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Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Five: Characters for a Day

Courtesy of Paper Hangover, here's today's Friday Five...

What five characters would you switch places with for a day?  I initially read this to mean characters in books, but can use plays, movies, comic strips, cartoons, anything you'd like.  For bonus points, tell us WHY for each or some.

Be sure to let us know in the comments if you play, and post a link right to your blog so we can all visit! Here's how: just type in these letters/symbols, replacing the appropriate section with your blog address and what you want the link to say: <a href="the URL of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Parish Ministry during Election Season

In the U.S.,  there are precious few places one can go right now where conversation will not turn to the presidential election.  As we approach election day, the tensions are bound to grow.  Today's question invites us to consider how we worship leaders shepherd our people in the days immediately before and after the election.

I am so tired of all the political vitriol and stuck-in-cement-no-matter-what-happens-because-they-are-the-other-party mentality.  I have very gently said this in many ways in my sermons and those statement are balanced between both parties.  

The congregation I serve is politically conservative (a 9 out of 10) and for the most part conservative theologically as well.  On any given Sunday there are one-sided comments about the current administration. I mostly remind them to check their facts, get the whole story, and do your own research.  They don't...but at least I try.  Either this group is going to be very elated or devastated post-election.

What does the Sunday before and the Sunday after "look like" in worship in terms of my preaching?  How does one balance the huge emotion of elation or deep grief/anger which is so one-sided. 

(FYI:  The lectionary texts for the Sunday before include Ruth/Naomi's "where you go I will go" text.  Oh my, how that could be mis-used.  The Shema and Mark's "love God" all good choices. The Sunday after texts include more of Ruth, Elijah and the widow, and the woman with two coins to give.)

Martha, blogging at Reflectionary, writes

I think the Sundays before and after an election need to look like Christian worship, so the focus needs to be on God's call to be a Christian community. The Shema and the Great Commandment are a great foundation. We're called to love God, neighbor (by which in this case you might mean those outside the church) and self (each other right here), and this call to love transcends political opinion and disagreement. You could look for stories/illustrations of people whose beliefs differ working together for a common good.

The week after is harder. I would be cautious of letting the focus move onto the election and would be more likely to address it in the pastoral prayer, whether it's to soothe anger, address grief or temper jubilation. I say this because I don't know how I would avoid showing my own (anger/grief/relief/jubilation) if I addressed the results in a sermon. Be pastoral. Remind people, win or lose, they are a community of God's children. Remind yourself, too. Win or lose in politics, Jesus won a victory over death, and in it lies our hope, today and over the long arc. 

And Muthah+ adds:

Dear Politically Incorrect,

Personally I believe that our faith calls the Christian preacher to stand outside of the status quo in order for the Gospel to speak to the issues of our day.  Bi-partianship is difficult to maintain when so much of the rhetoric is so off the walls.  

I live in a very conservative area and am personally so liberal I look like JFK or FDR, if you can remember that far back.  So if I have to comment on the politics, I make sure that I point fingers at both parties --- intransigency is on both sides of the aisle.  Humor can help if you can find a way to use it.  

A fellow sister preacher said recently at the beginning of her sermon "Vagina, Vagina, Vagina!  Now that I have gotten that out of my system, the Scripture readings speak to...."  and then went on with a sermon that had nothing to do with women or the issues in the news.  The congregation cracked up.  It was the ludicrousness of the whole debate that made it humorous and she was able to get her point across without taking a stand. 

I do not try to change peoples' minds about politics.  Partly because I am adept at not talking about politics because my whole family espouses a different political stance than I. I believe that sometimes that peace is more important to Community than taking a stand. And when we can hold that witness up to people we can begin to bring some order back into our political scene.

I merely try to use the Scripture to look at issues from a different perspective.  I think that if we claim a "side" what we do with the Gospel is what we abhor m in the rhetoric of politicians.  It is important that we bring the Scripture to bear on the issues without falling into political rhetoric.  

I believe very strongly in the nobility of the democratic system and the 2 party system that we have.  I also believe that what we are doing to that system in the name of intransigence is defeating the noble institution of  republican government and makes a mockery of the American way.  But those are my personal feelings.  They do not belong in the pulpit.  But we do need to raise up the kind of polarizing rhetoric that allows us to put political agenda before caring for one another.  The husband of one of my nieces tried to engage me in political debate and I just said,  " Max, I love you too much to argue politics with you."  Perhaps this is what we need to do in our nation---remember how much we love one another first before we discuss politics  We need to step back from argument in order to cherish the community in which we live.

I love the Widow's mite and Elijah and the Widow.  The story of Naomi and Ruth speaks of the kind of love that allows one to give up family and homeland in order to be faithful to a way of holiness that was unusual for their time.  I am sure that there is something there that can speak to the need for us to give up solidly held political opinions in order for the common good to be reached. If we do not lift up the Commonweal, we are going to lose our precious democracy to some demagogue who will offer the public order or financial security over freedom.  It has happened too many times in history to ignore it.

