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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday Festival: All Hallow's Eve

I’m one of the new team hosting the Wednesday Festival and will contribute in those months where there is a 5th Wednesday!  My name’s Jemma.  Fourteen years ago I was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and a year later a priest.  Before coming to China, I was an ecumenical university chaplain.  I currently serve an international, multi-denominational, liturgical church in Beijing. 

One of the things that happens in pastoring an international congregation is that you experience the world’s news in quite a different way.  Chances are you now have personal connections with the regions affected.

Many of us have been watching and waiting with friends and loved ones as Superstorm Sandy has made an impact.  Sister Sarah writes about the people she has been in ministry with in Haiti here  and has several other posts about the impact of Sandy and the work of first-responders on her blog.  Carmen writes about Sandy from Virginia.  Our best thoughts and prayers are with those of you whose communities are now facing the aftermath of the storm.  

US electoral politics seem to have involved a lot of commentary on women’s bodies and reproductive health.  Marcia shares from a survivor’s perspective in an Open Letter to Politicians about Rape.  Marci writes about women's bodies.  

Also around the ring, there are conversations about anniversaries.  Milton's church celebrated their 125th anniversary and he wonders how to measure the life of a church.   Kristin at Liberation Theology Lutheran reflects on her parent's 50th wedding anniversary.  At Shuck and Jive, marking a much more painful anniversary, John reflects on life four months after his son took his own life.    

As always, the RevGals are praying at our prayer blog.  You can find a prayer in the aftermath of Sandy on that site.  Torn between the magnificence of the world, and the horrors, Marcia prays here

A final note, if you have a creative streak and ideas for a book's title, Jennifer Harris Dault is asking your views here as she brings a book about Baptist women's call stories to completion.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lectionary Leanings~~Loving your neighbor and all the saints edition

Many of us are beginning our sermon prep as we sit out Hurricane Sandy (aka Frankenstorm); as we begin with prayer, may we remember all those in the storm's path, and all those touched by her fury, that they may be held safe in God's loving care.

  • Eternal God,
    teach us to love you not only in mind and heart
    but also in purpose and action,
    that we may love the children of the earth,
    in Jesus Christ. Amen.

This week we again have choices. Will you be celebrating All Saints on Sunday? If so your readings may be found here; if you are sticking with the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 26, you'll find them here instead. 

I love All Saints Day--it's one of my favorite church days, dating back to childhood and learning to sing  "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God." (Do you know this wonderful picture book? When I was in seminary I did my field placement at the parish that is the setting for the book; the church suffered a devastating fire around the time the book was published and donated part of her profits to the rebuilding effort; while I was there the book was reissued and she came and spoke...but I digress.) The Episcopal Lectionary used a passage from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (another one of my favorite things) every year for All Saints, so I was a bit jarred to find John as this week's gospel (never mind that I've been on the RCL for five years now!) ANYWHO...(can you tell I am distracted by Sandy as I write, and by my flickering electricity?) In the gospel we hear the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus. On a day given to celebrating all those saints who have entered God's nearer presence ahead of us, the story of Lazarus offers us hope that death does not have the last word and ....well, I'll leave making that connection to you (and please share your inspiration!)

The All Saints' lections also give the preacher a choice between the Wisdom of Solomon and Isaiah. Both of these readings are among the selection suggested for funerals in the (Episcopal) prayer book, and both offer a wonderful vision of life eternal with God, also apt for the day. Finally we might chose Revelation and a vision of the new Jerusalem.

If you are going with Proper 26, you might choose to preach on the first of two selections from the book of Ruth, in which Ruth demonstrates her unfailing loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi and sets off with her as Naomi returns to the land of her birth. Or you might go with Deuteronomy and the Shema, that wonderful affirmation of faith that is at the heart of Judaism. This reading goes well with the gospel from Mark, in which a scribe challenges Jesus about which law is the first.

Lots and lots of choices, preachers. Where is the Spirit calling you?

