Sunday, December 26, 2010
I have a new housemate. She's a year old 40 lb pit bull mix (probably some boxer and from the way she springs, some kangaroo too). I got her at the Washington Animal Rescue League one week ago.
I'd toyed with the idea of getting a dog for a while, but never thought I could hack it. I dog-sat for a few dogs over the last three years, including a 3 month stint with a pit bull who I loved. I learned that not only could I handle a dog, I was much happier with a little furry friend to pal around with. I also learned that pit bulls get a bad rap and they can be the most loving, loyal, affectionate dogs alive if you treat them well and discipline them right.
So, I went with a friend who used to work at WARL to look at dogs a month or so ago. Turns out little Addie (full name Advent) was there at the time with a different name of course. I was only looking though and didn't even notice her. I wasn't ready to commit then, but I pledged to myself I'd get a dog during the liturgical season of Advent.
Fast forward to Friday a week ago. I realized that was the last day before Christmas that I'd be able to get to the shelter. I went there in the late afternoon and told them I was looking for a playful, energetic, affectionate dog who would be good with kids. I played with a few, including a cool guy named Oz who had a face that was half white, half tan. I liked him even though he was a barker.
I was drawn to him more than any others so I went back to his pen. I interacted with him for a few more minutes and there was just something about him. I said to the helper - well, I think I just fell in love with Oz, to which she replied...uh, that's not Oz. I was one pen over playing with a different tan and white dog.
It was Addie! We went outside to play and it was immediate. In a rare moment of decisiveness I said - well, I guess this is my dog.
It confirmed my decision when everyone at the shelter said how much they loved her. One guy said that there wasn't even a choice - she was the best dog there. Maybe they just say that? But so far it's proving to be true. She is perfect for me. Likes to go on runs but is fairly easy to handle. She's a total cuddler, and doesn't like more than an inch or two between her and her person, though as she gets more comfortable she's striking out on her own. Now she's sitting 2 whole feet away - a record!
I couldn't be happier with a pet and if anyone's looking for a little friend of their own, check out WARL as a place to adopt.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Our church does a living nativity every year. For 4 nights, we dress up and stand in a makeshift stable and wave at the cars going by on the busy road. I dressed up tonight as one of the magi and did my time in the cold with others from the church. A mom and son team were a great Mary and Joseph, pictured above.
As we were putting away our costumes and warming up, a dad and his two kids came in with a box of hot chocolate and 12 doughnuts. They'd seen us standing in the cold and wanted to do something nice.
We exchanged only brief conversation. They said they knew of our church because of the Yard Sale and we said that we were there for them if they ever needed anything. The dad said maybe what they needed was to get back to church. Then they left.
We were stunned and surprised that some strangers would do us such a favor. We also noted what great modeling it was for a dad to show his kids such spontaneous generosity.
I was reminded of the other Christmas strangers in the night - angels, shepherds, wise men - who brought their gifts and their friendship to Jesus.
If you are out there reading this - thank you! Your hot chocolate warmed our hearts.
Friday, December 17, 2010
When I was a kid, someone in the family would always lobby to open a present on Christmas Eve. It was usually my dad. My mom was the stickler - no presents till Christmas, but we'd always get to open at least one.
My mom was probably trying to insulate us from Christmas creep. Even if Target starts Christmas in October, she would remind us all that Christmas starts on the 25th. Before then, you're in Advent.
I've had my tree for a week and I'm listening to Christmas music on Pandora right now. That's partly because there isn't that much good Advent music. I heard the National Symphony Orchestra's Messiah last night, and the beginning of that is some fine Advent music. My favorite Advent hymn right now is "Each Winter as The Year Grows Older" by William and Annabeth Gay. (can't find a good link).
I'm clearly not an Advent purist but I am avoiding too much Christmas creep right now because I'm not ready for Christmas.
Oh, gifts are more or less purchased and sent, my house is cozy and Christmas-y, and though I won't send cards at least I've made peace with that instead of wasting energy on guilt for days and then not sending them anyway.
My to-do-list is done. That's not the problem. The problem is that I've been loving Advent. It has felt like a time apart - like a good hiking trip or a week of vacation. I want this time to last.
The 3rd verse of "Each Winter..." sings:
"Yet I believe beyond believing that life can spring from death. That growth can flower from our grieving , that we can catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith."
I love that. I really needed to catch my breath. This Advent, maybe for the first time in my life, I found that I am doing it. Pausing. I've become good at waiting. The patience, the not-yet, and the calm that Advent calls for has become integrated into my soul and it feels great.
I have no desire to tear into the gifts. Potentiality seems blessed. Sitting peacefully feels just right. I want to stay waiting.
And at the same time, I anticipate new realities will make themselves known soon enough and so I trust that when the waiting time is over, Christmas will come with its own surprises.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
This morning as I was listening to NPR, I was struck by the similarities between two apparently unrelated stories.
In the first story, a class on Social Media at Stanford gave students pause as they discovered just how much of their lives they've hung out there via Facebook. From unfortunate wall posts to mom seeing the party the night before to grad schools looking up years of status updates, students connected their nearly limitless public exposure via Facebook to a level of vulnerability they didn't want.
The prediction is that the new wave in social media will make it easier to dramatically limit who has access to your info. You will give more detail to fewer people.
In the second story, the editors of Mark Twain's autobiography talked about why he required publishers to wait a full 100 years after his death before making his autobiography public. Apparently, he didn't want to damage his reputation, influence readers of his books, or make his family open to attack.
Just imagine what he would think of Facebook, (much less reality TV). I'm guessing he would use it, but very judiciously. He would keep a clear line between his writing for the public and his personal life. After all, the man loved his privacy so much he had a pen name.
