Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Follow-up from last Sunday - Stop and hear the music

Hi all - last Sunday I used a few video/visual elements in church. I'm thankful for people like Gordon who take time to make things work! We had no tech problems - a wonderful feat given the fact that this was our first attempt. Aaron did an amazing job with the visual offertory. When we have it linked to the music I'll post it.

The bulk of my sermon centered on this clip from a concert that violinist Joshua Bell gave in a DC metro station a few years ago during rush hour. This article gave background information

I drew a metaphor between Bell showing up in an unexpected place/time to give a free, beautiful concert and God, showing up in unexpected places/times to give us peace, joy, inspiration and love.

I noted that in contrast to the obviousness of the Angel Gabriel's visit to Mary, most of us, most of the time, encounter God in less direct ways. God comes to us more like a busker in the metro than an angel who tells us our future.

Key points:
5) God's presence sometimes captures people's attention by surprise (one man who had never appreciated classical music found himself transformed by just 3 minutes of listening).
4) God's presence is often ignored (most people (over 1000) passed by without pausing. Understandably, they all had to get to work and they didn't know they were in the presence of greatness).
3) When people start to notice God's presence, they inspire others. (One woman stopped because she recognized Bell. As she stood and watched, others naturally joined).

I first heard of this Bell concert at a conference. The speaker used it to point out that people no longer know how to recognize beauty. While that might be true, it strikes me as an unfair judgment. I think most people are just busy and stressed and too tired to notice the grace all around. We're a people in need of sabbath. So here are two final points:

2) Even in the craze of the days before Christmas, you do have time to stop and rest in God's presence.
1) Even if you don't take time to stop or notice, God is still there, playing on.

Wishing you peace and joy and a moment of obvious grace in these last days of Advent
- Pr Sarah

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What's Advent smell like? (When are you most aware of God's presence?)

I'm excited and nervous for our worship service at 8:30 on Sunday.

The service will focus on the annunciation: the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary. The sermon and offertory will incorporate the congregation's responses to the question

"When are you most aware of God's presence?"

I've been collecting answers for a couple of weeks. Feel free to respond if you haven't already!

The answers have been varied and surprising. Each time I read a new one I feel as if I've just been given a precious gift.

We're going to use video clips during the sermon (including a clip from Angels in America, pictured here).

The offertory will include visual elements along with the music. We're using projection, but not as a replacement for the bulletin or just to project a power point slideshow.

We're doing it to give people a different way to engage in worship. A few artists in the congregation from the Savannah College of Art and Design are helping.

Our musician will play some music under some of the prayers in order to tie together the overall service. I'm not sure how these changes will be received but I am excited. I love this stuff.

I've been trying to figure out when I first got excited about innovation in worship. I trace it back to the influence of Siobhan Garrigan, the Dean of our Chapel in Divinity School. Daily worship was something of worship laboratory. We got to experiment with forms and language; song and silence. I learned about the multi-sensory tradition of worship. I also saw how tradition and innovation could go hand in hand.

So, what's with the orange slices?

One worship service that has never left me was an advent service that was creative and traditional. I recall nearly everything about it: rich purple and orange colors draped throughout the sanctuary; intimate lighting; music in minor keys; a sermon by John Hare about making the place you are a home.

I also remember the smell: orange. Orange oil and orange slices filled the air with a citrus scent. Is that why I can recall the rest of service so well?

When a variety of senses are engaged, you remember things better. If nothing else, I hope this Sunday's 8:30 service will help people remember that God appears in all sorts of ways - often right under our noses. I'm not sure we can pull off a scent this weekend. Maybe for epiphany? What scent would go with epiphany?

The orange slice painting is from artist Patti Mollica, found online using a search for "orange slices." I was really drawn to the painting and hope she doesn't mind the promo.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Creativity, courage and a confession

Here's a theme I keep noticing: the link between creativity and courage. Steve Jobs had it, yes. But he's not the most remarkable person who's been in the news lately.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman - the trinity of women who just won the Nobel Peace Prize - are much more interesting to me.