Sistah, lift the eyes of the congregation to the prize of Christ and then claim the love of others and you will be doing your your bounden duty to help the people claim the freedom of the Gospel--not the political freedom that so often trotted out to be the same.  It is a tap dance, but one worth knowing the steps.  And the only way you know the steps is to remember Who brought us to the dance.

Thanks to Martha and Muthah+, for their thoughtful responses.  You can join in the conversation below.

Peace amid the storm to all in the path of Isaac+


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Irony and the Language of Faith

Today's post is from Muthah+ at Stone of Witness:
Last week J and I were involved in a tragic car accident in the mountains of New Mexico.  One of the bikers who hit us was killed.  It is a horrible experience.  I don’t blame either our driver or the cyclists because it was one of those accidents that just happen.  I had planned this post to be called “S**t Happens!”  But with the death of one of the 6 of us who are inextricably linked for the rest of our lives, I don’t care to be glib or humorous about such tragedy.  I mourn for the young man and his family and friends even though I never knew him.  I ache with the woman who was also badly injured.  Such incidents scar one’s life forever whether the scars are visible or not.

On the way home from NM, we blew a tire only about an hour from home.  While waiting for roadside assistance, a car stopped and man in biker attire got out and changed our tire.  He wore the typical biker’s leathers, multiple tattoos, jack boots, do-rag and a vest with a prominent cross on the back.  He was a member of the Christian Biker’s Alliance, he said. We chatted as he did his ministry to us talking about biking and faith.  His was a bold faith that said he didn’t believe in helmets since he knew he would live forever in Christ.  He said that he drove too fast for a helmet to do any good anyhow.  In a matter of about 15 minutes he had changed our tire and had deeply affected my understanding of trust in God. 

I am always moved by the faith of others.  God touches us in such different ways.  The biker’s theology is quite different from mine.  For me life is precious and a gift from God to be protected and cherished.  For this man, his life is not something to be preserved but lived to the hilt with little regard for the dire consequences of living on the edge.  It was a sobering intrusion into my neatly constructed faith circumscribed with prayer books and liturgy.  I have no doubt that his theology worked for him and for his family (his very un-biker wife waited in the car during his ministrations).  But I couldn’t help but think that this was a kind of faith that I could not subscribe to but could not deny that it was rooted in that awe and experience of a Holy One that was as powerful as mine.

Since that incident I have been trying to look at my own faith and the faith of those throughout the centuries that have been unshaken in the face of death.  I think of those who go into combat in the name of Christ—from the time of Constantine, through the knights of the Crusades or perhaps the One Hundred Year’s War over religion that changed the face of Europe and brought cleavage due to one’s faith rather than territorial boundaries.  I am deeply aware of the irony of ‘soldier’s theologies’ that has ‘marching off to war’ as a primary sign of fidelity to Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Why is it that faith in God often demands our death in order to experience life to the fullest?  Certainly Christianity has been taught that way at certain moments of church history.  But need it be that way?  Does faith in God demand extremism in order to trust God’s salvific promise?  Does faith demand crucifixion in order to image the love of God?  Or in another way of asking it: Is the Christian faith inherently violent?

The God that I experience in both prayer and worship invites me to rest, to pause in the midst of life and know the irenic when all around me is whirlwind.  It is not polemic where God is.  It is the still quiet voice where the Divine touches rather than in the wind in the hair or the exhilaration of a battle fought and won.  And it is the place where God is that demands of me the kind of examined life that returns me to peace and the absence of argument.  I cannot be what God calls me to be if I cannot allow myself to know the kind of peace that God is.

As I delve into the ways we have talked about faith for centuries, the more I recognize the language of feudal fealty in worship.  We have ‘bounden duties’ and we talk about the interplay of good and evil as knightly jousts.  We even express Christ’s renewal of Creation as salvific rather than a return to the peace that humanity often destroys. 

Perhaps a new language of relationship and peace needs to be developed rather than with such medieval words.  We need not “fight the good fight with all of our might” but learn how to describe the wondrous harmony of love.  We need a new vocabulary to describe that place where God abides in us and the goodwill that we have forgotten in name of action and ‘doing Christianity.’  We need to find a way to describe the tranquility that God engenders in us for the sake of the future of humanity.

May the souls of the departed rest in peace.  Amen

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings~~Labor Day edition

Blessed are you, O Lord and Lover,
source of beauty and depth of passion.
Strengthen and inspire us to do the word we hear
and live the faith we confess. Amen                

Here we are preachers, the last real Sunday of summer (sigh...) and finally, a return to the Gospel of Mark. For many of us it will be a "low" Sunday as our parishioners grab one last summer weekend. And for others our fall schedules may be getting underway. At my own parish it will be a mixed bag as we return to a schedule  of two services, but hold the second in a nearby park with neighboring Episcopal congregations.