Twain's 100 year wait is an extreme, but so is the approximately five seconds it takes to make the running autobiography that is a Facebook status. Bottom line, none of us actually wants all our laundry - dirty or clean - aired all the time to everyone.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
For our Thursday Bible study we follow a process called lectio divina, or divine reading (5-5:45 pm, you are welcome to come). We pick a passage to read multiple times. The first time you hear the passage, you just listen. The second time, you notice one word or phrase that speaks to you. You keep listening to the passage, going deeper each time, until the last time when you share how Christ is calling you.
Last week, we read the Psalm 46 together.
It begins, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear...and it ends with the famous sentence: be still then and know that I am God. You can read the whole thing here.
The line that has stuck with me is verse 4:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.
It's been a stressful couple of weeks. Someone just asked me how I normally cope with stress and I remembered the healing powers of water. I crave a river. Need to get next to some cool water. Watch it gurgle and pool and just be. I have missed my retreat center, Rolling Ridge, with its little waterfalls and rivers running toward the Shenandoah.
In the lectio divina, I felt called to get back outside more and particularly, to that retreat center. I didn't get there last Monday as I'd hoped. But soon I'll get there to restore.
I realize it is a great privilege to be able to take the bulk of a day and go on a retreat. Few people can afford the time or money it takes to get away for real. I feel blessed to have the option. Now I just need to make the time.
Question to think about: how do you recharge and refill your tank?
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Hi world - I am passing on the most recent issue of Cafe, including a reflection written by my friend Rachel. The topic is judgment. In the lead article, Emily Williams Guffey talks about why we are so quick to judge others. I especially like her line "you don't know the whole story." In Rachel's reflection, she connects self-judgment and judgment of others and also draws the corollary: compassion toward self leads also to compassion for others. Amen!
With the high school group, we've been talking a lot about self-confidence related to bullying lately. We've agreed that bullies have surprisingly low self-confidence. They judge because they feel judged. To be truly kind and compassionate requires great self-confidence.
Last night we used an exercise called agree/disagree to talk about confidence. It goes like this: one wall of the room is agree, the other side is disagree. I ask a question and we line up on the continuum of the room depending on how much we agree or disagree. Then each person shares why they are standing in that particular spot.
One question last night was: when you remember how much God loves you, does your confidence increase? Many of the kids joined me on the strongly agree side, but quite a few of them were in the middle: not too sure. This is partly because some of them are at a point of really questioning their faith. I also think its because the overwhelming message they get is that they can craft an identity apart from relationships - especially apart from relationship to God.
I just saw the movie About a Boy and really loved it because, well, it's adorable, clever and uplifting. But also because it shows in a real world way just how important community is for creating an abiding sense of non-judging identity. My faith in God compels me to take that a step further: God is the source of community and relationship. Self-confidence is really God-confidence.
Enjoy the cafe articles.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Pastor Sarah Scherschligt, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Gaithersburg MD
Oct 3, 2010 /Proper22/19th Sunday after Pentecost
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, Psalm 37, 2 Timothy 1:1–14, Luke 17:5-10
In the past month, at least 4 teenagers have committed suicide nationwide, in part, it’s believed, because of bullying. All 4 teenagers were teased and harassed for being (or acting), “gay.” The response to this rash of suicides has been widespread and varied.
One response that has gone viral thanks to YouTube is the “It Gets Better” project. This project invites gay and lesbian adults to tell their stories to teens who are struggling with their sexuality, and with the teasing, loss of self-esteem, with the depression that often accompanies that struggle. The project’s message is simple: It gets better.
The gay men who started the project share the difficulties they went through with their families, their church and their peers at school as they grew up. And they paint the vision of their life now - fulfilled, happy, in community, and beloved by their families - in order to give hope to those who can’t imagine the future. Their point is basic: it gets better.
I know that in this congregation we hold a variety of opinions about homosexuality, it is an issue many of us think isn’t appropriate for talking about in church. I get that, I really do. But all week I just kept thinking, what if that were one of our kids…wouldn’t we be heartbroken that they didn’t know – that we didn’t tell them, we love you, and it gets better.
Of course, gay teenagers aren’t the only one who are bullied. According to our high schoolers, fat students, Asian students, women students, nerdy students, students who lack self-confidence in any way, all are potential targets for bullying. High school can be a terribly difficult time of self-discovery, no matter what your particular difference is, and sadly, for many of our kids, differences aren’t tolerated. For too many struggling high schoolers, the future looks bleak. When the future looks bleak, we all need people to remind us that there is a different vision – a bright vision of a different kind of future.
“It gets better.” It’s is a phrase that, at its heart, is about vision. That message inspires a person to look forward a few steps from the difficulty she is currently in to the blessedness that can be hers in the future.
If you are on the financial brink, it gets better. If you are a social outcast, it gets better. If your relationship is a struggle, it gets better. If you are hurting with the pain of a grief you don’t think you can bear, it gets better…
It’s a message not only for our children who suffer, but for everyone stuck in a tough rut. It gets better.
It’s the message we read in our Psalm: “Take delight in the lord who shall give you your heart’s desire.” It’s the message to the church that was in turmoil that we just read in 2 Timonthy: “But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”
It’s the risen Christ’s message to a hurting world. Because Jesus lives we know, it gets better.
At the Gaithersburg Days a few weeks ago, Gaithersburg HELP, our local food pantry, had a booth. One woman came to the booth and reported that she had been a client of Gaithersburg HELP in the past. The food she received from the pantry helped her get her kids through high school and she was grateful. She now longer needed the help because over time, it had gotten better.
Her message, her story is a blessing to all those who feel ashamed for being so poor they can’t buy food. Hers is an important one to lift up to those in poverty: it gets better.
But as people who follow Jesus, we aren’t called simply to tell a suffering world that it gets better.
God wasn’t content to tell us the vision, God also came into our lives in the most intimate of ways, through the person of Jesus Christ, and made the vision reality. And because we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and because we have tasted that grace, we do the same.
We don’t see the plight of those who are hungry, tell them it gets better, and walk on by. No – because we believe that hope and a new day are on their way, we participate in its dawning.
