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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Advent Chapel

Today's Wednesday Festival celebrates a wonderful initiative of the Diocese of Montreal.  Four friends of RevGals have set up a wonderful "oasis of calm in a hectic mall / Une oasis de calme dans un monde frénét..." (the site is bilingual.)  Do visit the site, which describes the project and has Advent reflections as well.  Also, please friend them on Facebook, and pray for the endeavor. 

The Advent Chapel is an outreach ministry of the Diocese of Montreal located in the old Diocesan Book Room space in the Promenades Cathédrale mall. This space will be set up to offer shoppers and others a ministry of presence in the mall: “an oasis of calm in a hectic mall.”

The chapel will be staffed by volunteers, and offer visitors hot drinks, crafts and toys, information on Anglican parishes and ministries as well as space for prayer, meditation and holy conversation. Mostly, the space will offer a break from the noise and pressure of the mall – a chance to sit down, rest, and collect one’s thoughts.

The chapel will be open December 1 – 24, 2011 on Thursdays and Fridays from 3 pm-9pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 pm.

Follow the evolution of the project through our general updates.

You can see where we’re starting from (including a video introduction) in The “Before” Picture.

Would you like to pitch in? There are a few things you could do to help out.

The Promenades Cathédrale mall is located underground underneath Christ Church Cathedral, at McGill metro.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary leanings -- Voice in the Wilderness (week 1) Edition

Advent 2
Oh Goody!  John the Baptist!  Again.

Actually John fascinates me.  But do we really need to read about him twice every Advent season?

But before we immerse ourselves in worship prep, let us pray:
Into the wildernesses of the world,
God speaks through wild men and prophets.
Into the chaos of the world,
God promises peace that shall be.
Into the noise of the world,
God calls to God’s people, calling them together for comfort and challenge.
God, the world is filled with troubles,
we pray for peace to fill the world.
God, sometimes we have trouble finding the path,
we pray for voices to remind us what is possible, to remind us which way to go.
God, in this time of worship,
move among us, fill us with hope, remind us that new life is being born in our world. We pray in the name of Jesus, whose birth we await and who taught his friends to pray saying...

 Now we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Lectionary readings for Advent 2B are found here.

Are you drawn to Isaiah's words of comfort to a people in exile?  With the added benefit that there is some great music to go with that passage (including some from Handel's Messiah).  OR are you working with 2 Peter and either really long days or really short years?  Or then of course there is our friend John.

John the Baptist
My NT prof in seminary often commented that, in light of verse 6, he was tempted to write a book on fashion and diet according to John the Baptist.  Think that'd sell?

In many places the 2nd of Advent is the Sunday of Peace.  How does John fit in with peace? Admittedly it might be easier to talk about John and peace in Mark's version where we really don't hear about the full content of John's preaching.  OTOH, who are the voices crying in the wilderness today?  Who are the ones announcing the coming of the Lord.  And besides saying that they are crazy or ill or misinformed or naive what do we as a society do with them today?

Or maybe Advent is taking you out of Lectionary land into a different way of getting ready for the baby to be born.  Share your vision with us who sometimes tire of the Lectionary approach (and those of us who find the Lectionary rather unhelpful as a tool to help prepare the way).

I also note that this Thursday is World AIDS Day.  Will that impact your worship this week?  In Canada next Tuesday is the 22nd anniversary of a massacre and ever since then Dec 6 has been marked as White Ribbon Day.  How do events like this change our view of Christmas Peace?

I look forward to "hearing" in the comments where worship is taking folks this week...

Monday, November 28, 2011

RevGalBookPals: The Friends We Keep

          Last year around this time, I bought a Fisher-Price nativity set to use with children at church. Then my son absconded with it and now I do not know where most of the set is. Last week, I said to my husband in regard to the set, “I have not seen Jesus since March.” (What kind of pastor says that?) It’s true, though. Within twenty minutes, I can find the most popular parts of the set at our house (and maybe yours). All of the animals are in regular play rotation. The donkey, the cow, the dog and the sheep all have roles in the pretend world of toddler play at my house.
The animals that witnessed the birth of the Savior of the world are bus passengers, log house residents, and obstacles for trains and cars to pass just in time. This is the opposite of what happens in most of congregations, wherein the animals are trotted out to be sure everyone gets a part in the Christmas pageant and then we do not think of them again. Perhaps your congregation has a Blessing of the Animals or another service. Yet, what is the role that animals play in our theology and in the lives of our congregations?
It was with this question in mind that I read The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals. Laura Hobgood-Oster tackles the problematic history of how Christian theology became human-centric and the very real notion that salvation for all means all creation, not simply all humankind.
Early in the book, Hobgood-Oster shares the story of the death of her dog, Beaugart. She explains his significance to her life and faith:

Beaugart and I were companions in a relationship that I have no doubt was sacred. If anyone denies this, I will stand up and cite the most hopeful aspects of the history of the church and my understanding of God as a foundation to this claim calmly and surely: that God was made concrete in the relationship between Beaugart and me. With his death, I cried, I hurt, I grieved. But I would not have given up those years of companionship and joy for anything… I believe it is this connection, this gift of enduring presence and love, that is sacred. In these relationships we find God. (41)

            For those of us who have (or have had) companion animals of any kind, this passage has a particular resonance. Even without a history with pets, many of us know of someone whose animal is their support and comfort. Our connection to companion animals is somewhat obvious, but Hobgood-Oster points out that animals are still harmed in the breeding and marketing of pets. Puppy mills and backyard breeding create unwanted animals that are often sacrificed in the pursuit of having a “perfect pet”. Additionally, people often fail to research breed or species specifics and end up with more than they expected. Many animals that are born to be pets end up being killed because there simply was not a place for them to go.
            It is easier to end lives when we view the “other” as wholly different from ourselves. It has been this way between humans and animals for most of human history, but it has also been this way between human beings. Hobgood-Oster writes:

            Since the earliest days of Christianity and before, sport that involved the bodies of “others”, a complicated category of those both human and animal thought to be expendable, was central to many dominant cultures, including those in the Mediterranean world. Some generalizations about such sports are part of popular Christian legend. We hear about “throwing Christians to the lions,” but the entire story is much more complicated. The dominant members of those societies would select those who were exploitable and expendable and put them into the gladiatorial arena for entertainment. In the first several centuries of the Common Era, as Christianity was growing slowly throughout the Roman world, those who chose this new religion often faced death alongside animals. (49f)

From here
            Instead of Christians continuing in solidarity with their fellow victims, instead history reveals the bullied becoming the bully. Slowly, scriptural interpretation put human beings at the center of God’s will, God’s plan and God’s salvation. Carrying forward from the Great Chain of Being through to the Enlightenment, we became more focused on God’s work in the world being not just primarily, but solely for and through people. Hobgood-Oster argues that this has happened for a variety of reasons, two of which are increased emphasis on the Word (which involves speaking and hearing as human constructs) and the loss of saints’ hagiographies in common discussion and awareness. She shares many stories from St. Francis and the wolf to St. Brigit and the dog to the ox and ass adoring the infant Jesus in the manger.

            All of these wonderful stories of saints with animals speak loudly to the radical extension of Christian hospitality to all animals… Each of these holy people was closely connected to animals and sought after their well-being; they extended hospitality to the entire creation. Also, as these stories attest, though it has often gone unnoticed in the history of Christianity, humans are not the only ones who offer hospitality. Other animals do so as well, providing safety, food, and companionship to humans. (126)

            As I was reading the book, I had to wrestle with my own internal misgivings each time the author introduced a new story from the lives of the saints. I am not crazy about hagiography and I kind of grind my teeth at the idea of all these animals and people, miraculously living together. Then it dawned on me that this was precisely the point that Hobgood-Oster is trying to make. The time has come to bold in our proclamation of God for all, if this is what we truly believe. Not just all humans, but all creation-from the fluffiest and most photogenic to the tiniest and least visible.
Re-imagined Great Chain of Being
Showing the Interconnectedness of All
            People will dismiss charity to animals or broadening theology to include salvation to all creation by saying that animals do not have reasoning ability (not true), do not have feelings (not true), or are not as important as people (not true). If we ignore the most vulnerable around us (arguably animals), we can easily make the leap from ignoring animals to ignoring people who are somehow less functioning members of society (however that’s determined). As Christians, either every aspect of our live is connected to our faith or none of it is. What’s it going to be with regard to animals?
            According to Laura Hobgood-Oster,

If God is incarnated in Jesus, does that event point to God’s incarnation in all bodies and all creatures? With this deep concept of divine incarnation undergirding the tradition, Christianity is necessarily a religion of compassion; because we are all, humans and others, connected to and in relationship with each other, the God exemplified by this incarnation embodies an ethic of care… While Christianity has historically been a religion of orthodoxy (of right beliefs), when issues of compassion are paramount, it must function as a religion of orthopraxy (of right practice). Right Christian practice in the contemporary world, with the many suffering animals in our midst, calls us to alleviate that suffering and to extend compassion, hospitality, and mutual relationship to all of God’s creatures. (170)