So what does our lectionary have to offer? First up we have a beautiful and evocative passage from the Song of Solomon. As RGBP Wil Gafney writes at Working Preacher, this passages "is unique in the scriptures for its passionate lyrics extolling the physical love between a woman and a man, and for the dominance of the woman -- in voice and agency -- in the composition..As a part of the larger Christian canon, this passage is also available for an incarnational reading, focusing on the humanity in which Jesus of Nazareth was clothed. That humanity was not just miserable unredeemed flesh, but also joyful, loving, touching, sexually mature flesh."

Alternatively, in our reading from Deuteronomy we find Moses instructing the Israelites as they prepare to, at long last, enter the promised land. Moses reminds them that they must diligently follow God's laws and, "...make them known to your children and your children's children." In our epistle, the letter of James reminds us to, " let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness," apt advice in this contentious election year. 

Finally, in the gospel reading taken from Mark, Jesus responds to criticism that his disciples "eat with defiled hands,"  and the underlying implication that they do not adequately follow the letter of the law. 

Agnus Day
Where are you headed on this last summer Sunday, preachers? Join the discussion and share your thoughts, inspirations, questions, and frustrations as we "labor on." 

Prayer and readings found here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday Extra: On the Struggles of Clergy Women

Carol Howard Merritt
Lia Scholl

RevGalBlogPal ring members Carol Howard Merritt and Lia Scholl would like our help.

They write: We are working on a writing piece together, potentially a book. It will be a practical guide about the struggles women face in pastoral ministry and an exploration on why and how women are leaving. We believe that it’s an important time for women to be in solidarity with one another as we face down the stained glass ceiling, that is so much more than just a lack of promotions. Women are in a battle for our voices, for our rights, and for our bodies.

We know that telling the truth in your pastoral setting is not always in your best interest. Telling the truth can result in job loss, difficulty in your ecclesial bodies, snubbing, and even violence. Therefore, your answers to these questions are confidential. If we use them in the book, we will change the details and your name, to ensure that you are not recognizable. Although we would like to know your name and contact information, for follow up, it is not required.

As you look at the questions, you do not have to answer them all. Please answer the questions about which you feel most passionate. We would particularly love to hear your stories. Please include your name (please put anonymous, if you need to) and preferred contact information.

When did you feel called to ministry? What was your calling like?

How did you prepare for ministry? Did you attend seminary? Are there other specializations you acquired?

What obstacles did you overcome to train for ministry?

Where have you served and in what capacity? What were the challenges you faced? What were the positives?

How many years have you been serving (or did you serve)?
Where are you serving now?

What was your favorite part of ministry? Your least favorite part?

What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?

How has your gender affected your ministry? Both positives and negatives...

Has your race and/or ethnicity affected your ministry? How?

Has your sexual orientation affected your ministry? How?

Have you faced obstacles among your family of origin or your created family?

If you have served as an Associate Pastor, an Assistant Pastor, or a Director of Christian Education, did you feel that there were gender inequities inherent in the role? What were they?

Is there a network of mentoring and support (like an “old boys network”) upon which you have learned to rely? Where have you found that network?

How do you feel about negotiating salary, benefits, administrative assistance and office space?

Has being a minister affected your intimate relationships? How?

If you are no longer in church ministry, or pastoral ministry, why?

If you have considered leaving pastoral ministry, why?

What piece of advice would you like to give to women entering the ministry?

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Email your responses to Carol and Lia at by September 15th. Thanks!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Prayer

Oh Lord how lovely are your dwelling places,
Places we can experience your love and grace for all of us.
They are more lovely to our souls and our deeper needs and yet we
Take them and you for granted. Forgive us, turn our
Hearts, minds, souls and bodies to you.
Inspire us as we worship you today and everyday.
Speak to us the words you desire for us to hear.

And Lord hear us as we pray for the needs of the world...
The needs of our countries...
The needs of our communities....
The needs of our friends and families...,
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

11th Hour Preacher Party: Hard Sayings All Week Long Edition

Between a rock and a hard place
"Between a rock and a hard place"

"Truly, truly, I say to you, 
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man 
and drink his blood, 
you have no life in you." 
(John 6:53)

This has been called the original "hard saying of Jesus."   F. F. Bruce declared that to be so, anyway, and he wrote the book actually entitled The Hard Sayings of Jesus.  According to Bruce: "The implication is that [the disciples] not only found it difficult to understand, but suspected that, if they did understand it, they would find it unacceptable."

How are you doing with this one, preachers?

Or are you going with 1 Kings or Joshua or Ephesians . . . or . . . ???

Because I am finishing my current interim ministry at the end of September, I'm all "out there" for a possible next placement.  There is some interest from "a place" (another interim), and they want a DVD of a sermon.  And so it will be this sermon.  No pressure or anything!   

There have also been hard sayings all over the news this week.  Really hard sayings.  Shall we go there?  Will you open up and unpack any of that in your sermon this week?