Increase our faith! Begged the disciples.
Do what I’ve promised you will increase your faith! Says Jesus back to them.
As some wise person once said,
The way to become a hopeful person is to do hopeful things.
If you want to show hungry people in our community that it gets better, then sign up for the walk for the homeless and do that hopeful thing; if you want to show a teenager for whom school might feel like a battleground that life gets better, sign up to help with a youth ministry event and get to know them; if you want to show a fellow mom that they aren’t alone, come to the new group forming next Sunday. If you want to turn your heart toward those who are suffering, take home our prayer list and pray to God.
And if you are someone for whom there is no vision left, for whom life has gotten too hard, please please know that you are not alone and that God’s promises of healing and salvation are for you. For we exist here to hold out the vision that God has given to us through Jesus Christ, that the moments that feel like the end are not the end, that Jesus takes on our suffering, that the end is a future of glory with God; and that you have a God who will work miracles in your life to show you that it does get better.
It gets better. Do you believe it? …… Do you trust it? ……And can you show it?
It gets better – thanks be to Jesus Christ – Amen!
5The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 6The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
7Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? 8Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
Thursday, September 30, 2010
40 yrs ago, Beth Platz, serving as the chaplain at the University of Maryland, was ordained, making her the first woman ordained in a Lutheran denomination in North America. She has served generations of Lutheran students humbly and faithfully. Read more about her here.
As part of the recognition of her extraordinary ministry, the ordained women of our synod gave her a communion set that I made.
It was a great honor to make this for Pastor Platz. Pottery is such an obvious metaphor for the journey of faith that it hardly seems worth elaborating. The first thing you do as a potter is "center" the clay. Ya. The lump of raw clay is molded and tended in an artful process that takes time and is somewhat unpredictable. Even after being beautifully shaped, it's worthless and dull until it has felt the heat.
As I made this chalice, I reflected on the heat that the first women pastors had to take 40 yrs ago. Many of them are still taking it, though I'm happy to report that I've experienced very little discrimination as a woman in the ELCA. I more often feel uplifted as a woman pastor.
But still, I recall that ordained women are not the norm everywhere. Last week a teen-aged visitor came to Bible study and said something about how "cool" it was to see a woman pastor. Cool only because it wasn't, for her, normal.
I love being a pastor and I am grateful to Pastor Platz and all the women and men who helped blaze this trail.
About the chalice. I went around and around with ideas for glazing and decorating, but ultimately decided to do very little. In an interview, Pr Platz said "The pastor's 'I-ness' is to be put aside … for the total focus is on the altar and the cross." I kept the chalice simple to keep that focus.
The cross-shaped hole in the stem is a reminder of the scars that discipleship demands us to recognize. It also makes the whole thing more beautiful. Healing is not yet complete, but the celebration of Pr Platz's ordination is a sign that we're on our way.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Add the doom and gloom about our ELCA denominational numbers to the growth of evangelical churches and momma church basically knows something is wrong in how we form people in faith.
We can't count on the traditional Lutheran pipeline (baptism, Sunday School, confirmation at age 13, become a full member of the church for the rest of your life) for forming our people anymore. We probably never could. In our congregation, people come from a variety of religious backgrounds hungry to develop a relationship with God and other people of faith. One of our responses is to offer an adult confirmation program: Clay Pots.
Last night we had the 2nd session of "Clay Pots." We took the name from 2 Corinthians "for we have this treasure (knowledge of God) in clay pots." (some translations use the word "jars") It's no coincidence that I also liked the name because of its reference to pottery.
14 people are in the class. We're a mix of originally Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, and new to faith altogether. 2 people aren't members of the church. I love that.
I rooted around to find curriculum and help, but only found a couple of churches/highly talented people to help. (Rev. Jessicah Krey Duckworth at Wesley Seminary put us on to the trail of some good churches. She's amazing. Phinney Ridge Lutheran in Seattle and Village Church in Milwaukee WI also shared what they've done).
Basically, I've taken their information and crafted something I thought would work for us.
We'll have a total of 15 1.5 hr sessions plus a weekend retreat between now and the Easter Vigil, when the confirmation will take place.
Now through Advent our focus is Covenant. Christmas and Epiphany we'll focus on Christ. And during Lent we'll focus on Church. Our main texts are the Bible, the Lutheran Handbook (which, I must say is a frustrating resource. Such a good idea, but so cheesy and Minnesotan that it is culturally irrelevant to new Lutherans - but it's the best thing out there and has the Small Catechism in it) and two great little books by a man named Dan Erlander: Manna and Mercy and Water Washed and Spirit Born.
We've had two sessions and have focused mainly on the covenants God made with Abraham and Sarah and with Moses and the Israelites. Covenant sets the stage for understanding baptism, our relationship with God, Jesus as the new covenant. Seemed like a good place to start.
We're in the process of getting our session outlines on the church website so if other churches are interested in doing something similar, they can use as they'd like.
I'm convinced that this kind of opportunity is essential to growing faith - which in turn is essential in growing our churches. We're not doing this in order to grow the church, but to grow in faith. That's important. But I admit I'm excited that we already have 2 people, new to the church, interested in next year's class.
peace all -
Monday, September 6, 2010
But the real reason I like living with people is that it's just so much more fun than living alone. My most enjoyable living arrangements have been times I lived with large groups of people. Our college household was a blast; our community house in Div School had a ton of fun.
Maybe it's because I'm the middle kid of a litter of 5 - a family that played a lot of games and really enjoyed one another - but I'm most comfortable in a heap of humanity. It's just that as an unmarried person with a career that's taken me far from family, finding a living situation that feeds that need for community is hard.
Something like 21% of households in our county are single occupancy. That's a lot of people living alone and I genuinely wonder if those people prefer it or if there are just too few other options.
