Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Morning

And the day begins in the sanctuary in prayer. This is my last time on this last day of Advent.

Gerrie reads from the devotional that "The Song Goes On" and I immediately think of the sermon I preached Sunday quoting Anne Lamott's story about her friend dying of ALS. And saying at the end of her life that "The beat goes on." And I write today:
"The song goes on.
The beat goes on.
Life goes on and I watch and wonder and sometimes participate.
My 64th Christmas is upon me and I wonder at it all. The older I get the more aware I am of the injustice in the world, the fearsome struggles of some lives, the dark places of all lives. - illness, loss and suffering. To be a child and the experience of unadulterated joy is such a memory.

And I begin this day to remember the joy, the good news, the wonder and the light.
Because I also know in this 64th year - that death does not have the last word, that suffering lasts for a season and that life continues to bring forth life.

And I also know this truth - it is love that makes the world go around.
Gracious love that forgives our sin
Creating love that guides us into new places and new ways of living
Uniting love that brings us together
Joyful love that sits in wonder at the star in the night, the sleeping baby, the pondering mother, the simple shepherds and the seeking wise men.

This scene during this season has been in my consciousness since I was a child. Sitting on mantles or cabinets. And truly this story in all of its fullness continues to speak to me over the decades of my life. I cannot explain what it means to me anymore than I can explain the tears I shed yesterday listening to "The Messiah" on the radio. It is about memory and meaning and hope.

Christ come. Again. To me. To us.
To bring light and peace and love.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Morning Prayers

I continue to pray every morning in the sanctuary during this season of Advent. And today there were 4 of us who listened to the reading from our devotional and then scattered around the sanctuary in individual silent prayer. At the end we gather together and I read a blessing that has been randomly selected but always seems to fit exactly.

I am preaching this weekend on the Bethlehem star as a star of unity. And could not help but recognize the unity - the connectedness - I experience on these mornings.

This morning I found myself praying for particular people
for those I am encountering who are grieving - a colleague whose son was killed last weekend, a woman whose daughter died in October, those whose loved ones have terminal cancer
for those who are suffering physically - the list is long
for those who are waiting - especially lifting up Brian and Allison waiting to bring baby Charlie Home
and I prayer "Lord Jesus, I pray that we might in our mourning, our hurting and our waiting trust in your presence and your love and your power at work. In the midst of everything we say that you are the bread of life, but it is not always apparent in the moment. But we pray in faith."

What I realize is that I feel so connected to people as I pray for them and stand with them in their situations. They may not have any idea how much I care, but I do believe that prayer is such an important part of our unity in Christ. And it is not only prayer for others - but prayer with others.

We spend most of our time together in silence, each of us speaking to God in our own way but what a connection we have as we gather together in the morning.
It is a mystery, of course, this unity.
But most of all it is a gift.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Living in my reality

I woke up early this morning and looked outside expecting snow and ice. yes, there is ice on the windshield but no snow.
Then turned on the TV and found all the schools cancelled and the weather people warning us about streets and sidewalks that are icy. Be careful!

So I think I should stay home. My secretary should stay home. We should not come and pray this morning. But can't find my cell phone to make this happen.
And, after checking purse, car, coat pockets and of course, calling deduce I left it at church! So, I guess I will try to go to church.

And then the surprise - no ice on my driveway or street. There are puddles of water from rain but no ice and so I go to church and pray and now write this.

All of which speaks to me about how easy it is for me to panic and start with other people's warnings. My fear can paralyze me and stop me in my tracks.
But the "lesson" which I keep learning over and over again - is that while there may be "ice" for some there is not "ice" for all.

So the spiritual lesson is I need to embrace my own reality and see what is here and now.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wish upon a star

The Advent devotional reading this morning ended with this sentence: "whenever I stand there under those rising stars, I am again filled with a sense of awe and possibility that the life God envisions for us is possible and dreams can come true."

In prayer I pondered the dreams of my life. What are they? What are God's dreams for me? I have this great sense of wonder and awe at the events of this past year in my family - on daughter who moves into her dream house in Reynoldsburg, another daughter moves into a new calling and a marriage and another daughter who is expecting a baby. All of these things came slowly - and are true gifts. But for me, what? I don't know.

As I sat in the sanctuary I looked at the banner with the star of Bethlehem and the words "Come, Lord Jesus." And thought that is what I want, need and dream of. Come into my heart and rearrange things. So that eventually my thoughts will be your thoughts and my will your will. My dream.

I write and then realize that as always, my mind is wandering - thinking about health and finances and so many other issues of life at the age of 64. Suddenly I am in a place of fear, my head hurts and I feel stuffed into my jeans. No wondering and resting in God but in that place of discomfort and even shame. How quickly it can turn.

And so the dreams emerge - dreams of living in a place of inner peace and deeper love and acceptance. Despite my humanity or maybe in the midst of my humanity.

And a verse comes to mind - "Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God believe also in me"

And I write - Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

We conclude our time of prayer with a blessing by Maxine Shonk. Picked at random.

May God receive you in your vulnerability, in times of limitation may you become susceptible to God's care for you and overcome with God's power in you. May you open yourself totally to the unconditional love of the God who created you and knows you perfectly in this moment.
In your own needy places may you learn how to be in communion with the vulnerable ones around you. May the God of UNCONDITONAL LOVE bless you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Begins

Advent is, of course, the four weeks before our celebration of the birth of Christ.
This year one of my Advent disciplines is having morning prayers in the sanctuary at 8 AM. Today was the first day. We are reading from a devotional that we purchased and then sit in silence. I have decided that I will be journaling and would like to share on my blog some of my "ruminations"

The reading talks about the "confluence of emotions" of this season.

And yes, that is what I feel.

With the aftermath of a surprise party in my honor, time with family at Thanksgiving and the announcement of a new grandchild, yes, I feel so full!

And yet here at the beginning of the season of Advent, I look out the window at the bare trees against a grey sky...there is a sense of emptiness, waiting, not yet.

And at the same time I sit in a sanctuary that is decorated with lights on trees, Christmas banners and a nativity announcing the birth.
And yet, I am waiting, not ready, just beginning to prepare
There is a "confluence of emotions" - full and empty, satisfied and waiting
And most of all sitting in HOPE

What I love about being woman of faith on a spiritual journey is the understanding - or better yet, the awareness - of the possibility of spiritual growth. There is always more with God.
Always more.
And this season gives me a sort of framework to open myself to more from God, and more for God.
And opening myself to the possibility of new birth - in some new way Jesus may be born within me. Again. This year.
So today I start a day in reflection and prayer and, I hope, openness.
Sitting in the "confluence" and trusting that somehow God is working within my soul.

First, Thanksgiving

Today is the second day of Advent and I want to write about that - but first I have to do a quick catch up - Thanksgiving.

No, not just the holiday - but a recognition of the blessing of the past week - it has been almost overwhelming.

First, Karl Road Christian Church surprised me with a reception in my honor on the 24th of November. I am known as one who does not like surprises (especially in worship!) but this was wonderful. They lured me into fellowship hall to say grace for the chili cook off which had been advertised for that day. Instead I am greeted by people yelling surprise (I think - or maybe it was "happy anniversary") and looking at a sign that says Margot Connor, Happy Anniversary. I was literally speechless as I looked around and tried to take in that there was no chili cook off - instead this celebration of 10 years of ministry. And there were kind words and a tree full of gift cards. It was a great blessing.

and the week progressed with more blessings - like the honor of taking Reagan and Alyse to the movies to see "Catching Fire." I don't know why they want to go with me instead of Mom and Dad, but I am so grateful. I love to be with them and watching them interact. And best of all, Kacey ended up watching with me and then we had dinner. A real gift all the way around.

And then there was Thanksgiving at Wyandot Woods in Hocking Hills. Chuck and I had our own cabin and so we had privacy and time away from the noise and clamor of Kacey and Marnie's families but every morning the kids came over for breakfast and games with Ogram. And I taught them Indian poker, 21 and Oh Hell. Yup - that is what a grandma does.

And then there was the announcement that Marnie and Erik are going to have a baby in July - so exciting for everyone.

What I know about life - this life on earth - is that we all go through seasons. And for me this week was a time of abundance in church and in family life.
I am grateful

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Disciple of Christ

Yes - that is me. Big D - Disciple as well as little d - disciple.
Meaning that I do identify in this post denominational age as a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) I used to be a Presbyterian, and a Methodist and now I am a Disciple. And I will continue.

I write this after attending Saturday's workshop on the Disciples of Christ at Camp Christian that was led by Glen Carson from the Disciples Historical Society.

