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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Maximizing Our Prophets

Sunday's lessons can be found here.
Choices abound this week when it comes to sermon texts. We have Isaiah's wonderful image of the Righteous Ruler springing up from the root of Jesse, setting wrongs aright and bringing peace and justice to the nations.

We have Paul pointing the church in Rome to these ancient prophecies, telling the Gentiles who've been drawn to Jesus (which, by extension includes most of us)  ":Look -- these words are for you too."

And then there's the Gospel account of John the Baptist,  preparer of the way, afflicting the spiritually comfortable while comforting the afflicted with the promise of the Messiah.

(How) do these texts speak to you this week? Or will you be going off the lectionary? As always, we look forward to hearing about your insights and conundrums as you pray and plan your way to Sunday.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Virtual Advent Retreat Part Three

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. -- Matthew 1:18-25

Our Amish friend Mary is a widow with six children, aged four to fourteen, living at home. She gets some help from her extended family and from her faith community, but life is still hard for her; she works part-time cleaning houses for "English" families and also runs a small business from her home, selling handmade baskets and soap. In the local Amish community she's known simply as "the widow"; to me a rather poignant and telling sign of the status of women without spouses in that subculture.

My partner and I help Mary when we can, in ways that respect her community's rules and her own sense of dignity. Sometimes that means bringing some extra income her way by purchasing her crafts. Sometimes that means dropping off extra food. We've also helped her merchandise her wares, driving them around to local stores that sell Amish goods, or fetched bulk baking supplies for her from the supermarket -- tasks that would literally take her all day with a horse and buggy. I've always felt good about these things; that they're real, person-to-person ways in which our household can follow the biblical charge to care for the widow and orphan.

The other weekend, after delivering some sugar and flour to Mary's house, we asked, as we always do, if there was anything else Mary needed. She hesitated a moment.

"My sister-in-law's baby is very sick, and has been in the hospital in Saginaw for a month now," she said. "We take turns going down there and staying with my sister in the hospitality house. So far we've been able to find drivers to take us to visit overnight...but...I wonder if you could maybe take us down there if we needed to go, and pick up the others and bring them back."

My partner and I nodded and smiled and said certainly we could help out...but inwardly I groaned. Saginaw is an hour away. Our household calendar is filled with commitments -- doctors' appointments, a trip out of state to visit children, church activities. How could we be on call for this type of transit service? What if they contact us on a day when we're busy with something else? How long would this responsibility last? For a few moments I began feeling cornered by a sense of obligation. How do we get so over-involved in other people's lives? I found myself thinking...until my compassion was reawakened by an inner stab of shame and the vision of a sad, scared mother a long way from home, culturally as well as physically, worrying over her sick newborn in the ICU.

How easy it is to place parameters on our acts of mercy; to measure out our compassion in easily manageable units, according to our own comfort level, at our own convenience; perhaps, deep down, according to our own sense of competence: "I can go this far; no farther."

By the standards of his own time and culture, Joseph exceeded most people's expectations of how a prospective husband should treat a fiancee' found to be pregnant. He would have been within his rights to publicly denounce Mary as an adultress and let the community guardians of morality deal with her in the way that patriarchal societies have traditonally dealt with women deemed to be sexually compromised. But no, he decided; he would take the high road: He would quietly call off the marriage, let Mary's family deal with the problem of her pregnancy, and walk away -- embarrassed and disappointed, surely, but blameless; and free to start over. There; he'd do his duty and then some.

What were Joseph's thoughts, one wonders, when he realized that God had a different plan -- one that would presumably implicate him as father of Mary's child, bringing his morality as well as Mary's into question; one that would additionally place on his shoulders the enormous responsibility of raising a child not his own, a child whose origin he could scarcely imagine? Did Joseph feel a hesitation, a catch of uncertainty, as he weighed the consequences of assenting to the task assigned to him? Did he feel that same weight of obligation settling around his shoulders as his expectations of a comfortable but unremarkable marriage to a nice Jewish girl faded into the reality of his situation? Did he wonder, in those waking moments, if the angel's message to him was real or just a fantasy spun out of control, a kind of psychological self-defense against the shock of hearing about Mary's pregnancy?

We don't know. Because whatever Joseph's thoughts and the end he, like Mary, accepted the angel's challenge to not be afraid. Like Mary, Joseph said "yes" to God. And Joseph said "yes" to Mary in a way that models what it means to be a person for others, someone whose love is willing to take risks on behalf of the lives of other human beings.

Prayer: Loving, gracious and merciful God, help me make room for Christ in my life by making room for risk on behalf of others. Help calm the fears that separate me from others. Let me say "yes" to the next right thing I'm called to do on behalf of my neighbors -- even when it's difficult, even when it comes at a cost. Help me do these things for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Virtual Advent Retreat Part Two

A meditation for Advent 3A

Matthew 11:2-11
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are
raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

`See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.'