Monday, October 29, 2012

RevGalBookPals: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

It's rare that I read a book for this site that is as promoted as Rachel Held Evans's A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I excitedly received one of many advanced copies that were distributed to reviewers and bloggers. I planned to read the book anyway, because 1) I am always interested in theological experiments and 2) I think Rachel Held Evans is a powerful theologian who maintains an inspiring descant of openness against what can be the heavy beat of contemporary evangelical thought.

Before I even read my copy, I was already privy to the way Evans's own theological community, evangelicals, was reacting about her book. I do not want to link to negativity here, but there were those who were upset about her use of the word "vagina" in the book (it appears twice), those who accused her of mocking the Bible, those who already believe her theology does not fit the evangelical framework, and those who wrote with pity about her husband. Rather than support the book, which is fairly innocuous in its discussions of women in the Bible and of biblical interpretation and application, the backlash (I imagine) will just make people more eager to read it.

That's fine with me. The scholarship in this book reveals many lessons about biblical women and church history that may be ho-hum to clergy of all genders in mainline denominations, but it is likely to be very revelatory to those in the pews around us. Let's face it: most of us cannot be as loud as the evangelicals around us and Evans has done a commendable (and readable) job of making a book suitable for any Bible study- with brief sketches of biblical women, including Eve, Deborah, Tamar, Vashti, Mary of Nazareth, and Lydia, among others.

In her introduction, Evans talks about why she was considering undertaking a year of study and discernment as to what it means to embrace "biblical womanhood":

Now, we evangelicals have a nasty habit of throwing the word biblical around like it's Martin Luther's middle name. We especially like to stick it in front of other loaded words, like economics, sexuality, politics, and marriage to create the impression that God has definitive opinions about such things, opinions that just so happen to correspond with our own. Despite insistent claims that we don't "pick and choose" what parts of the Bible we take seriously, using the word biblical prescriptively like this almost always involves selectivity. 
After all, technically speaking, it is biblical for a woman to be sold by her father (Exodus 21:7), biblical for her to be forced to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), biblical for her to remain silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), biblical for her to cover her head (1 Corinthians 11:6), and biblical for her to be one of multiple wives (Exodus 21:10).  
This is why the notion of "biblical womanhood" so intrigued me. Could an ancient collection of sacred texts, spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own, really offer a single cohesive formula for how to be a woman? And do all the women of Scripture fit into this same mold? Must I? (xix)
Her questions are very powerful and not so different or far from what many RevGals and Pals asked themselves upon entering (or attempting to enter) ministry. Many of us are still only the second or third generation of women clergy for denominations (those of us who are leaders as such). Others of us come from traditions that have honored women's leadership longer, but we may be first female leaders in our denomination or judicatory.

Evans goes on to set up her experiment with certain virtues, values, and tasks. She gives herself monthly goals, regular practices, efforts for the whole year: including submitting to her husband's will in all things, nurturing a gentle and quiet spirit, dressing modestly, refraining from gossip, and avoiding teaching in church. (xxii)

Evans's research is thorough. She consults different Bible translations and has several mentors, including a Jewish woman who gently steers her understanding and interpretation of Hebrew scripture and its intersections of worship and life. Her goals including various cooking projects, attempts at mothering, sewing enterprises, global travel, and submission are not undertaken tongue-in-cheek or with an idea that these things, done correctly, curry favor with God.

Instead, her projects reveal how quickly an attempt to create, achieve, and perpetuate a biblical standard can leave one frustrated and feeling distanced both from those one loves (and who love one in return) and, possibly, even distanced from God. Her struggle to "fulfill" the various tasks described in the woman of Proverbs 31 is a good illustration, both of Evans's own realizations and how she communicates what a reader can take away from the scripture:

