Monday, February 26, 2007

Anglican Angst

It's a Snow Day here in southern New England - el Universidad es cerrada (closed) which means no clase de espanol hoy. Excelente!

My SO has chastised me for not updating my blog every day. She goes into work early every morning to get a head start on the day and apparently reading my blog (and World of Warcraft message boards) has become part of her daily routine.

I admit that after a three week whirlwind of writing my seminary essay, a sermon, and daily blog entries my writing muscles needed a breather.

I've spent my non-writing time reading everyone else's blogs.
Our Episcopalian friends are buzzing about the Anglican Primates report that came out of Tanzania last week that essentially told the American Episcopal church to stop pushing the gay issue and to just put their fingers in their ears, close their eyes and say "la la la I can't hear you" until the mean evil gay people go away and stop inflicting pain on those on God's Faves list.

Fellow RevGalPal blogger Feminary rightfully questions just who it is experiencing the most pain in this debacle.

During the 2004 presidential election my SO and I were sitting in our living room watching yet another right-wing politician foam at the mouth about how letting gay people marry will weaken the sanctity of marriage, tear apart the family structure upon which our country is built, and end civilization as we know it.

There we were sitting in our living room, lounging in our sweatpants, watching TV, reading, playing with the cat, thinking about what to make for dinner and writing a shopping list, and I turned to my SO and said: "It's amazing that with all the violence, war, terrorist acts, poverty, abuse, oppression, and corruption in this world, that some people actually believe that what you and I are doing right now will be the cause of civilization's downfall." Our being a couple doing ordinary everyday couple things, is so frightening to some people that they put all of their time, energy, and money into fighting any law or institution that dares to recognize our right to live and love like everyone else.

As I read about the Anglican Primates meeting in Tanzania I couldn't help but cringe at the irony of location of a side trip taken by the bishops, some of whom do not recognize the ordination of women let alone gays:

"In between their debates, the leaders took a two-hour ferry ride to the island of Zanzibar. There they worshiped at the historic Anglican cathedral which is built over a former slave market. The service marked 100 years since the last slave was sold on the site, and 200 years since slavery was outlawed in England, thanks in part to the efforts of Anglican Church members."
(Religion and Ethics News Weekly)

Apparently the Bible is infallible when it comes to teachings about women and homosexuals, but that old bugaboo known as slavery, which the Bible condones and promotes, is no longer valid in our time and its demise is rightfully celebrated.
Why is one form of Biblically endorsed bigotry and oppression taken as a God-given directive while another is written off as simply the socio-economical custom of an ancient time that is no longer applicable in the modern world?

Liberal Christians are often accused of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe but conservative Christians are just as guilty of this cafeteria style of faith. It's impossible not to pick and choose.

Yes, Leviticus says "man shall not lie with man as with a woman" but it also says not to touch the skin of a pig, don't wear clothing made of two different fabrics, and do not commit adultery (unless the woman is a slave, then it's ok) - all of these infractions are punishable by banishment or death.

So much for unfaithful politicians and Friday night football in Texas.

Leviticus is full of rules that we as Christians do not follow - rules about haircuts, tattoos, not touching menstruating women, planting crops at certain distances apart, eating kosher - We don't follow these rules because they were not meant for us. They were meant for the ancient Jewish Levite priestly cast, those born into the priesthood through unbroken hereditary lines.

So why is it that the bit about homosexuality is still quoted ad nauseam by conservative Christian leaders in the 21st century?

And while we're on the subject of biblical authority, why is Paul's first century directive that "women remain silent in church" still being plucked out of context and used as an argument against the ordination of women, when Paul, and Jesus himself, seemed to have no problem with women disciples preaching and teaching the word of God?

My favorite quote of late comes from Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy:

"Christianity has successfully dethroned Jesus as Lord…we retained Jesus as Savior but promoted the apostle Paul to Lord and Teacher" (pg. 94).

On the issue of women's place in the church, we place a higher authority on the words of Paul, a convert who never knew Jesus and who preached celibacy because he thought the world was going to end in his lifetime, than we do on the teachings and actions of Jesus himself.

Context. Context. Context. A concept that is rarely invoked when one justifies oppression by invoking the argument "The Bible says…"

BTW - the Bible never mentions lesbians, only men who lie with men, so there is no reason why Ellen Degeneres couldn't be Pope.

Anglican Primates…….you are officially ON NOTICE!

Make your own On Notice List Here

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Roots Hold Me Close, Wings Set Me Free

It's done!
I mailed my application and entrance essay to the Boston Seminary today. My FAFSA and financial aid forms have been filed, and the school has already received my college transcript and two out of the three required recommendations.
There's nothing more for me to do but sit back and wait.