Let's keep the coffee and conversation flowing freely!  Anyone have bread-like wonders to share?  Fresh produce?  Other gifts of the flesh or spirit?  

Welcome to the party, preachers and friends of preachers and not-this-week preachers!  So glad you are here!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Five: choose your own adventure!

This summer at my church we've been doing what we're calling a "People's Choice" sermon series--people submitted sermon topics, and the preachers have taken them on. This Sunday I'm preaching my last in this series, about Sabbath. (Why yes, we did blatantly steal this idea from KathrynZJ, who did it last summer...) It's kept people engaged all summer and we've all had a great time. So now it's your turn...

1, 2: What are two texts or topics you wish you could hear a sermon about?

3, 4: What are two texts or topics you wish you could preach a sermon about?

5: What's your favorite sermon you've ever heard or preached? What makes it your fave?

let us know in the comments if you play, and post a link right to your blog so we can all visit! Here's how: just type in these letters/symbols, replacing the appropriate section with your blog address and what you want the link to say: <a href="the URL of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Supervising Staff

This week's question...

Got any special advice about supervising staff, especially male staff? I am finding that I approach things too personally but when I pull back and deal in strictly business, the criticism is that I am controlling. Some might use the "b" word behind my back.  So they want me to be strong and hold this staff accountable but then accuse me of being picky or micro-managing, etc. 

Crimson Rambler was our sole respondent:
First response to this situation would be – if you are the person in charge, then you set the tone and the tempo of your conversations and interactions, and stick to it.  Be clear about expectations.  Be positive.  Be prompt in response with either praise or correction.

Some other observations.  First, a story. The summer when I was a deacon left in charge of the parish in the HOS’s vacation time, a very senior visiting clergyman came to officiate at a wedding – and was rude to our secretary while making the arrangements beforehand.  I didn’t witness it, but the secretary noted it in conversation.  I spent most of a WEEK dithering about my response – and whether I’d respond at all.  Finally came a moment of insight.  “I am the Person in Charge; and if I don’t interpose between my staff and this kind of unpleasantness, if I don’t defend her, then I have no ground to stand on to expect her to do what I ask her to do.”  So on that basis, I tackled Rev. Rude – and he growled at ME, true, but I survived the growling – and he apologized to our secretary in writing.

When I shared the story with the military branch of my family, I was quite surprised to find out that my epiphany was not a new discovery: “that’s an OLQ! You demonstrated an OLQ! [Officer-Like Quality].”  From there the conversation went to an appreciation of On War by Karl von Clausewitz.  On my bookshelf, he’s the Third Karl – next to Barth and Rahner.  All you need to know about healthy and effective leadership and command in ANY context is there…maintenance of morale (concrete and specific praise), lines of communication (CLARITY), lines of supply (make sure they have what they need to do their work), command and control (beginning, as always, with command and control of oneself).
Highly recommended reading.  If it seems an impossibly macho project, take heart, the general gave the lectures; but his devoted wife wrote the book from his notes.

That said, I still haven’t found anything that establishes the right kind of authority more readily than protecting your staff from mistreatment.  It works enormously well with volunteers also, by the way.  When people know that the Old Lady, or the Old Man, has their back…they perform better, more confidently, and much more happily.  You may still be a “b” in their minds, but you’re THEIR ‘b”.

Part of the work of the shepherd…is to deal with the coyotes when they show up.

Word!  Now let's open the conversation wider...share your experiences and insights below.

May you live in God's amazing grace+


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Things Divine and Human

Joanna at Spacious Faith shares a "random thought" that just did not fit into her sermon last week:

Well, it happened again. I had a lovely thought for my sermon that I just cannot justify putting in my sermon. 

It really has nothing to do with anything else I’m talking about. Plus, I’m already pushing 20 minutes which, for me, is a long sermon.

So, because I cannot bear to delete it, here is a random thought on Mark 8:33: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” 

Isn’t it interesting, that Jesus would say that? Peter, who wants Jesus to be super-human, to embrace the full power of God and not have to suffer consequences like a mere mortal–it is Peter who is setting his mind on human things.

That the divine thing is the jagged rocky ground on which they are standing; the path they can see before them stretching out across Galilee toward Jerusalem. The divine thing is the suffering and rejection and death.

The divine thing is not avoiding suffering and rejection–or laughter and friendship or anything distinctly, painfully, achingly human. The divine thing is the life of God that swells within and around and among us down here on this piece of earth, with these friends and enemies, on this path God has given us to walk.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings~~Putting on the armor of God edition

Let us begin with prayer: 

Source of life,
you feed us with the spiritual milk of your love
and deliver us from darkness to light.
Encompass us in the circle of your protection,
that, secure in your sustaining power,
we may find the wisdom and strength
to challenge the evils of our time. Amen.