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
John the Baptist is having a bad, bad time. He is stuck in prison, after all. And the faith and passion with which he proclaimed the coming of Jesus as the Messiah seem to be gone, or at least stretched very thin.

It’s understandable, really. Jesus is not doing what he should be doing, in John’s estimation. He is, in fact, doing everything WRONG. I imagine John thinking, “This is crazy! Jesus can’t be the one, because everything is so screwed up.” He must have felt very desperate to send this message to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t reply directly, of course. He has performed miracles that the messengers have witnessed themselves, and he advises them to describe these things to John. Unfortunately, the report is not likely to make John feel very much better, because he wasn’t actually hoping for a healer. He was hoping for his idea of a Messiah: a conqueror, a king, a smiter like the one promised in Isaiah 35:4 “He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.”

John is stuck in an idea of what Jesus was going to do and be. He can’t seem to escape his old plans for the way Jesus’ kingdom would come about. Back when John foretold the coming of Jesus and baptized him, the fire and certainty were fresh in his heart, but now all that seems to be turning to ashes. Hopeless.

It’s sometimes easy to feel that way in today’s world. We get frustrated at the gloom-and-doom news channels, the machinations of the institutional church and some individuals representing Christianity. Wars, violence, starvation…the list could go on and on. We get stuck in our own self-righteousness and sin, and wonder where God is, and whether we’ve made a mistake. Like John, we get rusty in our faith.

The Episcopal collect (the prayer “collecting” all the lectionary scriptures) for this Sunday begins, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us…” Jesus’ work was to stir us up, to un-stick us, and the divine method for that seems to be: do everything exactly backward from the world’s way.

John provides a hinge (albeit a creaky one) connecting old, worldly expectations of the kingdom of heaven to the Kingdom that Jesus is creating.
In answering who He is, in responding to the Big Expectations, Jesus reminds the questioners of what they have seen him do.

What has Jesus seen you do lately? Or me? Last weekend marked the official first day of shopping madness in the US. I personally forewent shopping, but that’s absolutely not a stretch for me, because: I hate to shop. So, what am I going to DO, actually get up and do? I have some ideas. I will be helping with a Christmas party at the local retirement home with members of my church, for one.

For Reflection: In a season like Advent, a very busy one for clergy and engaged laity, adding more things to do can be difficult. I commend to you the idea of taking time to think about something different, whether large or small. Maybe it’s occasionally paying the toll of the person behind you. Maybe it’s putting money in every Salvation Army kettle you see. Maybe it’s taking daily time for prayer or Advent study. Take some time now, and ponder it.

Prayer: Blessed One, we thank you for coming to be one of us, for knowing how it is to be hopeless, rusty, and stuck. May we do your work in the world this season so that your glory shines forth as good news is brought to the poor.

May you be blessed this Advent season, stirred up and unstuck, and may you sing with Mary:

(Art credits: John the Baptist in Prison at Bible Explained; Hinge: Tony Howell photos)

Join in! Share comments or thoughts in the comments section here or on your own blog. Final installment of this retreat coming later today, by LutheranChik

Virtual Advent Retreat Part One

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

I chose to do this section of our virtual retreat because Isaiah is my favorite of the biblical prophets. I love the soaring language, the honesty, the beauty of the poetry, the messianic passages (one commentator notes that there are at least twenty five references to the Messiah in this chapter alone) and the glorious metaphors, piled one after the other in an abundance of visual images that almost overwhelm us.

As I read the passage and began to think about what to share for this year’s virtual Advent retreat, I was focused on those metaphors. Would I talk about the righteous judge? Those evocative animal images? The knowledge of God covering earth like a sea? The wonder of God in flesh, the “shoot”—a fragile, tiny plant--a baby born in David’s line?

Or what about how this Branch would have the Spirit upon him in a way never seen before or since? Such glorious words! Wisdom, understanding, counsel, might and knowledge! Ah, yes! I want those things in my life and ministry! Send the Spirit, Lord! What wonderful choices for writing…

I’m a little sad to relate that what I am about to share is about none of those things. What I couldn’t get away from was that word, fear. He will “delight in the fear of the Lord.” Not only will this expected One fear the Lord, he will even take delight in doing so!

Here is one anonymous person’s definition of what the scriptures call "fear of the Lord: “ Holy fear is worshipful submission, reverential awe, and obedient respect to God.”

It made me think of a conversation in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Two of the characters (Susan and Lucy) were getting ready to meet Aslan the lion. Two talking animals, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, prepare the children for the experience.