I've got my fingers crossed that the Boston seminary will grant me financial aid or at least a partial scholarship. My grades are good enough and like many of us treading this path, my financial need is great.
If there's one advantage to being gay and not being able to be legally married, it's that my significant other doesn't show up anywhere on my financial report. The few hundred dollars we have in our joint bank account is all I have to show as proof of our life together. She's been supporting me for over a year so I could finish up school, bless her heart, but as far as the IRS is concerned, she doesn't exist.

She doesn't exist on my seminary application form either.
The form has two boxes to check for "Marital Status": Single or Married.
My SO and I have been together for 7 years, we had a commitment ceremony in a church five years ago, and she's as much a part of my life as any male spouse would be - There's no way that I'm going to check a box marked "Single"…..but we're not legally married so I can't check the "Married" box either. I checked it anyway and wrote "Partnered" above it. My round peg may not fit in their square hole but I did my best to jam it in anyway. ;-)

Bureaucratic blips aside, the important thing is: the seminary application is in!
It's an application that has been nine years in the making.
What was once only a crazy and impossible idea tucked in the recesses of my mind is now very close to becoming reality.

I think I'll bask in the moment before the realization of how much work I have ahead of me sets in…..send your prayers and your good luck charms, I could use 'em!

...and now here it is, your moment of Zen:

How well do you know the Bible Quiz

This is why I need to go to learn the 5% of the Bible that I don't know...(apparently the book of Numbers doesn't have algebra problems at the end of each chapter, who knew?)

You know the Bible 95%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The St. Martin of Tours Expedition

We had about 3" of snow on Wednesday.
It was fine granular snow topped by a thick layer of sleet and ice - the kind of snow that you can walk on without sinking in - kind of like Jesus walking on water. I liked it because I could push the snow off my car while suspended 3" off the ground, making it easy to clean off the roof. Which brings me to my pet peeve of the day: people who don't clean off their vehicles and drive along cluelessly as huge chunks of snow and ice fly off pelting the cars behind them. Do they not look in their rear view mirrors and notice the chaos they're causing? OK, people who are vertically-challenged (a.k.a. short) have an excuse - it's hard to clean off the roof of an SUV when your head barely clears the side-view mirror.......which leads me to brilliant-idea-to-eliminate-pet-peeve: modify car washes to melt snow off of vehicles (trucks included) - a lot of car washes already blow air on cars to dry them off, why not blow hot air to melt the snow/ice?
Just a thought.

Walking on the snow yesterday brought back a childhood memory that I hadn't revisited in years (cue flashback music)…….
Picture it, 1970 something….My younger brother L and I are trudging off to elementary school the day after a major storm has dumped over a foot of snow on Long Island. It was the same kind of snow we had this past Wednesday, only there was a lot more of it. On our way to school we cut across a wooded empty lot, as we did every day, but half way across the lot the icy snow layer that had been supporting our weight began to give way. We'd put one foot in front of us and for a split second we were walking on solid ground, then **crack-kerplunk** we'd be thigh high in snow. This treacherous dance continued all the way across the lot. When we finally reached the shoveled sidewalk on the other side of the lot we were met with a 4 foot wall of snow blocking our access to the street that we needed to cross. We ascended the mountain only to find that getting over it would entail shimmying down the other side right into the path of traffic.

It had taken us so long to get to this point that the usually ever present crossing guard had packed up and gone home. The school was a mere two blocks away.
I slid down the snow embankment into the street and hugged the snow wall as closely as I could but after nearly getting hit by a car I scrambled back up. I told my brother L. to stay put and I distinctly remember fearing for his safety (which is odd, because normally I was the one who was beating him up).
Of course I'm probably remembering this wrong as it is more likely that L. was the one who jumped down into traffic while I cowered on the snow mound above, but either way, being the older sister I made the executive decision that we would both return home. The path to school was impassible on that day.

We trudged back the way we came (ignoring the shoveled side-walk that circumvented the lot) moving slowly through the thigh-high snow (because it added to the dramatic effect of our hopeless retreat) and upon arriving back home announced to our mother that we had made a valiant effort, but St.Martins was unreachable and was most likely closed as a result of the storm.
She sighed in disgust, threw us in the back of her car and drove us the quarter mile to school. The school was open of course, but by this time L. and I were extremely late and our uniforms were soaking wet from our expedition. As a final act of humiliation we had to wait in the nurse's office and dry off before we were allowed to go to class.

We always remember the one that got away…**sigh**
It was the snow day that almost was.

…and now here it is, you're moment of Zen:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hunk-a Hunk-a Burning Love

Ok, so I'm sitting in my chair the other night pulling out my hair over my seminary entrance essay just as I've done every night for the past two weeks (yes, I'm still working on it) when the power cord on my laptop does a shizzle madizzle, literally.
Sparks flew out and it gave up the ghost.
Time of death: 8:25 pm.