The whole exercise had brought to the surface one of my most persistent insecurities- the fact that, despite having breasts and ovaries, I can't multitask to save my lief. I've always hated this about myself because the prevailing theory is that nature created all women everywhere to be accomplished multitasks so they can care for their young while simaltaneously fighting off predators, searching for water, and talking on their cell phones. Well, somebody forgot to let me in on this one. When confronted with a long and varied to-do list, I react more like a squirrel in the path of a car, frantically darting one direction and then another without actually getting anywhere besides the backside of a tire.
 I knew from my research that Proverbs 31 was never meant to be turned into a to-do list, but there was something about the spectacularity with which I was blowing this that beleaguered my confidence. Most women walk around with the sense that they are disappointing someone. This year, I imagined that Someone to be God. Though Proverbs 31 represented a poetic ideal, I couldn't shake the feeling that if these were indeed the accomplishments of a competent, capable, virtuous, valiant, and worthy wife, then I must be none of those things. (85)

Evans's realization that the proverb that so many women hear in part or in whole as a challenge was written or spoken from a mother to her son about the kind of wife he should choose. Maybe she was the kind of mother who thought (or knew) there would never be a good enough woman. However, the standard for a "woman of valor" was set for thousands of years or until women, like Evans, reclaim it for their own place and time and circumstances.

Ultimately, the power of this book lies in its readability and challenge to understand scripture from one's own context. This is not a kind of relativism, but a reality infused with and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Who is God calling me to be, in the time and place where God has put me, with the gifts I've been given, and the circumstances in which I find myself? How do I apply the values that Jesus espoused, values of generosity, peace-making, openness, solidarity, and gentleness, as a Christian- not just as a woman?

Evans makes a valiant attempt to stake a corner of the tent of feminist scriptural interpretation for the evangelical tradition. Many in that tradition will ignore or attempt to negate her efforts. Arguably, it's up to those of us who have found shelter in that tent for years to welcome her, to support her, and to salute her- "Woman of Valor!".

I strongly commend this book to your young adult classes or reading groups, to your adult studies (men and women), and for your own reading. There is a significant amount of supplementary material to the book found on Evans's website. I believe this was to limit the length of the book, rather than draw traffic.

The truth of this book, and of the time in which we are living, is that there are too many negative words and images that surround being female, being feminist, and being honest about one's own self, one's body, and one's experiences. We need all the voices we can raise, lest the rocks do our own work, to say that we are valued, gifted, and powerful creations of God- as much as any other work of creation. We have to do the simultaneous work that is Evans's struggle throughout the book: We must  1) work to forgive ourselves more easily and remind ourselves of the words of grace that come from God, but 2) be far more stringent with those who attempt to box us in, with impossible or painful standards, and who would say their words belong to God.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Prayer for Reformation Sunday

God you are our safe place to hide.
You are our mighty fortress.
You are our ever present help in time of need.
We can and do turn to you in the midst of our troubles.
And Lord our world is full of difficulties.
Lord we may feel afraid, but it does not overcome us
Because we know we can put our trust in you.

 Your love and grace are like streams of water in the desert.
Your joy comes splashing down upon us.
Your refresh and renew us like rain coming down on the earth.
Bring your water of life to those who are thirsty
 and living in a dry and weary land.

 Where there are wars, bring your peace.
Where there is starvation, fill the empty bellies.
Where there is despair, bring your hope.
Where there is animosity, bring your reconciliation.
Where there is abuse, bring your tender mercies,
Where there is poverty, bring your charity.
Where there is illness, bring your healing.
Where there is grief, bring your gentleness.
Where there is injustice, bring your justice.

 Lord you are mighty fortress, our strong deliverer.
In you we put our trust and release ourselves into your hands.

cross posted at revgalprayerpals and rev abi's long and winding road

Saturday, October 27, 2012

11th Hour Preacher Party: A Bulwark Never Failing Edition

I'm teaching a worship class, and this week we discussed hymns we like and don't like. It was funny how some were on one person's favorites list and another person's "yuck! I hate it!" list. 

"I don't know, Davey."
One "yuck!" that really surprised me was "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." How can you not like the theme song to Davey and Goliath, I asked? 

Many in the classroom nodded, knowingly.