I'm beginning the second of two weeks of vacation, and keenly aware with how fast this summer is passing. And in the U.S., this Sunday will be the last Sunday before Labor Day, the time when summer ends, the 'program year' kicks off, and fall schedules resume. As summer draws to a close, where will your sermon be heading? 

If you've been following the story of David and Solomon in Kings, this week finds Solomon bringing the ark of the covenant into the house he has built for God where, after addressing the congregation, he offers up a powerful prayer to God. The alternative Old Testament reading features Joshua calling the people once again to return to the worship of Yahweh, declaring "as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Paul's letter to the Ephesians invites his audience to "put on the whole armor of God"so that they might resist the powers of evil and darkness in the world. Do  any of you remember the "armor of God" pajamas that were all the rage when this reading came up a few years ago? Although the military imagery of this passage presents challenges for some of us, the message of God's protection is powerful. 

This week's gospel from John FINALLY  marks the last of five weeks dealing with the bread of life. As Jesus concludes his discourse on being the that bread, many struggle with his words and turn away, but Simon Peter, speaking for the twelve, affirms his identity, declaring, "We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

So what direction will you be taking this week, preachers? Join in the discussion and share your thoughts, your inspirations, and your questions. 

Art, prayer, and readings found here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

RevGalPrayerPals: A Place for Prayer

Do you know about our other blog? RevGalPrayerPals: A Place for Prayer features daily offerings of prayer from sources ancient and modern, ranging from words to art to music and video, and including some original prayers. A team of RevGals and Pals contributes weekly, led by mompriest. Her photography enhances the blog header, and we thank her for it. You can subscribe to the blog feed, or use the email box in the sidebar to subscribe to email reminders.

Below you'll find Monday's prayer, posted by Pastor Julia. Other team members are revkjarla, Mary Beth, Jan, Singing Owl, Teri and revabi. They bless us each time they post, and we are grateful.

Monday Prayer: Jesus as a Mother

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you:
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children;
Often you weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness you nurse us,
and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life:
By your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness:
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead:
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us:
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.

- St. Anselm

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Prayer for Sunday Proper 15B/Ordinary 20B/Pentecost 12

Oh God of wisdom,

As our children are headed back to school and college to learn anew, help us pass on to them the wisdom that has been given down to us from the generations before us.

Help our children as they learn their daily lessons to listen and learn.

Help their teachers have the patience and knowledge to teach well.

Help them as they learn life’s lessons of dealing with other people around them.

Help us as we guide them through those lessons.

 We ask for your wisdom to discern your ways and path for our own lives.

We ask for your wisdom to discern how to deal with others we meet , live with, work with, shop with, drive our roads, with, wait in line with, eat with and be with daily.

We ask for your wisdom in the difficult situations we may have to deal with as we go through life.

We ask for your wisdom when voting in the upcoming elections.

We ask for your wisdom in dealing with injustices in our world.

 We ask for wisdom for our leaders in our world, our countries, our states, and our communities.

We ask for wisdom for our church leaders worldwide and local .

We ask for wisdom for our Pastors as they preach your word, inspire, lead and grow us as disciples.

We ask for your wisdom as we reach out to those in need in our communities and in our world.

We ask for wisdom as we minister to those who are homebound and in nursing homes.

We ask for your wisdom as we minister to those in hospitals, in recovery and rehab.

We ask for your wisdom that not only enlightens us but transforms us and guides us in our daily walk with you.

crossposted at rev abi's long and winding road and revgal's a place for prayer

11th Hour Preacher Party: Wisdom is... edition...

If you want what visible reality
can give, you're an employee.
If you want the unseen world,
you're not living your truth.
Both wishes are foolish,
but you'll be forgiven for forgetting
that what you really want is 
love's confusing joy.

From Essential Rumi
Good morning preacher friends and friends of preachers! This is my first Sunday back from a couple of weeks of stay-cation. I've only just looked at the readings and am wondering about the theme that runs through them - Wisdom.
Alas, that is exactly as far as I have gotten. Re-entry from vacation is tough - this has been a busy week! Filled with home visits, preparations for the fall, scheduling meetings, catching up. You know, right? We all go through the same thing, regardless of what job we have, re-entry is tough.
So. Wisdom. 
 Okay then, wisdom is not exactly the sort of thing that visible reality can give...or, can it? What kind of unseen world is the truth behind wisdom? How will you open up the word to reveal love's confusing joy?
Do you have any idea what your focal point will be? Are you going to tackle 1Kings or Proverbs? A Psalm or Ephesians? Or are you going to try and slice open the bread/wine/flesh/blood metaphor in John? 
Me?  I will probably go with 1Kings, simply because I preached from the book of Samuel all summer and 1Kings continues the story. Sticking with the story I've been telling seems to be a wise choice for re-entry...