After much fretting and searching online for a replacement cord - and using up my precious battery juice in the process - I determined that my immediate options were to order a new power supply from HP for $125, drive to Best Buy the next day and pay $80 for an aftermarket power supply that may or may not work with my computer, or order a $30 "authorized replacement HP power cord" from one of the many computer parts outfits that have set up shop on the internet. I trust the latter about as much as I trust those electronics stores on 42nd St. that have permanent signs in the windows reading "Going Out Of Business - Everything Must Go!"

But funds are tight so I bit the bullet and ordered the $30 cord from the most reputable site of the lot. In the mean time I was without a laptop. But not for long. My SO is the Queen of laptops. She has a huge mega-gaming laptop on which she plays endless hours of World of Warcraft, she has a smaller back-up gaming computer to take on road trips, and a teeny tiny Dell that she uses only for work. I snatched the power cord from her middle computer (also an HP) and happily went about my business.

And then the laptop Gods struck again - My SO's huge mega-gaming computer overheated and decided to shut itself off, again and again and again, right in the middle of one of her mega-gaming World of Warcraft raids. She spent two hours on the phone with tech support (a very polite Indian gentleman) who determined that she needs some kind of magic gel to keep her CPU cool.

While we await the arrival of the magic gel she quite rightly fired up her back-up WOW machine and I was once again without a power cord.
But because my sweetie loves me she let me use her "work only" computer to thrash over my seminary essay in between mindless bouts of web surfing.

So, there we sat, just as we do every night, with one eye on our respective computers and the other on repeats of CSI:Miami.
Hey - we love each other, and it works for us.

So God did His best to take away our computers and give us each a break from our nightly obsessions - What he didn't plan on was our ingenuity - You can take away our toys but we will prevail……We have back-ups.

….and now here it is, your moment of Zen:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love is in the give me the chocolate

In honor of Valentines Day (and the cuddly little Valentines Build-a-Bear that my sweetie gave me) here's an appropriate Blogthings quiz:

Your Candy Heart Says "Hug Me"

A total sweetheart, you always have a lot of love to give out.
Your heart is open to where ever love takes you!

Your ideal Valentine's Day date: a surprise romantic evening that you've planned out

Your flirting style: lots of listening and talking

What turns you off: fighting and conflict

Why you're hot: you're fearless about falling in love

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sunday Sermon - February 11, 2007

"This Too Shall Pass"

When I was 13 years old I was impossible to live with.
I was moody, sarcastic, uncooperative and self-centered.
In other words, I was a typical 13-year-old.
I was convinced that I knew exactly how the world worked, and that every minor thing that happened around me or to me would have dire consequences on the rest of my life.
I was an expert at making mountains out of molehills - a skill which I believe all teenagers eventually master, along with the ever popular combination eye-roll/sigh, and the standard "how to respond to your parent's questions using one syllable or less."

By 14 I had perfected the art of slamming my bedroom door while yelling:
"You don't love me and you don't want me to ever be happy!"
The "you" of course was my mother, but my lament was directed towards the entire world.
Each time I was picked-on at school, denied something that I wanted, or flattened by the pain of an unrequited crush, I truly believed in my heart of hearts that I would never be happy again.

There was no such thing as hope on the horizon because there was no horizon.
There was only the here and now. And the here and now just brought more of the same.

Of course, this sense of hopelessness is not limited to overreacting teenagers.
When we're mired down in the muck of life it's nearly impossible for us to see past our own pain. The pain of loss, depression, illness, or poverty. We forget what it felt like to not feel the pain and it's hard for us to project ourselves to a future time when we will no longer feel it.
It's just there. Hanging in front of us like the heavy, stifling hot air of August.
It hurts to breathe, let alone move.

But it is in Christ's words that we find comfort:

Blessed are you who weep now. For you will laugh.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

These are the Beatitudes, from the Latin, beatitudo, meaning "blessings" or "happiness." These blessings were Jesus' way of offering hope to the people of his time who were suffering under the burden of poverty, illness and oppression.
He was showing them that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

The scripture that Terry read for us this morning is from the gospel of Luke.
There is actually a second, distinctly different version of the Beatitudes in the gospel of Matthew.

In Matthew's gospel the passage which contains the Beatitudes is known as the Sermon on the Mount.
In Luke's gospel it is known as the Sermon on the Plain because Jesus speaks these words not on a mountain top, but on the level ground amongst the people.

The difference between Matthew and Luke becomes more obvious when we look at the wording of the Beatitude text itself. In Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In Luke Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Matthew shows us Jesus speaking amongst his disciples but speaking in the third person. Luke shows us Jesus looking out at the people gathered around him and speaking directly to them.

In Matthew the indication of who is blessed is more metaphorical, more spiritual. "Blessed are the poor in spirit"…"blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness," In contrast, Luke uses language that is more direct, more physical, "Blessed are you who are poor," period, "blessed are you who are hungry now" - this is typical of Luke's gospel, as more so than any of the other gospel writers he emphasized Jesus' saving power for those suffering under the yoke of poverty and oppression.