He took us back through the history of our denomination - our beginnings in both Kentucky with Barton W Stone and in West Virginia with Thomas and Alexander Campbell.
He talked about the four pillars of the church.

And as he spoke I realized that this is why I am a Disciple and will continue to be.
The four pillars:
1. The primacy of the new testament - we are followers of Jesus and that is what is most important. That the message of the Old (First ) Testament is important but we are a new testament church. And the stories and teachings of Jesus as well as his death and resurrection continue to speak to me every year. Not to mention the acts of the apostles and the letters of Paul and others. This has truly been formative to me and to my faith.
2. We pursue Christian unity - not well - but that is our polar star. We are Christians only and not the only Christians and we do not think that we are the only ones with the truth. We are in competition with no one and we work with everyone to express the light of the love of Christ.
3. We believe in and practice the priesthood of all believers. And we do every week - you see it especially at the table. There does not need to be an ordained pastor in order for us to have communion. And I know from my experience with other denominations that this is huge for me. I could not pastor if my church placed me in anyway above the rest of the congregation. And while we all say this - not every church practices it. And I feel especially blessed by the church that I serve where members do everything I do - visit the sick, Bible studies, preach, lead worship. We are the body of Christ.
4. We have the promise of the open table. Everyone is welcome to come. The initial invitation was made by Jesus. And Glen made a point on Saturday of saying that you did not even have to be a believer. He said that the invitation is for any who are weary and heavy laden. Come. And this table is a place of memory - remembering the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. But most important to me - it is a mystical place of presence. We gather together in the presence of our Lord.

And so I thought I would write this blog just saying that I have yet to learn of a church that fits what I believe better than the Disciples of Christ. We have a respect for education that comes from our forefathers like Alexander Campbell as well as an awareness of the power of the spirit that comes from Barton Stone.

We are - of course - not perfect in practice. We all have stories of times that churches and regions and even the general church fell away from trusting in God's leading and may have been guided by fear and power needs. But the ideals of who we are called to be as followers of Christ continue to speak to me.

And so, as I reflect on my life I hope that people see in me one who is trying to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple. And I am glad that 30 years ago I found a denomination that fits ME!

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Spirit of Generosity

This weekend I went to a workshop led by Margaret Wheatley on the "Generosity Economy."

She is a writer, speaker and consultant who "applies the lens of living system theory to organizations and communities." (from her website). She is a world traveler and has learned from her work with indigenous people as well as science and nature to see the world with a different paradigm from the "western mechanical" way of thought.

To translate this is what her message is."Humans can get through anything as long as we are connected.". And life's basic building blocks are relationships. And right from the start of our time together she talked about what blocks relationships and our souls: speed and stress. One of our biggest problems is people being dstrcacted. We lose our reason, we lose our ability to think, we lose our moral judgment and our ability to imagine.

Some quotes from the workshop that I am still pondering

- the paralysis of the western culture is dismissing things that we decide are not worth our time. Like developing relationships. We have to learn to be curious about who people are.
- we are all "bundles of potential" that manifest only in relationships
- a biological principal - to create health, create more connections
- Ubuntu - we can only be human together.
- We exist in a bundle of belonging - Desmond Tutu

She talked about the beginning of community - once we discovered fire we moved into community and sat in a circle and told our stories.
What has happened is that we have become more and more isolated from each other.
I thought about the advent of television and a family that sat together and looked at a screen at someone else's story - a sit com or drama that becomes resolved in 22 or 53 minutes. That was my growing up experience - but we still sat together at the dinner table and talked

Now I think people look at separate screens - not even the same story and often do not sit "at table" with one another. The loss of community is profound and of course, leads to loneliness and isolation.

She showed us a picture of a grove of aspen trees and I learned something new. T

Aspen trees are propagated by a root system and are actually interconnected by their root system. The oldest grove of aspen trees is 80,000 years old in Utah! They can moved - migrate - to where the light is. You will never see a single tree - they are connected.

I will write more about this retreat later - but today I cannot help but reflect on what a church is supposed to be. A place of connection for all people -
And sometimes we really are. Other times not so much.
As I have been writing this morning I get a phone call from Don Sexton who wants to know where Ella Mae Lindamood is in rehab so that he can send flowers. There are connections that go on all the time that I don't even realize. The underground root system.

We just finished our second week of our "intergenerational Sunday School" and I have really enjoyed watching the connections and the conversations between people who did not really know each other before. I especially love the opportunity to help adults and youth talk and listen to each other.

Anyway, on this Monday morning I ponder the mystery of connections and how blessed we can be to grow together. And it does involve taking time to cultivate the relationships of our lives.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Discernment, always the need for Discernment

Saturday I went to a Wellstreams In-Service Day that I continue to reflect on.
As I was cleaning my desk today I found my notes from the morning speaker, Dr. Richard Sweeney, a Jungian Analyst. His talk was "Challenges and Opportunities of Helping People Grow Spiritually in our Culture." And it was important information for those in spiritual direction and for me as a pastor.
And here are some of the challenges that he mentioned.
1. The purview of spirituality is broader and deeper. “Everything belongs” so that God is not found just in the church. We need to develop our attunement to moments of spirit. See our interconnectedness
2. Changing images of God – God is not just apprehended through Jesus and through holy communion.
3. There is a proliferation of helping disciplines – not distinct from but interconnected. So AA, Yoga, therapy, many ways of seeking spiritual truth. And they can work together or see themselves in competition.
4. There is conflict between spirit and the institution. Always. the institutions are always given to structure and order and the spirit moves. And that really is the classic "both and." And the great challenge of any of us who are in the church. How do we recognize the promptings of the spirit that may cause the structure to have to move and change?

And so, today do the things that I do - preparing worship and sermons and wondering always how God led is this process? It is so easy to get into a routine of selecting hymns and prayers and reading other people's commentaries on scripture. This always needs to be more than that - and it so often - when I am conscious - brings me to my needs.
Anyway, I include this "Prayer for a Discerning Heart."
May it speak to you and it does to me.

Prayer for a Discerning Heart

God of inspiration, I ask you for the gift of a discerning heart,
a heart that remains attentive to you,
a heart that moves with your Spirit,
a heart that is aware of its sinfulness,
a heart that is open to your inspiration and guidance.

Help me to listen with a loving heart to the rich experiences of those in my care.

Help me to enter into
their struggles and peaceful experiences,
their sorrows and joys,
their woundedness and their wholeness,
their emptiness and their fullness.

As "heart speaks to heart", may it be your heart that touches both our hearts,so that the grace of a discerning heart can come alive in us.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Spiritual Life

I have been pretty busy lately with many things.
Friday I had the opportunity to go the Shepherds Corner in Blacklick Ohio. It is the ecology center of the Dominican Sisters of Peace and on its website (www.sherherdscorner.org) is says:
"In caring for land, life, and spirit, Shepherd's Corner provides environmental education, provides reflective experiences on care of creation and renews the land while providing healthy, naturally grown produce."

I was there with Kim to spend time with God on both their meditative walk and the labyrinth. It was a chilly October afternoon and mostly grey although the sun did show itself periodically through my time there. It was a most wonderful way to spend time in walking and praying and pondering the mystery of the God of creation and the gift of life. The meditation walk consisted of 10 (?) stations which had quotes by spiritual writers, information about nature and questions for reflection. At one point we were directed to raise our hands to the sky and then look up in wonder. And as I looked at the clouds above me I could not help but think about the "Cloud of Unknowing" readings from September and the mystery of God's presence around us. We also spent time holding a rock and reflecting on its age and its journey that had brought it to this moment.

the next day I was at a workshop through the Wellstreams Program and became reacquainted with this poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins"

God's Grandeur
By Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844–1889 Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

And that was my experience on Friday - the world is "charged" with the grandeur of God.

During the labyrinth walk I found myself singing "Spirit of God Descend Upon my Heart" as I noticed the grass and moss beneath my feet, the flowers starting to fade, the leaves that were changing color. When I got to the center of the labyrinth I sat for sometime in silent prayer. Suddenly the sun came out as it and seemed to just wrap around me. God's presence was so real to me in light and warmth and love.

There is more to share, but that is all for now.
Just a reminder to us all that God can often be most easily accessed through God's handiwork - this beautiful, changing charged world.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

At Pipestem

I returned recently from a different kind of vacation for Chuck and me. Instead of going to the beach or on a cruise we took a road trip of a sort.
We started at Pipestem state park in West Virginia for 2 days, then to Lynchburg to stay with Audrey for 2 days and then to Washington DC for her legal wedding.

The visit to pipestem was really wonderful. It provided a time of rest and reflection in the midst of the beauty of West Virginia.

Pipestem has a beautiful lodge on the top of the mountain and then 30 creekside units that are only accessible through a tram. That is where we stayed.