I've lately been learning about and exploring other housing models, including co-housing. The housemate thing has worked out really well for a while, but this last year was so good that I'm nervous about another.
As I mull this one over, I'm on the lookout for options. In the meanwhile, I'll make up the bed in my guest bedroom because Rachel and Rob are coming - yay! and I'll take Barkely (the dog I've got on loan to keep me company) for a walk.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Thanks to everyone who commented to me in various forms about my friend Todd's death. The memorial service and the whole weekend in Madison were a blessed time of reconnection with old friends, family (my little brother's family lives there) and most importantly, of honoring Todd.
For the last 10 weeks, I've been writing the Monday reflection in our church's "Summer of scripture" blog. This past Monday, I reflected on one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Romans 8, and realized all the changes that have happened in the past few weeks. I wrote...In the past week and a half, I've been to the funeral of one friend and the baptism of my godson Adam. My little sister had a baby. My great uncle died. Another friend had cancer surgery. Another friend saw her lima bean-sized child on the ultrasound for the first time. It's been a week packed with endings and beginnings.
Absorbing all this - even the good stuff - takes its toll. Oh, and I forgot to mention that my housemate moved out too. Wah. :(
It makes me think about relationships, identity and role. I am called pastor, sister, friend, housemate, godmother, aunt, daughter. But when it comes right down to it, I'm just Sarah.
Two weekends in a row I was in a church service for an important ritual: memorial service one week, baptism the next. Both of these are events where I am used to fulfilling the role of Pastor. I was nervous going to the Memorial Service because I was just going to have to sit with my own grief - not worry about others. I was not Pastor. I was just Sarah.
The baptism took place at a Church where I used to serve as a vicar. I probably said 10 times, in response to people calling me pastor Sarah, you can just call me Sarah - or if you have to call me something, call me godmother! I was thrilled to take on that role. (The photo is from the baptism).
In response to Todd's death, a former professor got in touch. He signed off "Paul" but I responded: "Dear Prof C..." The Bishop is coming to preach at Prince of Peace this weekend. He has told me to call him by his first name, Dick. But I have such a hard time with it. I always want to call him Bishop. My godfather was, for all practical purposes, known as the Judge. He also had a first name, but his role became his name. I have to think hard to remember his real first name.
I like to be called pastor when I am serving as a pastor. But these past days it's been good to remember what it's also like to be called plain old Sarah.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I spent the morning going through old boxes and most of my pictures of Todd involve blurry flailing arms (Todd dancing) and strange faces (Jill). I couldn't get them scanned. The one I'm posting here came from David this morning - thanks so much! It is a version of a much better picture that I can't find. This was taken in the front yard of 1006 Homer Court at party for graduation from Valparaiso in 1996. Shortly after, we scattered around the globe. Kelly was in Ireland, Jill in China, David in France, Todd in Guatemala, and Angela, uh, Chicago. I was in Malawi. I kept that photo in a frame decorated with stamps from their letters from around the world. There remains a precious bond of friendship over distance and time. In the midst of all this sadness, it is wonderful to remember the love that we all shared.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Todd and I were no longer close friends. In college, however, he and a handful of others formed my community. He and I were lab partners (until he quickly passed me by and became my TA); dance partners, housemates, and good friends. So many memories of that time have come flooding back in the last few days. Acrobatic dance moves on the sticky floor of the Phi Psi house; debates over the true meaning of life after death as told by Dostoevsky; Ad hoc Chemistry lessons in the library; nights sitting on the roof of Homer Court. Not all of the memories are positive. He was also probably my first attempt at love, though it was never so clear, and my heart broke many times throughout our friendship. But the memories are all - every single one of them - incredibly full of life. Those were such vibrant times and the growth that occurred then has been a blessing for my lifetime.
Todd ultimately built a life rooted in community, faith, medicine, service, sports, and the love of his family.
I didn't know him well in this new life. But as I've been reading the testimonies of the vast swath of people who count themselves blessed to have known him, it's clear he was the same old Todd. Always up for adventure, fun, kind, spirited, driven, faithful, dedicated to his work and to the people he loved.
To grieve, I did what I do. Some people start baking or playing an instrument or exercising when they need to work out emotions. I preached. If you passed a jogger talking out loud and gesturing animatedly on Wooton parkway yesterday, that was me preaching a sermon to myself.
I centered my imaginary sermon on the text from last week, Luke 12. God reprimands a rich man foolishly storing up all these things for the future saying "this very night your life will be demanded of you." I thought about how Todd had lived his life as if other people had demanded it. People needed something from him - healing, friendship, wisdom - and he gave it. He might not have the future anyone had expected, but the life he gave while he had it was truly extraordinary. Todd packed more into his too-short 36 years than many of us do in the scores of years we've come to expect as our due. The tragedy of his death has touched many lives because Todd touched many lives.
It helped me remember that death is not the end. God's love is bigger than any grief, no matter how bottomless it might feel and a life that was vibrant on earth is even more vibrant now.
The overwhelming feeling I've had in the last 2 days is gratitude. I'm grateful that I got to be so influenced by someone as dynamic as Todd. I'm grateful that the people I met at good ol' Valpo created a community with me that still exists, despite years and miles of separation. Jill, Kelly, Dave, Tim, Rachel, Tiffany, Hope, Leanne and Jeff, Angela - I'm hardly in regular touch with any of these people, but I feel the influence of their friendship as a buoy, especially right now. I'm grateful for our professors - Dean Schwehn, Professor Contino; Margaret Franson, Olmstead, Piehl - are just a few. They took such care with us that they came to our parties and treated as if we might change the world.
I am grateful for this life. And plain old sad for his family and this world that Todd's ended so soon.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
We met with about 20+ young adults and I led a discussion on justification and sanctification. The notes from it are below. During the discussion I learned much about trusting God and remembered in a powerful way that God doesn't demand that I justify myself. Justification is toxic to a relationship of trust and love. God doesn't demand it - God gives it. We are made right.