So who got it right? Luke or Matthew?
Maybe they're both right. The gospel authors could be recounting the same sermon but preached at two different times in two different ways.
Jesus wouldn't be the first preacher to recycle a sermon and change it to suit his audience.

But it is more likely the authors are recounting the same event using two different interpretations.
This isn’t a contradiction. Instead it points to a difference between the author's intended purpose for these two Gospels. Matthew was Jewish and his gospel is a distinctly Jewish Gospel. He presents Jesus as the new Moses, the new law giver to the Jewish people. Matthew has Jesus ascend the mountain to dispense God's law just as Moses ascended Mt. Sinai.

Luke on the other hand was a Greek Gentile who wrote for a non-Jewish audience. Luke shows us a picture of Jesus as one who was meant to bring God's message to all people, not just a chosen few. In Luke, Jesus came down from the mountain and mingled with a multitude of people, on their own level.

Regardless of the difference in details, we Christians like the Beatitudes, the "blessed are's."
If we have ever been hungry, poor, consumed by grief or pain, we find solace in the promises of these blessings. Things may be bad but we will prevail. If we can just get through this life, greater rewards await us in the next.

If we haven't personally experienced poverty, hunger, or public rejection, we still find much to love about the Beatitudes. As socially conscious Christians this text speaks to our desire to help those who have experienced such ills. We gladly give our time, our money, our energy to ease the pain of the less fortunate, to act as God's agents by dispensing His Blessings to those in need.

But Luke's version of the Beatitudes does not end with blessings. It ends with Woes.

"Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep."

It's the woes that we don't know what to do with.
They are aptly named because after reading the promises of the Beatitudes we stumble across these condemnations and say:
"Whoa! This doesn't make sense" or "Whoa! This doesn't apply to me."

What is the purpose of the Woes?
Is it a warning that the Kingdom of God will be opposite-land, where everything that garners rewards here will bring pain and misery there?
If so, we're doomed. If we have more reason to laugh than cry, If we've never gone to bed hungry, if we have friends who speak highly of us, if we have disposable income to spend on restaurants, entertainment, and on an ever increasing amount of stuff to pack into our lives.
We may give our fair share to the less fortunate, but we still have enough left over to be considered rich by Jesus' standards. Are we doomed to experience misery when the Kingdom of God arrives?

I believe the short answer to that question is no.
I don't think Jesus is describing a here-and-now condition versus an after-life condition, where you are either Blessed in poverty or Woed in riches so take your pick now and you better make it a good one.

I believe Jesus' intention was to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable
To instill in us the understanding that both happiness and unhappiness are fleeting.

This is the nature of the human condition.
Sometimes we're up. Sometimes we're down. Sometimes we feel blessed, and other times we are mired in woes. And being blessed doesn't mean that God is rewarding us with the good stuff, any more than being afflicted means we are being punished with the bad stuff.

The Beatitudes and the Woes were not intended to warn us to change our ways or else.
There is nothing about them that suggests Jesus was telling us what we should and shouldn't do. When Jesus gives advice, we know it:

Love your enemies.
Do good to those who hate you.
Pray for those who abuse you.

These clearly are imperatives—love, do, pray…one after the other, with no distinction between rich or poor, hungry or well-fed. It is the same list for everyone, whether we happen to be weeping or laughing.

The Beatitudes are not like that.
Jesus doesn't tell us to do anything. Instead, he describes people in contrasting situations, hoping that we as his listeners will recognize ourselves as being in one group or the other.
And then he makes the same promise to all of us:
the way things are, are not the way they will always be.
If you are in pain you will find relief, and if you are comfortable, appreciate it while you have it.

One of my favorite writers and preachers is the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, and she uses the image of a Ferris wheel to illustrate the perpetual reversal of fortunes that Jesus was describing.

“The Ferris wheel will go around, so that those who are swaying at the top, with the wind in their hair and all the world’s lights at their feet, will have their turn at the bottom,
while those who are down there right now, where all they can see are candy wrappers in the sawdust, will have their chance to touch the stars.
It is not advice at all. It is not even judgment. It is simply the truth about the way things work, pronounced by someone who loves everyone on that wheel.”

(Home By Another Way, pg. 55)

We are all loved - rich and poor alike,
our current status is not a reflection of God's judgment,
and no condition is permanent.
In Jesus' time this was a revolutionary teaching.
In his time it was believed that those who lived a good comfortable life were blessed by God, and those who experienced a life full of woes were being punished for their lack of faith or lack of adherence to God's law.

