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Advent Crossroad: Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Malachi 3-4 (Narrative Lectionary)            This time of year I think a lot about the fact that I had two Jewish grandparents whom I knew and loved. I had four Jewish great-grandparents who died before I was born, whose parents came from Eastern Europe to escape the horrific persecution of Jews. From my Jewish grandparents came my mother who came to know and believe in Christ in her mid-twenties, but still shared with her children some of the celebrations of her youth- Chanukah, Passover, Sabbath.
            This time of year, when we all reflect on families, I think of the Chanukahs of my youth and I think about the people who came before my great-grandparents. My family tree with many branches cut short on one side because of the violence against Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. When I read stories of pogroms in ghettos and shtetls, I wonder if those were my distant cousins whose descendants the world will not meet, whom I…

Unexpected, Mysterious and Fun

I've been trying to think of what to say about this article from the New York Times, in which the author calls himself a "None"- meaning no religious affiliation. It's not this designation that bothers me. I'm also not too upset when he goes on to comment on how many such Nones get turned off religion by religious people. Been there, seen that, had it happen to me.

Here's the thing that gets me:


We are more religiously polarized than ever. In my secular, urban and urbane world, God is rarely spoken of, except in mocking, derisive tones. It is acceptable to cite the latest academic study on, say, happiness or, even better, whip out a brain scan, but God? He is for suckers, and Republicans.I used to be that way, too, until a health scare and the onset of middle age created a crisis of faith, and I ventured to the other side. I quickly discovered that I didn’t fit there, either. I am not a True Believer. I am a rationalist. I believe the Enlightenment was a very …

Father Knows Breast

Today I was at a sushi bar and a Dominican priest was seated one chair away from me. I knew he was Dominican because he had a white robe and a large wooden rosary- like other Dominicans I have known.

I wonder if I should greet him. Why? I'm not Catholic. He doesn't know I'm clergy (no collar on today). He probably wants a peaceful lunch. I want a peaceful lunch.

I do not leave well enough alone. I ask if he is, in fact, Dominican. Yes, new in town (of several months). We know someone in common. We talk briefly about where we're from. All good. No problems.

I'm reading from a Nook and he has a paperback by Wallace Stegner.

Him: We're thinking about starting a Theology and Literature group. I'm checking out Stegner.
Me: (Trying to make a joke) So, not Father Greeley. (A Roman Catholic priest who is a prolific writer and some of whose novels are famously or infamously sexy.)
Him: No, not Father Greeley. Too many breasts.
Me: (Raising my eyebrows) Well, breasts…

A Haiku of Exhaustion

Too tired to write
The blank screen sits accusing
Today to-dos won.



Like One Who Lifts an Infant to the Cheek

A Sermon on Hosea 6:1-6, 11:1-9

Who knows anything about Hosea (the book or the prophet)?
Hosea is a prophet in the Northern Kingdom, probably just a little more than seven hundred years before Jesus is born. The Northern Kingdom of Israel, remember, has more money, more tribes and more power, but it doesn’t have the Davidic line (the line of kings descending from David). During the time of Hosea’s prophecies, the Assyrians will come and conquer the Northern Kingdom and carry them off into exile.
One of the reasons we don’t get a whole lot of Hosea is because the book can cause a lot of indigestion. There are two main metaphors in the book: a husband/wife metaphor and a parent/child metaphor.
In that first one, the husband/wife metaphor, God is the faithful husband and Israel is the unfaithful wife, deserving of punishment- possibly death. While we can understand a metaphor of idolatry as adultery, we don’t always think about the fact that in ancient Israel, there wasn’t really any suc…

One Minute Writer: Teach Edition

If you were to teach as a career, what would you teach?


One of the reasons I haven't considered hospital chaplaincy more seriously is because I love to teach. I think I would enjoy teaching religion- world religions, church and culture, Jesus (and Jesus figures) in film, modern religious movements.
.....




Above is all I could write in one minute, but it caused me to think back on some of the classes of my Religion degree (undergraduate) and remember how much I really enjoyed them.