Another wise decision is to make sure we have plenty of coffee. Or, if you prefer tea. I do have lots of each. And, fresh fruit, too. Oh, and a ton of garden fresh tomatoes. Pull up a chair, lets share a little love, joy, and wisdom - it's the Preacher Party!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Five: Friends and The Gifts they Bring

We Are Friends, from

 Good morning, RevGals, RevPals, OtherPals, and Anyone Who Wanders This Way!

I have been thinking about friends lately.  I am so grateful for the faithful friends who have brought me along in life, and I know them in such different ways!

Some are friends from my whole life...childhood, college, graduate school, churches, work, etc.  Some are friends of those friends.  

Some are people I have only met (so far!) via blogs or Facebook.

And some are a hybrid...people, for instance, with whom I graduated high school NOT having a friend relationship...and now Facebook has brought me a great appreciation of them.  I think, with some of those folks,"Gosh, I'm glad I get to know him/her NOW, at least!" 

For today's Friday Five, then, let's do a little tribute to five of your friends.  This can be broadly construed - relatives count - and you need not use names at all if you don't want to.  OR, if you want to link to blogs of favorite friends, that's all right too.  The main thing is to briefly (or not-so-briefly) tell us what makes them super special to you.  What gifts have they brought to your life?

Can't wait to read you all! You may answer in the comments or provide a link to your blog post (instructions are here!) 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Gift Giving Edition

Most of us have learned how to give and receive gifts from our families of origin.  But how might the rules change when we serve as leaders among our families of faith?

Dear Matriarch(s),

You had a wonderful answer months ago to my question about whiny parishioners - thank you! I've now come across another dilemma that perhaps you could help me with...

My question is this: what is appropriate when it comes to accepting and giving gifts as a pastor? My husband and I are expecting our first baby in September, and we've been given a very kind abundance of baby gifts. Some were gift cards from an all-church baby shower, others are more personal (handmade quilts, toys, infant clothing, etc.). In addition, several of the women in the church remember my birthday and my husband's each year and send us gift cards, books, or other gifts. I always send thank-you notes, but I'm wondering: is that enough?

I was raised to always reciprocate when given gifts (i.e., if someone remembered my birthday, I'd be sure to remember theirs), but I don't think this is appropriate in this case. Last night I went out to dinner to celebrate two of my congregant's birthdays (another congregant organized this - I was invited along). I gave them each a handwritten card, but felt badly about it - each of them gave me something much nicer than just a card for my birthday. Yet I don't think it's appropriate for me as a pastor to give out birthday gifts to certain parishioners and not others. I know that my parishioners are not (and should not be) my "friends" in the normal sense, and I am good about keeping those boundaries, yet I fear I am hurting feelings by not reciprocating ("Thanks for the $50 gift card to for my birthday! Here's a birthday card for you that says you're great!").

I am regularly invited to bridal and baby showers and children's birthday parties, too. I usually bring the same type of gift to all (a book on marriage to the bridal shower, a children's Bible to the baby shower, and something $10 or under to the children's birthday parties), but I can't always attend. Should I make sure to always send a gift, so I don't appear to be favoring some of our church's children/brides over others?

How do I navigate the gift-giving maze? It's getting to the point where I feel uncomfortable receiving anything because I'm not sure how to properly respond, and invites to showers and such just make me nervous... Your wisdom is requested!

From Terri, blogging at Seeking Authentic Voice:

Gift giving is a wonderful conundrum to have. That they love you enough to be so generous is delightful. In terms of how to respond: I have a charity that I use, Episcopal Relief and Development OR Heifer International, and every gift I give is a donation to one of these, in about the same amount of money,  in honor of the person being celebrated. I either print off a card from the site and write a personal note about the gift, or I write the note in a more fancy card. I never give a gift for a wedding in which I have been the officiant, even if I attend the reception, because in my capacity as officiant I am not really a guest.

However, I like that you have a standard gift for the "occasion." Giving the same gift to everyone who invites you to a baby shower, or bridal shower is something you could do to honor the occasion and reduce the possibility of people feeling left out or less important. 

Unlike "once in a lifetime" events like bridal and baby showers, birthday's are different because they come around every year. Thus, even if a member of the congregation gives me a gift for my birthday I never give members of the congregation birthday gifts, a card is really enough. A thank you note acknowledging the gift is appropriate. 

I also tend to give once a year (Christmas, end of the program year?) gifts to the choir, staff, and leaders of the parish - a small token of my appreciation - such as a $5 or $10 Starbucks gift card - just a token of appreciation for which I say something like, Thank you so much for your ministry! In appreciation, have a cup of coffee on me!"

From Jennifer, blogging at An Orientation of Heart:

I think your responses to the dilemma of gift-giving are perfect. I sincerely doubt that any of the members of the congregation are expecting you to reciprocate in kind. Your thoughtful thank you notes and simple gifts for occasions to which you are invited are just right. These folks clearly love and care for you. Allow them to show it in the ways they can, and do the same in the ways in which you can, as their pastor.
Go in peace.