It was a great time and for me, it was especially affirming to see old friends and people who had welcomed me into their faith community years ago.
Afterward, the 3 of us from Prince of Peace stayed downtown for dinner at Busboys and Poets and we chatted about church, the youth, our own struggles. We laughed and shared good food. The whole evening felt like one big IV drip of God's love. Which brings me to the presentation. Based on one of my favorite Luther quotes - brought to me originally by my friend Rachel. Not health, but healing...
This life therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not what we shall be but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished but it is going on; this is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.
M. Luther. "Defense and Explanation of all the Articles,” Second Article (1521)
Guiding Question: How do we grow in righteousness?
Two theological terms for how we become right with God and others:
#1) Justification – being found blameless. (As in a court of law)
…Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith…. Romans 3:21-26
#2) Sanctification – being made holy.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48
Jesus is the only one who can justify us before God. This is a centerpiece of Lutheran theology. We cannot justify ourselves. It’s grace that we are justified.
Lutherans aren’t so clear about sanctification. We tend to de-emphasize sanctification because we are convinced that despite all the ways we appear to become more saintly, there always lives in us a powerful sinner. We need God’s grace just as much at the last moment of our lives as we did at the beginning.
But what about this quote from Luther and all the ways Scripture and our faith tradition say that we can grow in righteousness? How do we grow in righteousness?
1) How do you define righteousness? What is self-righteousness?
2) How do you try to justify yourself? How does justification work in your human relationships? How are justification and trust related?
3) How do you think you are “growing in righteousness?” What are the roadblocks? What are your resources? What’s God’s role in your improvement?
4) What does morality – being good – mean to you? What kind of morality litmus tests do you see in contemporary American Christianity - both the Christian right and Christian left.
5) Think about religions/ denominations you know. How do you think that justification and sanctification work out in those religions? If every major religion teaches similar things about morality, what is distinctive about Lutheran Christianity?
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
While I was away, our congregation began its Summer of Scripture. We're reading 50 important Bible stories and different people are blogging about them. I wrote the first posting. I wrote it waaay ahead of time because I knew I'd be gone. I didn't realize then how fitting it would be to write about creativity at the dawning of a new artistic endeavor. I've copied the entry below.
For your daily dose of scripture and more blog entries from different members of our church, visit www.summerofscripture.blogspot.com.
The reflections written by different members of the church reveal faithfulness, wrestling, and God's grace. Good stuff.
Summer of Scripture Blog entry #1 - Genesis 1, reflection by Pastor Sarah
We're starting our Summer of Scripture at the beginning. In the beginning – these words invite imagination. What will happen next? The beginning is a creative time.
I love this passage about creation. It makes me look again at the world God made and marvel at God’s creativity. I picture God as an artist, delighting in the stars and making these wonderful human creatures straight out of what certainly must be a vast imagination (and a hearty sense of humor).
Apparently I’ve always liked this passage. When I was just a little girl I painted a picture for my dad based on this creation passage from Genesis. I look at that picture now and my first thought is wow, it’s apparent even from that age that I’m not ending up as a visual artist.
But the great thing is that as a kid, I didn’t have the adult’s discerning eye. So I had no shame at producing a less-than-perfect piece of art. I was proud to give it to my dad as a present. My dad had the good sense to honor it rather than critique its artistic merits and hang it up in his office where it stayed for 20+ yrs. Even as an adult, whenever I went to visit him at work, I was secretly glad he still had my little work of art on display.
Pinned above my desk I have a picture that my 9 yr old niece Eliza drew for me. It inspires me. I hope she never loses her particular sense of expressiveness about the way God made her. I bet God feels the same way about all of us – each unique, quirky, delightful one of us. Dust off your paintbrushes! Belt out a song! Follow God’s lead and get creative. You are, after all, made good.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I got to spend the whole day in the studio at Glen Echo, one of my favorite places, and sat at a wheel while various people came in, did their thing, and left.
One thing I love best about doing pottery at the studio is the combination of solitude and community. I am alone with the clay and able to lose myself completely. But there's a shared experience with the other potters, many of whom I learn from and share creative juices (wine!) with without even knowing their names.
On Friday afternoon one of the best potters in DC came in and, as I'd heard he was in the habit of doing, brought an ipod mix to play while we worked. My heart warmed to hear "The Dutchman", a song that brought back memories of singing with Pastor Bob on the mandolin.
The good songs kept rolling - and as it does, music started a bond. People hummed, our moods melded.
The potter announced he was nearly finished with another mix called the Jesus mix. I smiled secretly - he had no idea what I do for a day job.
He asked if anyone would be offended if he played it sometime. I replied no, I'd be curious.
When, after a bit of enthusiasm for our shared musical tastes, I confessed that I had a professional interest in the Jesus mix, he ran out to his car, barely missing a hailstorm, to bring in the computer with the Jesus mix.
It ran the gamut from Uncle Tupelo singing Satan don't let your kingdom come down ("If you have a Jesus mix you gotta have Satan too" said the potter), to the the Rolling Stones' The Girl with the Faraway Eyes.
We chatted briefly but mostly just shared the music and a little bond formed briefly over a couple of songs. As he got ready to leave I finally introduced myself by name, but that was hardly essential to the exchange. We remain essentially strangers, but as one of my favorite songs from the Jesus mix says, "Never know just what on earth I'll find In the faces of a stranger"
That sons is Jesus in New Orleans by Over the Rhine, full lyrics below.