If you don't know their backgrounds, read them here. Gbowee encountered harsh opposition to the peace movement she began in Liberia. Sirleaf, and Karman each spent time in prison for following the courage of their convictions. Wangari Maathi, who until this year was the only African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, was also imprisoned. Sadly, she died weeks before this round of prize winners was announced. They all have remarkable courage. You don't get the Nobel Peace Prize without it.

They are also all creative people, and I don't mean creative in the limited meaning of being good at painting or singing, though they may be that as well.

They are creative in that they can imagine something different than what exists now. They imagined a different Liberia, a different Yemen, a different world. They are creative in the way that each of us, when we sense that things could be different, daydreams about a better world.

They are creative, but also courageous enough to make their visions a reality. The link between courage and creativity is apparent in the headscarf that Karman wears. She abandoned the full niqab for a variety of pink scarves so her face could show. Yes, I get tired of people commenting on powerful women's clothing, but so many people comment on her headscarves because they symbolize the change brought about by her courage and creativity.

A few years ago, Wangari Maathai was interviewed on Krista Tippet's Speaking of Faith. At the end of the interview, she sang a song. Listen to it here. The song was simple and powerful. The reason the song was powerful wasn't that her voice was trained, it was that she had courage to sing. She wasn't performing. She was creating with courage.

So here's a confession. When I graduated from Divinity School Wangari Maathai got an honorary doctorate from the same University. I hadn't heard of her and I am embarrassed about that. I didn't take a class with her. She'd been a visiting professor that year and I could have, but I had no idea. That's something I'll always regret. But those aren't my confession.

I happened to have a front row seat which meant that thousands of people were sitting behind me. As I read her biography in the program, I realized she was amazing and she dedicated her life to working on things that I care about deeply - justice for women and global environmentalism.

As she was introduced I felt somewhere inside me a call to stand up to applaud. We'd stood for Willie Mays as he got his honorary doctorate; surely this remarkable woman deserved the honor too.

I nearly stood, and because I was in the front row I think others would have followed. But I was chicken. I stayed seated. The moment passed. And we didn't give Wangari Maathai the standing ovation that she deserved. I didn't create a brief moment of honor because I didn't have the courage. Only a short while later, she received the Nobel Peace Prize and you can bet we would have all stood for her then.

Something about courage and creativity requires that we stick our necks out and take on the work of God in the world before it is recognized as popular. It's another reason why I am grateful to follow Jesus who models the combination of courage and creativity, showing us that it temporarily lands us in the worst places in the world - Yemeni prisons, exile, crosses - but also leads to peace.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ramadan, Iftar and meeting our neighbors.

In early August, nine members of Prince of Peace took the Islamic Center of Maryland up on their offer to take part in an Iftar - the evening meal to break the daily Ramadan fast. We experienced generous hospitality. From the samoosas we were handed as we walked in, to guidance after the prayers, to the conversation during the meals, we were graciously made to feel at home. We wondered aloud if visitors feel this welcome when they come to Prince of Peace. We hope they do.

When we arrived, I had thrilling the sense of being somewhere foreign. The women spoke a variety of languages and were draped in richly woven silks and scarves. Though we were only ten miles from church, I felt like I was in a different country. We were surrounded by women from all over the world, brought together because of a common religious tradition. Some spoke no English; others spoke English as I do - the only language they really know. I couldn't assess the background of the individual women I met until we talked. That meant each encounter was new and surprising.

At mealtime, a couple of us from Prince of Peace sat down with two young adult women. Not sure of what kind of conversation would follow, I was delighted to find that these sisters were neighbors to our church and had gone to the high school down the block. One was a law student; the other a PhD student. We discovered a common interest in the meaning of fasting across religious traditions. I felt at ease asking questions about Muslim women and religious leadership. Our conversation was natural. The experience quickly morphed from feeling foreign to feeling familiar.

The very next day I was out walking with a college student catching up before she headed back to school. We passed one of the sisters on her jog. I hardly recognized her in the transformation from worship clothes to running clothes. We all stopped for a moment and chatted like neighbors. She is so...normal.