From Muthah+

Dear Newbie,
Yes, gifts are difficult.  My rule of thumb is be humble and accept all that are given.  The gifts are to you because you are their pastor.  They do not expect reciprocation.  A thank you note is important.  There are always 'gifts' that are given that will find themselves in the NEXT congregation's rummage sale, too. But always be thankful. 

The ancient thinking was that you 'earned points' when you were nice to your pastor. TBTG that 'theology' is beginning to pass. But the gifts are also a reciprocation by those who been aided by your ministry.  In a sense you have already gifted them with your presence, your preaching your spiritual direction and your compassion.  They have found a way to 'reciprocate' personally.  I sort of appreciate this kind of thinking because it much more organic to community life than the "job" mentality that so often clouds our theology of giving.  The 'tit for tat' mode of gift-giving is not the healthiest or the most mature form of offering.  It was probably a good rule of thumb growing up but it pales in the light of healthy community.  There will always be those who cannot offer gifts, just their love.  And that is what we sign for them.

Financial gifts are more problematic because of taxes and just the feeling of being 'bought' by a wealthy member.  Financial gifts always went into the discretionary fund to pay for lunches with parishioners or alms to those in need or gas to a program that isn't covered.  Often someone will give you a check and say--'buy something for yourself', or "use it on your vacation."  I have just found a new home and Sunday someone slipped me a check that said on the memo line "Happy Move."  Those are personal gifts.  The best way to accept them is with a thank you and a prayer.

For many of us old timers, the pastor's salary was so low that such gifts 'in kind' were especially welcomed.  I lived on zucchini and tomatoes one summer (we had a bumper crop).  And I always had fresh eggs and homemade soap from another farmer.  These gifts are a sign of your importance to them and their gratitude.  Be thankful and most of all be humble in accepting them.  They are the gifts of their heart.  You are their PARSON--the old English word for 'person' who represents them before God.  I am not talking about someone who stands in front of God--but stands with them before the court of the Holy One.   

I am so glad that the people of your congregation hold you in such high esteem.  It is a sign of your good work.

And from Martha, blogging at Reflectionary:

Having served smaller churches, a baby shower is a once-in-ten-years experience for me, and I haven't been in any church where there was a major expectation of attending showers or birthday parties. The only children's party I've been invited to was one where no presents were received other than donations of food for our church pet food pantry. (A really nice family!)

So I'll move on to the question of receiving gifts and let others respond about giving. I think it's hard for people who are in caring/giving professions to receive the appreciation of others. And certainly there are some presents that are uncomfortably expensive or perhaps edged with a desire to influence you. But in your case, as long as the magnitude of the gifts is in bounds, I say let them give you presents. It's your job to care for them in ways that are hard to measure; the material gifts they give you for your baby or at holidays are a way of giving back. It's not the same, certainly, as the hospital visits or the long talks or the prayers prayed when they can't see you doing it. You are one person, and they are many (and very social, apparently). They can't possibly expect you to reciprocate every gift. Their gifts to you are a way of saying, "I know how deeply you care for our church; thank you." Receive them with grace and thanks in the form of a hand-written note. 


Thanks to all of our matriarchs for their perspectives and suggestions.  Do you have something to bring to the conversation.  Join in by posting a comment below!

May you live this day in God’s amazing grace+

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Messy Night

Today's post is from Rev. Shannon at Until Everyone Hears.  

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1 NKJV

One of my favorite yearly events in any youth group is "Messy Night." The evening consists of shaving cream, silly string, eggs, spaghetti, jell-o, and any other sort of gross thing that can be washed off before the next morning.
In America we are a bit obsessed with cleanliness. We have anti-bacterial everything and have more choices in the cleaning and soap aisle than people do for food in other countries.
We are so over-the-top, in fact, that the smallest bit of dirt can drive a mom insane with the possibility of germs. 
But we are not so obsessed when it comes to perfecting holiness. We know that it is wrong to sin. We try to avoid sin. We even condemn other people's sin. But we rarely take the time to wash off the gunk and and move toward something better. 
Practicing love and service do more for cleansing than a prayer of forgiveness on its own.
So as we purposefully got messy, we also cleaned ourselves off and started off the school year with a brand new attitude. Moving onto perfecting holiness. Its a great attitude to have.
Until Everyone Hears...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings~~Wisdom for the wise

If you are a preacher and  it's Tuesday, it must be time to start thinking about Sunday's sermon again. As we get underway, let's begin with a prayer. 

Holy Wisdom, God of abundant life,

you call us to the banquet of your love.
We find you in the gifts you give;
we know you in the ones 
with whom we share this holy food,
and in the bread of this table, your son, Jesus Christ.
Grant that we may be bread for others,
as he is bread for us. Amen.                                             

No matter which lectionary track you're following, there is one common theme running through the Old Testament readings and Epistle: Wisdom. Our reading from 1 Kings recounts the beginning of the reign of Solomon, when God grants him "a wise and discerning mind." Alternatively in Proverbs we find Wisdom personified, who has built her house and calls us to, " Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight." And in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul advises his audience to ", not as unwise people but as wise."