Prayer for a New Day

Psalm 19 - Contemporary English Version


The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, and the skies declare what he has done.
Each day informs the following day; each night announce to the next. They don't speak a word and there is never the sound of a voice. Yet their message reaches all the earth, and it travels around the world.
In the heavens a tent is set up for the sun. It rises like a bridegroom and gets ready like a hero eager to run a race. It travels all the way across the sky. Nothing hides from its heat.
The Law of the LORD is perfect; it gives us new life. His teachings last forever, and they give wisdom to ordinary people.
The LORD's instruction is right; it makes our hearts glad. His commands shine brightly, and they give us light.
Worshiping the LORD is sacred; he will always be worshiped. All of his decisions are correct and fair. They are worth more than the finest gold and are sweeter than honey from a honeycomb.
By your teachings, Lord, I am warned; by obeyi…

Verbage

I'm at a continuing education conference that is turning out to be really excellent. One of the things that happens when you get a bunch of people in the same profession together is that they will get on each other's nerves. In clergy circles (of the same denomination), there can be little tweaks in verbage or theology that can cause eye-rolling and snarky comments like you wouldn't believe.

(What? You thought we were all sitting around singing Kum-Ba- Yah?)

In reality, there is always truth to what is pointed out to you, it is just that it can be hard to hear it.

Two phrases that have been pointed out by people I know well (and like) are:

1) "We worship # on Sunday." A phrase that I never use in my daily life comes up immediately with other clergy because one is quickly asked, "How many do you worship on Sunday"- meaning "How many people attend worship on Sunday?" The great pastor from Sitka Lutheran in Sitka, Alaska says, "We worship Go…

Where Have All the Reading Materials Gone?

The NaBloPoMo prompt for today is: When was the first time you realized that your home was not like other peoples' homes?

I recall roller skating in a friend's garage in kindergarten. We didn't have a garage, but that's not the memory that sticks out in my mind. Nor is it when I think about playing with Barbies at other peoples' homes, but not having them at home.

When I was in eighth grade, I went to spend the night with a friend and I remember her house looked totally different than either my (parents') house or other houses I knew. There was something odd about the place that I couldn't put my finger on for a while. Finally, we were dancing in the living room and I stopped and said, "Where are all your books?"

I was used to a house that had reading material everywhere. In the living room on shelves and by chairs. In the laundry room on the "brown table" that collected everything. By my parents' bed. Both sets of grandparents had ma…

If I Were A Rich Man

A couple weeks ago I went to an excellent production of Fiddler on the Roof, one of my favorite musicals. John Preece was Tevye and he was AMAZING. I was seated in the front row (a friend picked the tickets) and Preece's expressions and emotions were mesmerizing. (I can't find any videos that show Preece, but you can hear him here.)

Her characterization of Tevye was of a man who prayed without ceasing, in continuous give and take conversation with God. His wrestling and faith were evident in each sideways glance, tap of a mezuzah or fidget with his tzitzit.

One of the scenes that has stuck with me is the song "If I were a Rich Man". Preece ambled around the stage and it was as though each new verse struck him as an epiphany. My wife could have servants! I would be respected! We could live in a bigger, better house!

Then the last verse came very poignantly and I heard it in a way I've never heard before. "If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack to s…

A Meditation from St. Francis of Assisi

For All Saints' Day- a meditation on the Lord's Prayer from St. Francis of Assisi: 
Our Father.  Our Creator, Redeemer, Comforter and Savior.
Who art in heaven. 
 You are with the angels and the saints, bathing them in your light that they may be enlightened by your love, and dwelling within them that they may be filled with your joy. You are the supreme good, the eternal good, from whom comes all goodness, and with- out whom there is no goodness.
Hallowed be your name. 
 May our knowledge of you become ever clearer, that we may know the breadth of your blessings, the length of your promises, the height of your majesty, and the depth of your judgments.
Your kingdom come. 
 Rule in our hearts with your grace, that we may become fit subjects for your kingdom. We desire nothing more than to dwell in your kingdom, where we can watch you on your throne, and enjoy your perfect love.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 
 May we love you with our whole heart by always thinking …

Pineapples to Hockey Pucks

I love where I live, but certain comparisons should not be made:







Friday Five: Time with Friends Edition

Over at RevGalBlogPals, kathrynzj encourages us to write about five things we like to do with friends. The posts seem to take two directions- what you like to with friends in general and what you like to do with friends who visit your hometown.