The last time I saw Jesus
I was drinking bloody mary's in the South
In a barroom in New Orleans
Rinsin' out the bad taste in my mouth
She wore a dark and faded blazer
With a little of the lining hanging out
When the jukebox played Miss Dorothy Moore
I knew that it was him without a doubt
I said the road is my redeemer
I never know just what on earth I'll find
In the faces of a stranger
In the dark and weary corners of a mind
She said, The last highway is only
As far away as you are from yourself
And no matter just how bad it gets
It does no good to blame somebody else
Ain't it crazy
What's revealed when you're not looking all that close
Ain't it crazy
How we put to death the ones we need the most
I know I'm not a martyr
I've never died for anyone but me
The last frontier is only
The stranger in the mirror that I see
But when I least expect it
Here and there I see my savior's face
He's still my favorite loser
Falling for the entire human race
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
According to Allure magazine (I read it as I got my haircut) the ideal age for women is 36. One reason? That's how old Marilyn Monroe was when she sang to President Kennedy. Apparently that's the high point we should be aiming for...
Still it had me breathing a sigh of relief (I'm 35 - the best is yet to come.). But what happens at 37 - over the hill then?
Oh, I realize this age anxiety stuff is as old as the hills (and some of them are really old!) but it's hitting me somewhere in the gut right now. As a colleague in her early 40s pointed out - somewhere in our mid-thirties women pastors go from being young, hip and interesting to being outdated and irrelevant. I refuse to let that happen! There's got to be something in the middle.
I wish I could get out of the age obsession I seem to be in now, but I find myself single minded. And its not only related to the old biological clock - thought that carries a bit of power.
Elena Kagan got nominated for Supreme Court and I skipped the parts of the article about her background, beliefs, influence. What I wanted to know first is her age (50). I heard a speaker last week and while she was a font of knowledge and spiritual wisdom, the thing I'll remember most is her age (45).
I even asked my congregation in church last Sunday to raise their hands if they were over 38. Granted, there was a good preaching rationale for this, but really, how much has this age thing gotten into my brain?!
This is actually nothing new for me, thought it's particularly powerful right now. As a small kid I was acutely aware that I was younger than everyone else in my class. Age has always been a big part of my identity.
Maybe that's why I fell in love with the Dylan song Forever Young. I remember where I was when I first heard it - in a muddy field outside of Duluth Minnesota. But eternal youth isn't the appeal. More, I like the message that we can live in a way that age has no ultimate say in our identity. Dreams can take root no matter your age. Maybe that's why the movie UP was such a success - it debunked the fear that as we age, we slowly fade into boring irrelevance.
So what's the opposite of age-obsessed? Something about eternal life.
Jesus preaches about how it can happen now. Maybe a sliver of that promise is that in an age obsessed world, God's grace cuts through the apparent limits of age and death. This is an offer to embrace eternal life in the here and now and give age a bit less power. To get there today, I'll just hunker down and listen to the gospel according to Bob Dylan:
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Friday, April 30, 2010
Pastor Chris Nelson, who was my pastor in my 20s, talked to a group of pastors in the Metro DC this past week. He mentioned an exciting new church that didn't have the word Lutheran in its name. Did the people going there know they were Lutheran? Not necessarily. Would they articulate an understanding of Christianity that was recognizable to someone in the know as Lutheran? Definitely.
I'm leading an informal class on Sunday mornings on what it means to be Lutheran. We've offered this in various formats about once a year because we know that many people join our congregation without a Lutheran background. They want to know and I want them to know about this great church tradition. The 2nd of the 4 classes will be this Sunday at 9:45. Everyone is welcome.
A woman in the class last week made me completely re-think how to lead it. She mentioned that she intuitively loves our church and now she wants to know what it is about Lutheranism that has made such a community.
This is the same kind of thing that Pastor Chris was talking about. Increasingly, people don't join a church out of loyalty to the denomination of their youth. They look for authenticity, genuine community, and opportunity to serve.
Yet it matters to me that once people are here, they can articulate what it is in the Lutheran tradition that works for them. It also seems to matter to those who join our church that they know what it is to be Lutheran. This is not the case with everyone or everywhere, but here, people want to know.
In the class last week I gave a bit of historical reference and basic theological background. I also brought up 4 Lutheran catch phrases that are good to know about: saint and sinner; law and gospel; priesthood of all believers; saved by grace through faith. I tried to show how they play out in the life of our community.
This week I think I'm going to do something different. I'm going to ask people what they've experienced, heard, seen in our congregation and show how that is (or isn't) in line with Lutheran traditions.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
When I was a student (92-96), the campus was apparently embroiled in a debate about whether or not women could preach there. I knew in the background that the debate was going on, but it's surprising looking back on it how little I cared. As a student, I was only remotely involved in the life of the college chapel and even more remotely involved in church politics of any kind.
I can trace back part of my call story to the Chapel of the Resurrection. It was the site of my first homily - given during a daytime chapel service when a fellow student asked me out of the blue to do it. I wish I would have found out why he asked me to give a homily. I wasn't particularly religious or faithful at the time. I had little idea then that I would eventually be called to be a pastor.
Now, of course, I am a pastor and I see this suicide on a variety of levels. Besides being generally sick for the Valpo community and for the family and friends of Rev. Grega, I am fascinated with this tragedy. I want to know more about what convergence of experiences, illness, pressure, despondency and pain led to her suicide.
Intellectually, I understand this is very little of my business. She left a note, but it is, of course, private. The pain of her family doesn't need to be dragged out for the public to see.
But still, I want to know why this happened. My curiosity feels different from interest in celebrity news or rubber-necking at the scene of an accident. I want to know what her unique role as the first woman to serve in a culture of male hierarchy played in her decision. I want to know if and how she had dealt with depression in the past. I want to know about her isolation as a pastor, especially as a college chaplain.