Just riding the tram was an adventure. At first there was a sudden jolt when we got on it and then we became enamored of the ride down. Every time we were looking for deer and other wildlife as we descended. One night we went out to dinner and returned in the dark - that was pretty interesting - as we left the light and at the top and went in the darkness on a cable trusting there was a light at the bottom. It truly would have freaked me out if we had not already made this trip up and down several times. And of course, it made me think of this journey that we are all on in life as we at times feel like we are veering in the darkness - remembering there was a light at the top and trusting help at the bottom.

We were so blessed to be creekside and wake in the morning to deer feeding off an apple tree in front of us. Chuck fed the deer from the snacks that he brought with him. I sat and wrote and wondered at all of it. The signs of life around me, the obvious changing of seasons, the beauty and peace of this place. At the same time I am slowly working through a book called "Beauty" by John O Donohus. He writes

"The wonder of the beautiful s its ability to surprise us."

"Every life is braided with luminous moments."

Chuck and walked quite a bit - alongside the creek on the rocks and then we took one of the paths and had about a 2 miles walk. He is a great companion because he sees things I often miss. He found a caterpillar and said, "He'll be a butterfly in the spring if he makes it." and I found myself wondering - what will we be in the spring?
Always the questions about what is ahead but not knowing and trusting the light in whatever darkness we are living in.

Anyway, a few pictures and memories of a nice time that we were blessed to enjoy together. God speaks to me in times like this - often saying - "watch, wait, trust me."
And I do.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday morning prayer time

I start this day spending time with "the monk" as Bill Brown says at Bible study. He expresses his frustration with this writer of "The Cloud of Unknowing." And I just continue to struggle - not with him as much as with myself. And I guess that is part of what this "retreat" has been all about.

We are in day 25 of 30 in an email prayer retreat based on "The Cloud of Unknowing." written by a monk to his young priest in training. And it is pretty amazing to consider that he continues to teach and grow us - hundreds of years later.

Here are some quotes from the readings
- "Let a need to love replace a need to understand."

"only love can pierce the darkness"

"follow the humble stirring of love in your heart."

What is ironic about this for me is that these readings about not knowing - actually help my understanding. Today the reading was about loving God for God and not for his gifts. We can worship the created and the creature and fail to live in the creator. We can come to God for what God does for us - and miss the mystery of the more of God.
And yet, and yet, and yet - as I concurrently preach a sermon series on the 7 deadly sins and just live this life of facing my own humanity and mortality - I very much need what God has for me. the gifts.

And this morning I write this prayer

My God, I thank you for this day in all its

I thank you for the way you stretch me
forgive me encourage me use me

Lord it is so hard to be fully human
open to and aware of my sin
open to and aware of needs of others

And I know I cannot do it unless I am open to and aware of
your presence
your on going creation
your never ending grace

So I want to and need to rest in the cloud of unkowing
living in a sense of expansiveness

May it be so today


Monday, September 16, 2013

Sermon on Sloth and Diligence

Matthew 25:14-30

14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.

17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’

21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

You know this story and you have heard it many times. You have heard it at stewardship service – about risking giving, or during times when we look at the gifts and talents that we have.

This morning I want us to ponder this poor, fearful, lazy guy who did not work for the master. Instead he hid the talent in the ground. So while his companions where diligently trading and making more of what they were given. He did what? We actually don’t know what he did – but we know what he didn’t do.And so we call him lazy. Actually Jesus calls him lazy.

We know about laziness – doing less and less required, minimal work, less effort

* Melissa – tells a story of being a construction worker and people looking at the job they have done and say – good enough for government work

* Daughter who is a teacher tells me about teachers who keep using the same lesson plans

* One pastor never prepared during the week, and on Sunday morning he'd sit on the platform while the church was singing the hymns desperately praying, "Lord, give your message, Lord give me your message." One Sunday, while desperately praying for God's message, he heard the Lord say, "Ralph, here's my message. You're lazy!"

But actually lazy is probably not the right word here. A mis translation – better word is sloth – which Sloth is often related to the older latin idea of accidia – which is sometimes translated “spiritual weariness” or “despair”

We are in week 2 of a seven week sermon series on the deadly sins and today we focus on sloth – laziness – acedia. Not the outward manifestation – but the inword soul condition - Acedia, Spiritual torpor, indifference soul weariness

Dorothy Sayers – “it is not merely idleness of mind and laziness of body: it is that whole poisoning of the will which, beginning with indifference and an attitude of “I couldn’t care less” extends to te deliberate refusal of joy and culminated in morbid introspection and despair.”

Maybe this man was just weary - he was given a task and power and chose to bury it, to not risk or work.

- Was it because of Disillusionment – often from spiritual immaturity – I have been a “good person” and still I struggle.. Things didn’t turn out the way I expected and so I have lost my drive and motivation

- Was it Purposelessness – what is the point? Maybe fired up some time ago and nothing changed the way you thought it would – story about the social worker?

- Was his Inaction motivated by boredom, complacency and despair. And it is in despair that we start to believe things that are not true. The cup is half empty always. For this man – the master is hard, unforgiving, there is nothing he can do. Does he believe this? Maybe he is saying it to himself? The same way we say – that things can never change, we can never change, it is all bad so why try. Know folks who have stopped reading any news, voting, what difference does it make?

And so – sloth, or acedia is a lack of passion, it is something that happens slowly over time that we no longer get worked up about poverty or homelessness or hunger or war in the middle east. And by the same token we fail to see the beauty – the blessing of a bird at the bird feeder, the beauty of a rainbow, the majesty of Bach or the creativity of Mumford and Sons,

It is a spirit that reacts to cruelty, injustice and pain by shrugging the shoulders and switching the channel.

We can call it sloth, laziness, acedia, spiritual weariness, spiritual dryness, compassion fatigue – but it is nothing new

Psalm 42 – my soul is cast down within me, why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you disquieted within me?

And what I want to say is that this feeling – may not be depression, it may not be just a season that we are in – it may really be something that we need to look at within ourselves. It may be a stance that we have been “harboring” for years – underneath everything –our activity and the mask that we wear.

This sense of acedia –– Is that all there is? Is there a purpose to my life? To our life?

If we want to imagine the opposite of sloth, then Jesus fits the bill. We can never imagine the words “couldn’t be bothered” on his lips.
There was a life lived with passion, intensity, laughter, suffering, joy and pain, in which every person who came near seemed to matter.

And so we turn to him to seek a way out of this place of sloth, of ennuie, of despair. Our spiritual value is diligence – which is is translated – zeal, integrity, labor. Spiritual diligence is about doing the work of faith.

While we are not saved by good works, we are saved to do good works for the Kingdom of God . Paul explicitly affirms so in Ephesians 2:10, “[God] has “created [us] in Christ Jesus for good works, which [He] prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” And this way of life is a way of love – love for God, for each other, for ourselves.

It is to get out of ourselves and reach up and reach out to others. Diligence in love.

And that is why we come together this morning – to worship the living God. In very imperfect ways that may or may not speak to you. But trusting that somehow in the words that are spoken, the songs that are sung, the sacraments that are shared – somehow God’s presence gets through the wall of sloth, acedia, indifference. Somehow God’s presence helps us to get beyond ourselves and our “morbid introspection”

So that we might see that the talent we received from God was powerful and had a purpose beyond our own little lives.

Why do we worship? So that God’s power can break through us. So that we can lift our heads and our arms to God and find something more than US If we find ourselves in the grips of accidia, the mere act of remembering can be powerful. Remembering the realness of God’s grace that we have experienced in our lives.

And in this act maybe the greater purpose of our life can be seen. We are part of the body we have a part In the puzzle. My work and your work and his work and her work together make a picture – and the picture is the kingdom of God

We are working to help God to find a place where there is pure love. That’s our work And maybe what happens here, or in Bible study, or in personal devotions may move us to action The action of learning something new – as an antidote to boredom.

The action of responding to needs in our midst, in our community, in our world – knowing that our little bit can change someone – who can change something – which can change someone else. It truly is a domino effect

The action of creativity which is a form of hope – that God is doing something new in this world. And so the spiritual step for this week is not to work. It is to create - something. Because it is in our creativity (with God) that we are participating in the something NEW that God is doing.
This journey is a journey of transformation
Not from lazy to working
as much as from asleep to awake
from stopping to starting
from indifference to love


Two Down - Five to Go

The two that are down are gluttony and sloth - with lust, wrath, pride, envy and greed to go.
I am preaching on the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues this fall and it is definitely challenging me.