Few of us today, at least in the United Church of Christ, believe this.
We feel blessed when good things happen to us but we tend not to see it as a material reward for good behavior, otherwise we'd have to believe that the opposite were true as well.
And I don't think there are many of us here who believe that God sends hurricanes to destroy wickedness, or takes our loved ones away from us because we have not been faithful.

So how do we look at the Beatitudes as being revolutionary in today's world?
There are a number of ways to interpret them.
The poor are blessed because they are not distracted from God by material things.
We get that.
The rich often lead empty lives because they have too much stuff and haven't left room for God.
We get that.
Life is a roller coaster. Sometime you're up, sometimes you're down.
We get that.
How do we see the Beatitudes as being more than the equivalent of that poster with the cat hanging from a tree declaring: "Hang in there baby, Friday's coming"?

Well, if we can't see it as more than that, then maybe we're not really listening to what Jesus is saying.

The problem is, many of us think that this particular message is not intended for us.
We may live comfortable lives but we are spiritually connected to God and our community, so the Woes do not apply to us.
We may be burdened with the pain of loss, grief, or illness, but we're not living on the streets, we're not hungry, we're not an outcast from society, so the Blessings don't apply to us either.

We're stuck in the middle.
Or are we?
Luke's gospel says of the people listening to Jesus "And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them" (Lk. 6:19).
All of them - not just the poor, not just the rich. All of them.

We all need healing in places.
We could all stand to empty our full lives just a little more to allow more room for God, more room for quiet contemplation, more room for blessings.
We could all stand to lessen our focus on the woes that we are suffering in the here and now and look to the horizon to a time when the pain will lessen, and in the process take our first step towards healing.

Jesus did not say that any of this would be easy to do.
For many of us finding time for quiet in our lives is just tacking on yet another thing to our already crowded to-do list.
And when we're in pain it's hard to find the strength to look to the horizon when we feel like we have an 800-lb weight sitting on our chest.

When I was thirteen-years-old I saw the world in two dimensions - the here and the now.
And because of that limited view I could not see the horizon.
I did not understand the concept of hope.
But my pessimism went beyond what is typical for the average teenager.
By fifteen I had descended into a depression so deep I saw no way out, I was convinced that I would not live to see my 16th birthday.

But I did.
I did it by taking one day at a time, and gradually, the pain began to subside.
The horizon came into view and once I moved past it, I knew I had the strength to continue on.

In the Beatitudes, and in the Woes, we find hope.
The strong shall be made weak.
The weak shall be made strong.
The whole shall be made broken.
The broken shall be made whole.
The two are infinitely connected.

As Ernest Hemmingway wrote at the end of "A Farwell to Arms:"
"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many become strong at the broken places"

We learn from our experiences.
We get knocked down, and we learn that we have the resiliency to get up again.
We realize we are happy, and we cherish it because we remember the times when we were not.

The Ferris wheel spins around and around and around,
and before we know it we go from dragging the soles of our feet in the dirt,
to raising our hands in the air.

Blessed be.

Monday is Friday at Carvel

Oooops, I meant to post this pre-sermon post on Friday but it got late and I went to bed and never submitted it. So wind back the clock and pretend it's Friday. I'll be back later today after my 'clase de espanol' and post a post-sermon update.


Whoo hoo! It's Friday night and the sermon is done!
I'll post it once I've had a chance to check for typos and tweak the grammar with fresh eyes.
To all of you who have wished me luck for Sunday - thanks!
This will actually be the 4th time I'm preaching at this congregation (5th if I count the Sunrise Easter sermon I did last year). But this will be the first time I've done it on short notice, and that makes it likely that most of the congregation will be coming expecting to see our regular Pastor and they're getting 'substitute preacher' instead….Heh, heh.

Prior to joining the United Church of Christ I was a Unitarian Universalist and I had quite a few opportunities to man (or woman) the pulpit. But the UCC is different. We follow the lectionary calendar so my choice of preaching topics is much more limited than when I was a free-spirit UU. I actually prefer it this way. I enjoy the challenge of tackling the scripture and finding an angle that I feel people will respond to.

For example, while brainstorming ideas for my sermon on the Beatitudes I went through the normal progression of first thinking about what I want to say, then moving to what I thought the congregation would want to hear, and finally settling on what I think the congregation needs to hear.

We have quite a few members of our church who are hurting right now. We had a beloved member pass away over the summer. Another passed away in the Fall. Several members have lost a parent or sibling. Others have lost cherished friends. We've had several marriages and relationships that have broken up or are in transition. Others are dealing with illnesses either personal or within their immediate family.

These kind of life moments are typical in church families but in our small congregation it just seems to have piled up on us of late.

Our members give so much of themselves: to their families, to their community, to our church, to our various outreach projects that they don't need to hear yet another sermon focusing on the "Woes" - they don't need a finger-wagging lecture telling them how we are all doomed to fall short of the mark because we are 'rich' and 'full' and don't give enough time to God. We don't need a guilt trip - we need a break. So my sermon focuses on the healing potential of the Beatitudes, the ways in which they offer us hope.