Within The Friends We Keep, Hobgood-Oster also has discussions around horse-racing, dog-fighting and trophy hunting. She includes a provocative and informative chapter on animals as a food source and the uncompassionate ways they are raised until slaughter. Her language is usually straightforward and each chapter stands well on its own, making this a fine book for a multiple session study. She includes discussion questions, ways to respond and become involved and liturgies for animal blessings and funerals. This is an exceptionally long review for a very stimulating book.
So, Rev Gals and Pals, has your congregation expanded its theology to include animals? If so, how did you do it? What are your thoughts on the relationship between how we treat animals and how we treat people? What are your suggestions on how to meet the question, “But aren’t people more important”? Do you think this book is way off the mark or are you putting it on your wishlist today?

RevGal Amy Forbus interviewed Laura Hobgood-Oster about this book and you can read that interview here.

Hobgood- Oster, Laura. The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals. Baylor University Press; Waco, TX. 2010

This book was received from Baylor University Press for review. No compensation was offered to the reviewer, other than the book. No promises were made in exchange for a review copy. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Prayer: Advent 1B

Let us give thanks to God, Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, for all the gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea,
Creator God, we thank you.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Emmanuel, God-with-us,
Gracious God, we thank you.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
Gracious God, we thank you.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
Gracious God, we thank you.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
Gracious God, we thank you.

Sustain the brave and the courageous and comfort those who suffer and face adversity,
Gracious God, hear our prayer.

Guide those who seek to do justice and walk humbly with you,
Gracious God, hear our prayer.

For those who have gone before us, for those who weep this night, and for the dying,
Gracious God, hear our prayer.

Above all, we give you thanks for the promise of your love, born in human form, who comes to us anew,
Gracious God, we give you thanks. Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

One Candle 11th Hour Preacher Party

It's the day before Advent 1, do you know where your candles are?

This year I do, because I was smart enough to buy two boxes last year. But there have been many Advent Eves when I had to find them myself or pray that a Deacon remembered.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we're contemplating the apocalypse (a non-Zombie version) at the same time the world is screaming "Christmas shopping! Christmas shopping!!!" How do we keep hearts and minds on Jesus when the more interesting story seems to be a lady pepper-spraying other customers at Wal-Mart in order to get her an X-Box?

Meanwhile, at my house, it still feels like Thanksgiving, and if you stick around for lunch time, I can promise turkey sandwiches. Here in the liminal space of the Saturday before Advent, we will get our sermons written. Or maybe Sunday for some of you, but let's try, anyway. After all the first Sunday in Advent is Hope.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Free Gifts- Friday Five

Following on from Thanksgiving, and picking up the "Black Friday" theme of boycotting the Christmas rush for bargains I thought it would be good to set a simple Friday Five yet one to get you thinking. I am sure that you'll agree that some of the best gifts we receive do not come in fancy wrapping paper but might be the gift of an unexpected afternoon with a friend or coming across a long forgotten photograph, or- well the list is endless...

So take a bit of time to think back over the last year and ponder the gifts it has offered to you, then list five of those gifts, in no particular order- there is only one rule- all of these gifts must have been free, neither you nor anyone else should have spent money on them!

(Picture by Tim Coleman, more at his blog Images and Stuff)

As always, let us know in comments if you play. Even better, get in the habit of posting a direct link to your blog entry in your comment, 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 24, 2011

Ask The Matriarch - Thanksgiving 2011

We had no questions in the queue this week, so one of our matriarchs has a question for all of you...she has several questions, actually!

 Muthah+ asks... I would like to know what folks are doing for Thanksgiving--going to family, having family over, getting away, having some quiet time? What are you going to have for Thanksgiving dinner? Are there some special recipes you reserve for this gathering?  What are you going to do when not eating or preparing? Watch football, play with grandchildren, catch up with family and friends, work at local Thanksgiving Dinner program? 

Let us know what you are up to on this day of giving thanks. And remember - with the Matriarchs there are no Black Friday-esque waits in long lines at the moment!  The mailbox and the matriarchs are waiting for a question from YOU!  Send it to us here.

 May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Is There Any Holy in Holiday Any More?