My close friend Rachel called to tell me the news. She's also an ELCA pastor and as I talked with her, I thanked God for her friendship, for other colleagues and supporters and the love of family and friends. Also, I thanked God for my new, fantastic counselor and for providing me enough money to pay her. In mourning with Valpo and hoping for healing on many levels.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The first was from a friend and Lutheran pastor in Rwanda who reported that a bridge that once took refugees escaping from genocide to safety in refugee camps in Tanzania, is going to be rebuilt in order to enable business between countries. Years ago, Pastor John planted trees on the border of this river - once flowing with human wreckage of war - as a sign of hope, sanctuary, and rebuilding. From Pastor John:
Some of the buildings were asked to move to other place and owners will be covered! At the hill, our tree farm forest survived!...I was given forms to fill up for title deed! It was done successfully, went to the forest, found the fish eagle... was there for 3 minutes looking at me!!!!!! Thought that God sent this bird to tell me that He had a purpose for me to plant trees on this hill, may be a sanctuary for birds, animals and people who want to take away stress.What a great reminder that the hope that caused John to plant the trees was not in vain.
Then also got an email about the Lutheran Church in Tanzania's efforts to reforest Mt Kilimanjaro - from their website:
For more information and to support this effort, click here.
Organization: Kilimanjaro Environmental Conservation Program: Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCT) in Tanzania- Northern DioceseMount Kilimanjaro in Northeastern Tanzania has three distinct volcanic cones. The highest — called Kibo – is 5,895 meters high and covered by snow. However, the snowcap is rapidly disappearing. In March 2005, the peak was almost bare for the first time in 11,000 years. According to NASA, the most recent ice cap volume has dropped by 80%. This will have grave consequences for the local population who depend on water from the ice fields during the dry seasons and monsoon failures.
Additionally, deforestation and poor land management have accelerated soil erosion on farming lands. Streams are muddy with tons of vital topsoil that is being washed away. Increased flooding is destroying crops and causing food shortages.
The local church is working to encourage intensive tree planting and education on farming methods to conserve the environment and ensure sufficient food production. For example, young people attending confirmation classes have to plant 10 trees before they are confirmed. Women in parishes are leading the campaign for tree planting around churches and schools.
So yes, I keep feeling like I "should" be preparing for Easter - but what better preparation is there than to hear real acts of hope and re-creation? These efforts make me want to shout halle...
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
In short, we are working to create a new Creation Care Team within the synod (for non-church people, that's the 80 or so congregations in the DC area who work together) and to put forth a resolution at our synod assembly (again for non-church people, think stakeholders meeting) encouraging congregations to act for energy stewardship. We'd join synods like Metro New York, Chicago, Milwaukee and NE Iowa in getting such a resolution.
This is exciting work and feels good - as in "and it was good" kind of good. Speaking of good - at Prince of Peace we celebrated Earth Hour on Sat night. That's where around the world, people turned off the lights. 60 is the Earth Hour logo (for 60 mins). That's me behind the "6."
We weren't quite as dramatic as the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben, but from 8:30-9:30, we turned off our lights and a small group of us looked through a telescope, had fun with glow sticks, and shared stories. I told about the stars and night sky in the Peace Corps in Malawi, where I always knew where we were in the moon cycle because the sky was lit up bright when the moon was full, and dark when it was a sliver.
Saturday I got to see the moon up close through a telescope. The surface just looks like pitted concrete. It blew my mind to watch as it drifted out of sight in the eyepiece because we were moving so fast on Earth. Wow. We ended with a prayer of thanksgiving for this marvelous world. Thanks Joyce, David and Alex for a fun night.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Just got back from lunch with Joyce, one of the Prince of Peace Creation Care Team originals. She shared with me exciting news that Poolesville is participating in Earth Hour this Saturday at 8:30 - turn off your lights for that hour.
A group of us in the synod is working on drafting some sort of formal commitment to creation care at the next assembly in May. A couple days ago I spoke with a lovely woman in the New Jersey Synod who passed along their resolution discouraging use of plastic water bottles.
Next I called the ELCA Washington office and talked briefly with Mary Minette, the director of environmental policy and education. She put me onto the trail of Kim Winchell, a diaconal minister in Michigan working on faith and environment and the author of Awakening to God's Call to Earthkeeping, a great educational resource that our congregation used last year.
Called Kim. She sent me drafts of a resolution on energy efficiency that other synods are considering in their spring assemblies. Will send out to our group soon to see if this is the route we want to go. We had a wonderful talk about the growing network of Lutheran people, congregations and synods committing to creation care.
She put me onto a new group, Lutherans Restoring Creation. Various Lutheran environmental organizations have developed over the years, but this looks like the best one yet.
And to top it off, a friend from seminary is starting a garden at her church in Oregon and we're going to chat about it soon.
I love when things come together - the Holy Spirit is moving in this one.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
They're not all done (I have about 80 % left to go actually) but it was amazing to me what a difference getting the grime washed off did to let the sunshine in. There's a metaphor in there somewhere, but I'll spare you.
I love cleaning. Not all the time - oh no. Either the clothes are scattered across the room or I'm ironing each piece of clothing before hanging it up. It's all or nothing, which makes keeping an adequately clean house a challenge.
Cleaning the entryway this morning took me 3 hours (it's quite small) because I was actually scrubbing the walls. It was all I could do to resist taking a toothbrush to the floorboards.
Not necessary. But fun - amazingly fun actually. I lost myself in the cleaning (unfortunately, I also lost track of time and missed an important meeting). I was barefoot all morning long, going in and out of the house, filling buckets with water from the hose and vinegar (who needs chemical cleaners?) wearing old clothes and getting good and messy. Drank down the coffee, organized my sports equipment, geared up for gardening, cleaned my pottery tools.
The windows were the best. What a difference that makes. Here's hoping I have the time and energy to do the rest of them before I start to lose enthusiasm. Let the sunshine in!
PS - That's not a picture of me, but a squeegee is definitely my next purchase (and a great scrabble word).
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Hi all - my last blog post was a month ago and I'd been lax in the posts since before then. Not that there's been nothing going on in my head and heart, but when I finally got around to sitting down to write, the old inspiration was gone gone.
Well, many little events in the past week have started to build my inspiration back up. At Prince of Peace our crocuses bloomed. At my house, this morning the buds were out and I think that with this sunny day, the blooms will await me when I get home. Seems like long ago that Elizabeth (housemate) and I planted our 200 bulbs with the hopes for spring. And now they're coming.
Other moments of inspiration: the youth service project for the 30 hr famine last weekend. We sorted clothing and served food at Community Family Life Services in downtown DC. We had just studied and prayed with the text "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was naked and you gave me clothing" and there we were, meeting Jesus face to face.
The combo of that experience, fasting, and hearing the story of the prodigal son in church last weekend kind of ripped me out of my self-absorbed fog (yes, pastors get in those fogs too) and turned my head and heart back outward.
Gaithersburg Help took in over $60,000 of donations last week - the bulk was the payoff for the many pairs of feet that walked in mini-walks all over town last October, but there were many other checks too: 17 dollars here, 150 there. One of our students won a prize for her Girl Scout video on the food pantry and donated it right back.
One of our gardeners is out back tilling the soil for a 2nd community garden - hoping to raise even more food to give away. We'll need a lot more hands to help - not sure where they're going to come from. But taking a kind of "if you build it they will come" attitude.
Friday, February 19, 2010
The weather had an unexpectedly emotional impact on me. It both relaxed me and made me restless for a different time and place. It reminded me of my childhood, ski retreats in Vermont in grad school, sledding parties in Minnesota. The silence of cross-countryskiing reminded me of other times alone in a snowy woods and the conversations with God I've had there. The weather called out of me bits and pieces of my personality and my loves that go underground when the weather's above freezing.
It was powerful and gave me joy to reconnect with these parts of myself. My housemate (also a Minnesotan) and I had a blast tromping around and loving the snow. But the overall effect on my mood, 2 weeks out, has been rather unpleasant. I'm starting to return to normal - back in a routine. But there's a big part of me that doesn't want the snow to melt.
Mid westerners get stereotyped as talking too much about the weather. But doesn't the weather affect just about everything else? From an earthquake in Haiti to record snows in DC, the weather is the news, and not only because of its physical effects (destruction, loss of life, property, power).
The weather affects emotions. I wonder how immigrants do it. Removed permanently from the lay of familiar land, the smells of their air, their slant of sunshine. Is part of them always missing?
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
But moving onto the Superbowl...
It's old hat to try to draw comparisons between the two competitors for an American church-goer's Sunday attention: Football and Church. But there's a new twist. A mega church in LA, Mosaic, is trying to go where the people are next Sunday by competing in a Superbowl ad contest sponsored by Doritos.
As you can imagine, this has sparked a variety of comments, from "Praise be to the God of Israel, I know this commercial will be shown on Superbowl Sunday, All Glory and Honor to God our Father" to "I hope there aren't any Christians voting for this tasteless kind of humor. It's very sad that a priest was actually behind the making of this." (These and over a thousand other comments are on the Doritos Crash the Superbowl website).
The negative comments generally focused on the tastefulness of making a commercial starring a man faking his own death. For me, the interesting question isn't whether the content of the commercial is immoral, but what's it mean for a church to advertise something that's not overtly their own product?
This commercial advertises Doritos. The church doesn't pretend otherwise. There are no hints of God, grace, community nor any of the things our typical outreach/witness/evangelism (church advertising) campaigns do. This is a totally different thing than the Catholic posters in the DC metro telling you to get to church and find forgiveness.
So why'd they do it?
According to their website, Mosaic (the church) "welcomes people from all walks of life, regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey." No mention of Doritos as part of the church's mission. But wait..
Yes, the explicit message in the ad is that you should eat Doritos.
But implicit in the ad is that church-goers are just like you, they watch football, have a sense of humor, and even think it would be a cool idea to dream up an advertisement to play during the Superbowl. Re: the Mosaic mission this ad says that if your spiritual journey includes a nearly idolatrous love of football (guilty) or an appreciation for witty commercial entertainment (I love the Superbowl commercials), this is the church for you. As the Sr. Pastor, Edwin McManus said in a Yahoo article,
We're not trying to use Doritos to propagate a message, but I think we want
people to know that we have a sense of humor, that it's OK to laugh. So much of
what comes out of the faith community seems so dour and somber and we want to say, 'Hey, we're real people. You can be a person of faith and really enjoy life
Ok. Here's the sticky part: if they win, they could get up to $1 million from Doritos. And now we've got corporate sponsorship of a church. Should we be afraid?
Our congregation recently decided not to take the kick-backs offered by a clean energy company (they'd give 10$ for every household who switched energy providers to wind) even though this company's product was clearly in line with our mission. Something about taking money from a for-profit corporation bothered us, though I'm not sure we ever clarified exactly what it was. We still promoted the wind energy program, just didn't take the money.
So what do you think? About the Doritos ad or about taking a finders fee for wind energy customers. Is it OK for churches to take money (which can help mission) from corporations who are clearly looking to promote their own products?
Curious to hear some responses. You can bet I'll be watching the Superbowl commercials, and it breaks my heart to say, rooting for the Saints in between.
-Peace and joy - Sarah
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Benjamin Larson's story brought it home for me this afternoon. He was a seminary student who died in Haiti while there with a group of future pastors teaching and helping support the Lutheran presence in Haiti. Read about his faith in life and death here.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
To me it seems that true Christianity is to follow Jesus' example of suffering with the innocent so that we are moved by compassion to help as best we can. Of course none of us do this perfectly, but hopefully most of us are humble enough to recognize that judging an entire people as their worst hour unfolds is counter to the basic gospel.
Here's a prayer for Haiti published by the ELCA:
Praying for those suffering
in the communion of Christ, we are joined with the trials and sufferings of all.
Be with those who endure the effects of the earthquake in Haiti.
Protect those in the path of danger.
Open the pathway of evacuations.
Help loved ones find one another in the chaos.
Provide assistance to those who need help.
Ease the fears of all and make your presence known in the stillness of your peace;
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.