"Ooh," said Susan, "A lion? I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie." said Mrs. Beaver. "And make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then isn’t he safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!"

God becoming flesh and dwelling among us turned out to be anything but safe. Yet Jesus the Messiah could take delight in worshipful submission, reverential awe, and obedient respect to God. His obedience required more than any of us will even have to give, yet it was his delight. It was the source from which all else in the passage flows.

For Reflection
Worshipful submission: Am I submissive and worshipful on the outside while the inside is anything but? Or has submission to God become a genuine joy? How does worshipful submission look in my life at this moment and time? Is it a delight or a chore? Why?
Obedient respect: Philippians 2:12-13 says, “So...just as you have always out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, [enabling you] both to will and to act for His good purpose.” In what areas do I need to cooperate with what God is doing in me? Am I willing to obey, even when it costs me? Why "fear and trembling?" Why is it such serious business?
Reverential awe: How long since I was genuinely in awe of God? What did it look like? Feel like? Sound like?

You, O Lord, the almighty, glorious, holy, wise, Creator, want to work in us. This thought alone is amazing! As we consider this, we realize anew how fragile we are, how prone to take your gifts lightly, how quick to forget your goodness. Remind us that you are not safe-- but you are good. As we embark upon the season of darkness becoming light, we ask you to do your work. Together we acknowledge that if we mean these words we may, like Jesus was, be led to a place that is uncomfortable to look at, things that are difficult to hear, or choices that are not easy to make. We submit to You. We also know that we may also be led to a place of joy unspeakable and full of glory. We ask that as we spend time with you the Spirit of the LORD will rest on us—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord. May this become our delight. Amen

All are welcome to participate in this retreat, and to leave a comment on the meditations, either here or at your own blog, Facebook page, etc.

Additional reflections will appear throughout the day by Mary Beth and LutheranChik.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Prayer: Advent 1A, Sixteen Days of Prayer to End Domestic Violence

(Monsoon sunset: photo by mompriest)

May we walk in the light of God
Who calls people of all nations
To turn their swords into plowshares
To turn their anger into gentleness
To waken to a new way of living

May we walk in the light of God
Who calls people of every house
To turn their anger into gentleness
To take closed fists and open them
Open hands of grace and peace
Awakening to a new way of loving

Guide our human love of sport
Especially football, statistically
Associated with inebriated violence
in homes, sport turned to fists
Fists turned to faces, women, broken
May our choices keep all safe

Pray for those who suffer from
All forms of violence and abuse
Pray for the power of God to
Prevail at an unexpected hour
To rise, the arbitrator of grace
Awakening new life, new hope

May we walk in the light of God
And create a world where women
Are not beaten, girls not abused
Men who waken to the love of God
Immanuel, God with us
Immanuel, God love us

May we walk in the light of God.

Crossposted on RevGalPrayerPals "A Place for Prayer" and SeekingAuthenticVoice.

More on Sixteen Days of Prayer to End Domestic Violence HERE

This prayer was originally written for and is published here

Saturday, November 27, 2010

11th Hour Preachers Party: Only God Knows! (Advent 1A)

(winter sunset somewhere south of Tucson, Arizona, taken by mompriest)

Our text this week have a hint of the apocalypse - of one being taken and one left, of not knowing the day or the hour, of only God knowing what is to come. In many ways these texts have been misused and misunderstood through the ages. And yet for us they usher in the season of Advent.

This is the time of waiting, of the deep dark starless night, of indigo blue, winter,a time of preparing for the Incarnation, of wondering "how will the Christ be born anew in us this year?" Indeed, no one knows the day or the hour when Christ will come and turn our hearts to God.

Some of us are also thinking about the "16 days" campaign, Sixteen Days of Activism to End Domestic Violence which begins on Sunday. For more information go here.

And, as if that were not enough, those of us in the US are finishing our Thanksgiving weekend, a time of feasting and family, and giving thanks for the many blessings of life.

So, a lot on our plates! Where are the texts taking you this week? How is the Spirit speaking into your ponderings and prayers?

Pull up a chair and join our party! We come with coffee and tea. We bring generous hearts of sharing ideas, of helping when one is stuck, of reading your sermon and leaving comments (if that would be helpful), of offering prayer, of being here late at night if that is how your sermon comes together. I have a delicious spread this morning - homemade cinnamon rolls and pumpkin bread with cream cheese icing, apples, pears, and bananas. Join us.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Five: Pie-ola!!!

We had three pies planned for a six-person Thanksgiving dinner, and there was some anxiety on my part about the need one had for gluten-free crusts. I worried, you see, that we would have pies no one liked, or run out of the one "good" pie (you know, with gluten). There was a last-minute trip to buy more pie crust that failed (sold out!). Then early on Thanksgiving morning, the phone rang. It was my neighbor, saying she wanted to bring something over. It was a beautiful maple pumpkin pie!