What do you know today, Preachers? Do you have a sermon underway? Are you struggling to find the words? Seeking out a new way to say something to the children? Will you sing Luther's mighty words in celebration of Reformation Sunday?

Whatever lies ahead today, I hope you'll pull a chair up to the virtual table and join us. Think of this group as a fortress built by God, a safe place to gather and work, a bulwark never failing.

As always, the coffee will be fair trade, the half and half will never run dry, and I'll be keep a plate piled with the best flavors from the Holy Donut. (Calorie free to you, if not to me.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Five: What's on your shelf?

You probably have, like me, a study full of books. Maybe they spill into another room. They go with you in the car to appointments when you might have some dead space in your schedule. In my study, the books are double-stacked and in somewhat precarious piles. I've always dreamed of a study that looked like this:

Recently I decided to re-organize my study and put books of like topic and purpose together. (Of course, they don't stay that way -- but that's another matter!) I also culled out some books which I hesitated to even donate to the library book sale because they were either extremely outdated or had content that I didn't want the unexamined mind to read. (Not quite as bad as "The Total Woman" but... you get my drift!)

SOooo... with that in mind, let's talk about the books in your life!

1. STUDYING: What is your favorite book or series for sermon prep or study? Or have you moved from books to on-line tools for your personal study?

2. IN THE QUEUE: Do you have a queue of books you are longing to read or do you read in bits and pieces over several books at a time? What's in the queue?

3. FAVORITE OF ALL TIME: What's one book that you have to have in your study? Is it professional, personal, fun or artistic? (For instance, I have a copy of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It just helps sometimes.)

4. KINDLE OR PRINT? or both? Is there a trend in your recent purchases?

5. DISCARDS: I regularly cruise the "FREE BOOKS" rack at our local library. (I know, I know. It's a bad habit!) When's the last time you went through your books and gave some away (or threw some away?) Do you remember what made the discard pile?

BONUS: Post a picture of the present state of your study! Just in the interests of full disclosure, here's mine! :)

I'm looking forward to reading your responses!


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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Colleagues Behaving Badly

This week's question could probably have come from many of us at one time or another...

I get along well with male colleagues. I am not a newcomer to ministry, nor to life. But I still find myself surprised when male clergy who would likely describe themselves as liberal, progressive or even feminist, behave badly when I am in a position of authority "over" them. I may be teaching a class or workshop, or chairing a board or committee, or mentoring a student.

I don't expect it. I'm not looking for it. But it happens, and on those occasions I find I revert to old feelings and response patterns.
Matriarchs, how have you handled the male colleague who resists your appropriate leadership? How do you keep your cool? Move past it? Keep the group, if there is one, on task?

Kathryn was our sole respondent this week:

Good question. I go by the 3 strikes and you're out(ed) policy. I'll ignore it once, even twice... pause after it the third time and then name it. The key for me is quelling the ol' fight/flight response, by being able to name the behavior myself internally and then I'm more able to defuse the situation - hopefully with humor. Here are a few of the things I've said out loud,
"Are you okay, you seem a bit more outspoken than usual?"
"Really? You want to be that guy?"
"Please stop."

Because they take pride in their self-defined idea of themselves as progressive, liberal, etc... this is usually enough to get it to stop.

A guy would call them out on the behavior, it's important as women that we stand up for ourselves as well.

How have you handled colleagues behaving badly?  How did your strategy work for you?

Our mailbox is empty again...awaiting your questions.  Don't wait, thinking you will get to it later!  Send us your question here, please!

Finally, after several years of co-editing this feature, I am stepping down.  It's been a joy to work with Earthchick and all the Matriarchs, and a privilege to steward the joys and struggles you have shared in your questions for us.   Earthchick will resume as editor next week; next year another member of the blogring will join her.

May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Running

As I take my first turn with the Wednesday Festival, I look around the blogs of RevGals&Pals and see that many of us are running: running literally in marathons, running figuratively through life's busyness, running logistically through our "to do" lists, running in order to keep running, running in order to create space for stopping. 