I sometimes get taken by surprise when I realize that I am among the religious. I mean, of course I know I am religious. But people unfamiliar with my tradition - and even those who are familiar - probably see me as different from them in a way I never think of myself.

I dress up in a fancy white robe and special clothes and lead rituals that must feel as foreign to some as the Iftar is to me. Yet I think of myself as normal, not as the odd one or the outsider. But of course in this neighborhood it is I - not those sisters - who is the foreigner. They've lived here for much longer.

Since we visited, so much has happened to change the world. Libyan rebels have gained power; the US economy has gone on free fall; The earth shifted under my feet in a historic east coast quake. And still, faithful Muslims around the world and in our neighborhoods are fasting and praying. I admire the faithfulness of that tradition. I have learned from it. And I am grateful to have been welcomed by my neighbors.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Has it really been almost 2 months since I last posted? I have 4 half-written blogs: more about salvation; heaven and hell; canoeing& backpacking; and of course, Addie (my dog).

But today I'm going to write about food. I forgot to pick up a CSA (community supported agriculture) share for some parishioners on vacation. I felt sorry to have dropped my responsibility and more sorry to miss the veggies and fruits. But, I'm not going to lose sleep over it. Reason? I've got a full fridge. I'm in no danger of going hungry.

I love summer food and I've been cooking up a storm. Pork, corn and peaches on the grill; blueberry buttermilk pancakes; grilled squash, eggplant and red pepper; spinach-shrimp-basil pasta; BLTs with slices of tomato so thick you hardly need the bacon (except, of course, you need the bacon!).

So here's a disquieting experience: savoring a veggie breakfast omelet with melon and berries on the side while looking at online news pictures of starvation in Somalia.

My heartstrings are pulled by visions of people dying - 2000 a day is the current estimate. Moments later I am distracted: orange juice or lemonade to drink on a hot summer day? I have both at the ready. It is hard to square my abundance with the desperation of others.

The tomato picture is from our church's garden. I took it today. The garden is thriving.

Compare that to the picture of the meager food in the hands below. It comes from the ELCA website about the drought and famine. Here's the caption:

“This is the last of my food, a few beans. I used to grow food myself but there has been no rainfall in eight years, so now I have to buy all my food from the market. The prices keep going up. We only have enough food for one meal a day now, and that goes for all people in this area,” says Lucia Muvili Ngotho (pictured left) from the Kalimbui village in Mwingi, Kenya.Comparing the realities in the two pictures is disquieting. Something is not right.

Part of why I haven't written is that I've been in a general slump of life. Slumps happen. I generally don't think it's helpful to compare your problems to other people with "real problems" in an effort to feel better. Problems aren't proportional and you can get yourself into a dither of guilt by comparing.

But a little perspective can be sobering. As the old saying goes: I complained about not having shoes until I met a man with no feet.

This sign is part of the Gaithersburg HELP educational materials. Last Saturday some people play I frisbee with threw their support behind Gaithersburg HELP by having a Fannie Mae mini-"walk." As I was hammering the sign into the ground, I was struck by its message. Humbled.

Having the kind of problems I have is only possible because of the kind of problems I don't have. There are people in the world who would weep with joy to have 1/10 of the food I have in my fridge and would consider their problems solved if they could turn on water from their kitchen.

That disquieting feeling? I've come to recognize it as the seeds of a calling. Though the disaster in East Africa is beyond proportions we ever face, hunger exists in my own zip code. I know I wasn't alone last Saturday in feeling good that at least I was able to do something active to respond to the disquieting reality that so many people are hungry.

If you want to find out more about Gaithersburg HELP or Fannie Mae's walks for the homeless, including how to sponsor a mini-walk/run/game/etc, let me know. And if you want to donate to the Lutheran efforts to help the famine, click here.

Also, the Gazette covered our frisbee game. Check out the article here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Salvation, part 2

Hi - what a good conversation we started here. Thank you to all who responded to my last post either in person, email, or publicly on the blog.

At the extremes, there are two different approaches to the "who is saved" question. These approaches intersect in various forms throughout Christian doctrines and the Biblical witnesses (plural - as with most of our big questions, the Bible gives us critical guidance but doesn't give an easy, consistent answer). Different traditions have worked this out in doctrines and practices as varied as double predestination, universalism, forced baptisms or complex tracing of ancestry to save your relatives in past generations. It is a sticky, difficult question.

Here are the two poles, as I see them.

1) Something you do clinches your spot in heaven. At the extreme, this means that you must act in a way consistent with Jesus calling in order to go to heaven. This shows up all over: Be a good person, follow the way of Jesus, get yourself baptized, join a church, take communion, seek out forgiveness and absolution, have faith, serve people, give your money away. Gandhi is often lifted up as a non-Christian who it's hard to imagine in hell because he was such an exemplar of human goodness. There are a variety of actions that fall under this category and there is wide debate about what it is that you have to do to be saved. Residue of this exists in most people's faith consciousness and it can inspire fear for people who ask the question: Am I good enough to be saved?

2) God alone has power over your salvation. The extreme of this approach says it doesn't matter what you do, God will (or won't) save you. Based on this approach, people might argue that Gandhi is in heaven because God's grace would expand to include someone who grew up without the same opportunity to grow in faith as those of us marinated in Christianity. This also covers the vast numbers of people who grew up in the faith but for some reason or another couldn't, with integrity, come to believe. There are an awful lot of people out there who wish they had faith, but just don't and can't force it. The "God's grace is huge" approach doesn't hold those people responsible for not being given the gift of faith.

This is, I think, where people like Rob Bell end up. God is too loving, too gracious, too expansive in mercy to let anyone live eternally separated from God's love. God's power ultimately wins out.

The classic Lutheran (pauline) formulation is saved by grace through faith. This thread is found most clearly in Romans. Grace is the free gift from God, but faith matters because through faith you claim the grace that has already been offered.

Importantly, in Romans, Paul contrasts "faith" with Jewish heritage, not with lack of religiosity altogether. He's arguing that non-Jewish people with faith in Jesus are part of salvation history. As far as I can tell, he isn't exactly addressing the question we are. Someone who is a Biblical scholar, please correct me if I'm wrong on this.

There is always the risk of turning faith into a human work instead of a gift from God and Lutherans work hard to make sure they don't turn faith into a litmus test for salvation. But there is, as one blog comment noted, a wide gray area on this.

Luther is more nuanced on salvation many people give him credit for. Martin Marty interprets Luther in the chapter "Will non-Christians be saved" from book"Lutheran Questions, Lutheran Answers":
God is hidden. Then God is also revealed. Luther says that even when revealed, God remains hidden: who would look for God in the bread and wine of Communion, the water of baptism, smudged ink in a Bible...The startling thing confronts his readers when Luther goes on to say that God is hidden not only in revelation but behind revelation. This is a way of saying that God is God and we are not; the mind of God is other than the human mind; the treasures of wisdom of God are vast, boundless and ours are small and spare and sparse...Our decisions have to be based on the knowledge we have: to share the word of grace, to take the commands of God seriously, to relish and be joyful about the word of salvation that we have received. The rest we leave up to God.
The key concept here is humility in the face of God's grace and the mysterious mechanisms of salvation. Opening up the possibility of salvation to non-Christians doesn't need to threaten the faith of Christians who are convinced, because of our encounters with the living God, that Jesus is the saviour of the world. Could it be that God is hidden not only in bread and wine, but also the non-Christian neighbors we've come to love?

More thoughts??

Friday, June 3, 2011

God is not a Christian - by Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu, an architect of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation process, has long been a hero of mine. I've narrowly missed meeting him twice. Once was my choice: he was worshipping at the episcopal morning prayer at my Divinity School. My roommate, a faithful attendee, woke me up when she heard he would be there but I didn't feel right about attending a service in order to be in the same space as someone I admired. I regret that decision. Apparently, he wore a jogging suit and headed out running right afterward. He was in his 70s.

The second time I was in Cape Town at his cathedral. He normally presided over the Friday prayers, but had been called away to facilitate a peace process in the Middle East. I supposed that was a good excuse. That cathedral became, over the course of a couple of visits there, a place of meaning for me. But I never met Archbishop Tutu.