Now we were all set.

Later in the day, the doorbell rang unexpectedly. Someone said, "It's a pie delivery!"

And sure enough, it was a relative stopping by, and he had a pecan pie for us. Pie-ola!!!

Please answer these five questions about pie:
1) Are pies an important part of a holiday meal?
2) Men prefer pie; women prefer cake. Discuss.
3) Cherries--do they belong in a pie?
4) Meringue--if you have to choose, is it best on lemon or chocolate?
5) In a chicken pie, what are the most compatible vegetables? Anything you don't like to find in a chicken pie?

If you play the Friday Five at your blog and would like visitors, be sure to share a link here, using the following formulation:

<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to, click here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Dealing with Grown Children's Decisions

The issue of raising children can become a particularly difficult one for a pastor leading a congregation - in addition to the ways congregational demands can conflict with parental demands, there is the added issue of how the child is leading a public life she or he did not choose. We ministers knew (somewhat!) what we were getting into in taking on this public life, but the child doesn't have a choice, and the public scrutiny over his or her behavior can become quite difficult to deal with. 

It can be difficult for the minister as well, as we become concerned over how our child's behavior reflects not only on our parenting but on our spiritual leadership. Our question today comes from a minister and mother in that position - What does the minister do when her grown child makes a decision that seems contrary, or might seem contrary to parishioners, to Christian values? She writes:

My 18 year old daughter has decided to move in with her current boyfriend.  Aside from all the normal reasons that this is an extremely bad idea, as a woman in ministry, I am dealing with the theological/ministrial ramifications of her move.  There is the broader question of how to minister to other parents dealing with the same reality, and how to minister to couples who have decided for whatever reason that marriage is not an option and choose to live together.  And then there are practical matters - for example: how do I handle visits from daughter and boyfriend, especially extended stays where they would reasonably expect to stay overnight. 

This whole issue has got me so confused that I cannot even really frame what I want to ask.  People choose to live together.  That's a fact.  Yet, in my mind and in my personal morality, I believe that living together is not "God's best" for a couple who could legally marry, but chooses not to (not that my daughter and her boyfriend are anywhere near that type of commitment).   And yes, I worry about what this arrangement might say to my (future) congregation. 

As a mother and a woman in ministry, how do I handle her living arrangement?  Can you answer the questions which I am too emotionally involved to be able ask?

Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, responds:
I am hesitant to say very much – as I’m well aware that as I have a daughter who is 16 years old, I may yet face this kind of situation, but haven’t so far!

But from outside of this situation, I want to say as ministers of the gospel we need to show the love and challenge of God in everything we do, so far as we’re able. This includes our family. You love your daughter, you want what’s best for her and you also want her to learn to live her own life and make her own decisions. 

It sounds as though you want to offer her the sort of unconditional love that will always welcome her back (and you don’t get more gospel than that) but fear being misunderstood by others in the church. Are there one or two people in the church to whom you can tell the whole story and confide in, who can then reassure anyone else who feels they are concerned that you are doing the right thing? (Let’s face it, very few people are going to ask questions to your face, so you need to have your ‘friends’ around to field those questions).

By way of encouragement, I have seen other mothers go through this decision and emerge with a wonderful relationship to their daughter, a few years down the line, because they have always kept the door open for the daughter to come back home. And if it’s good enough for the father of the prodigal son, it’s good enough for me – and should be good enough for any church.
Prayers for you – as minister and as mother.

Jennifer writes:
This is a sensitive question, especially as you try to balance the needs of your daughter, yourself and the sensibilities of the congregation.

I hope you’re able to talk with your daughter. As much conversation as your relationship can stand is probably a very good thing. Share your views, listen to hers, and model openness and love.

With respect to visiting, I think it’s wise to suggest sleeping arrangements that make you feel comfortable (it is your home!) and to talk with your daughter and her partner before they arrive.

With respect to your congregation, it’s hard to tell from your question to us how near or far away your daughter is, the size of your congregation, how widespread the knowledge of your daughter’s arrangements will be, and how much or little this will trouble your congregation. It’s clear that it’s troubling to you. Again, how open you choose to be will model a conversation you can have with anyone who wishes to engage with you. Why not practice having such a conversation with a trusted colleague in ministry in your area? Perhaps you can work out some of your concerns with them, and think together about how much or how little you would choose to share with your congregation.

Blessings to you!

Dorcas offers:
Ah, it is difficult to have to deal with family issues from two perspective: the personal one, just like every other mom would need to do, and then the issue of being a church leader….etc. etc. etc.  My heart goes out to you.  My short answer is LOVE.  And some detachment.  Ah, that detachment part is so hard.  But necessary.  You still love her, but your relationship is going to change, and for your own emotional, spiritual, mental health, you have to find a little distance.

I don’t mean to be trite or simplistic, but I expect your daughter already knows how you feel about this arrangement.  If she doesn’t then the loving thing to do is sit down and have a heart to heart talk and be honest.  Assuming this has happened, I think you should proceed in the way you would (as much as possible) as you would do with any other person(s).  You aren’t cutting her, or boyfriend, out of your life it seems.  Good!  What would you do with other unmarried couples who visit?  How would you talk to them?  What would you expect of them?   Where would they sleep?

Perhaps thinking of it this will help you disconnect a bit from your emotional reaction.  Should you pretend?  No.  Should you lecture?  No.  Should you ignore the obvious?  No.  How that works out in practical ways is a personal decision that you will come to, I am sure, with God’s grace and help.

As far as future church leadership, I hope you will find a place where the people are mature enough to understand that your daughter is not you.  What parent has not experienced a beloved child doing something of which they would not approve?  All of us have, and like any other painful life experience, it just may increase your ability to minister, not lessen it.  As a fellow pastor said to me years ago when my own beloved daughter was involved in a very questionable relationship, “Humankind had the perfect parent.  And still blew it.” In my own daughter’s case, she emerged a sadder, and more wounded, but wiser woman.  I hope your daughter will soon see what the better choice could be.    

Prayers going up for you and your daughter and her boyfriend. 

Muthah+ writes:
This is less a 'pastor's problem' than the problem of all Christian parents in  a time of changing mores.  I have a grandniece who bought a house with with her boy friend and THEN got engaged.  I have married many a family who already had had children.  How younger people approach marriage is different than my generation did.  That is all there is to it. 

Over the years, I have found my attitude toward marriage has changed. I am still drawn to those couples who love each other, have learned how to be equitable with each other and have learned how to support one another through tough times and the joys.  I have never married but have lived in community with another pastor colleague for 32 years.  It is hard to live with another when the total reason for sharing one's life is sexual attraction.  It helps, but there has to be more.  And all too often we find that marriages of the young are based more on sex, than the kind of respect and honor that makes for mature realtionship and holy marriage.  At the same time, I have seen wonderful relationships grow from those immature matches.  I don't believe in premarital sex--but it goes on.  And as a pastor I have to deal with it as a reality.

I am wondering how much your own concerns about how you are going to be seen in your own parish are at the center of your question:  You will be judged by those in your congregation: "How can SHE tell us how to raise our children if she can't control her own family?" But God has never asked us to be perfect, and never asked us to have perfect children. More often this is more of a judgement that we pastors fear than what our parishioners would ever demand of us.  You have no control of an 18 year old--you know that and your parish knows that.  Your distress will be seen by your parish and they will understand.  And how you welcome your daughter and boyfriend home with open arms as did the father in the Prodigal Son will say volumns to her and your congregation.  It might even say something to you. 

Look for the growth in your daughter and the good that is developing.  Look for the way that she is making decisions and point out the admiration you have for her.  If her relationship is going south, in the words of Thumper, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  Just remind her of the loving parent you are and will always be there when she needs help.

Our faith is rooted in a loving relationship with Christ.  Our ethics need to be rooted in relationship too rather than rather arcane standards that do not promote good health or love.  Treat them as married if you need to understand the relationship that is building between them.  The ceremony may be delayed, but learn to respect her boyfriend as part of your family.  This may be a trial marriage for them.  Then again, it may blossom into something good and holy.  But it is the relationships that make for good ethics, let them grow.

And Sue offers:
I hear what you're saying, and that probably makes me the least appropriate person to respond. My feeling on this one is that *you* are the minister, not your daughter.

She is an adult, and the choices she makes, while perhaps not totally in sync with 
some of your members, there will be many in the pews who either don't know or if they do know, won't care one way or the other.

If another parent comes to you with concerns about their own children, 
you can certainly listen with an understanding ear, giving you a certain pastoral gift that those parents might really appreciate. At the end of the day though, no matter how much we might wish it were otherwise, once our children reach adulthood, we cannot live their lives for them. All we can do is continue to love them through all of their joys and sorrows. If they always know that you have their back and trust their judgment (even when it isn't what you would have chosen to do), I promise you, they will love you back because of it.

If the live-in relationship falls apart, your daughter will know where to go for nurture and motherly love. If you fight with her on the issue, she'll go and grieve elsewhere.  That's just the way it is. Without that respect for your child as an emerging adult, the communication lines may get seriously messed up. Honestly, if I had my choice of pleasing someone in church looking down their noses at the life of someone in my family (as if it's any of their business - and I do NOT believe that it is) - OR - having the love and trust of that family member? I would take the love and trust of my family over the crabby church person any day. Churches come and go, but your daughter will always be your daughter.