I think I managed to pull it off with what I've written -
Now if I could just come up with a decent children's sermon to go along with it.
Something tells me I'll be perusing the 11th Hour Preacher Party posts over at RevGalBlogPals tomorrow!

…and now here it is, your moment of Zen:

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Caution: Amateur in the Pulpit, Watch Your Step

OK people, the bat signal has appeared in the night sky, my spidey-sense has picked up a signal of distress, my invisible plane is prepped and ready, and my oh-mighty-Isis bullet-deflecting wristbands are polished and primed for action.

Look up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Super-Unpaid-Wannabe-Associate-Pastor to the rescue! Da-da-dahhhh!

Yep…mark your calendars, press your best Sunday slacks, and plan on hitting the snooze button and rolling over and going back to sleep, cuz I'm preaching on Sunday....woo hoo!

Our pastor's birthday is on Sunday and she asked for a much needed day off so I will be stepping into the pulpit this week. Which means I should probably stop writing this post and get working on my order of service, the hymn choices, the Call to Worship, the Call to Confession, the children's story….and that bit that comes towards the end….you know, the bit where everyone's eyes glaze over and they start thinking about how crowded Costco is going to be later on….what's that bit called again??....oh yeah, the SERMON!
I suppose I should write one of those as well…

And note to any members of our congregation who may be reading this: Just because the Pastor is taking the day off it doesn't mean the substitute is gonna let you out early or put up with your shenanigans…uh uh…there will be no throwing of erasers or placing of whoopee cushions on the pulpit chair…do you hear that Mr. Gym Shorts? Now stick that gum on the end of your nose and leave it there until the bell rings.

I think I'm going to go for the obvious and preach on the Luke text this week, the Beatitudes (the Jesus laws, one of my all time faves). I shall try my best to breathe some life into it and keep the congregation alert and attentive. Wish me luck.

...and now here it is, your moment of Zen:

"Oh Zephyr Winds which blow on high, lift me now so I can fly!"

Monday, February 5, 2007

I Think I Love You, So What Am I So Afraid Of...

Eileen the Episcopali-fem my new fave blog friend,
has one of those neat bloggy type personality tests on her site so I took the bait and took it as well. The results I received look oddly similar to the side of the Partridge Family Bus:

I have a mild obsession with taking these online personality tests. I don’t know why… they all tell me the exact same thing: I'm a sensitive empathetic introvert who likes to plan ahead and never leaves the cap off of the toothpaste. I suspect that I like taking these tests because they give validation to traits that I feel are less valued in our society than their counterparts. It's the spontaneity-loving-extroverts who get all the kudos in this world.
When I was in high school the "sensitive introverts" were the nerds, the fringe dwellers, the ones with the targets on their backs that read "cool kids aim here."
When we sensitive types grow up we tend to gravitate towards the lesser valued, and thus lesser paid helping professions - teachers, nurses, social workers, pastors - while our extroverted cousins become CEO's, world leaders, and contestants on Survivor.

I like taking these tests because they tell me "you are normal, you are a valid personality type, you are not a socially stunted weirdo." I may still be a socially stunted weirdo but according to the internets (which means it has to be true) there are enough people out there who share these personality traits to justify making it a "type" complete with neat little color charts, acronyms, and - for the low price of $39.95 - a complete workup of your star chart and a picture of the person you are meant to marry.

My favorite part of the free online tests is the career suggestions section. My type is always matched up with "writer, counselor, clergy." YES! More validation. Why is it when I hear and feel God calling me into the ministry in a thousand subtle and not-so-subtle ways I continually ask for further verification that I'm on the right path, yet when a 20-question quiz on a website that hasn't been updated since June 1997 tells me that I was meant to be a member of the clergy I place a check in the "empirical proof" column?

I hate that I sometimes place a higher value on outside sources of validation than on my own inner sense of knowing - my internal God-o-meter. My God scanner has pegged at the 'YES' end of the ministry dial more times than I can count yet I continue to question its accuracy.
But I find comfort in the notion that this uncertainty is quite normal for those of us who are on this path. At times we stumble, at times we stride, and at times we get distracted by the shiny baubles we pass along the way and we wander off the path entirely. But we keep coming back. I keep coming back. Because God keeps calling. Through the people I meet, through the big and small events of my life, and though the pretty color charts of internet personality tests. Can I get an AMEN?!

...and now here it is, your moment of Zen:

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Stuper Bowl

It's Super Bowl Sunday and I've spent the day being a slug watching 5-hours of pre-game shows (ok, so I took several naps while I was doing it).
My Pats and Jets got knocked out in the play-offs so I'm rooting for Indy - Peyton Manning has been a bridesmaid for too long, and he doesn't look good in pink taffeta.