And then we get to our gospel from John where we find ... (drumroll, please) ... the bread of life. One. more.time. And will you forgive my irreverence if I refer to this passage as the cannibal edition? With clear Eucharistic overtones, Jesus once again promises eternal life to those who partake of his flesh.

So where are you headed this week, preachers? Do you have a fresh insight on the bread of life to share? Will you invite your congregation to lives of wisdom? Are you following another plan for summer? Share your inspiration, your questions, whatever is on your minds as you begin to think about Sunday's sermon. 

(Readings, prayer and art found here.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

a busy August meet-n-greet!

August is such a great time to think about new things...and new friends! Hop around the ring and say hello to these new RevGals and BlogPals...

Stratoz, a BlogPal who shares a birthday with St. Ignatius! He says he has "too many interests for one blog but I go for it all the same. Join me as I express my love of jazz, nature, food, and art. At work I teach science and run a horticulture program. My wife, Mosaic Woman, and I run a crafting business, which we call Nutmeg Designs. I can make strudel. I love birds. I dig quilts. I eat out in Lansdale. And through it all runs the mystical. I am an Episcopalian who loves to go on silent retreats with Jesuits."

Jennifer, who many of us may know as Juniper, is blogging in a new home, There Is A River. She is "wife, mother, daughter, friend, pastor, dog-lover, onetime triathlete, seeker and writer. I have too many favorite things to list them all, but some current ones are: homemade vegan peanutbutter banana ice-cream, compassion, my husband's deep laugh, my son's earnest explanations, scifi reruns, swimming pools, intense memoirs, not camping, and Psalm 46."

Erin, blogging at Did She Say Seminary?, is a seminary student (just finished CPE on Friday, so stop by and show her some love!) who is "many things, but most often identified as... aunt to the 10 coolest kids on the planet, god-mother to an awesome one-year-old, daughter, sister, friend, rotten-dog mom, cheese-lover, traveler, bleeding-heart-do-gooder, disaster junkie, bike commuter, list-maker, Redskins/Orioles superfan, free-festival finder, public transportation enthusiast, knitter and micro beer drinker. Wow, that sounds more granola than it should. Don't worry, I also watch a lot of tv."

Patricia is an Episcopal priest in northern Illinois. "Not many undertake the journey from Salvation Army captain to Episcopal priest in the course of a lifetime—but, I have. This roller-coaster bi-denominational spiritual path provides me with pertinent and poignant Christian experiences. In seminary I joked about being switched at birth. It was my hiding-behind-humor attempt to acknowledge my convoluted path—from an impoverished childhood in central California to a middle-class maturity in northern Illinois; from a fundamental-evangelical Christian upbringing to a progressive mainline Christian walk of faith. In maturity, I find that I do not regret, my switchback-filled journey. Even though there are theologies and beliefs that I no longer embrace, some of which I even consider harmful, the Christian individuals encountered along the way have made a positive difference in my life—no matter on which side of the mainline-evangelical divide those individuals place themselves."

Sarah is a pastor in Minnesota. Her blog And So I Give Thanks is "A look into what I see every day as well as some ramblings about life. You never know what you'll find on here, some days it's thought out and others it is spur of the moment." She has some BIG. EXCITING. NEWS right now, so stop in and see/congratulate/say hi!

Welcome, new members! We're glad you're here! Everybody jump in to conversation in the comments and over on facebook, don't forget to stop by and pray at the Place For Prayer, and while you're at all of that, enjoy the last vestiges of summer/winter (depending on your hemisphere)!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Prayer for Proper 14B/Ordinary 19B/Pentecost 11

You sent your son to be bread for the world.
To feed the hungry.
Feed their minds with your word.
Feed their hearts with your love.
Feed their souls with everlasting life.
We too are hungry today for the bread of life that your son is.
There are so many hungry people  in the world, in our very own communities,
 that it is overwhelming to even think about it.
It is especially painful for us when we realize that it is mainly the children being affected.
But Lord what can one person do?
Teach us how to bring the bread of life to the physically hungry in this world.
Our minds are hungry for your word. There are so many words being said, written and spoken, that sometimes it seems our brains circuitry is overloaded with all the words. So Lord teach us how to quieten ourselves to be fed by your word.
Our hearts are hungry for your love, your grace, your joy, your peace.  Hearts are broken. Hearts are heavy . Hearts have had heartattacks. Hearts are lonely. Hearts are anxious.
Lord heal our hearts and teach us how to feed the bread of life to others in need.
Lord our souls long for everlasting life.
Our souls long to partake of the bread of life. Others in the world are hungry for your everlasting life.
Lord may we pass the bread of life onto those whose souls need feeling.

cross posted at a place of prayer and rev abi long and winding road