Should anyone in the church ask about the living arrangements, you are perfectly within your rights to say "
Thank you for asking. My daughter and her partner are very happy, but the details of their relationship are really a private matter." To say that is honest, and not the least bit rude or inappropriate. I'll repeat what I said earlier - *you* are the minister - and ministers, like other professionals in other vocations, have a right to keep private family matters private.

I guess that's all I've got. Keep talking to your daughter. Be honest about how you feel, but also tell her that she's old enough to trust her own intuition and use her best judgment on this matter. Ask her to pray on it. Perhaps you can pray about it together.

Blessings to you and your family.


Wow! What a great wealth of wisdom our matriarchs have offered in response to this difficult decision. Thank you so much to our wonderful matriarchs for taking the time to offer such thoughtful answers, especially during a week that is, for many of them, a holiday week. I will tuck these answers away for reading again when my own children are a bit older!

What of the rest of you? What is your experience with this? What advice might you offer? Please share in the comments section. And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

US Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Shopping...A Challenge

(image courtesy of the Buy Nothing Day 2010 Toolkit. Black Friday is also Buy Nothing Day.)

Gord shares on his blog a challenge issued to his local community. Even though he's in Canada, where they've already had Thanksgiving (in October), this is a great pre-US-Thanksgiving, pre-Black Friday, pre-Advent thought. Advent Conspiracy, anyone?

Fellow Residents of Grande Prairie:

In just over a month Christmas will be here. And so we are in the midst of the annual advertising blitz encouraging us to buy buy buy. On our TV screens, through our radio speakers, in pop-up windows on-line, and in the mountain of flyers within the folds of this paper each day we get told of the great deals just waiting for us to make our choice and put our money (or likely our plastic) down.

There is, of course, nothing really wrong with wanting to buy gifts for family and friends. But the Christmas commercialism blitz has gone over the edge. In the US the Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. Originally this was in reference to the fact that the holiday season is what puts many retailers in the black for the year. But for some of us it has a darker meaning.

What does it mean to buy so much stuff that we really do not need? Is it good stewardship of the world's resources to amass more stuff when so many people both near and far struggle to have life's basic necessities? Is that really the best way to celebrate the season?

Several years ago we determined that it wasn't. And so I am sharing with you a challenge I made to myself. For the last 4 years I have committed to donating at least half as much (often closer to 100%) as we spend on Christmas gifts for our daughters to charity. I challenge all of you to make the same commitment. Imagine the benefit to our favourite charities
if every family in Grande Prairie gave a Christmas gift this way each year!
How are you preparing for the holidays and for Advent? I encourage you to plan to spend some time on Monday of next week at the RevGalBlogpals' Virtual Advent Retreat.
Share your thoughts in the comments. If you'd like to link to a blog post, you can use this formulation: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to, click here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: "People Get Ready" Edition

Texts for Sunday can be found here .

How odd it is, in the midst of the building secular holiday madness, to be thinking about the second coming of the Son of Man...but that's Advent for you; at least the first week. But also in our texts we hear that broader eschatological longing for a time whe God will decisively intervene in our history to mend our broken condition.

For those of us preaching or worship-planning this Sunday -- what are these texts saying to us? How do they touch on the fears and longings of our people? In a world where Christmas is principally about "stuff," and is already ramping up to full-tilt-boogie mode weeks before Christmas Day -- what needed, divinely subversive counterpoint are we hearing in the lessons?

As always, we welcome your ideas and comments. And to get you in that preparatory frame of mind, here is the late Eva Cassiday's wonderful cover of a familiar song about "getting ready."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Virtual Advent Retreat next Monday

Worn out by the holiday season already, when it's not even Thanksgiving?

Plan to take a day for retreat with the RevGalBlogPals. You can take part from home or your local coffee shop. Next Monday, November 29th, we will offer three posts delving into the readings for Advent 2, 3 and 4. You can read them at your own pace over the course of the day. Respond in the comments, or write something on your own blog and link to it through our comments.

We're planning a similar retreat for Lent.

(If you're waiting to hear from me about joining the ring, don't worry! Meet and Greet will return in December.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Prayer: Christ the King Sunday!

On this day we pray, to the God of many names
A righteous branch through whom we grow, roots to trees, in faith
A Shepherd who calls, leads, pushes, finds us -
The Lord God of Israel, who names us –
made in Your image!
God, prophet of the Most High.
God, Lord of Hosts!
God of Jacob!
God, invisible God,
Head of the body,
Christ the King,
The Church,
The beginning.
The firstborn from the dead.
God, of many names, to you we pray.