Right now its 14-6 Bears in the 1st quarter, it's pouring rain, the ball is squirting out all over the place, and things ain't looking good for Indy.

Here's some moment of Zen mojo for Peyton:

Go Indy!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Where there's smoke there's fire

I was working at the church Thrift Shop today organizing the book shelves (aahhh, a book-geek's dream job) when I ran across a tattered little volume of poems from 1916 entitled "Rhymes of a Red Cross Man." In it I found the following ode:

The Black Dudeen

"Humping it here in the dug-out,
Sucking me black dudeen,
I'd like to say in a general way,
There's nothing like Nickyteen;
There's nothing like Nickyteen, me boys,
Be it pipes or snipes or cigars;
So be sure that a bloke
Has plenty to smoke,
If you want him to fight your wars."

You can't make this stuff up.
Actually, I guess somebody did, Mr. Robert W. Service did in 1916. I opened this dusty little book right to the page containing this poem and the irony of it made me laugh out loud. The imagery conjured up by the words used in the first two lines seemed shocking at first simply because these words have entirely different meanings in 2007 than they did in 1916 (you know what they mean, don't make me say it).

As I read further and realized that this was an ode to tobacco and its narcotic effects my sensitivities were rankled even further. Once again, because smoking is seen in a different light today than it was even just 10 years ago. I experience the same odd sensation when I watch an old movie where everyone is smoking like chimneys…in restaurants, in offices, on airplanes!! Now... I'm no spring-chicken, I remember when people were allowed to smoke in all of those places, I remember when it seemed normal to do so, but its been banned long enough now that it does seem out-of-place when I encounter it.
The most jarring representation of pre-ban smoking I've seen took place in a 1960's sci-fi movie that was supposedly set in the 22nd century. An astronaut crew (all white males of course) wandered into a night club on Mars where a Martian go-go girl with green skin and a 1960's bouffant did a provocative dance in front of a crowd of smokers. Apparently in 1960 they assumed that smoking, the objectification of women, and the beehive hairdo, would never go out of style.

The point of this rambling post (and there is one) is that things change. What seemed appropriate and acceptable yesterday may be seen as inappropriate and unacceptable today. Words change, situations change, behaviors change, people change.

Case in point, at the Thrift Shop today a woman came in and shopped for quite awhile chatting amicably with me and J. who runs the shop. After the woman left, J. told me that the woman used to a member of our church but she left when we called our current pastor two years ago. She left because the pastor we called is gay.

Hearing this brought out the same reaction in me that I would have if I witnessed someone lighting up a cigarette on an airplane. It was bizarre. It was out-of-place. And I couldn't believe that someone would assume that such behavior was not only appropriate, but acceptable.

I'm not na├»ve. I know that there are many places where rejection of gays in the ministry, in the church, is not only acceptable it's expected. I hear the selective rationalizations of the "The Bible SAYS…" people. I know about the theological debate that is tearing apart the Episcopal church, that is keeping partnered gay Evangelical Lutheran ministers from serving the congregations that call them, that is yanking wonderful and gifted pastors from the pulpit in the Methodist church, that is causing rifts in the more liberal denominations and is institutionalizing and legalizing discrimination in the more conservative denominations.

I know all of "that" is out there. And I know that only 10 years ago this woman's public rejection of a gay minister would have been commonplace and normal in all but a few churches. But not today. Not here.

I've been spoiled. As a gay woman I've encountered a few personal and impersonal rejections in my life, but discrimination rarely touches me anymore. I have a family who loves and supports both me and my partner. My partner teaches at a private school whose community loves and supports us. They put me on her health insurance. They allowed us to have a commitment ceremony in their school chapel, officiated by the school's ELCA minister. They gave us on-campus housing making an exception to their "non-cohabitation of unmarried couples" rule. I've been 'out' at every job I've ever worked and been openly accepted by my coworkers and superiors. I attend a church that called a lesbian pastor, considering only the wonderful gifts that she had to offer; a church that accepts and supports me and my call to the ministry as well.

I've lived in a smoke-free environment for so long that it seems shockingly out-of-place when I encounter it.
And when I do I'm left with questions that have no logical answers. Would the woman in the thrift shop have treated me any differently if she knew that I was gay? What if she knew I was gay and planning on entering the ministry? Would I suddenly be deemed unworthy of the smiles and friendly banter that we shared?

It all seems like just a big waste of time.
All the theological arguments, all the wracking of brains and hearts trying to interpret what God does and doesn't want, who God has or hasn't called. In our arrogance we are ignoring the obvious: Any belief that makes one Christian, one human being, treat another with contempt does not come from God, it comes from within our own brokenness. It comes from our pain, our guilt, our anger, our fear.