I admire him and his writing. I almost always find what he has to say resonates with the reality of my faith and the experience of the church in a world of diverse religious expressions. So am excited to read what he has to say in his new book of compiled writings and speeches: "God is not a Christian: and other provocations" .

Clearly, he too has wrestled deeply with the exclusion that is often seen at the heart of Christianity. I've written a tiny bit about this (see 2 blog posts down) and have had many recent conversations on the topic.

Here's a recent example of how that exclusive tendency plays out in real life:

My parents' pastor delivered a sermon on hell - who is in and who is out. This is fairly standard stuff. According to one basic Christian view, Non-Christians don't go to heaven.

A few days later, my dad went to the funeral of his deeply faithful, Jewish, colleague. This was a man he befriended and worked with. He was a good, kind, just, loving man. The two experiences (being told that only Christians go to heaven and then seeing a religious community send a non-Christian God-fearing man into his eternal rest) placed side by side exemplify the cognitive dissonance many Christians feel. They love non-Christians with a genuine love and hear in church (or assume they will hear in church) the doctrine that non-Christians are not heaven-bound. This is the tension that I have been hearing and seeing so many discuss lately.

Tutu's observations can help the conversation. An excerpt of Tutu's writing on this can be found here.

I've begun to articulate my current (and ever changing) thoughts on this like this: soulful, peace-loving people who are not Christian can be followers of the way of Christ (explicitly or implicitly) without being followers of the person of Jesus. But Tutu might not think this approach takes the differences between religions seriously enough. My approach may do violence. I think of how I would feel if someone told me I were a follower of the way of Muhammad, just not of Muhammad. How would I feel? I don't know.

Here's a brief Tutu quote that challenges:
We must hold to our particular and peculiar beliefs tenaciously, not pretending that all religions are the same, for they are patently not the same. We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God.
Thoughts? Anyone read this book yet?

Thursday, May 26, 2011


This weekend, I will join 20+ friends and acquaintances all connected to one couple, Steve and Rachael, for the 10th annual Maryland Challenge. They enthusiastically convince their friends to ruin their bodies and elevate their spirits by walking the 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail that cuts through Maryland in one day. That's right: in one day. We'll be ready to go at 5 am and will stumble back to the glorious meal awaiting us at Rachael's parents house sometime after midnight. That's a eucharistic feast, especially after endless Cliff bars and water that tastes like iodine, despite the attempt to mask it with crystal light.

Some will have to duck out after 10 miles. Some will join late. Couples with small children will split the hike up so they can each do part. One year I did the first 10 and the last 10 (drove home to do the Saturday church service in between). Only once have I done the whole thing and I couldn't walk correctly for days afterward.

Friends are coming in from Kentucky to do it. A caravan is driving down from New Haven. One man and his daughter - now old enough for the hike - are flying in from California. I made commemorative mugs. Another hiker has been brewing 10th anniversary beer. There's a special play list. Rumors of some mile 20 bourbon.

The obvious question is: Why? Why do this? Year after year, why has this become an event that some people look forward to for the other 364 days?

This is no mere hike. It's become a pilgrimage.

Wikipedia's definition: A pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance.

There's something important about the combination of people. Steve and Rachael have a natural knack at making their friends into family. Easy familiarity with people you've never met happens with the aid of their gracious hospitality.

The hike itself is the real centerpiece. It's challenging enough that when you finish, you feel like you've really accomplished something. It's not a given that even the most experienced hikers will make it. There's the stupid bliss that sets in when you realize, at mile 35, that you will make the end. There's the combination of solitude and small community that forms as you hike. There's a sense of youthful freedom in the rediscovery that all of life isn't work/home/desk/obligation. Internal horizons broaden.

I recall conversations I've had on that trail with specificity, even 7 years later. Surprises happen in these conversations because you become truly present, undistracted. The rhythm of walking, the cadence of breath. The story of the person on the trail with you. The noise of the woods. All else melts away.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Standing at the gate.

This past Sunday I preached about Jesus as the gate. We so often think of him as the Good Shepherd that we gloss right over the dominant metaphor in John 10: 1-10 where twice he says: I am the gate.

I tried (and am not sure I succeeded) to emphasis a generosity at the heart of Jesus' life. He puts himself in healing relationship with people before before he demands belief. Jesus as the gate means that it is through relationship with him - and not through correct doctrine or particular actions - that we find our security and our life.

Thus as his followers, we do the works of love he calls for (feeding the poor; caring for the widow and orphan; forgiving and being forgiven) without an ulterior motive of "saving people," trusting that if we have brought people to relationship with God's grace through our loving actions, we have in some way brought them to Jesus.

My hunch is that one reason we liberal Christians ignore the gate metaphor in favor of the shepherd stuff because Jesus as a gate sounds exclusive. A gate closes some people out. I preached that when we think of Jesus as a gate, we should make sure we're not thinking of him as the bouncer - looking to check for the ink stamp on the hand and says we paid or the baptismal credential in the wallet.

I'm not positive I like how I worked that out. I feel like I just got launched on a longer journey to think and learn more about a radical inclusiveness that can lie at the heart of a deep belief in Jesus as the one savior of the world. It's part of the heaven/hell discussion we had in confirmation a few months ago.

The basic question that goes something like this: Do you have to believe in Jesus to be saved? When I hear that, I want to know two things: What do you mean by believe and what do you mean by saved.

Lately questions of inclusiveness and exclusivity - in and out - have been getting renewed attention in evangelical circles because of Rob Bell's newest book: "Love Wins."

I haven't read the book, but after I preached on Sunday, I came home and read a review of it in The Christian Century by Peter Marty. It captured very perfectly what I was trying to say in my sermon (even used the bouncer metaphor - and here I was thinking I was original!) . It made me glad to think that Bell, Marty, and so many other great Jesus-lovers have reached a point of inclusiveness re: salvation that they find consistent with Scripture and tradition. It allows for generosity, humility and mystery to pervade the heart of our faith.

I will read Bell's book - maybe some in our congregation will join me? And I will hope for now that What Peter Marty says about Bell in the article could also apply to me:
Charging Bell with being a universalist doesn't work. Not only does the idea never appear in the book, nothing could be less applicable to somebody with Bell's own passionate faith in Jesus Christ. He simply refuses to limit how far Christ's redemptive love can reach.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Learning to Lament

Where were you when you heard the news? Somehow the death of bin Laden has just become one of those life-changers like the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger or the attack on the Twin Towers. You are supposed to know where you were.

I was absorbed in a pottery project with the tv on in the background and Addie snuggling beside me. Brothers and Sisters was interrupted: Osama bin Ladin was murdered. Yippeee!? I guess I was supposed to be happy.

But I was not happy. No, my reaction was to feel horrified at the chipper tone of the announcers and quickly bored with the repetition of the non-details and even more non-critical analysis.

Mostly, I felt lonely and out of place.

When Rosa Parks died, people gathered on the mall to honor her death as an American hero; when Obama was inaugurated, we gathered to celebrate. This event resulted in some strange bastardization of the two: people elevated bin Laden to iconic status and went nuts with patriotic fever celebrating his death like some new era had just begun. It almost looked like joy.

But joy seems completely out of place because it doesn't fit well with hate.

Relief I can understand - especially given the continued fear of terrorism since 9/11. The peace of a conclusion - yes, that makes sense. It even seems reasonable to have a bit of pride that at last, we were able to outsmart this particular enemy. But joy? I can't put my finger on it, but it has made me sad and fearful about what has happened to this country.

I was grateful for the many friends who pointed to wise blogs that dampened the enthusiasm.
Here are a couple that I found particularly thoughtful.

Jim Wallis - sojourners
Kristen Breitweiser - Huffington Post - a 9/11 widow who challenges the celebratory atmosphere.

As I've spent the day troubled about our national reaction, I have been reminded of a lesson I learned from an ethics professor.

It is important to lament actions that are lamentable, even if you end up doing them.