We will not fear,
Our refuge and our strength,
we are never lost.
Who, arms stretched wide
abandoned all illusions
of security, the cross.

Mother God, Father God,
Brother, sister, friend,
Savior, Merciful One
Holy One,
God of many names.

Our helper.
Bless us, all –
With mercy
Love and grace.
Fill us, all –
With mercy
Love and grace.
Prepare us,
Startle us

Crossposted on A Place for Prayer and SeekingAuthenticVoice

Saturday, November 20, 2010

11th Hour Preacher Party: Christ the King/Reign of Christ Edition

Good morning, gals and pals!  (or, good "midde-of-the-night", depending on when you are reading this).  Here's the first burning question of the day:  What do you call it?  Christ the King? or Reign of Christ?  Discuss.

I have put on the requisite blueberry pancakes for you this morning, along with (drumroll please) turkey sausage, because it's such a special weekend.   There's orange juice and fair trade coffee too.  Now, let's get to the preaching, please.

There may be false shepherds to deal with, or the two thieves on the cross, or the invisible but almighty king.  There are many directions for preaching, or just one:  which is it?  I'm curious. 

You will find some initial thoughts on the texts here.  And I hope you will find a good party, all day, HERE. 

Please share an idea, or ask a question, share your activities, or bring a dish to pass.

And oh, by the way, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?  (both worship-wise and fun-wise)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Five: Unexpected Thanks

With the American holiday of Thanksgiving being less than a week away, I tried to think of some questions for Friday Five that could be connected to this, but in a new way. So here is my one try:

Name five things that were unexpected in your life that you are now grateful for.

As always, let us know in comments if you play. Post a direct link to your blog entry in your comment with the formula I can never print out--click here for the info about it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Theological Conflict

Our question this week is a doozy! How do you handle someone who sees her primary function in the congregation as being to correct the pastor and the congregation? I have been there, done that, and I don't think I handled it particularly well! Let's see what our matriarchs have to say. Here is our question:

How do you deal with someone who uses a literal Biblical interpretation to challenge your leadership? Not simply because you are female, but because you, the leader, do not interpret the Bible the same way as they do?

Muthah+ responds:
Ahhh, dear sister these are the kind of parishioners that try one’s soul!  With that said, I would suggest you try a few things: 

1.     Do not try to teach her.  She already has her mind made up.  Let her say the things that she is going to say.  If it is in small groups, allow her to say her peace but call her to listen to others as best you can. Get her to describe how God acts in her life if you can.  It will tell you volumes about her if she is willing to do it.
2.     Do not engage her with Scripture.  She is not in the same place you are. But try to treat her with UPMOST respect.  Agree with her that she has one way of looking at Scripture, doctrine or what have you and then point out that there is more than one point of view.  (In my Father’s house…..)  She has already alienated many by her way of thinking and she is acting in great defense of what she has “always known.”
3.     The way that these who are set in their ways are finally turned around is by continued love no matter what they say or do.  If you are exaggeratedly kind, if you are always welcoming even when she attacks, she will be seen for what she is: a very frightened woman whose whole world is coming apart around her.  She wants her life controllable, and it isn’t.  She wants to be an authority and she isn’t.  She wants to live life by the lights her parents or early teachers taught her and she is in a new world.  It is my opinion that for almost 3 generations we clergy types have not taken on the responsibility of teaching Scripture in a way that the laity can engage it from a critical method, and we are now reaping the reward of people who are angry when the younger clergy arrive with NEW FANGLED ideas.   Mea Culpa!
 I remember when I was in seminary 30 years ago, I exclaimed to my mother, then in her late 60’s, how much new stuff I was learning about Scripture.  And she said “How can there be anything NEW about Scripture?”  That is where many of our laity is especially in our smaller churches where there has not always been the best adult education.
There is also something you can do for yourself.  She is attacking you because you represent “the Church” to her. You ARE an authority to her even if she isn’t quite willing to give it to you.  If you can be kind to her even when she is being a pain, you will gain so much.  The parish is looking at you to model how to handle her and how to handle all the others in their lives that disagree or won’t listen, or hold different views. You will gain because you will find a new way to deal with conflict and your kindness will spread.   
It is SOOOOOOO hard to do, I know.  But ask Christ in your prayers for forbearance and quietude to galvanize you against her attacks.  Then demand from yourself and from your un-anxious place of prayer a kind of measured attitude of caring.  Do not reach out to her because she will view it as an attack, but kindly say that she is entitled to her opinion.  But also remind her that you have an obligation as an ordained minister of your denomination to teach the doctrine or understanding that is held by the denomination or the majority.  That is what you are ordained to do.  And go on to say that she is always welcome no matter what she believes, but that as for “you and your house, you will follow the Lord” as delineated by the canons or rules of your denomination. 
Be sure to visit her if she is ill (grit your teeth and know that you are earning stars in your crown even if though don’t believe in works righteousness!)  Greet her warmly at services and make sure she is not left out of parish events.  It is how you and I want to be dealt with when we disagree with what is going on in the Church.   
I am preaching to myself, here.  These were the souls who were the banes of my existence while I was in active ministry but this method works.  The leader of my denomination (Episcopal) is a woman who has been vilified by some parts of our world-wide communion.  She has won so many to her by not rising to the bait that the nay-sayers have thrown at her.  She stays collected and centered in a prayerful way of looking at life with wonder.  I am awed by her example and share it because she has been able to do what often I failed at.  I will keep you in prayer.

And Mompriest offers:

I have found that there are some people who hold a hard line in their understanding of who God is. For these people there is nothing I can say to persuade them of a more expansive understanding of God. Such thinking is of the head. And anything that moves a person to a deeper understanding of a loving God must come from the heart. How to move someone’s heart? And how to preserve your leadership when it is challenged in this way? The only thing I know to work is to offer opportunities for a parish wide conversation and learning opportunities.

Have you offered adult teaching and Bible study using resources that help people learn, from other sources, how to understand the Bible. I’m thinking here of resources like Education For Ministry (EFM) it’s an Episcopal, four year, Bibles study. Mentors are trained through University of South in Sewanee, TN or a local Episcopal site. But I don’t think it is only for Episcopalians. Other sources include books from the New Church’s Teaching series. Books like “Opening the Bible” by  Roger Ferlo and “Engaging the Word” by Michael Johnston, are useful to help lay folk understand the Bible. Maybe your denomination has other resources that you could use, knowing that for some Episcopal resources would not be persuasive, although these are VERY good.

In these situations I find it helpful if I can remove myself from the teaching component and let another voice speak. Do you have anyone in your area or denominational leadership who can offer a session or two on Bible study and interpretation? Anyone, other than you, who can help the congregation understand that good and faithful Christians often have different understandings of what the Bible is teaching us – BECAUSE it is a living tool, the living Word of God, that still breathes in and through us.

Some other options – one more costly, one free:

When my small congregation struggled with something like this I called in the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center to lead us in a Samoan Circle. It’s a facilitated conversation with one of their trained leaders and cost us about $1000.00, and that was only because my church and the Mennonites were nearby, so no transportation or hotel. Essentially it went like this: the facilitator speak ahead of time with a number of parishioner and leaders to gain some insight into what we were dealing with (understanding of scripture as it pertains to GLBT people and specifically the ordination of an openly partnered Bishop). Then on a specific day the facilitator and as many parishioners as desired gathered at the church. We set the room on in one large circle of chairs. Two chairs were placed in the center of the circle, facing each other. On the side the facilitator led the group and I took notes on newsprint. One person, whoever desired, would decide to speak and choose another to listen. Those two would move to the center and sit in the chairs facing each other. The one who wanted to speak would say what they needed to say. The other listened. When the speaker finished the listener said, “I heard you say...”.and then the person would repeat as close to word for word as possible. Then say, “Is that what you said?” If so then they were finished and went back to their chairs. Another person would then get up and choose another listener. The pattern would repeat until everyone who wanted to speak had the chance to speak and be heard.

What became clear to my congregation, without me saying a word, is that there were a number of people who had really strong hardline opinions, while the rest of the congregation was much more open and generous. They learned a lot from one another. I do not recommend doing this without a skilled facilitator which enables you to observe and helps others feel safe.

Another option is to use a module for a conversation that I have been working on. It is a longer process and uses story, the sharing of story to help people learn about one another. Essentially each person comes to the session(s) with a prepared 3 minute story on how language has impacted their understanding of God, self, and others. (There is a more detailed prompt question). You could change the prompt question if it is too general for your purposes. The module then leads the group through a method of story sharing, listening, a small group conversation about what was heard, and then a process for what comes next. This module is part of the Expansive Language Project I have been working on. You can learn more about it here: Words Matter.  And, there is an email address you can use to contact me on the profile of that blog (tecwordsmatter at gmail dot com).

I hope the other matriarchs have some good suggestions for you. While I have used these resources and processes and they have worked for me, it is hard hard work. Work that may mean that you will be better off looking for a new call, a better fit, than you are trying to work through this. But that is your call. I pray the congregation can be more expansive than this person and you can all learn from one another.


Wow! Thank you to our matriarchs for their very thorough and well-thought-out responses. What wisdom do the rest of you have to offer? What mistakes have you made in this sort of situation? What good choices have you made in this sort of situation? Please share in our comments section. And, as always, if you have a question you would like the matriarchs to address, please send it to us as askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.