What I have learned so far is that whatever you think the sin is - superficially - it is so much more. And for me in the preparation, it is definitely a time of self examination as I struggle. I definitely believe that this spiritual journey is one of change and transformation, but I also know that it is not easy to see yourself and what you don't want to see.

Just want to basically recap what I am learning. First about gluttony - it is not about over eating as much as over consuming. We have gluttony about lots of things beyond food. And it does seem to have a relationship to spiritual hunger that we are trying to fill as well as uncomfortable feelings we are trying to numb. The trouble with gluttony in terms of eating is that we are literally too full physically and we often have not really appreciated and savored the blessing of eating. I ended this sermon with what I called a "spiritual step" to guide us - and it was not to fast - but to eat mindfully. Here is what I said
" Maybe a whole day, or a meal, or maybe just an apple or a banana. Eat Focus on each mouthful. Think about the flavour, texture and even the sound of the food in your mouth. Focus on how much you like, or dislike these sensations.
Think about the process of growth from seed to fruit, Think of the persons who were part of your pleasurable meal – those who grew it, delivered it, sold it,
Think of the miracle of your body and all that is happening as you chew, swallow and receive this gift.
Think about God in all of it. And this much I know – there will be no gluttony in this meal. Only grace."

I struggle with this because so often I do eat compulsively. What I keep learning about the spiritual life is that it is about slowing down in every way. Seeing, Hearing and TASTING the goodness of life - mindful of God.

I will post my sermon from yesterday on Sloth and diligence. What I learned here is that sloth is more than laziness. In fact, I think the "laziness" that we often indulge in can come from a "spiritual weariness" which is called "Acedia." It is easy to fall into an attitude of "I couldn't care less" and "whatever" and "same old, same old" and a sense that we have no power to change a situation so why bother. But the answer isn't get off the couch and get going - any more than the answer to gluttony is push yourself away from the table.
It really is to find a way to get in touch with the source of life that keeps creating and keeps loving.

The only answer is hope. Interestingly for me, as I work with these "deadly sins" I am also participating in a 30 day retreat on "The Cloud of Unknowing" and on Sunday morning the prayer was this:

On our journey into the cloud of unknowing
And union with God
There are some things that we must do for ourselves,
And some things
That God,
And only God,
Can and must do for and in us.

Of the work that belongs to God alone
I prefer not to speak,
I dare not speak.

But let us speak of the work that falls to us.

Our task is the hard and unending one
Of putting behind us,
Of consigning to a cloud of forgetting
All that must be put aside
If we are to approach
The cloud of unknowing, if we are to love God and God alone.

This is our task.
Everything else belongs to God
And God alone.
To do this,
Even with the help of great grace
Requires hard labor on our part.

But if you work hard,
If you press on
In the task of leaving behind
All that stands between you and God,
And beat relentlessly upon the cloud of unknowing,
Then God, I promise you,
Will not fail you.

But he is waiting for you
To do your part.

All through the Day

Love is our task;
Everything else is up to God.

There is work that we are to do - and it is the "work of love." And loving others and my sinful self is work but I am grateful for the "cloud of unknowing" that enables me just to rest in not knowing but trusting in a love that I don't have to manage or earn - just receive.

Anyway I write this blog - finally after three weeks of not writing (sloth!) as an act of creativity. That was the spiritual step I suggested yesterday to the congregation. To overcome sloth - maybe we don't have to "work" maybe instead it is creating - or co creating with our always creating God. Remembering that wonderful statement of hope - God is doing a new thing! Today. With me. With you.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

30 day retreat in September

Yesterday I started a 7 day "retreat" with Joan Chittister on the Psalms. And I like it. Every day I get mailed a reading to reflect on and there is a message from Joan. there are about 30 or 40 people in this week long retreat and we sometimes have posted a few lines about what this means to us. I like it

for that reason I thought I would try to offer one to anyone who is interested in my church (or actually anyone!)
So, beginning September 1st I am going to do 30 days of "Retreat" with the nameless author of the Cloud of Unknowing. I got a book about it (actually it was in a storage unit!!) and will send out daily messages t to whoever wants to join me on this particular journey. There is something about sharing a spiritual experience with others that is really appealing to me.

Here is the message I just sent out on email and face book.

An Invitation to Contemplation with The Cloud of Unknowing

“God is calling you to something more” - the Cloud of Unknowing
The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous work on contemplative prayer written in the 14th century. It is written as a guidebook by a nameless older monk to a young seeker who wanted to live closer to God.
His writing continues to teach those of us who seek a closer relationship with God. It makes accessible the spiritual experience and wisdom from ancient holy ones who came before us.
During the month of September I am going to “retreat” for 30 days with writings from this spiritual guide. I am inviting anyone who would like to join me in this journey into becoming more contemplative.
There are three parts to this daily retreat – beginning the day in prayer, a mantra to carry with us during the day, and a prayer for evening. I will send these out to anyone who wants to be part of this spiritual experience every day via email. What this means for us is that we will be setting time aside for prayer and reflection both in the morning and evening. I would also encourage everyone to journal as we journey together.
We also have the opportunity to respond to one another via email as we are companions through this retreat time.
If you are interested in participating in this spiritual discipline, please send me an email by September 1st and I will include you in the daily reflection. (ogram842@yahoo.com)
At the end of the month – on Friday September 27th – we will have an afternoon retreat. Details will follow about that.

Anyway, this is an experiment to see if there is anyone out there who wants to join me in a daily discipline for 30 days. I will send out the emails every morning. And hopefully will pray, journal, reflect, walk, and pray again in the evening.

And then - opening ourselves to God in this very intentional way - we will see what God does with us.

Interested? email me. ogram842@yahoo.com

Friday, August 16, 2013

At Camp

I write this from the breezeway at Camp Christian. It is freetime at Advance conference on a Friday afternoon. There are many young people - including Audrey - at the pool having fun. The torch is burning to my right and beyond that is the lake.
It is a beautiful day and the my time here is almost over.

The theme this week has been balance and every one of the keynotes have been about balance. Audrey started by talking about the sacred and secular. Roger McKinney about how volunteerism brings balance to our lives and the world. I was next and talked about finding balance within our famlies. Jim Bane followed with talking about balance in romantic love and today Allen's message was about loving yourself. Every one of these keynotes were well done, thoughtful and really made us think.

I spent last week at Chautauqua which had its own "balance" for me - the balance between the intellectual (lectures and sermons and front porch discussion) and family and friends (time with Alyse, Reagan, Audrey, Chuck and Jim and Holly, Mary Wood and others) But this week also has its own rhythems and balance. Every day is full: with breakfast, faculty meeting, then Bible study, keynote, small groups, lunch, committees, free time, dinner, vespers and recreation. I love it here.

Now as others are resting and "recreating" I am starting that process of preparation to go home and thinking about my sermon for Sunday. And wondering where I am going with it - but trusting - as always - that it will come.

I am preaching from Hebrews about running "with perseverance" the race that is set before us. And today as I sit here in this familiar place with so many memories I know that we really do run the race a step at a time and so often do not know what is next.

I first came to camp in 1983 as a Chi Rho Counselor and since then I have spent one to two weeks at camp almost every year. Many, many years of chi rho counseling and being an assistant director and now working with young adults in Advance Conference for at least 15 years. And then when we add Grandparents camp and retreats - it is a lot of time. And the time has brought me spiritual growth as well as wonderful opportunities for ministry.

It has been a place that has provided balance for me. Time to be outside, time to be with colleagues who became friends, time to be away from the dailiness of my life in Bowling Green and Columbus, time to be with God.

I am grateful - as always - for the vision of those men and women 60+ years ago who bought and built this place and all the "cloud of witnesses" who have served in so many ways. As I write this Jim and Roger at probably en route back to camp from Howard Ratcliffe's memorial service. Remembering his leadership and his faithfulness. He truly did keep the faith and was a model to so many of us.

So, back to my sermon prep and as always blessed to be here.
At Camp Christian - The Beloved Community!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Being with Children

I have received a real gift in the past weeks - I have spent more time with children than I usually do.

We just finished our Vacation Bible School and I was able to do my favorite part of the VBS - lead the kids in games. Glenn was my partner in this and I have to say that it really takes me back to the beginning of my ministry and really why I came into work in the church.

When I was in my 20's and a young woman with three children I felt so gratified that the church would allow me to do youth ministry. Little did I know at the time how grateful churches are for people who really enjoy working with youth. I went to seminary in 1982 thinking I was going to work with children and youth primarily. And once I became a solo pastor in 1990 my youth work became more and more infrequent until now when I rarely get to be with kids.