Hotcup mused recently at her blog about the tensions between Christmas celebrations and Christmas worship...and navigating those as a pastor.  Please join in the conversation in comments here, or at Hotcup's Happenings...and if you blog about this at your own place, do leave a link. 

it was a random, yet not so random conversation. it was about the holidays, Christmas to be specific and how this young newlywed couple would be spending it. it's hard when you first set out to figure where you go when...especially if there's a her side, a his side, the other side and what not. families are intricate. in the course of conversation, i tried to dig a bit and guide gently and ask "so what is at the heart of the holiday for you? i mean what matters most?"

rather unsurprisingly there was no mention of church. worship. Jesus. o holy night. nothing like that. curious i thought. time with family became the #1 thing that mattered  most. okay yeah... families are important, i get that... except of course the holy family, because very few people seem to make the connection between them and the holiday... aside from you know a cute little baby.

 grrr...  i have organists who are in a feud about who plays when for Christmas because no one wants to give up time with their family...  folks complain about the time of worship interfering with their opening of gifts or their family's soup supper. really people? Christmas is about you after all. so i say let's not have "services" at specific times. the hell with it. we'll just leave church open for quiet meditation on Christmas eve... this way people can come when they want. and while they are here they can do what they want. they can sing the hymn they adore, which for some reason didn't make the worship bulletin.

there are far too many silly expectations! what happened to a yearning to connect to the divine? perhaps then this is my calling for worship... to help them make the connection. to help them look beyond the soup and packages. to help them open themselves up to the reality that this is not about them... and only them. that really it is about all of us... even the people we find repulsive. even the people who have done horrible things. didn't this child come for them too? and because he did, can't we just empty out some of that hatred we've been carrying around... for "those" people... *sigh*

it's a crappy time of year to be a pastor. i know other pastors face the exact same predicament. but i'm wondering if anything we do in worship, matters anymore? do words just fill the air and ride away on a breeze? why worry about crafting worship as an experience... when folks just want to sing their favorite carols, watch the children be cute and go home? because it's shallow... and the world is filled with shallowness...  the mysteries of god are so much deeper, and that scares most. they don't want to go there... and yet deep down, i think they do... they're just afraid of what they might discover. it's a raw, emotionally raw time of year. i'm having trouble navigating. anyone else?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings--Advent Already!!!!!???? Edition

Advent 1
And welcome to Year B everyone!

AS we celebrate our New Year, let us open with prayer (prayer found here):
God of justice and peace,
from the heavens you rain down mercy and kindness,
that all on earth may stand in awe and wonder
before your marvelous deeds.
Raise our heads in expectation,
that we may yearn for the coming day of the Lord
and stand without blame before your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. 

Coming back?
How many of us have had to explain (or ask) why we begin Advent with readings pointing to the "end-times"?
12 years ago, when I was on internship, I called the lay reader during this pre-Advent week to tell her what the readings were.  Her comment was "they better not be depressing".  That Sunday I opened the sermon by relating that story and pointing out that we did have the less depressing part of Mark 13.  Afterward she came up and agreed that I was right on that count (but still felt that the readings were less that uplifting).  The A1B readings are found here

So how is your worship community beginning the time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child?  Maybe a focus on Isaiah's vision of heaven being torn open?  Or Mark and the stars falling from heaven?  OR will you talk about some other way of preparing for Christmas?  Are you having a Hanging of the Greens service at some point or will the decorating happen at some other time, to be ready when people arrive for worship?

And what about candles and wreaths?  Any great ideas for candle liturgies out there?  And for those who follow them, what order are Hope Peace Joy and Love really in?  I swear they changed it every year while I was growing up.

Is the time right?
Share your wisdom on Advent and candles, and waiting for the Coming (or 2nd Coming) in the comments....

In the Dark (a Monday Extra)

In the Northern Hemisphere, the days are drawing in, and that can be tough for some of us. This beautiful sermon was posted last week by our ring member, MaineCelt. I'm proud to be her advisor in the ordination process in the United Church of Christ and wanted to share her work with you. May it minister to us all on this shortened Monday.

In the Dark: A Celtic New Year Sermon

(I was invited to be a "guest preacher" last Sunday at my home church. It always seems a bit funny to serve the role of a guest when I'm already part of the family there! Since this month marks the start of the "dark half" of the Celtic year, and since one of this Sunday's lectionary readings talks a lot about light and darkness, it seemed natural to dwell on the interplay of shortening days and lengthening nights.) 