He taught this by citing a study which showed that giving education about abortion to pregnant couples didn't change their minds about the abortion, but it did cause them to lament that decision. He hailed that as part of the process of being an ethical person.

At the time, I thought that was ridiculous. Who cares what their attitude would be - the important thing was the action alone, so I thought. I realize I was wrong. The events of these past few days make me realize that the attitude - especially toward something truly lamentable - matters.

Having been schooled in the plot to kill Hitler (Lutheran theologian Bonhoeffer was central to that plot), I understand the decision to kill bin Laden. I even think it was a good one, though there is something deep within me that resists murder as ever being a good decision. But the plot to kill Hitler was marked by sobriety and regret. I'm not seeing that here, at least not on the public face. And I am stuck in lament and regret that we have come to this.

What happened on Sept 11th was horrific, evil, and destructive. But in the past 10 years, our reaction has helped tighten the knot of terrorism, animosity and misguided violent solutions to a social problem. The result has been countless deaths, billions of misspent dollars, and the continued devastation of an entire region of the world. Yes, the tide may be shifting; yes, bin Laden's death may be part of that shift. But it doesn't make what happened on Sept 11 any less sad; nor does it make what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan since then any more justified. Vengeance rings hollow.

The thing that I've been holding onto the most from all I've read was this simple distinction that a friend Tweeted: this is not celebration, it is catharsis.

I've tried to believe that, because catharsis is appropriate in a way that celebration is not. But it sure looks like celebration to me. I am glad that bin Laden is no longer on the loose. But I am not smiling.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Resurrection in Relationships - article in Cafe

Hi - occasionally I write for Cafe, the online magazine for young women of the ELCA. This month, the article is about resurrection in relationships. I wrote a Biblical Reflection on Joseph and his brothers. In the main article I outlined the resurrection of one of my dearest friendships, with the friend's permission of course. This picture is of the two of us just a month or so ago before she gave birth to her beautiful daughter. Link to the articles here.
Peace and joy - Sarah

Friday, April 1, 2011

Descended into where? Hell, evil, and all sorts of things I never learned about.

10 adults from our church are preparing to be confirmed/affirm their baptisms on the Easter Vigil (the night before Easter). They have been in a class for the past year that I have, admittedly, packed a wee bit too much into. Last night, as we prepared to cover the 2nd article of the Apostle's Creed "I believe in Jesus" in 10 mins, we got off track and the conversation went to hell - literally.

We started talking about hell. Where did Jesus go when he died? Did he die and just lie there dead or did his life after death begin immediately. Is hell a real place that you can go to? Did he go into the hells on earth in some spiritual way and conquer them? What happened? I was feeling a wee bit over my head (can't we just talk about grace some more???).

And then, we started talking about evil. I mentioned a couple of times that I've known I was in the presence of evil (at a battered women's shelter working with someone in the addictive grip of abuse; at a church in Rwanda that was the site of a genocidal murder). Others had their own experiences (at a German concentration camp; the events of September 11).

I said, but we Lutherans don't talk much about evil in a spiritual form - we talk much more about its manifestations. Evil as it appears in war, poverty, addiction, death. We talk a lot about sin and believe it is critical to address sin head on. But we do less with evil. Which made one of the natural theologians in the class say: why not? Scripture is full of it, isn't it?

So, we have research to do:
1) Why did we replace "hell" with "dead" in the apostles creed. And just what is normative for Lutherans re: hell?
2) What role does spiritual warfare have in Lutheran theology? What is evil?

help???!!! I love learning! - Sarah

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Energy Efficieny: what a great way to begin Lent.

Our Ash Wednesday confession last night included this petition:
For our waste and pollution of your creation,
and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance oh Lord.
Repentance means to turn away. Today, our congregation is repenting for our waste and pollution in a practical way. We're turning away from our inefficient energy use by undergoing a major professional re-insulation of our building. We expect we'll reduce our energy use by at least 20% during peak heating and cooling months. It's an investment in our values and our future. I am so proud of our congregation for taking this step. Here are a few sample photos.

The work began with a blower test where all the internal doors are opened and all the exterior doors closed. This machine then sucks the air through the building, enabling us to tell how leaky we are.

