-aware or other-aware, or we're clouded by something (fear, anger, pain), and when we see things, we act on our reactive assumptions.

For instance:
We see a black male teenager and lock the doors, assuming he's up to no good.
We see a woman in a short skirt and assume she has no self-respect and is "asking for it."
We see a person wearing a clerical collar and launch into a tirade against the evils of the church.
We see someone asking for money and assume they're just going to buy booze, then loudly tell our companion how much money homeless panhandlers "really" make.

In instances when we feel threatened, our reactivity heightens even more. We don't just lock the doors, we follow and then get out of the car. We don't just rant about the church, we throw things through the windows. We don't "just" catcall, we launch legislative efforts to control.

Threats take many forms--the threat of physical harm, the threat of loss-of-power, the threat of having to change our perspective. Whatever the form, our reactions are usually in the same vein: do everything we can to maintain our position, the status quo, the safety of our bodies, minds, neighborhoods, values, histories, worldviews. It doesn't matter if those reactions are irrational, or how they affect others, or even what they say about us. When we are in reactive mode, all that matters is that our status quo is returned.

Add in firearms and there's a recipe for disaster.
But if you are a person with brown skin,  we'll take away your right to life instead. Or if you are a woman, we'll take away your right to health care, insisting you need to be protected from yourself by politicians, health insurance companies, and family members.

So what happens if we respond instead of reacting?

This is where real change happens. Not through following a kid through the neighborhood, picking a fight, then claiming self defense. Not in a court room. Not in a church meeting. Not even in the halls of Congress. Every single one of us needs to figure out what it would mean to respond instead of react--every time. To think before we open our mouths or our car doors or the floodgates of an internet comment.

Only if we figure out how to let the grown-up part of our brain respond will we be able to make any kind of difference. That means that when we see someone who looks different, we don't jump to assumptions but wait a beat, look for the image of God, and open a conversation. When we observe someone making a choice we would not make (but is not harmful to us or others), we recall that our task is not to ensure everyone is the same as I am, but that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When we are threatened, we look for ways to respond creatively rather than reacting violently.

please note: this post is not about what we do when we see someone obviously engaging in dangerous illegal activity, hurting themselves or another person, etc. Watching someone commit a violent crime, jump off a bridge, break into a store, start a fire, litter, etc, while doing nothing is obviously not okay. Don't try to read this post that way. But also don't assume that what you see isn't colored by your lenses. Remember that video where a white girl was stealing a bike and people offered to help her, while when a black teen did the same people were calling the cops within seconds?

And always, always, we remember that we cannot control other people's reactions or responses. All we can control is how we respond. In other words, we cannot insist that other people behave the way we do if we are to respond to them as human beings. We cannot insist that other people's reactions to us or responses to our actions/words be what we think they should be. We cannot say "I didn't mean it like that" and assume that's going to make it okay.
Can those of us in positions of privilege (whether by virtue of our skin color, our economic status, our social status, our religious tradition, our citizenship...) choose to respond in healthy ways? Can we choose to stand up when others are using their privilege inappropriately? Can we choose to defend the people who do not enjoy the same privileges we do? Can we choose to insist on the full personhood of everyone, regardless of their status, color, or even behavior? Can we choose to take responsibility for ourselves, our words and actions, our reactions and responses, and then choose to act differently when we are called out on bad behavior, perpetuating stereotypes, perpetrating injustice, participating in devaluing of people or creation?

No one deserves to be treated the way many are being treated every day. No one deserves to die because of the neighborhood they live in, the snack they carry, the clothes they wear, the gait of their walk. No one deserves to grow up being taught never to run and always to defer to the person with the lighter skin. No one deserves to be thrown away because they are inconvenient for the rest of us.

Everyone deserves to be seen in all their humanity. Everyone deserves to have the image of God recognized in them. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. The only way to get there is for all of us to learn to respond rather than react, and to remember that the only person we can control is ourselves--and a little self-control would go a long way.

To the many people insisting that race has nothing to do with Trayvon Martin's death, or that Paula Deen just used a word "they" use about "themselves," or that gender discrimination at work and in legislation is all in our pretty little heads, or that your LGBT friends should be happy with what they've got and stop having "parades of promiscuity," or that cutting food stamps will motivate people to get jobs (and yes, these are all related issues, filed under "privilege") : that's reacting. Reactivity always means either unreflective behavior or some perceived threat. I choose not to believe that any of my (few) readers are unreflective. I believe you are all able and willing to consider history, culture, worldview, politics, etc, when thinking about a situation or issue. SO: What is threatening about the perspective being shared by people of color, by women, by LGBT people, by the poor? What is threatening about the idea that all our fellow human beings deserve exactly the same privileges we enjoy?

Once we can name the real issue, can we respond instead of react, and thereby change the world?

Or, as Jesus says: love your neighbor as yourself.

presence stronger than fear--a sermon for 14 July 2013

Rev. Teri Peterson
presence stronger than fear
14 July 2013
Psalm 16, Psalm 107.1-3, 23-32, Isaiah 40.28-31

introit: Surely the Presence of the Lord
Eternal Father Strong to Save
illumination: Open My Eyes
Eagle’s Wings
Keep Me Lord

Psalm 16
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 

I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;

their drink-offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 

I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 

For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.

In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Psalm 107
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands, from the east and the west, from the north and the south.
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; 

they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. 

For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. 

They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;

their courage melted away in their calamity; 

they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end. 

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; 

he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed. 

Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. 

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 

Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

Isaiah 40
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Everyone is afraid of something. Whether our fears are irrational or thoroughly rational, whether they are grounded in a traumatic experience or are more about the unknown, everyone has them. Some of us are afraid of spiders, of flying, of snakes, of slimy foods, of sailing. Some of us are afraid of becoming irrelevant, of disappointing people, of making a mistake, of things changing too fast, of dying. Many of us are afraid of each other. Some of us have an eclectic combination of fears, and some of us pretend we’re fearless. But the reality is that everyone has something they are afraid of. It’s part of being human.

Plenty of people in scripture experienced fear. Right back in the beginning, when Adam and Eve were afraid to admit their nakedness and their wrongdoing, through David who was so afraid of his affair with Bathsheba being discovered that he was willing to stage an accidental murder, right on up to the disciples who hid in a locked room and Paul who tried to mask his fear behind righteousness. The Psalms are full of prayers that the things we fear will not overwhelm us, prayers for protection, and thanksgiving for things that went better than expected. These words thread through scripture, glinting out from every page like the one golden strand in a tapestry. Fear, and desire to be protected from it, is a universal human experience. And God has promised to hold us up, to be the shade at our right hand, to keep our feet from stumbling and our enemies from overtaking us. This promise is sure enough that the most common phrase in scripture is “be not afraid.”

Sometimes it feels like God is sleeping on the job, though. Things happen, life is hard, and we don’t always feel protected or even accompanied. Where is God’s protection when the shots ring out in the neighborhood? Where is God’s protection when the fire rages or the train crashes? Often we feel alone in the darkness, stumbling about looking for answers or crying for help. When fear overtakes us, it’s hard to see the presence of God and we end up trying to take matters into our own hands. We know that God often speaks in a still small voice, in the sound of silence, in whispers almost too faint to make out. When we’re worried about what people will think of us, how we’ll get by, whether we’ll survive the trip, what could go wrong, who that person is over there, then there’s no room for that still small voice. Fear feeds our idols—idols of self-sufficiency, of personal power, of self-righteousness. That’s the moment we need a voice like thunder—except even that might not be able to break through the cacophony of a fear storm, or a shame storm, or a certainty storm…or even a night of actual physical storm, whether the sirens sound for wind and rain or bombs and gunshots, they still signal danger that ignites that fear. Where is God’s still small voice, God’s loving presence, in those moments? Be not afraid does not mean don’t have any fear—that would be impossible. It means don’t BE fear—don’t let fear act for you. But it’s so easy to be overtaken and believe we’re on our own.

The psalmist and the hymn writers they have inspired continue to insist that whether we can sense it or not, whether we are aware or not, whether we accept it or not, God is with us. God weeps when we weep and laughs when we laugh. God will never leave us nor forsake us—we are held in the palm of God’s hand. What safer place to be?

In 1860, William Whiting reminded one of his students of all these things, but still the student was afraid of a sea voyage from England to America that he was about to undertake. No amount of talking could calm his anxiety. So Whiting looked to those scriptures—especially to Psalm 107, and wrote a hymn for the student to sing along the way. In it we sing of God’s power over even the mighty waves and wind. We remember that ever since Genesis 1.1, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of an unformed creation, we have never been alone.

Over a hundred years later, a musician looked at some tasks he had ahead, and found that singing was his only hope of remaining centered enough in God’s presence to walk through it all. And he too turned to the words of the psalmist and the prophets, reminding himself that God’s palm is large enough to hold each one of us with care beyond our imagining, that God’s breath is enough to bear us away from the troubles that threaten to consume us, that our fear can never outweigh the lift of an eagle’s wing.

Still another poet turned to Psalm 16, praying for God’s help and security, reminding everyone who sings it that when we keep our eyes on God’s way, it’s hard to shake us. When we are grounded in God’s purpose and presence, we can’t help but experience God’s power.

And make no mistake: God is indeed powerful. God’s word creates and re-creates. God’s hand protects in unimaginable ways. God’s love defeats death.

That does not mean that we don’t continue to hope and pray for God’s hand to protect in ways we can imagine. But prayer is not magic, and even when we sing, and therefore pray twice, we don’t always get what we want or what seems right to us. Sometimes things happen that have nothing to do with our faith or with God’s action or lack of action. In other words: God does not cause or allow tragedy. God’s will is always for abundant life for all of creation—for people of every color, every age, every economic background, every everything. God’s will is always for justice, for peace, for hope, not for destruction or pain or suffering. Instead, God’s power is to be found in presence—never are we left alone, even in the midst of our distress. The passengers on the Titanic, who sang Eternal Father Strong to Save as their closing hymn on Sunday April 14, 1912, were not lacking in faith, nor were they being “allowed” to die that same day as they prayed for safe travel. Icebergs happen. But you can bet that they were not alone.

Fear is compelling. It feeds us messages about ourselves and others, but those messages are rarely the same as God’s message. It leads us down paths of injustice in the name of security, it thrives on our unexamined privilege, it keeps us in thrall to its vision of the world rather than God’s kingdom vision. Fear is powerful, but nowhere near as powerful as God who broke open the tomb, opened the eyes of the blind, changed the hearts and minds of the mighty, sent the Spirit to shove the church out of its hiding place. As Paul says, we are afflicted, but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, struck down, but not destroyed—for there is nothing in life or death, heaven or earth, power or principality, that can separate us from God’s love. Nothing. God’s love is more powerful than our sin, than our stupidity, than our idols, than our egos, than the ways we hurt each other. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Period. That’s power, right there.

When we say God is Sovereign, Lord of heaven and earth, powerful, the first thing that means is that we are not God. Much as we try, we cannot control the wind and waves. We cannot see into the heart of another, or understand every mystery. We can learn, and grow, and discover, but never will we be the ones with ultimate power. Which means that whenever we try to explain why things happen—why hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires? why evil, despair, hunger, injustice?—when we try to explain these things, we always fall short. We can only see through our own lens—our understanding is colored by our culture, our history, our experience, our education, our humanness. Not only can we not see the big picture, we’re looking at our slice of the picture with broken glasses. Which does not mean that we should ignore suffering or heartbreak or fear. But rather than looking for why things happen, or even for evidence of God’s plan, can we look for God’s presence? Only in God’s presence will we find God’s power, God’s justice and peace, God’s new kingdom. Only in God’s presence will we find the courage and strength to live a life worth of our calling—to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God, to be a part of a better way.

I have a songbook that has our closing hymn today on the same page as a hymn called “Lo I Am With You.” Now, I know that is probably because the hymn starting with K and the hymn starting with L go next to each other. But there’s something just right about it too. At the top of the page we pray for God’s presence, we remind ourselves to keep our sights set on Jesus—on his love, his life, his insistence on justice. And at the bottom of the page are the words “Lo, I am with you to the end of the world, when you leave self behind, in the struggle for peace, when you suffer for love, in the way of the cross, in the darkness of death…Lo, I am with you to the end of the world.”

God’s steadfast love endures forever—God does not grow weary or have heavy eyelids, but constantly lights the path of life and guides us as we walk. I can’t think of better news, or a better lens through which to view the world. Whether we are anxious or joyful, busy or lost, grieving or longing, let’s be on the lookout for God’s presence, and we might just find we experience God’s power in ways we could never imagine—power that builds a new kingdom, where every tear is wiped away, where justice rolls down like waters, where all God’s children are held in the palm of God’s hand together.

May it be so. Amen.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Carnival of Surprises

This week's blog carnival topic is about surprises. I kind of love them, so that's great.

What's the most surprising connection you've made through RevGalBlogPals? Or the most surprising or helpful thing you've learned/experienced through this galship of friends?

Ooh! Well, I don't know if this is surprising or not, but it makes me happy to think about. When I was in Egypt, I was reading all kinds of RevGal blogs to stay sane. RevGal Jan, a reader of my blog (and I of hers), invited me to preach in her church upon my return. So when I got home, I trundled off to Washington DC for World Communion Sunday (one of my faves) to preach. She put me up in the home of a church member who was exceedingly lovely and who was in the midst of the adoption process. She was adopting a little girl from China, and her house was full of pandas. Coincidentally (and I'm not sure Jan knew this), I LOVE PANDAS. It was a great weekend in which I was afraid of the pulpit (which, in my defense, was about a thousand feet above the rest of the chancel), I ate delicious food, and I made new friends. Fast forward through five years of blog reading and occasional conference-catch-ups, and Jan moves to Chicago to become the Interim Associate Executive Presbyter for Ministry. Yes, that is the longest title ever. Not long after she moved here, I made it my mission to ensure that she experienced one of the best things summer in the city has to offer: The Taste of Chicago. Last summer we met by the lions and proceeded to eat our way through Grant Park for hours, talking and laughing and having a great time. And now, a year later, I've moved into her Presbytery and she's a fabulous colleague, a help in every trouble. (well, okay, she's not God. but she is delightful.)

It never really crossed my mind that it was weird to meet a friend through blogging and then fly across the country to hang out with them. Last summer I met up with friends in Scotland--friends I'd only met through RevGals, but now was able to see in person. We spent whole days together, driving all over the place and having a grand old time. Every time I do something like that, afterward I register a little bit of surprise at how the world has changed, that we can do this writing-and-reading thing and have it turn out to be as real as a face to face friendship. And it is thoroughly real.

So there you have it--from Egypt to DC to Chicago to Scotland and back again, in one fell blog-swoop! Along the way, I've met so many wonderful friends, both in person and online. I've learned a ton about ministry, about myself, about the church and the world. I can't even measure the impact RevGals on my ministry and sanity. Between conversations on the back deck, countless Ask The Matriarch columns that just seem to appear when I need them, support through the swirling vortex of despair, late night sermon writing companionship, and bunches of other ups and downs, I've been surprised, taught, heard, and supported.  Now I'm a RevGal evangelist--whenever I'm at a conference or event, I'm always asking women if they know about us and inviting them to join in. Sometimes I get "Oh, I know you!" and sometimes I get "I'm so glad to hear something like this exists!" And then occasionally I still get "do you know Cheesehead? Or St. Casserole? Or Songbird? or MomPriest? or the Vicar of Hogsmeade?" and I have the pleasure of saying: I do, and they are every bit as lovely in person as you can imagine.

Thanks, Pals!

Friday, July 05, 2013

Friday Five: independence!

Over at RGBP, Pat has a fun holiday Five for us....

In honor of the 237th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Indpendence, I invite you to participate in today's Independence Day edition of the Friday Five! We'll be looking at all kinds of "independence," so please join in! 

 1. How does one typically celebrate your native /adopted land's Big National Holiday? 
The typical celebration involves grilled encased meats, parades, and fireworks. Because this is the Chicagoland experience, though, the fireworks last all week, both official and unofficial. People will be out exploding things and shooting both the air and other things/people as soon as it nears dusk. The suburbs have parades and fireworks on different days--so Palatine's fireworks are tonight, the parade is Saturday...Crystal Lake's parade is on's really more of Independence Week than Day. (And for the record: there was grilled pizza yesterday, not grilled encased meats. I'm a rebel.)

 2. How do you personally celebrate the holiday described in #1? Any unusual twists on the typical celebration? Is it something you enjoy or endure? 
Well, I obviously don't eat the vast majority of July 4th foods. Though I do love me some potato salad! I try to always listen to Capital Steps, which is hilarious (and yesterday was no exception!). Sometimes I go to fireworks, but this year I just listened to the neighborhood fireworks and the attendant dog barking that comes with that. Perhaps lamenting people's inconsiderateness, especially where explosions and pets are concerned, is a new tradition...poor Guinness was so freaked out.

 3. What does the word "independence" mean to you, whether in a political or personal mood? How has that understanding changed throughout your life? 
Hmm....I think it used to mean "being able to do what I want." Now I recognize more than ever that independence is an illusion. We are wildly interdependent beings. I think living into that interdependence brings more "independence" than all our desperate efforts to go it alone and do what we want.

 4. When did you first feel that you, personally, had gained independence? Was there a 'rite of passage' you would like to share? 
I suppose lots of these will be things like "when I could drive" or "when I moved out." I think there's some of that for me too--moving out and into the big city alone was an adventure, for sure, but let's be realistic: I have yet to get to a phase of my life when I'm not being supported by my parents in some tangible way. So I suppose my independence is more a gradual process of thinking as opposed to anything particularly measurable. I have been slowly figuring out how to not be mentally chained to a variety of issues, experiences, and people. Every time I notice one of those chains and let it go, there's a new bit of freedom in that.

 5. Tell us about your favorite "indie" film, music label, book store... 
oh my. There could probably be five things in this category alone. Let's about independent restaurants? I have probably five faves there too. I love the local Thai restaurant, owned by a family that moved here the same time I did. And the local gastro-pub, which has a garden where they grown their own veggies! The mediterranean vegetarian place, owned by a member of the synagogue next door to RCLPC, is an amazing place with incredible falafel and big smiles every time I go in. The Chicago Diner has been bucking the culinary world's dependence on bacon since 1983 and I love it. And Chowpatti, from which I now work just 10 minutes away, is the most interesting conglomeration of foods ever--Indian Nachos are addictively delicious (and what an indie thing to do!).

 Bonus Question: Is there a time you remember going "against the tide" of advice or precedent, or in some other way? Or perhaps a time you wish you had done so? Share it here!
I suspect much of my life has been going against the tide. Here's how I can tell: whenever I meet someone new and tell them what I do, the first reaction is a surprised/horrified "why did you want to do that??????" Joining the church as a young adult was weird.
But in many ways, of course, my life has been exceedingly average: I'm a perfectionist overachieving first born girl who appears to have "succeeded"--at least if you look from the outside. My family and friends are just dysfunctional enough to be interesting without being harmful. So...yeah.
Of course, I've rejected plenty of advice in my day. Too many times to recall or document! Sometimes that's worked out, other times it's been a disaster resulting in lots of "I told you so" moments. And I've followed plenty of advice I should have ignored. Pretty sure that's also a standard set of life experiences, though...

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Wednesday Interesting--extra day off edition!

The week started out slow...I was worried that this would be a two-link week. But then things picked up (or perhaps the stress of the week lowered my standards for what constitutes "interesting") and there's actually a ton to browse through while listening to Capital Steps (at 9am on the 4th on Chicago Public Radio--check your own radio listings to be sure you don't miss the hilarity!).

First--this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Zip Code! I knew there was a time before zip codes, obviously, but the careful roll-out, the commercials complete with catchy jingles, the animation...and the resistance from the public...that was all new and fun info. Also, while it's patently obvious that the zip code has some kind of meaning, did you know that there are actually 4 zones of information embedded in that set of five numbers? Happy birthday, zip codes!

Meanwhile, as we're celebrating our independence by eating questionable foods and watching fireworks, over in Egypt there are fireworks of a different kind. It's been 18 months since the revolution, 12 months since the new president took office, and things aren't going terribly well. To put it mildly. So people are taking to the streets again, and everything is very volatile and changing rapidly. But for those of you who missed the signs that this was coming again, here's a good recap of just how we got here. I'm again glued to al-jazeera's live coverage and hoping my friends are okay. And hoping for a future that's good for all Egyptians, not just a few, or not just one religious sect, or not just one social class.