Sermon for Proper 28A: In The Dark
(based on I Thessalonians 5:1-11, NRSV)

Every morning, as the light reaches in between the dark spines of the trees on the ridge, we watch and wait. First the rays of pale gold stretch across the dark hollow of our farm to touch the trees on Gloucester Ridge. Then, slowly, the angle of the light changes and dips down to gild the empty branches of the ash tree, the oaks, and the maples on our own land. Finally, the light spreads to the cold earth itself, and the hard edges of the frost begin to melt off the pasture grasses. One of us ambles down to survey the situation, then returns to the wood-fired warmth of the house. Every morning, lately, the other one asks the same question: “how many legs?”

We've been waiting for calves to be born. We know what day the bull arrived, but—I hope you don't think I'm being indelicate here—there are certain other details we seem to have missed. It's just as Brother Arnold warned us last year, when we went over to the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community to discuss their own herd of Highland Cattle and get some ideas. We'd told him our tale of woe, about the challenge of finding and affording a vet who could work around those wild-looking, big-horned beasties of ours, to say nothing of the challenge of timing. Brother Arnold nodded his head knowingly. “You won't see many signs of readiness,” he said, “Highland cows are...well, they're very subtle.” 

Subtle, indeed. So, here we are, ten months after the bull moved into the pasture. It takes nine months for a calf to be ready, just like a human baby. Ten months have past and our two round-as-a-barrel cows show no sign of imminant calving. So, we wonder. We worry. We ask ourselves what went wrong, and what could still go wrong now. Sometimes, we dream: a new calf could offer so much to our farm: the expansion of our herd, the proof of their capacity for new life, and the promise of another fine full-grown animal to transform into needed income or good, homegrown meat. 

So, each morning, we cast hopeful eyes out towards the pasture, and we count legs, looking for a sweet gangly little body tucked alongside one of the cows. “How many legs? Still twelve?” “Still twelve.” There's nothing we can do to hurry it along, and—although there are signs we can watch for—there's no way we can predict the exact moment of the herd's increase. We're kept in the dark about it. It's subtle. We have to keep wondering. We have to hurry up and wait.

This morning's scripture comes from another bunch of people-in-waiting. Paul is writing to the fledgling church in Thessalonica. That little church was caught up in in the fashion and fervor of the day, waiting for the Rapture, the Day of the Lord. There were signs all around them: earthquakes, floods, plagues, riots in the streets, cities being destroyed, governments shifting and falling, and different religions battling it out, each claiming to have exclusive access to the “Truth.”Sound familiar? And if you weren't sure what to believe, there were street preachers to tell you where you'd go and street vendors to sell you just the right handbasket!

It's hard not to be afraid when everyone around you is talking like that. It's hard not to let all the fear-mongerers and doomers get to you. When the loudest voices cry out, “pain and suffering! Death and destruction!” no matter how much you try to laugh it off, it gets a little harder to sleep at night, a little harder to keep peace in your heart. 

Remember how the Rapture was predicted by a radio preacher, who declared Judgement Day for May 21st, 2011? Did you hear about this? Did you find yourself checking your calendar? After the day came and went, he recalculated for October. When November came, did you breathe a sigh of relief, or did you get a little nervous, because now we're almost to December, rapidly honing in on the next big date for the End of the World...?

A good teacher once said, “What you contemplate, you imitate.” Whatever stories you tell yourself, whatever dramas or sitcoms you watch on television, whatever magazines you read, whatever ads flash in front of your eyes—all these things echo around inside you, the images shimmer and reflect, until it all becomes part of the way you understand the world. We can't help it—what we contemplate, we imitate. We tend to copy what we see and repeat what we hear. Now, that's one thing when you're a new Christian sorting through the competing tales of Roman politicians and travelling preachers. But there's a whole extra layer of difficulty in an age of mass-media and instant communication.

What if the stories we hear and and the images we see are mostly lies, carefully crafted by marketing experts? What if every commercial is a lie, a message that, by yourself, you're a weak, ugly nobody, but if you buy whatever they're selling, you could be SOMEbody, even somebody strong and beautiful? Bit by bit, the carefully-crafted lies eat away at us. The marketers sling mud until it covers our souls. We lose perspective. We give up our power. We learn to live in doubt and anxiety and fear. What you contemplate, you imitate. Little by little, we forget how to shine. We become children of the darkness. 

Writer Jeffrey Pugh imagines a demon, writing a management guide from his basement office in hell. The devil explains his latest strategy: 
“As part of my toolbox I’ve always used distraction to deter them from truly considering the world as our opponent wants it. I like it better when they become fascinated with the things that do not feed their souls. In the old days, of course, we had bread and circuses, but in the age of technology we have even more wonders at our disposal...We don’t want them to cultivate ways of living that bring them together. We want them torn apart, polarized, and at each others throats. Any question about how they should live needs to be buried under the scandal of the day... I want an entire planet entertaining themselves to death. No, seriously, I mean it. If they start to think seriously about the world they build and see the possibility that the world could be different, well, it’s time to Release the Kardashians!!” 