We needed both insulation and air sealing. Here's a before shot in the attic : each of our light fixtures basically acted as a hole in the ceiling with no insulation or air sealing.

After: there is a sealed cover over the light. But it's not done yet. The last step in the process is blowing insulation over the whole thing.

At the end of the day we'll redo the blower test as instant gratification to show what we've accomplished. Can't wait to see what we save in the long term.

But that's not all! We're also preparing to host an event on energy efficiency on April 2nd from 10-12. Guests include a Pepco ( power company) representative to present about new incentives for congregations; a county representative of the environmental rebate program; and a representative of the EPA's energy star program for congregations. If you are in the area and interested in learning how your faith community can assess and reduce energy use, please come. Details below.

Also, consider participating in the Carbon Fast where you do one small thing to reduce your carbon footprint each day.
Today: turn down your thermostat by one degree. Aim for 68 during the day and 60 at night.

Peace and joy - Sarah

Workshop: Receiving Cash Incentives for Energy-Efficiency Improvements at your Faith-Based Organization

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church is hosting a workshop focused on energy-efficiency incentives for faith-based organizations and other businesses and organizations. Brooke Smallwood from The Pepco Commercial and Industrial (C&I) Energy Savings Program will provide a program overview on the cash incentives available, application process and eligibility. Eric Coffman from Montgomery County Dept. of Environmental Protection will discuss the newly launched Commercial & Multi-Family Building Energy Efficiency Rebate program. Steve Bell, Program Director for the Energy Star® for Congregations program will be available to discuss energy efficiency opportunities and measuring and tracking energy use and savings. Persons interested in Creation Care, property managers, boards of trustee members, maintenance staff and others should attend this event to learn more about how these support their energy efficiency goals and hear success stories of organizations that have upgraded their properties. Event sponsored by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in partnership with Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light (GWIPL).

The workshop will be held on April 2nd from 10:00 to noon at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 11900 Darnestown Road, Gaithersburg MD 20878.

Please RSVP: 301-349-5052

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Blessed are the peacemakers

In my sermon this past weekend, I encouraged the congregation to look for signs of the kingdom of God. As I came into the church building this morning, I noticed a little sign taped on my door and a few of the walls that said "CK". Someone in the congregation was inspired to post these as reminders that we are Citizens of the Kingdom.

With the Beatitudes echoing in my ears: blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, I saw this image out of Egypt and nearly immediately thought: God's kingdom.

It was taken Feb 3 and is attributed to Navine Zaki. Christians encircle Muslims to make space for them to pray.

Admittedly, I am curious to know if anyone takes issue with the idea of Christians protecting Muslims as a sign of the Kingdom. I hope not, but with the heightened political-religious climate of the Middle East and the strong opinions that Muslim/Christian dialogue generates, I am sure people disagree with me.

This kind of peacemaking - where you actually have to create a space of peace where one shouldn't exist - takes courage and faith. It is easy to be a peacemaker when everyone agrees. It is much more challenging to put yourself in the line of fire and protect someone that you could rightfully be afraid of.

If I read the situation right (and I may be wrong), Christians and Muslims might be pitted against each other in whatever emerges as the new Egypt. Indeed, plenty of reports about the role radical Islam might play in a new Egyptian government seem written to inspire fear - a poison to peace-making.

On the other hand, Christians and Muslims have an extraordinary chance in this revolution to create peace in a new way. I take it as a sign of the kingdom that at least some are doing it.

I was moved to read a story about how an interfaith group worshiped together on Sunday. Click here for the report. I am a bit hesitant to post it because I can't find a whole lot of press on it. With all the reports coming out of Egypt, it's hard to know exactly what incidents will stand the test of time. I hope this is more than just an isolated incident of peace-making.

Right now in Egypt, there is a common enemy to rally around. What will happen when a new government is in place? Will the bonds that are created in this revolutionary effort help create lasting peace?

Ten for Ten. Ten reasons it's great to be a pastor, in celebration of my 10 year anniversary of ordination.

I'm in there somewhere. I was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC on November 10, 2007, ten years ago today. ...