In general, I like to travel, eat, read books, walk and have long, long talks with friends.

If out of town friends come to Anchorage, I like to:

1. Go to the Winner Creek trail and (maybe) do the hand tram!

This is not my video, but it's pretty good. You can see how far you have to go and what the gorge looks like. The hike is fairly easy- a little hilly and beautiful. The tram is optional! ;)




2. Visit the Eagle River Nature Center (and assorted trails). I got married here on the salmon viewing deck. It's a great place- all supported by volunteers. The ERNC is only about eight miles from my house.




3. Drive to Seward and visit the Sealife Center. Seward is a really neat town. We could walk up to the face of Exit Glacier, eat salmon and h…

The More Things Change

After a book discussion around science and speculative fiction, I needed a funny reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Enjoy!

L'Ultima Cena

L'ultima Cena is the name of the painting you may know as "The Last Supper". The Italian uses the phrase "ultimate" as in final, not as in awesome (though I enjoy a parsley salad and some lamb, so it may well have been awesome).

It never fails to move me to think about Jesus, gathered with those he loved, in that upper room- smoky and close- consuming their history and sanctifying their future. Powerful stuff.

On a more mundane thought, the NaBloPoMo prompt for the day is: "What would you want for your last meal?"

What would my ultimate, ultimate last meal be?

In truth, I'd prefer not to know it was my last. That would the best seasoning of all. I love food in general, so it's hard to narrow it down to one meal. Several courses?

I'd like Greek salad with lemon and oil dressing, heavy on the lemon. Then a open-faced, hot turkey sandwich, with gravy. Mashed potatoes. Cranberry sauce. Steamed broccoli. And chocolate cream pie.

Comfort food, I …

Death cannot destroy

For some reason, I'm thinking of both All Saints and the first law of thermodynamics today.  Aren't you? 
Today is the Feast of All Saints, the day upon which we celebrate the lives of the faithful who have gone on to their reward. I want to be able to say that I am celebrating, but mostly I am missing people today. My grandparents, a mentor, friends, classmates... all gone too soon to my way of thinking. 
The first law of thermodynamics is that energy can be transformed, but it cannot be created or destroyed. I could talk more about heat and energy conservation- the principles of thermodynamics- but that's not what I want to say. 
Energy can be transformed, but it cannot be created or destroyed. 
There's no way to talk about this without seeming a little out there, but stick with me. Scientifically, I know that our bodies decay, but spiritually I believe death is not the end God intends for us. We are transformed in ways we don't understand after death. I can'…

Book Review: A Thousand Lives

When I heard Julia Scheeres had a new book coming out, I jumped on it. I read  her memoir, Jesus Landseveral years ago and found it fascinating. I was even more eager to read the new book: A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception and Survival at Jonestown. I was not disappointed. Scheeres was working on a novel about a charismatic preacher from Indiana, when she looked up Jim Jones and then discovered the released, but untapped FBI archives, audio files and documents, of Jonestown.
In her introduction, Scheeres writes, “I believe that true stories are more powerful, in a meaningful, existential way, than made-up ones. Learning about other people’s lives somehow puts one’s own life into sharper relief… You won’t find the word cult in this book, unless I’m directly citing a source that uses the word… The word cult only discourages intellectual curiosity and empathy. As one survivor told me, nobody joins a cult.”
As I read this book, that last sentence came to me over and …

Doing It Wrong

Yesterday I was in a meeting and we talking about Synod Assembly (the BIG annual joint congregations church meeting). When we were trying to figure out how to include more young people in the meeting, someone mentioned "the boring parts".

I retorted, "You mean the part where we're doing the work of the church?"

Someone later said, "What did you call it 'the work of the Lord'?"

I said, "No, the work of the Lord and the work of the church sometimes overlap, but are not interchangeable."

Work of the church: stewardship (care of) financial, spiritual, physical and emotional resources.

Work of the Lord: care of neighbor and fulfilling the Great Commission (not necessarily simultaneously).

Yes, church meetings can have slow parts. Not everyone is interested in or understands budget discussions. Not everyone comprehends the, sometimes, technical wording of resolutions or the use of shibboleths to show who's in and who's out.

The ne…

Ten Years Later

In the summer of 2002, I worked in New York City through Lutheran Disaster Response (then Lutheran Disaster Relief) leading day camps in congregations that had experienced serious loss on 9/11/01. Not just the loss of the understanding of the world as they knew it, but loss of life.

I worked with children who had parents who came home and parents who didn't. I talked to spouses who waited and were reunited. And some who weren't.

All week I tried to put some order into my feelings. I never tell these stories. They are too raw, too hard, too stark. Two weeks after the camps ended, I moved to Nome, Alaska. I didn't process when I could have and trying to do so now is like trying to rework plaster that has set.

So as I turned over the hard shape of this experience this week, I wrote this in my journal:


Anyway, I want to write a blog post about my memories, but I am not sure what to say or how to talk about the end of my memories. That I had to shut some of them away so that I c…

Friday Five: Your Workspace Edition

Over at RevGalBlogPals, Revkjarla writes: Idon't know about you, but I am a notoriouslymessycreative worker.  My workspace at home, and at my office is always littered with books and papers and mail and pens and keys and mugs....and tchotchkes (momentos, weird things, etc.)   I am looking right now at a pair of dice that someone gave me that have "God" on each side, so that anyway you roll 'em, you end up with God.  Different, right?  
So, this Friday Five is all about YOUR tchotchkes in your workplace.  Describe five things in/on your workspace (however you define workspace--I tend tospill over onto bedside tables, end tables, coffee tables...create wherever I land) that are special to you!   Bonus points for pictures!


Oh, honey, the disaster of my desk means my workspace usually looks like this. I'm a member of the Flat Surface Society, meaning if there's a flat surface, I'll stack stuff on it. And I'm not likely to change. I clean my desk post- Chri…

My Alternative Trinity

I'm a big fan of the Trinity: One God, Three Expressions- Father, Son and Holy Spirit- Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier- Our Source, Our Brother, Our Sustenance. (The links go to previous Trinitarian love blog posts.)

I believe the Trinity is how God has chosen to make Godself and power know in the world. However, there are other things I believe to be true and worthwhile. In particular, I believe in the holiness of bodies, in backing up your computer and in counseling (talking to someone). This has the potential to be a series, but I'm going to try to be brief this time.

1. The Holiness of Bodies- I believe that our bodies are a gift from God and that we are unable to accomplish the work God intends us to do without them. This is why taking care of our physical being is spiritually important. If God's work within us for Christ's sake could be accomplished through the power of thinking alone, then we wouldn't need a physical presence. However, God created a physica…

What Am I Missing?

In the past week, I've been reading In the Garden of Beasts, a book set in 1933-1934 Germany. The book discusses William E. Dodd, the American ambassador to Germany as Hitler rose in power. He and his family have to sort out what is true and who is telling the truth in a critical age of shadowy figures and subterfuge. This in non-fiction.

As I read In the Garden of Beasts, I'm disheartened by the correspondence that goes back and forth between high powered American government officials and regular civilians that ignores or downplays Germany's actions against Jews and other "unclean" races. Not only do people seem to dismiss the allegations, very often the letters reveal confessions of personal ambivalence or outright antagonism toward Jewish people. The main concern of the American government is primarily Germany's potential default on war and reconstruction debts and, secondarily, Germany's failure to reduce their armaments. The people who sound the trump…