All of these things fill our lives with smoke, obscuring and distorting our view of God; our view of each other. As our friend Mr. Service wrote in 1916: "be sure that a bloke has plenty to smoke, If you want him to fight your wars" - It's only when the smoke clears that we lay down our arms and stop seeing each other as the enemy, and start listening to God's call.

I'll leave you with tomorrow's lectionary text from Isaiah 6 which oddly enough seems appropriate:

"The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!" (Isaiah 6:4-8)

...and now here it is, your moment of Zen:

Friday, February 2, 2007

You say potato I say po-TAH-to

My SO (significant other) thinks it's hilarious that I pronounce the word 'vocabulary' as "vo-CAB-u-LERRY " rather than "VO-cab-u-LARRY"….I in turn think it's hysterical that she pronounces the word 'horror' as "WHORE-ore" rather than "HARR-err".
She's from southern California, I'm from Long Island.
What can I say, we crack each other up.

I feel a Blogthings quiz coming on:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

The Inland North
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I'm intrigued to see that I've been pegged as being from "New York City or Connecticut" rather than Long Island (pronounced "Lawn GUY-Land"). It corroborates what every person up here in New England tells me whenever I tell them I'm originally from Long Island: "I would have never known - you don't have an accent." As if the only thing that Long Islanders are known for is their accent. C'mon people! We gave the world Billy Joel, Joey Buttafuoco, and a gaggle of Baldwin brothers and serial killers. (Long Island is 25 miles wide and has a population of 3 million people - you'd kill each other too). We have Levittown, the Long Island Expressway, and the Amityville Horror (HARR-er) House. We're splitting atoms at Stony Brook, we built the Lunar Lander in Bethpage (right behind my parent's house), and we have more unpronounceable Indian town names than New Jersey….all together now: Syosset, Massapequa, Hauppauge…..

I'll admit that after seven years of living with Ms. Southern California I now pronounce 'water' as "WAH-TER" rather than "WAW-TA".….and I used to think that only people on the Brady Bunch and the fantasy world of TV talked that way. We didn't talk (TAWK) that way in the real world. :::sigh:::….I've been corrupted, I've been lured over to the dark side….I guess I'll go study my vocab-u-lerry now.

....and now here it is, your moment of Zen:

Thursday, February 1, 2007

"eternamente engendrado del Padre"

No 'clase de espanol' today. I checked my email at 10:00 just before I left for school and found out that class was 'cancelada.' I'm so glad I got up at 6:30 a.m. to study 4 chapters of vocabulary and write a paragraph using the preterite tense. (Note to self: check email before you spend 3 hours preparing for a class that ain't gonna happen).

On the topic of language, I'd like to rewind a bit back to last Saturday and share something that I experienced during the DES Mass. Outside of a handful of weddings and funerals I haven't been to a Catholic Mass in almost 10 years, and it's been about 25 years since I attended Mass regularly. Yet surprisingly, I remembered every word of the liturgy spoken by the priest and every response given by the people. I was even able to recite the Nicene Creed from memory. I was amazed. We recite the Nicene Creed in our UCC congregation maybe 2-3 times a year, and that's with the aid of a hymnal; if you asked me to recite it sight unseen right now I might remember 25% of it if I'm lucky. But put me in the setting of a Mass surrounded by all those true-blue Catholics reciting it by heart and it's like some dormant part of my brain kicks in….the part that heard this liturgy recited every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life (back then there was no such thing as Sunday School for kids, we sat through the entire Mass from birth, no fidgeting allowed, and stop hitting your brother with the bulletin).

The amazing thing is, I can't recite the Creed from memory when we do a unison reading in the UCC. It's just not the same. Catholics reciting from memory have a certain cadence, a certain rhythm; it's like singing a song that we've all heard and repeated a thousand times before - We pause at the same places, raise and lower our pitch at the same places, and use the same tone. It's impossible to mimic this pattern when people possessing different levels of familiarity with a text are reading in unison from a book, it's always just a little off - Especially in a more theological diverse denomination like the UCC. We're bound to trip over the Nicene Creed because some of us don't believe half of what is in there (that pesky Virgin birth gets 'em every time). We may choose not to recite certain parts, or we're so busy analyzing the language and theology of each line we lose our place altogether, further interrupting the melodic harmony of the group. Catholics don't do this (on average, there are always exceptions), and neither do I when surrounded by other Catholics. As I discovered this past Saturday, I have a whole section of neurons hard-wired into my brain labeled "liturgy of the Mass." I just recite it without even thinking about what it is I'm saying. It was freaky, but it was also kind of fun; it's like being tested on something you learned 30 years ago in grammar school and knowing every answer as if you learned it yesterday.

Now, if I only had the same recall ability with Spanish….my espanol neurons seemed to have taken root in the section of my brain labeled "things to forget 5-minutes after you leave the classroom."
Ah dios mio!

….and now here it is, your moment of Zen: