Friday, June 11, 2010

Julia Reads

I recently told my husband, "The world is coming to meet me." I was doing errands in Anchorage and I saw two people sitting in their cars and reading, while eating their lunch. Once upon a time, I was a lonely reading girl with glasses- no other bibliophiles or -phages and no other glasses-wearers.

Now almost everyone my age uses some prescription lenses and everyone is in a book club or has a Kindle or is trying to read more.

It took me a long time to be okay as a public reader, but on this eve of my 29th birthday, I will say, "My name is Julia and I like to read."

I like to read more than anything else. Forget the new car smell, if I could buy an air freshener in "Musty Book Store" or "Library of Congress", I would.

I keep a book list. I'm not the only one who does this. It's not uncommon. It's just that for many people who know me, I'm the only person they know who does this.

Since 2002, I have had a goal of reading 100 new books each year. While I was in seminary, I didn't count what I read for school. It had to be pleasure reading and that was it. I started this because of my tendency to read books that I love over and over. The book list spurred me forward into new territories. The book list helped me to grasp my reading habits and compelled me to try new genres and new authors.

For me, reading has been an escape, a balm, a teaching tool, a corrective, a mental sorbet, an anchor, an attractive nuisance, a diagnostic tool and much more.

I got glasses in kindergarten because I couldn't see the school bus coming up the street. Still wearing glasses for distance vision correction today, I can spot a sign that says, "BOOKS" at a 1/2 mile.

In first grade, my family moved. My new teacher tested my reading and I plowed through the various first grade readers, second grade readers and after the third grade reader- I was encouraged to read the Little House books on my own during reading time. (I have no idea why I couldn't fit in with others.)

At 10, I plowed through Gone With The Wind. It took me about five weeks. My parents rewarded me by renting the video of the movie, which caused me to rant (unto this day) about the discrepancies between the book and the movie. If I really like a book, I will not see the movie, with few exceptions.

In sixth grade, I wrote a lovely descriptive paper of my favorite room in the house: the bathroom- a place to read in peace.

When I was 13, I had a mystery lump that didn't go away. The day that I didn't want to go to the library, my mom called the doctor and said we were coming in right away. My hernia was diagnosed that evening.

Before it was fashionable to do so, I coveted the library Belle receives as a gift in the Disney movie "Beauty and the Beast".

Yesterday, someone introduced me to a young girl and said to me of her, "She loves to read more than anything else." I smiled, but I didn't say everything I thought and I watched her eyes look at me, wondering if I was going to say what everyone else says to her. I'm sure adults praise her for reading. I'm sure she feels odd out among her peers.

But here's what I say to her:

Read on. Use up the flashlight batteries. Ask always, "Can I take a book?" and don't take it personally when told "No." Make friends with librarians. Plow ahead through books that are interesting, but a little beyond you. You will come back to them. Read authors that famous and those that aren't. Read the book before the movie. Read the book after the movie. Run around the house 10 times. Read a chapter. Run around 10 times in the other direction. Read a chapter. Base your purse purchases on whether or not a book will fit in there.

Reading will help you recognize correct English. Reading will make you a better writer. Reading will fill in the gaps of your education. (I learned very interesting things from Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave that I didn't get in school until about 6 years after I read the book.) Reading will make you question what you believe to be true and force you to tease out what is important. Reading will help you create dreams for yourself and help you to realize when the brass ring is coming by.

I loved pioneers over princesses, Scarlet over Melanie, survival over being swept off my feet. When the time came, I chose going to Alaska over going England. There were many reasons, but the choice was heavily influenced by reading.

When my now-husband and I were doing the initial questioning game that precedes actual dating, his friend "J" offered the best testimonial he could based on what he'd heard about me, "Rob reads." I remember being amused, "Good for him." But his vocabulary convinced me that he did, indeed, read.

I'm in a book club now. It's hard because I don't know the people outside of the club, but I love them because they read. And we talk about reading books together.

So, young reader, read on, read on. And when you think no one else is reading, join a game, make a friend, but don't pretend you're not a reader. You are! Be proud!

And, someday, you'll look around and realize everyone else has come to the land you've enjoyed for years. And you'll hold out your book list and say, "Welcome! We've been waiting for you!"

P.S. Since 1992, I've read 920 new books. I'm to 28 for this year. I'm pretty sure a new baby means no more 100 a year. I'm striving for 60 now.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I was recently reading a back issue of The Lutheran and the cover article was about summer camp. Outdoor ministry is a big deal in the ELCA, but camp, in general, has probably been one of the top 3 spiritually formative forces in my life.

My mom and I went to a mother/daughter overnight at Camp Mundo Vista (World View) in Sophia, NC when I was in third grade. I went there with other GAs (Girls in Action) for a week in the summers 1991, 1992 and 1993. In the summers of 1996 and 1997, I was a counselor there, with my lips pinched shut about my age because of how close it was to some of the campers. Being a counselor meant a week or so of staff training and then eight weeks or so of campers.

For a dramatic and deeply faithful girl, CMV saved me from the cynicism of my fellow teens. CMW is sponsored by the Women's Missionary Union of North Carolina (the women's branch of the Southern Baptist Church- sort of). Since my family did not attend a Baptist church, I was asked not to mention the Episcopal Church that we attended.

As a counselor, I jumped in a pool with my last pair of clean clothes on for a fundraiser. I sang on trails. I timed showers. I ran races. I supervised camp chores. I sprinted for inhalers and skidded through gravel to smack out the flames on the head of girl whose hair caught on fire. I prayed alone. I prayed in groups. I prayed for groups. I heard my first tales of incest and reported them. I consoled. I carried.

In 2001 and 2002, I worked for Agape + Kure Beach ministries in Fuquay-Varina, NC. Two weeks of staff training, 9-10 weeks of day camp or campfirmation or servant events (teens going to do service projects). It was through AKB that I worked in NYC in the summer of 2002 for Lutheran Disaster Response leading day camps in churches with kids affected by 9/11/01.
Older at the time, AKB gave me the opportunity to sort out what I believed and to integrate by newly beloved Lutheran affiliation with my deeply rooted Baptist notions of the Great Commission.

Camp, specifically church camp, made a space for me to be creative in and with the Spirit of God. Through my camp life, I realized that not only is God not limited to the church building, but God is specifically not limited to buildings, Sunday morning or to the ordained.

In 3 years of campering and 4 years of counseling, I met: kids with parents in prison, kids whose parents were divorced, kids who were victims of domestic violence and incest, kids with scoliosis, kids from Russia affected by Cherynobl, kids who doubted, kids who were grieving, girls who got their first period at camp, people my age who had never been to a farm, people my age who had never done what I thought was normal, people my age who had done things that I thought was abnormal, kids who were in foster care, kids who were in children's home and knew they probably would never be adopted, kids who asked about dinosaurs/virgin births/forgiveness/water into wine/resurrection/evolution without trepidation, and it goes on....

Camp smells like hairspray, perfume, bug spray, sweat, chlorine, kool-aid, canned gravy, sweet tea, iceberg lettuce, mold, dirt, pine needles, wet wood, grass, Pine-Sol, dust, chicken fingers, dandelions, fresh paint, plastic mattress covers and bodies.

Camp sounds like kids singing, shouting, slamming doors, running, laughing, splashing, and trying to sneak by with something.

Because of camp:
1) I have a much more relaxed attitude about worship.
2) I have a reduced sense of panic when things don't go as planned.
3) I believe pastors should be connected to all ages in a church.
4) I am very aware that I am not in control.
5) I can entertain a large group of people on short notice with little fear.
6) I believe God holds all of creation in hope and love.

There is a great irony to the fact that Camp Mundo Vista was so formative to me and, yet, is part of an organization that would not recognize me as a pastor.

However, rather than see that as a mark against them, I see it as a sign of God's work, openness and ability to transform us wherever we are and move us to where God wants us to be. Without even realizing it, I would say that a huge percentage of what I do is based on lessons that I learned at camp.

I would not be where I am today. I would not be the Christian I am today. I could not be the pastor I am today... without camp.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Time is Now

When I was listening to the Sermon Brainwave podcast today, I heard Prof. Matt Skinner say that "ordinary time" was his favorite time of the church year. He went on, "Without ordinary time, the rest of the church year is just nostalgia."

It's true. Ordinary time is the space between Pentecost/Holy Trinity and Reformation/All Saints. Without this time, we would be caught up in the holiday cycle and constantly trying to outdo the year before or stuck in the "dazzle" of the festivals.

In Wuthering Heights, Catherine tells Nelly, "My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods; time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath--a source of little visible delight, but necessary." Without getting into the plot of the book, I think of ordinary time like Heathcliff - it's not always pretty, but it's necessary. Our feelings about festivals can change because of the non-liturgical traditions that we attach to them. Ordinary time remains, year after year, to feed our faith, to expand our understanding of God, to challenge our notions of Jesus the Christ, to remind us of the presence of the Spirit. Ordinary time forms the bedrock of our faith.

I wrote about ordinary time here a couple years ago during my internship, but here's an excerpt from that post:

In Ordinary Time, we receive the most challenging gospel texts. Not the stories about the life of Jesus, but the heart of his teachings- about money, faith, prayer, and neighbor love. We wrestle with the parables, rather than floating in the details of the baptism or the walk to Jerusalem before the crucifixion. We hear the confusing predictions about the end of time. Ordinary time does not provide liturgical holiday breaks and is only accented by baptisms or other special services that vary from year to year and in different congregations.

Yet ordinary time is no less miraculous than Easter or Christmas. In fact, I daresay, ordinary time is more miraculous. In those two big holidays, or even lesser commemorations, we are remembering the events of Christ's life and what they mean for our faith. Christ's coming, death and resurrection are part of the mysteries of our faith. Ordinary time offers, constantly, the miracles of our faith: that God promises to come to us in the sacraments of communion and baptism. That God always forgives our sins and, through Jesus, accepts us as children. That we are able to gather and worship without fear and hearing the good news in our own languages.

The celebrations of the liturgical year can seem more important because they are big, but we must remember that the greatest portion of the year is devoted to ordinary time and to the miracles that happen during any ordinary worship service

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

God in Three Persons, Confusing Trinity

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

My husband and I keep stacks of snapshots around the house- some of Ivan and some of our son. Sometimes we flip through these stacks of Ivan at 3 months old, a roly-poly puppy and our son at 4, 5, 6 months old- a roly-poly baby. So cute, we say, look at that smile. I forgot this one, we coo, and point to the toy in the mouth, the ear flap, the food smeared from ear to ear. I suppose that I need to mention that we do this when they’re both awake, sometimes when they’re playing right in front of us.
We just flip through the snapshots. We love both of them, but the snapshots don’t make any noise. They don’t smell. They don’t spit up on us or leave hair everywhere. The snapshots are quiet and very well-behaved. Looking at the pictures is relaxing, but it’s not really a relationship. Of course, we’d trade all the pictures in the minutes for the two critters in them. But sometimes it’s nice to have that frozen moment in time to cherish, before we’re pulled back into the messy, noisy reality that we have with a dog and a baby.
On Holy Trinity Sunday, we’re confronted with the truth that it’s easier to deal snapshots of God, the Three in One, than it is to deal with the reality of a Trinity- God in three persons. One at a time, we look at God the loving creator, who send the Son. We have a picture of Jesus in our heads, maybe sitting with children or talking to the disciples, on the cross or after the resurrection, walking with friends to Emmaus. Then we think of the Holy Spirit- somewhat ineffable, a wind or breath, flowing to us and through us.
Snapshots of God give us comfort because they are static and we can get a handle on what’s in the picture. It looks just like this… whatever this is… in our minds. And what’s in my mind, the picture I have, might be different than what you have. So then we get into interpretation and the next thing you know we’re into art criticism instead of talking about God or worshipping God or even… serving God.
In my experience, the idea of the Trinity, that somehow our one God has three distinct persons (that’s persons, not personalities, not essences, but persons), that idea causes more heartburn for people who are struggling with the idea of faith and how to believe. They aren’t helped by people who say it’s just a mystery, which it is, or that you just have to believe it, which you do to the best of your ability with God’s help.
The reality is that we aren’t ever going to figure out the Trinity. It is a mystery. But it’s not just us who don’t get it. Did you pay attention to what Jesus said to the disciples at the beginning of today’s gospel reading? He says, “I still have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” He still has things he longs to reveal to them and to explain, but they are overwhelmed. Their ability to comprehend what he is telling them is full to capacity. So Jesus promises to send the Spirit to them, to help the disciples increase their understanding.
But the sending of the Spirit isn’t a guarantee to understanding, particularly understanding in this life. If it were, we wouldn’t need the powerful words of Paul in the letter to the Romans, “that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Hope does not disappoint us. That sounds great, doesn’t it? But consider this… we hope for things that are not certain. We hope in things we don’t totally understand. Hope, like faith, is the breath of life, but it is not fact. We hope for the sunrise tomorrow, the resolution of struggle in the world, for the life of the world to come.
And hope drives us beyond ourselves, when we realize that we cannot fix things on our own. We are pushed from our own need to find God waiting for us, to find that God has been waiting with us, to find that God has been hoping for us- all along.
And the reality of this dynamic God is overwhelming. We are given the Spirit, so that we might believe in the work of the Son, Jesus Christ. Christ’s work, a work of sacrifice, healing, love and forgiveness, reveals the Father to us.
Our hope and faith in the Trinity matters because it draws us beyond ourselves and beyond our world where almost everything is binary, with two choices, male or female, slave or free, rich or poor, red state or blue state, Jew or Greek, pro-life or pro-choice, regular or decaf. The relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to one another calls us to that same relationship with all the people around us, to a place of support, love and care, to a place of forgiveness, learning and reconciliation.
The love that the members of the Trinity have for one another poured out into creation and then is an example for us. We aren’t called to understand how the Trinity works as Three persons and One God. We aren’t called to understand why. But we are called to believe that God’s power and majesty and love cannot be limited to expressions that we fully understand. The One in Three God is not limited to our ability to explain or understand.
Nor is the work of God limited to our ability to respond. Out of God’s love for all of creation, God works as the Father, the Son and the Spirit to redeem all that is known and unknown and bring it to its fullest possible being.
And so we are called to this same work- to be co-creators, co-heirs, co-inviters with the Trinity in the work of the kingdom. But that kind of relationship, that working alongside, means setting down the snapshots we have, the freeze frames we’ve collected, pictures that reflect our certain knowledge of how God works in the world. We are called to release our certainty and to move forward in the hope we have been given.
With hope, we work with one another and all those people around us. With hope, we trust that the Spirit will grant us understanding sufficient for the living of each day. With hope, we believe the message of the empty tomb is for the salvation of the world.
A God who is Three in One is a little bit beyond our comprehension. But a God who loves us as children, who motivates and forgives us, who knows our innermost thoughts- that’s a little easier to grasp. And that’s what we hold onto as we step into the messiness and noisiness of a relationship with God and with one another. In our living, in our dying, we belong to God- the One in Three and Three in One, whether or not we totally understand how that works. We belong to God.
We hope.
And hope does not disappoint us.