Anyway, leading games at vacation Bible school is something that I really loved last week. It is so much fun to watch kids having fun. And we did some very funny games - like a relay race carrying teddy bears on a towel (like a stretcher) that had me laughing nonstop. And the kids at times were not only laughing but squealing. It was crazy and what I need. I actually for the most part was able to tie these silly games into Bible story truths - but really, who cares? There is a lot to be said for pure fun.

Chuck and I took Addie and Jackson to Cincinnati this week for a little mini vacation. We went to the children's museum there and I got to watch them running, playing, laughing, whispering, and dreaming together. Later we went to a hotel in Covington Kentucky (Jackson's favorite state - Kentucky) where they had an indoor swimming pool that we had to ourselves. And again watching them play together and being with them is a joy that is beyond expression.

In our spiritual walk we are to come like chidren and somehow I remember what that means when I am with children. It is not about innocence exactly - but a state of wonder and playfulness that it is easy for us to lose as we become "adults".

It is the blessing of my life to have work and family that brings me into contact with children. I think I need more of this.

God is good, all the time.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Courage, Cooperation and Perseverance.

These three words were emphasized today at the Freedom Center, the Underground Reilroad Museum in Cincinnati. There was so much information that it was overwhelming. We learned about the horror of the middle passage as slaves were brought to this country from Africa. We learned about the cruelty of a system that bought and sold individuals. We saw the cabin from Kentucky in which slaves were collected and housed until they took the 700 plus miles walking barefoot to Mississippi. we learned about the resistance of slaves, the plantation life, the political backgrounds. It was so much and so interesting. We saw several films and
read documents and listened on the IPad to narration. It was a lot.

But I am left with these words for social justice work - courage, cooperation and perseverence. It was what the slaves needed to survive and to resist slavery. It was what the abolitionists needed for their brave words and work in the underground railroad. It was what guided the politicians who worked to finally come together to pass the Emancipation Proclamation.

I saw these three words guiding the activity of the GLAD organization (Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples) during our General Assembly. The resolution which welcomes all people regardless of sexual orientation to the church was a major victory which was years in coming. Two years ago I went to the GLAD banquet and heard Mel White wonder how long we were going to discern about this issue. It had been 10 years. And so, Derek Penwell wrote the resolution and worked with others to vet it. It went through a long process through which it went before our Regional ministers and the General Board and finally it was brought before the whole assembly for a vote. There was talk about how this was going to split the church and supposedly some churches may be leaving the denomination over it. And so, all of this has required courage, cooperation and perseverance.

Tuesday afternoon wwe voted on the resolution. As I sat in the convention hall in Orlando, wearing my "All means All" T shirt and waiting for the vote I was almost overwhelmed with emotion. I sat beside Scott, Audrey's wonderful mentor and friend and Marsha, who has been a faithful friend to me from the beginning of the time Audrey came out. We sat behind Audrey and Miranda and Miranda's mother Linda. Actually we were all wearing "All means All" T shirts. I was so blessed to be present there and part of it -and being with Audrey who had her own part in the genesis of this resolution, and hearing Miranda speak to it in front of the 3000 plus delagats. The waiting was almost over and there was going to finally be some resolution about the resolution.

And when the vote was announced we were not allowed to clap. So we hugged and laughed and cried. A lot of tears. Because the courage, the cooperation, and the perseverance had brought us to a greater place of openness.

I know that this resolution - when it is all said and done - is really just a small step in the journey to becoming a place of welcome for all people. It does not guarantee ordination for LGBTI folks and it certainly does not mean that churches will want to hire gays and lesbians as pastors. But it is an important statement of justice within our denomination. We cannot care about social justice for the world if we are not attending to it within the Disciples of Christ.

This has been a time of realizing how important it is for Christians to stand with the marginalized and speak love and justice for all people. I realized it last week both in the matter of the resolution and in standing in solidarity with the NAACP (their convention was also in Orlando) after the verdict was announced to the Trayvon Martin trial. We have to care about everyone. But it is not enough for me to pray.
At the museum today I learned again - that social justice requires many people working together - cooperation, a willingness to speak truths that others may not be comfortable with - courage and the awareness that the journey is neverending - Perseverance.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Home from General Assembly

And tired. Very, very tired. I am trying to read and reflect on the story of Mary and Martha today and I realize I need to really just rest for a while and allow myself to find some body and soul restoration after a very busy and wonder-FULL assembly.

So I thought I would just reflect a bit about all that has happened over the past 6 days.

The assembly began on Saturday evening and with Allen Harris I did a "pre-event" for GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples.) Because we were going to have the big vote on the resolution, I really felt that we need some "spiritual preparation" for that event. We began with very simple but powerful worship and Allen taught us a different way of communicating as a group in which the power is shared. After that I spoke about listening and invited people to participate in a "listening stick exercise." We then discussed our experiences using Allen's process. The whole thing was more meaningful than I ever dreamed it could be. This was followed by lunch and a time of creative reflecting using mandalas, writing, a finger labyrinth, and other artistic expressions. Followed by the opportunity to share their stories. And then worship and communion led by Allen. All of it went so well and I was truly awed by God through the day. happy.

Our worship Saturday night was the beginning of powerful worship services. The musicians provided a variety of expressions - blues, gospel, folk, contemporary and joining thousands of people in singing was wonderful. The preacher - especially Saturday night - was outstanding. Every night was truly a gift to me. There is something about all of us being together that was thrilling.

When I go to events like this you will find me with my I Pad taking notes. Here are some of the insights from the week.

At a Sunday School Class on becoming "Radically Inclusive"

"Diversity may be the hardest thing to live with and the most dangerous thing to be without " William Sloan Coffine
"No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive" Gandhi

To be radically inclusive means that we are embracing you rather than just putting up with you
It is beyond tolerance to welcoming - not only the disenfranchised and powerless but all the powerful and the enfranchised.

From the NBA luncheon
"People are looking for a church to change their life"
"God has placed us in each others' care"

From a talk on "Sacred Conversations"
Our deepest need is that we cannot treat others as somebody if you don't recognize yourself as somebody.
to be "Somebody" is to claim the glory and the responsibility of being a child of God

From a talk by Walter Brueggemann

Prophets tells us that 1. we are falling apart because we are out of the will of God 2. there is a better way 3. Imagine what it will look like when we are in the kingdom (kin-dom) of God

There is a statement that people make: would you rather be right or in relationship? It causes us to keep silent for the sake of relationship - but not sure the relationship is better for it.

Biggest theological mistake we make when we read the Bible - we forget who it was written for. We read it from the center instead of from the margins. The Bible was written for a community on the margins moving from place to place.
Summary of all Jewish holidays - they tried to kill us, we survived, they failed, let's eat! AND I will not forget when they try to wipe others out.

How are we supposed to pray - as an act of hope. Persistently, desperately and in hope

I have much more on Brueggemann - probably will use it in a sermon this year!

From my learning about the "World Café Model"

Conversations that do not seek to come to conclusion but only (???) to broaden our understanding. 3 - 4 people sit knee to knee with a question and a poster board to "doodle/ write on/" We talk for 15 minutes and then switch people. I am very intrigued with this form of conversation and will be using it at some point at church.

From a talk by Dick Hamm at the Glad Banquet

"Can we be a church that puts relationship ahead of dogma and doctrine?
"Churches are like cats - you think they are fighting, but they are multiplying."
"Relationship trumps dogma in the quest for unity."

Perfect love casts out fear. (HE DIDN'T SAY THIS FIRST - BUT HE REMINDED US :)

Anyway, the point is, that a General Assembly has wonderful worship and challenging classes and then the business discussions and voting! As I write this I know this is why I am tired. Thinking, praying, being open to new ways of doing worship and church.

Tomorrow I am going to write about the vote on the resolution. Today I just want to be grateful for a God who loves me as I am. When I "Prayerwalked" this morning the verse I was given was from Psalm 17: 7,8
"Show me the wonder of your great love....Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings."

And yet, and yet....God keep pushing, stretching, growing me to learn more and to become more. it is not always easy - but it is always worth it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Prayer

This is a prayer that I ended my sermons with on Sunday

Jesus said,
“You ought always to pray and not to faint.”
So we do not pray for easy lives;
we pray to be stronger women and men.
And we do not pray for tasks equal to our powers,
but for power equal to our tasks.
Then, the doing of our work will be no miracle
– we will be the miracle.
Every day may we wonder at ourselves
and the richness of life
which has come to us by the grace of God. Amen.

Julia Esquivel, Guatemalan poet,

Thursday, June 27, 2013

This and That

I just want to post a quick update about some of my activities of the past few weeks. I have engaged in activities that help me to grow and help me to really have a sense of God's work within me and within the world.