Now, get that clever devil out of the spotlight and listen to the Good News:
But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake...

Children of the light: that is how God made us. There was a beautiful mystic tradition among the Jews and early Christians that God was the first, best and brightest light in the whole universe, and everything God made had God's light trapped inside: flowers, weeds, bushes and trees, rocks, rivers, snakes, salamanders, codfish, sharks, woodchucks, camels, even bugs—all just bursting with God-given light, full of sparks of divine fire. 

That's true of people, too—not just the wealthy and powerful, but everybody: the bank president with the elegant shoes and the woman in scuffed sneakers at the laundromat. The construction foreman with the gleaming new truck and the greasy-haired guy who works nights at Gas-n-Go. We are—all of us—children of the light, all created with the potential to shine, to brighten the world with hope and healing, possibility and promise. Most of us maybe don't know it. Some of us start out knowing it, but we forget. We let our minds fall on other things. We dwell on failure and fear. We stop shining. We stop noticing all the other divine sparks around us. Our vision gets hazy. We get drunk. We fall asleep. 

...we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 

Do you hear that? Wake up! Listen up! WE—We, right here, all of us—are full of divine sparks, stuffed almost to bursting with God's beautiful, radiant, powerful light. Fear and anxiety are not our masters—God is! As soldiers discipline themselves for battle, so should we discipline ourselves for the challenge of making peace. Give the muscles of faith a workout. Build up the stamina of your hope. Get ready to love longer and harder and more deeply than you ever have before. Repent—change your ways—because the Beginning is Near! 

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ... so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. 

As Paul says, “Build each other up” In a culture geared to pettiness and appearances, it can be hard to make this change. I suggest an exercise, what they used to call a spiritual discipline: Turn away from the false and intoxicating lights of all the little glowing screens around us. Remember: what you contemplate, you imitate. 

In this season of darkness, seek illumination from a different source. Light a candle. Sit with that small flame and pray. Reflect on the light. Make space for God's light to stir and shine within you. Wipe away the mud and clear away the debris until you find the deep smoldering goodness of your own soul. Breathe with it. Feed it. Let the wind of the Holy Spirit stir it, like a sudden gust across the coals of a campfire, until sparks catch fire and dance up into flame. Wake up each morning ready to search the landscape for signs of new life, ready to celebrate the wonders that may be born on this day of New Beginnings. We are Children of the Light. We are brothers and sisters of the Light of the World. Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!!! 

(All images copyright Mainecelt 2011 except for Calvin, borrowed from here, and handbasket, borrowed from here.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Prayer: Reign of Christ, Christ the King, Last Sunday after Pentecost

Holy God, holy and gracious one
Fill us with a Spirit of Wisdom
Feed us with your justice,
Nurture us with your mercy and grace.

We pray for those who are struggling from
Famine, war, drought, and other causes of hunger,
That deplete humanity, and all the world
Of the bounty of your creation.
Help us God to fed as you do.

In thanksgiving for all the gifts of this life
May we give to those who, for whatever reason
Suffer for lack of food.

Holy God, holy and gracious one
Fill us with a Spirit of Wisdom
Feed us with your justice,
Nurture us with your mercy and grace.

Holy God, help us to see those who suffer
For want of clothing, warmth, safety, shelter,
Help us God, to care as you do.

In thanksgiving for all the gifts of this life
May we tend to those who, for whatever reason
Suffer for lack of clothing and housing.

Holy God, holy and gracious one
Fill us with a Spirit of Wisdom
Feed us with your justice,
Nurture us with your mercy and grace.

Holy God, seeker of the lost,
Help us to find you, see you, know you.

Holy God, bind up the injured,
these we carry in our hearts,
Those in need of your healing.
And, help us to be your hands,
Your compassion, your healing
Love, in all we do.

Holy God, holy and gracious one
Fill us with a Spirit of Wisdom
Feed us with your justice,
Nurture us with your mercy and grace.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: What's Wrong with Goats? (and other distractions) edition....

Ok, so this photo is neither a sheep nor a goat...It is Oliver, my daughter's dog, showing off one of his tricks - balancing a tennis ball on his head. He is such a goof-ball. I am looking forward to his visit in a week's time when all our kids are here for to celebrate Thanksgiving and a family birthday.

That's what I'm up to this week - balancing a lot of different events and activities. The Church I serve is hosting our first ever, shop local, shop small "Alternative Holiday Market" on Sunday night. We have thirty vendors and artists coming to sell their goods - and I really hope a lot of shoppers too! (And, yes in this interfaith town it is a holiday market)...

Then my son arrives on Monday night, he'll join us for Thanksgiving dinner and some home decorating. Next weekend my daughter and her boyfriend arrive and so, with all our kids here, we will host an open house at the Rectory. That means lots of decorating and baking will take place, even though it is a simple open house of cookies, coffee, tea, and cider. Oh, and "a decorate your own Christmas ornament" craft project during the Open, with all that ahead of me...I still need to get a sermon written....

SO! Good Morning, Preachers!

We are celebrating the Reign of Christ this Sunday, and it's our "Feast of Title" we are Christ Church...anyway, I am still wondering where I am going with the scripture readings, and getting distracted with a thought that came up in a Bible study "What's wrong with goats?" and "Why is Jesus picking on goats in this parable"...I mean, I know it's not really about sheep and goats, but see how easily distracted I am?

Anyway, you can find the texts here, and a discussion on the texts here. I am not sure where I am going with the texts, but I may be going someplace along the lines of this from Jan at The Painted Prayerbook

"When was it that we saw you?

.... I think of how my deepest regrets—what few I allow myself—are most often attached to occasions when I didn’t see. Didn’t know how to see, didn’t yet have the eyes for seeing. The realization of it—the dawning knowledge of where my vision was lacking—is itself a kind of punishment. But an invitation, too. To learn to look more closely. To take in what I have rushed past.

When was it that we saw you?"

Although it is possible that the Spirit will lead me in a very different direction.

What about you? Where are you being led? Looking for some ideas or help for children's time? Worried about something or someone? Whatever is causing you to be distracted today, we are here to help.

I have lots of coffee, tea, yogurt, oatmeal, apples, and bananas to get us started! Pull up a chair, grab a mug, and let me know what I can get for you, 'k? I'm really grateful you are here today.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Five: Giving Thanks (Thanksgiving)

I've been home from Russia for less than a week, and in less than a week it is Thanksgiving Day in the USA (Nov. 24). So for this Friday Five, answer these questions (and if they don't apply to you, list five things you are grateful for):

1. Where will you be on Thanksgiving Day? With whom?

2. Are there any family traditions or memories associated with Thanksgiving?

3. What will be on your Thanksgiving menu?

4. Are you trying anything new this Thanksgiving?

5. What is the weather forecast for this day (next Thursday)?

Bonus: Prayer, poem, song, or whatever you choose to exemplify your image of Thanksgiving (giving thanks).

If you play at your place, please leave a comment here; you'll be likely to get more comments if you link directly to your post. Here's how!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Christmas Morning Worship Redux

How will your congregation be celebrating Christmas day this year?

We explored this question on Ask the Matriarch several months ago (you can read it here). But I am thinking that there might be some updates and new ideas, so let's do it again!

Because our congregation has multiple services (4) on Christmas Eve, we only have a Christmas morning service when December 25th falls on a Sunday, as it does this year.

We've talked about Lessons and Carols for Christmas, or a traditional liturgy with communion. We have also talked about inviting people to come in their pajamas and bring their favorite gift with them.

I am definitely leaning toward the more creative this year - and am looking for some creative expressions of worship for Christmas morning that will delight but not totally upend our liturgical identity.

How will your congregation worship on Christmas Day...or, how do you wish that they would?

This from Muthah+, blogging at Stone of Witness:

We too have numerous services on Christmas Eve and find no energy left for Christmas Day. But through the years I have found that there have always been certain families in the congregation whose tradition call for 'going to church' following the festivities of Christmas morning every year, not just ones that fall on Sunday. Usually those services are small, intimate, with no music and quite informal. (I wouldn't get caught dead in my pj's even on Christmas!) I have often held this service in the chapel. One year I preached holding the newest member of the family in which 5 generations were represented and talked about the hope of the Incarnation.

In our 'program sized church' we will have only one service on Christmas morning in the main sanctuary. I believe that Sunday service is about 'resting' with the Lord. It will be small and without music-- but with communion, of course.

Whatever you do--enjoy it even if your energies are at an ebb. I have always dreaded those Christmas morning services but generally come away from them with such a sense of peace and affirmation.

And from kathrynzj:

About 3 years ago we began a Christmas Day service because there was no other place for a Protestant to worship on Christmas Day. In those years there were a few lessons and carols, the tiniest of communion meditations and a reading from a story or short book about the true meaning of the holiday.