Loved this column about how social media is changing the landscape of relationships. I promise, it's more than a platform for pictures of your pets or notes about breakfast.
"Their community is much wider than mine and my wife’s. Kate, Philip and their friends don’t move on when they move to new cities. They simply add on. They keep in touch through hundreds of tiny digital connections, and these moments add up. The constancy of contact helps to sustain the freshness and the intensity of their relationships."
Speaking of the whole generational thing, and the breach of contract between generations that I wrote about recently (and will probably continue to write about, as it's interesting and important, I think)...

This article about student loans is thought-provoking. Why exactly have we just assumed that we have to go into debt in order to get an education?

And then this sermon about passing the mantle--and not just passing, but also picking it up. While I'm no fan of creating or continuing institutions for the sake of institutions, I think it's interesting to ponder whether institutions are necessary to the continuation of energy in a movement. Particularly since institutions change so slowly, they may not be able to adapt to a change in energy or in need.
"Elisha, a second generation action prophet, has become Elisha, custodian of an institution; the Company of the Prophets. Because there is no way that the prophetic action ministry begun by Elijah and continued by Elisha can be sustained if Elisha doesn’t pay attention to the needs of the school and its prophetic members. Institutional care is necessary for ongoing, powerful prophetic action. ...
As generation passes to generation, we cannot simply repeat, but must reinvent, the prophetic tradition to meet the challenges of our day."
While I'm linking to sermons, this is a beautiful one about a central practice of Christianity. Without hospitality, we can't ever claim to be even remotely "biblical." And welcoming isn't really about what we do when people walk in the door (though that is important), but about who we are when we're outside the doors. Love it.

Which makes me think of this:

 And that, of course, leads me to this. I say "of course" because this is my brain we're talking about, so things aren't always linear. But seriously: blessing one another is one of the most powerful things we can do, and isn't that what we're doing if we're taking hospitality seriously?
Most people “keep” themselves. In other words, they make their own way in their own world. Such aloneness can only be described as horribly sad. In the biblical blessing, the one who blesses asks for a new reality to unfold around the one being blessed: may you know, in your life, that God is the one keeping you, he is the one making a way for you. This blessing opens up the possibility that God might take care of your needs and even your dreams. To biblically bless someone is to invite them into the tender care of God.

Which brings me to this...which I hope you can see even if you don't have facebook (make sure to click "see more" to see the whole story under the photo). Seriously, click the link. This is one of the most beautiful stories I've seen--a young woman who takes her faith seriously and decides to do something about it. I love that she did this in preparation for her bat mitzvah, and I can imagine having something like this be a part of confirmation. Not unlike, say, an Eagle Scout project--perhaps each youth being confirmed needs to find a way to put their faith into action, and implement it, as part of the confirmation process. Could be beautiful! (though then there's always the problem of institutionalizing something like this taking away the meaningfulness...sigh.)

Makes me ask the question: what have I done with my days? What do you do with yours?

Speaking of projects, Textweek is a huge project that is a blessing to the whole church. It's not an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of churches are probably affected by her work. Jenee, who single-handedly keeps that enormous project going, was the presenter on the Big Event in 2012. It was great to meet her, to get to know her story a bit, and to spend time hanging out. Now you can feel a bit like you were there too, thanks to this great article!

On a completely different note, funding of nonprofits. We have this idea that nonprofits should also be essentially free to run. That's a bunch of baloney, of course. I've seen a couple of TED talks that address this issue, but this is the first time I've seen something in print. It's important for us to think about what we mean when we say "overhead" and why it's so important that people who work for nonprofits get paid less for the same skills, education, training, and work than they would if they worked in a for-profit company. That expectation is crippling our nonprofits and their ability to respond to the needs of the world. This is one of the reasons that many churches are moving to narrative budgets and asking pastors to figure out how much of our time is spent on different things, so we can include percentages of our salary in different tasks--so some percentage of my salary is included in the cost of worship, the cost of mission, the cost of education, the cost of outreach, etc. That's a good approach, but it also perpetuates this idea that we should have as low overhead as possible. What if nonprofits said "we want the best people to do this important work" and the donors said "we want you to have the best people" and we all just worked on the assumption that paying the best people IS part of the ministry/mission/task of the organization?
(You can tell I have a lot to say about that. But instead of reading my rant on it, go read the article. It's much better.)

To end on a lighter yet equally serious note: THIS IS AWESOME. Yay vegans!