First, I took a week long course at Trinity Seminary in Healthy Congregations. Before the course began I read a book called Extraordinary Relationships and during the course we had a large notebook full of material that I continue to spend time with. I keep learning that to lead is to learn about self in order to manage your own anxiety and help others to manage theirs. A congregation is a system and we have to keep getting a "balcony perspective" in order to really see what is going on. There is more to share but the bottom line for me is that I get energy from being in a learning environment and I hope to find more courses that I can take.

Second, Audrey came to Columbus with a group of girls and a leader, Amy, to do mission work. They stayed at Kim and Alan's house and they really had a great experience. I was part of some of it - going to COSI, having them to dinner, joining in the Gay Pride Parade and lining up a couple of speakers for them. It was wonderful to watch these young women learn and really begin to have their eyes opened to the needs of others who were so much less fortunate than they were. Their testimonials in church indicated that their awareness of how they labeled and rejected others in ways that were not Christian. The two speakers I brought to them inspired me as well. Roberto gave a testimonial about AA and how God has worked within his life to slowly bring healing. He was so honest and real and I was happy to get to be part of that. We also had Kwesei come to talk about issues of immigrants in Columbus. Kwesei is a Seventh Day Adventist Minister who is part of our Northland Ministers group. He really described how difficult the journey is for people to come to America from other countries. And he shared that he now discourages others from coming.

Finally, I was able to go on retreat for two days this week. I joined two of my Wellstreams friends at a cabin at Hocking Hills for two days of silence, prayer and sharing. I cannot overstate how powerful it is spend time in this way. I really have to go away physically and be disconnected from all things electronic. Somehow in the midst of nature, walking, word, and prayer God really does speak and restore my soul.

And now I am working on a sermon about this Christian journey and the seemingly hard demands of discipleship from Jesus. Except that to follow this way of love, forgiveness, serving and growing is about the only way that makes sense.

I am grateful for the blessing of being able to do all that is part of my life - learning and serving opportunities and most of all getting some time away with the source of life who really does bring renewal.
God is good - all the time

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day Sermon

I have not posted a sermon for a long time, but someone asked for a copy so I thought I just would put this on the blog.

Luke 7:36 - 8:3
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”
41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” .

There is a camp song that I like a lot that I have been humming this week:
this love that I have the world didn’t give it to me, this love that I have, the world didn’t give it to me, this love that I have, the world didn’t give it to me …the world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away. (this peace that I have….this joy that I have….)

This text has a woman whose joy did not come from the world. It came from Jesus
What we see in her is joy at his presence. She is unafraid to go into the house of a Pharisee. She does not care what anyone is thinking about her. She only wants to express her love for Jesus.
She is audacious and extravagant.
Now – the world did not give her this sense of joy and gratitude.
What the world wants her to feel is something entirely different.
You see the world that of that time and this time is a world of rating people.. There was a division within the religious life between people – the pure and the impure. Holy and unholy.. And she was clearly impure. We can talk about how that began – but that is often – still –one of many of the divisions that we make between people.
The good and the bad, the winners and the losers, the successful and the failures.
And in that ranking and rating – what will follow will be rejection. Only certain people are acceptable and welcome. Only certain people belong.
I want to stop for a moment and ask you this questions – can you think to a time when you were going to go someplace and wondered if you would fit in? If you would be welcomed? If you belonged?
Have you ever gone to a party and wondered about those questions….Or tried out for a team or a job and wondered about those questions….Or gone to church?
I wonder if it is in the human condition that we live in a certain amount of anxiety about that – will I fit in? will I be welcomed? Will I belong?
The world – the culture – the religion – the corporate life – the academic world –our family life - we ask ourselves: will I fit in? will I be welcomed? Will I belong?

Because another part of this construct of ranking and rejecting is shaming. What the Pharisees wanted to do with this woman – was to shame her. To make sure she knew that she did not fit in, she was not welcome, she did not belong with good people. Shaming is rejection not because of what you do – but because of who you are.
Jung: “Shame is a soul eating emotion”
Many of us grew up with shaming – could be an youngest child who had no voice, could be slow in school, or too fat, could have had a family that made jokes constantly at others expense Blaming often goes with shaming. Something is wrong and who can we blame. (joke – computer is almost human except it does not blame its mistakes on another computer.) So that the finger pointing and the ducking the finger pointing can be just an exercise that we live with constantly. Rejecting before I will be rejected.
Rating, rejecting, shaming and blaming.
No wonder we live with so much anxiety. No wonder we find ourselves scanning the horizon for trouble, trying to control ourselves and others so that we will not be dismissed, rejected, found wanting.
That is so often what the world has given to us. And certainly to this woman.
And they were critical of Jesus that he did not express these beliefs about her. So they are now trying to shame him for not shaming her. But of course neither he nor she accepts their shaming, their blaming, their rating and their rejecting.
Jesus lives in another reality – and that is in that awareness of God’s presence and God’s mercy and God’s grace. In the Kingdom of God everyone belongs and no one needs to be scapegoated or excluded
Richard Rohr: Jesus is clearly much more concerned about issues of pride, injustice, hypocrisy, blindness, and what I have often called “The Three Ps” of power, prestige, and possessions, which are probably 95 percent of Jesus’ written teaching.
Something happened to her – and that is what we don’t really know in this story. We don’t know that she had previous encounter with Jesus or just heard his words of grace and forgiveness. Maybe she heard his teaching – about loving your enemies……Or Luke 6: 37 – Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn Forgive and you will be forgiven….. Give and it will be given to you
But she heard the message of Jesus which was that she – like everyone – is welcome by God and loved by God. And through the forgiveness of God, her past will not define her.. And she is renamed - She is the beloved child of God We don’t know – only that she recognized that in the presence of this man was something new and freeing and really, really good.
So very different behavior – Not afraid to enter the home of the Pharisee, not afraid of rejection and not afraid to give extravagantly to express her love.-
And in that encounter with God there was not just acceptance but forgiveness. And from that she is showing gratitude…abundant generosity and fearless extravagant gratitude
That is what I see in this text. This love, this peace, this joy is something so different from the message of the world.And that is the message for us today. And that is the gospel. And that is the new way – the way of Jesus.

Father’s Day – We remember God as our father. One of many expressions of God. Father God. And some of us can really resonate with that. My father was my biggest supporter – who loved my no matter what. Whose face lit up in my presence.. So to express this understanding of God as Father is very easy for me.

But the truth is that not everyone has had such a father. Some of us had fathers who were hard on us, blaming, shaming, controlling and often rejecting.
A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. There's more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father.
When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father's disapproval. After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply.
After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored.
God is not found in the actions of the father and the mother, God’s love is shown in the actions of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Who never stops sending letters and who never stops wanting reconciliation.

I remind you of the greatest father’s day story of all – the story of the prodigal son – which is really the story of the prodigal father – whose love is excessive, audacious, generous, extravagant and abundant.
Whose youngest son walked away from his care and his home to live on his own. Independently. And found himself – in the far country, taking care of the swine and eating at the servants table.And when he returned home – he did not find shame or blame
He found only grace and a party that was prepared for him. Let’s have a party – the lost has been found. Let us rejoice in the abundant life of grace received! And so, on this father’s day the word that I lift up to you this morning is not actually found in the text – but it is underneath all of the actions of this woman.
And it is receive. She has received the grace of God. She is living the abundant life in knowing that regardless of the messages of the world in which she is living
She is the beloved of God. She is – as she comes to Jesus – forgiven, made new, healed, strengthened. She will not be defined by her past mistakes but she will be renamed and accepted. And she finds that place where she belongs. With her Lord Jesus.
A lot of times during the week as we live in a world that is not always accepting, understanding, welcoming – as we dodge the arrows of shame and blame – we can forget who we are. And we can so easily fall into mirroring those thoughts and actions.

We come here Sunday mornings to remember and to “re – member”
To come back to this way of life – a way of receiving grace as we need it and then showing the radical love of God - who is like a daughter who keeps writing letters seeking reconciliation, who is like a father who waits for his son to come home, who is our Father who wants us to know that we are HIS and with him we are always the beloved.
This day let us answer the letter. Let us come home. Let us live in the kingdom

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Prayer Walking

Today I "prayer walked."

This summer I am encouraging people to consider this form of prayer. And so twice a week I will meet whoever comes to the church so that we can prayerwalk - not together - but at the same time.
This morning one person joined me.

We began with silence and then each of us took a piece of paper from the table that was upside down so we could not see it. They were various Bible verses.
Mine was from Psalm 146

"The Lord opens the eyes of the blind,
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down
The Lord loves the righteous."

And then I went walking for about 25 minutes using this verse as a mantra. Saying these words, singing these words, allowing them to really come into my mind and my heart.