This year we have three baptisms (same family) and also want to do Communion and so...
We are going to invite folks to come out 'as-they-are' and bring their favorite gift. We'll do a small Lessons and Carols (Luke 2 in 3 sections with 3 hymns afterwards) and then talk about gifts and then talk about the greatest gift - baptisms, Communion - done.

I think it will be fun although I am a little concerned since our 10am start time is usually about the time I am entering my post Christmas-Eve coma. We shall see...

Have your plans for Christmas morning worship changed? Have you made plans for Christmas morning yet? Let's talk about it here...

No lines, no waiting at the Matriarchs' mailbox - click here to ask us a question!

May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Safe Churches, Safe Spaces

On a topic that has been on every mind and heart in the last few weeks, Kristin at Liberation Theology Lutheran blogs about Safe Space training. No matter what it is called in your denomination or school system or volunteer arena, it is the same thing, and most of us have been through the training.  

To comment on this post or add to the conversation, please join in on the comments...or at your own blog; if you do that, be sure to post a link here so we can follow your thoughts.  Here's the code to use in the comments box to include your link:

Our church has been working on updating our Safe Space document since summer.  We switched insurers, and they wanted to see a safe space document.  We looked at what we had on file.  It would not do.  The last time we had created one, we addressed things like standing on ladders.

How the world has changed!  Actually, to be more accurate, the world hasn't changed, but we've become more aware of the dangers and tried to talk about them more.

I worked on the Safe Space document this summer (for more on that process, see this post)--not exactly how I envisioned using my writing skills, but still, I'm glad to be of use.  We sent it to our denomination's specialist in these matters and tweaked it a bit.

Last night was the Council meeting where we needed to approve the document.  I expected that it might be harder than it was.  But in the face of the grim national news about the predatory coach in Pennsylvania, who can argue that we're overreacting?

We like to think that we'd report anything that we see that's off or wrong.  But history reminds us again and again that we won't.  Most of us won't.  David Brooks wrote about that issue eloquently here, explaining all the reasons why we might not report crimes that we witness.  He says, "In centuries past, people built moral systems that acknowledged this weakness. These systems emphasized our sinfulness. They reminded people of the evil within themselves. Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside. These vocabularies made people aware of how their weaknesses manifested themselves and how to exercise discipline over them. These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it. They helped people make moral judgments and hold people responsible amidst our frailties."

Will a safe space document change the tendency of humans not to intervene?  We hope so.  The stakes are very high.

I thought of this blog post, which reminds us "What was really telling was the information that pedophile networks (you know there are such things, where they advise each other how to find and groom victims) are advising one another to go to church. Not to find Jesus. To find little boys and girls."

Should anything inappropriate ever happen to a child at our church, we will not keep the investigation in-house.  No.  We will call the police, who, after all, have been trained in this work.

We all worry about false accusations.  But the police and social workers are trained to investigate and determine the truth.  As a church, our focus must be on keeping children safe 

How I wish we lived in a world where people didn't prey on little children.  How I hope that documents like the one we approved make that world closer to reality. I know that churches of my childhood never considered that abuse could occur, and that left a lot of us vulnerable. I'm lucky in that I never experienced abuse at church--but I can't close my eyes to all the people who did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- Sheep and Goats and Turkeys? Oh My! Edition

from here

So this week some of us have a choice.  Is it the Sunday to celebrate Thanksgiving?  Or is it the Sunday to proclaim the Reign of Christ?  Or maybe to do both?  (OTOH some of us celebrated Thanksgiving a month ago where is belongs but that is another debate).

Thanksgiving Readings can be found here.  When I prepared to preach on them it struck me that a theme was about forgetting and remembering.  Is our issue with giving thanks a memory problem?
The Last Judgement

Reign of Christ Readings are found here.  Sheep everywhere we look!  Whether it is Ezekiel talking about good (and not so good) shepherds or Matthew's Jesus separating sheep from the goats livestock predominates.

Those we minister with...
What does it mean to talk about the Reign of Christ or Christ the King in today's world?  Is there a memory issue at play here too?  I am thinking that Matthew describes how we act if we truly believe that the Kin-dom of God is real among us.  But then this Matthew passage is one of my favourites in all of Scripture (even with the judgment and condemnation that is a big part of the vision/parable)

Or then I know some people have decided to start Advent a week early which means that this is Advent 1...  Then again, isn't Advent also about the Reign of Christ?

Where is worship taking you this week?  LEt us know in the comments...