I found myself repeating - Opens....opens, opens, opens....the eyes of the Blind.

What I know is that I am so often blind and, of course, I don't know it. I only see what I see. So there is comfort and challenge that the Lord is opening my eyes. I want to see more -beauty and presence of God. But I also want to see the needs here in my church and family life. It is easy to focus on what makes me comfortable and not see the challenges that bring me to awareness of others and my own helplessness without God.

And so, as I begin this day I begin with this prayer for God who open me up and help me to see.
I think this is a good beginning of this summer prayer time.

We ended by reading a blessing from "Blessing Upon Blessing" by Maxine Shonk

"May the God who calls bless you with ears to hear the voice of God in the cries of the poor, the whispers of the meek, and the silence of the helpless.
May you hear God's call in cricket and bird song, in thunder and rain, and in the prayer of children.
May the God who calls bless you."

I look forward to prayerwalking on Thursday morning.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Continuing Education

In Vulnerability

I am back on my back porch sitting, as usual, in awe and gratitude for the blessings of my life. Yesterday I returned from a visit to Kentucky with Audrey, Miranda and Miranda’s mom, Linda. It was a blessed time and I continue to reflect on it all.

We started the initial planning of the “Connor – Cook” wedding next year. Audrey and I had put together this trip based on wanting to see a “Moth Event” together in Louisville. What we did not realize was that it ended up being exactly a year before the wedding. Which meant I got to see the proposed site of the wedding – Linda’s home which is up on a hill in the farmland of Kentucky. They had selected a large oak tree that they want to be married in front of.

Then Audrey and I went to the lodge in the state park where we will all be staying and we looked at and completed the booking for a room to have the reception in. It is just fun to talk about possibilities and plan for this event. Audrey has been to three weddings of her sisters and I imagine she wondered – certainly I wondered – if we would ever have a wedding for her. And here it is.

I kept having these moment that I will call “awareness of vulnerability.”

It started with the drive down. I drove alone the almost 6 hours to Glasgow – through Cincinnati, through Louisville, mostly on interstates. 60-70 MPH. And for some reason I just kept thinking about what I would do if the car broke down. Far away from home.

Tuesday morning Linda told me that she had heard the news in the middle of the night of the killing of a Kentucky policeman. On the job just looking to check out debris on the highway. And she thinks of her daughter who is a police officer– and now I have this greater awareness of Miranda and the constant risk of her life as a young woman who is patrolling the Parkway in her car alone.

And, then there is wedding arrangements. I go in as the MOB – the mother of the bride and proudly tell Beth, travel planner at the lodge that we are planning a wedding. And then when she asks the name of the bride and the groom there is a distinct pause, a glance between Audrey and I, and the two female names are spoken. It seems to go well and Beth seems happy to work with us.It is only later that Miranda shares that within the last 10 years she knows of a gay man who was beaten to death at this very park.

And I continue to remember and learn that this world is not always a safe place. That we have only so much control over other people’s reactions. We are always vulnerable. Easy to write and to say - but sometimes I am more aware.

But, of course, I write this as a woman of faith. At the same time living in this graced awareness of blessing and serendipity of so many events of my life. And trusting always, in the presence of God who enables us to survive whatever happens in this earthly life.

We plan for the future and pray for traveling mercies for everyone, protection at work for Miranda, and a celebration of the marriage of two beautiful young women next year.

God is good, life is good and we have much to celebrate!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sitting on the Back Porch

What a blessing - sitting on the back porch,
on my old flowered couch, drinking coffee, reading Richard Rohr, writing a little, and just being here.

As the day begins.

Richard writes about St. Francis (from the book "Hope Against Darkness") "Francis taught us...that the antidote to confusion and paralysis is always a return to simplicity."

And as I sit here I know this is true.

In a simple of act sitting and seeing I remember that I am blessed beyond all desering.

I sit in wonder at that which is always present - but I see it and hear it today.

I see the beauty of leaves waving in the wind,
the robin that skips from branch to branch
the squirrel scrambling up the tree

I hear the sounds of birds near and far as I sit and take it all in.

How did it happen that my greatest moments now come to be times of stillness, watching, listening
and doing.....nothing
but seeing life and beauty and God

Yes, the day - the work day - is beinging with RESPONSIBILITIES to consider

but this momrnt prepares me as I sit in wonder at creation.
It costs nothing
only requires eyes to see, ears to hear and the decision to just BE

I remember Jesus said - "Come and See."


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Awaiting Pentecost

Pentecost is coming - we celebrate it every year. The third great holiday - HOLY DAY - of the church. And many people do not realize how important it is. Or can be.

Pentecost is the "birthday of the church" and it is the remembrance of the gift of the Holy Spirit that came upon the people like "tongues of fire". Peter preached that day and 3000 people were baptized.

I find personally that the Holy spirit becomes more real to me every year. It is God within me and God around me. And it is like wind and fire giving energy and power and sometimes, even, scary when it comes upon us. But not too often because I think we mostly block it.

Today I am doing the opening worship at a meeting and using this litany which was written by Joyce Rupp. Before I share it, I will have us sing "Spirit of the Living God" and hear not only some of the passage from Acts but also what Jesus says in Luke 11
Reading Luke 11: 9-13
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The spirit like everything with God is a gift but we also can ask for it. Here is the Litany

The Energies of the Spirit of God (from May I Have This Dance? J. Rupp)

When we come face to face with the challenge of self giving, when we are asked to go the extra mile, to take the risk of reaching out to another, to offer forgiveness to the heart that rejects us…….

Spirit of God, fill us with the energy of your love.

When our world seems bleak, when we walk with sadness written on our soul, when we have days in which everything goes wrong….

Spirit of God, stir the energy of your joy within us.

When anxiety and concern take over our spirit, when restlessness or boredom holds sway over us, when our world cries out in distress and turmoil…..

Spirit of God, deepen in us the energy of your peace.

On those days when we hurry too much, during those times when our anger flares because our agendas aren’t me, when we stop giving people our understanding and acceptance…

. Spirit of God, draw us toward the energy of your patience

When someone needs a simple gesture of thoughtfulness, when a look of love is all another asks from us, when a good word could take the sting out of the gossip of foes….

Spirit of God, create in us the energy of your kindness.

As we face the shadow of our inner world or peer into the darkness of our outer world, as we struggle to believe in our own gifts and blessings…

Spirit of God, strengthen in us the energy of your goodness.

In those difficult times when fear threatens to drown our trust in you, during those experiences of growth when we are tempted to doubt all the ways we have known you….

Spirit of God, renew in us the energy of trusting in you.

When harshness or abruptness dominates our moods, when we feel challenged by the power of another, when we use the things of this good earth…..

Spirit of God, bless us with the energy of your gentleness.

As we walk the edges of life and death, as we struggle with the disciplines of spiritual growth, as we yearn to be faithful amid the many changes of inner and outer growth…

. Spirit of God, fill us with the energy of your love.

My prayer is that we continue to ask God and receive the energy of his love - his Holy, life giving Spirit.
May we experience Pentecost! YES!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Valiant Women

Last Friday I went to a luncheon in which Erma, from our church, was recognized as a Valiant Woman. What a great title - Valiant. She is that.
Erma is in her 80's and has devoted herself to service to others. She is all of those things that I admire - a willing worker, a humble servant, a dedicated disciple of Christ.

At our church, Erma works hard in the kitchen and is the one who buys supplies, organizes and cleans the kitchen. She has had some health problms in the last year and it was really evident what she does around here when she wasn't around here to do it. She is really a behind the scenes worker - here for hours during the week and just taking care of so much. Valiant.

The next day I walked the cap city quarter marathon - 6.5 miles and my daughter and thousands of others ran the half - 13.1 miles. I have been aware of the training that comes into doing a marathon and a half marathon mostly because of Marnie. Getting up early to run - blocking off time to prepare. Running, running, running. The girls did it - together - sisters running and I am just so proud of them. They are Valiant women.

Thuesday morning I went to the Bible study that we are now doing at the Resotration Plaza for senios. This week we had about a half dozen participants plus me and Kim.
Whenever I am with these women and hear parts of their stories - about children who have died, or are incarcerated, or heart attacks or strokes I think - these two are Valiant women. One woman has said that this is the happiest (maybe after a marriage to a difficult husband?) and she seems to take care of everyone. They enjoy coming together and doing Bible study and sharing life. Valiant.

It is interesting that the qualities of women I admire have nothing to do with their looks or fashion sense or homemaking skills. No, it is about humility, perseverence, strength, compassion, humor, and the courage to learn and grow no matter how old they are!

Prayers for my grandgirls - Rachel, Alyse, Reagan and Addie - that they may grow up to become valiant women.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Everywhere I look I see Beauty

I am at Sharon Woods Metro park sitting on a picnic table by the lake.

The sun shines it to my rate I see what looks like diamonds shimmering on the lake.

In front of me the wind moves the water in gentle ripples.

Surrounding the lake are the trees that are slowly coming back to life in this time of spring.

a tree across the lake is just beginning to bud and looks like a large queen anne's lace.
I remember being a little girl collecting those flowers (weeks?) on walks and returning home and putting them in glasses of colored water and waiting for them to change color

The sky is sky blue with steaks of white clous and birds trilling above and flying high and low

Wherever I look I see beauty this morning.

I love the breeze on me after a 3 mile walk. At one point I rested on a bench and looked down at the pathway with its rocks, twigs, leave old and new at my feet. In no matter at all but it was beautiful

Wherever I look I see beauty this morning.

And then the honking of geese and three fly noisily into the lake with a splash
and then swim silently.
Their profiles are dark against the sun diamonds on the lake

Where I look I see beauty this morning.

Yesterday our pastor's class met at Kim and Alan's house. We had the kids walk "Prayerfully" with their mentors.
I walked alone and felt then as I do now. Everywhere I look I see beauty.

And maybe that needs to be my new mantra for a while.

The operative word is, of course, LOOK. The beauty is here . Everywhere. Do I see it? Will I see it?

Yesterday I visited a 90 plus year old church member who lives with her sometimes unpleasant son.
Spent a few days in the hospital this week because she was in pain. The doctors found nothing wrong.

So she is home. Trying to deal with the pain. Grieving the loss of her husband who died a year ago after a 69 year marriage. Is this beauty?
Sitting with her is not like sitting by the lake.

But now as I look back I remember seeing deep faith in her very countenance. Her trust in God's presence and providence is just so evident. And so, in that unlikely place her goodness was beautiful.

Everywhere I look there is beauty.

May I look today.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Monastery of the Heart

Two weeks ago I joined an online community at the website "Monastery of the Heart."

This is for spiritual seekers/ searchers. Which I always have been and always will be. We are reading through a book by Joan Chittister called The Monastery of the Heart.

Most every day I read a chapter - the first week it was the introduction - reading the same thing every day. This week it is chapter one - which is called "A Gentle Invitation." Here is a quote from it

life grows us more and more -
but only if we wrestle daily
with its ever-daily meaning for us.

Today I find myself thinking about the two young men who bombed the Boston Marathon. Apparently they acted alone and now one is dead and the other is in custody. I read both online and in the paper today with great interest about them. So many people were surprised by their participation in this event. Perhaps something happened during the 6 months that the older brother was in Russia - he was "radicalized."

All this makes me realize how what we put into our minds can so often change us. As a pastor I believe that God is continually wanting to convert us - and make us more Christlike. And therefore we read the Bible, pray, come together, serve together and all of these actions help to remind us of this more spiritual way of life.

In a conversation with someone yesterday I said that one thing I have learned is how "fragile" we all are (speaking for myself, especially!) - both physically, spiritually and mentally. It really does not take much to debilitate us - a car accident, a difficult death, influence by media or friends.

Anyway, this chapter ends with these words:

"Listen," the Rule says,
"If you hear God's voice today,
do not harden your hearts."

I am listening. For love, for understanding, for edification.
I am listening. For God

Friday, April 19, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

Today I am 64
Which I find to be stunning. How did this happen?

But most of all I am grateful. 64 and in good health with a very satisfying life, children who love me and a husband who is never boring. Grateful.

Today I am going out to lunch with friends and dinner with husband and tomorrow there is a karaoke party. I think that is enough of a to do this year.

What I am doing this afternoon is probably as good of an occupation as you can have on your birthday. I am putting together a memorial service for tomorrow. For a 96 year old saint. There is something about reflecting on the finitude of your years and the possibility of many more years that may be coming for this senior citizen that brings up some pretty big questions.


What if I do have 30 more years of life ahead?
What if I am only two thirds of the way through my time on earth?
What more do I want to do?
Where do I want to go?
What changes do I want or need to make?
What can I look forward to?

You know, those kinds of questions. And I trust that the answers are coming.

what I have learned is this - that God is not done with me (or any of us) yet. I know I have more peace in my soul now than I did 5 years ago - and in many ways I am as happy as I have ever been.

And so, happy birthday to me. My prayer for today is that I may live this day in joy and gratitude and trust that all of my tomorrows will bring more wonder than I can even imagine today.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Thoughts on Monday

It has been so long - too long since I have blogged

Some of that is because i have been so busy during this season of Lent. I really, really, really enjoy morning prayers in the sanctuary but it means I do not write in my journal and often do not then find my way to the computer to write at all on this blog.

But today I do and the question is what to share. Because there has been so much.

We had a women's retreat on Saturday which turned out to be very meaningful to me as i continue to marvel at how God works. Kay and I co led and the theme was "Taking the next step" and it really was allowing us to see that this spiritual journey is always daily and literally step by step.

One of the scriptures I included was Jeremiah 6:16
Thus says the Lord: stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.

But they said, We will not walk in it."

That seemed to really speak to me about the call to move forward and our resistance. And so much of the resistance comes from the fact that the deeper we get into our relationship with God - the more vulnerable we become. No wonder we resist.

But, of course, a retreat is a time in which we have at least said YES - I am giving you this time, Lord. And so we did and over the course of 6 hours of silence, reflection, sharing, praying, crafting I think some of us felt strengthened in our own journeys and prepared to keep going. One of the activities was that we identified some of the "rocks" within us that got in the way of our growth. We provided rocks to write on and then share (if we wanted) with each other. My partner was Kay and we found that we had written the same word on both our rocks - FEAR. After praying together she threw my fear in the lake and I threw hers in and we stood in silence and watched the circles spread over the lake. It was an important ritual for me.

The most profound part of these retreats for me is the process that I personally go through every time we do one. We somehow land on a theme and slowly but surely over about 6 weeks the different parts of the day come together. And often - like Saturday - in the moment we change some of our plans and allow the spirit to guide us. The retreat always ends up being more than I ever imagined it would be.

I have to say that I live my life in faith as I truly often feel like I am just putting one foot in front of the other and trusting that God will do something with me. And then the something happens.

I did not go to morning prayers this morning because it snowed last night, it is my "day off" and I had Addie spending the night. So this morning as I sat with my beautiful granddaughter and enjoyed her company I felt that the morning was in its own way prayerful.

This evening, however I did go to my prayer room and just listened to music and perused some of my books. I thought I would share what I wrote. Just because.

"I am just sitting in my prayer room listening to John Michael Talboy and writing whatever I want....
From Joan Chittister

- what is there in this of God for me?

The Everything of a deep and demanding prayer life is an awareness and acceptance of the self

- Self knowledge saves us from ourselves

- The fact is that we become what we think about

- Prayer like a laser beam concentrates the mind and challenges the soul

- It is our need for one another that teaches us our need for God

- There is nowhere where we are alone

From Richard Rohr

- Every time you choose to love you have also just chosen to die


Monday, March 4, 2013

Being Church

Last night when the day was done, I felt nothing but gratitude for all the activity of the day.

I cast a vision for this year at our church with 4 simple words - Faith is a Verb. It is the actions that reflect our relationship with God. And it seems like many people are really embracing this idea.

Yesterday beside worship we had three gatherings of people who were "doing church" or "faithing."

The first was the 25 or so that were in the fellowship hall. Carol Fry brought to us an idea for a Lenten craft project - making plastic mats for the homeless out of plastic bags. It is a daunting project in that every mat takes 500 bags and so for the last few weeks we have been collecting them. Yesterday we started the work which was folding and cutting and making them into strips that will be crocheted. Three quarters of the work could be done by anyone and so we had literally all ages working together to do these tasks. First we ate lunch and then with a lot of talking and laughter we worked together. It is everything I love to see happening at our church

At the same time this was going on, 10 people were gathered in the library preparing to invite people to come to the Nehemiah Action meeting in May for the BREAD organization. They understand the need for our church to be involved with others to bring to light some of the systemic issues that are problems in our community. I am so glad for the leaders who keep guiding our church to participate in this program.

Then yesterday evening we had a very diverse group of people come back to fellowship hall after our 5 O clock worship for Bingo. This is a fundraiser for our youth group and Seth organized it well. The food was perfect and the kids did a wonderful job of leading us in this fun and wholesome evening. A lot of laughs, fun prizes and over $400 dollars raised.

This is why I love the church - the opportunity for us to eat, work and play together and make a difference in the community and the world. And a place where different people have visions and passions and we support each other.

This is when we really are the body of Christ.