I'm a runner myself....a schedule-runner, that is, who prefers to wear nothing shorter than two-inch heels and enjoys the scramble from worship to soccer to funeral to sabbath to coffee to hospital, seeing the breadth of life in the collision of time. (Admittedly, stopping isn't my best spiritual discipline.) 

Here are some of the paces around the RevGalBlogPals network:

Sarah at And So I Give Thanks..... notices the upbeat "Post Race Hangover," when one's body and spirit are full of confidence following a race. Another Sarah recently completed a half marathon; she reflects on being patient with ourselves, in running and in life.To contrast the speed of our running Revs, Revdonna recalls the importance of two hours that she spent sitting with another person. 

Revkjarla shares the "check" she had to make on a train of thoughts that started running away ... and with a similar eye on feminist concerns, Elizabeth mulls over the complexities of the "marathon" that is non-1950s-womanhood.

We might send some love to and commiserate with Did she say seminary? on the pace of running and juggling that the seminary years often require. Kristin and her family recently made a "running" trip to a camp, and she marvels at the ability of even a few moments in a different space to renew us.

Jeanne at Remember Your Baptism upends the usual image of running out into one's busy day, instead suggesting (with the delightful artwork of Brian Andreas) that inviting the day in sets a more prayerful tone. And Judy shares her coping methods for the intensity of the US presidential race.

As you visit these and other RevGals&Pals, add your blessings of encouragement for the paces and ways that we are all moving through our days.

~ Rachel

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lectionary Leanings~~I once was blind but now I see edition

Let us pray.

Eternal One, whose thoughts and ways are not ours,
you alone are God, awesome, holy, and most high.
School us in the ways of faith and wisdom,
that we, like Job and Bartimeus,
may learn to truly see and hear,
and in humility find blessing. Amen.

I don't know where the week has gone, but here we are at Tuesday again, hopefully turning our minds towards Sunday's preaching task. As we close out October we also close out our reading of the book of Job, and we travel with Mark just a bit farther on the road to Jerusalem. 

In this week's readings, Job responds to God's message from the whirlwind with remarkably good grace, and then gets his "fairy tale" ending as his fortunes are restored. Many have found this ending difficult -- how does it resonate with you? If you've been preaching Job, does this lead you to a satisfactory conclusion? 

If you don't have the patience of Job (sorry, couldn't resist) perhaps you're tackling Jeremiah. Here in the midst of a book full of desolation and despair, the prophet offers a message of hope. How does this consolation speak to your congregation?

In our gospel we find Jesus passing through Jericho where he encounters the blind beggar Bartimeus who calls out to him, addressing him as "Son of David." Jesus rewards Bartimeus' seeing him for who he really is with the restoration of his vision. How does seeing Jesus help us better see the world around us? Lots to think about. 

Working Preacher reminds me that this Sunday is also "Reformation Sunday," not something that someone like me with "Episcopal" in her DNA, would have otherwise known. (Sorry, reformed friends!) If your worship focuses on this, you might choose to preach on Romans or John. Check out David Lose's column for some helpful commentary as well as a link to last year's Reformation Sunday column.

So where is the Word calling you this week, preachers? Join the discussion and let us know what you're thinking. 

Readings found here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

RevGalBookPals: When God is Silent

As a book reviewer, there is a hardly ever time to reflect back and give a little boost to a book you continue to use or mull over that might have been printed 5, 10, 15 years ago. There are always new books being published that need promotion (or panning) and discussion. There are new ideas pouring forth from pens and keyboards. Yet, many of us have old, sweet wells that we occasionally return to drink from, longing for the thirst-quenching imagery, structure, implications, and power of that certain book.

For me, one of these wells is Barbara Brown Taylor's slim volume: When God is Silent.   Among Taylor's many works, this is the only one I've read more than once. I have owned several copies and even purchased the electronic version for this review.

In this season of campaigning (in the United States) and struggle (around the world), I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of words that I (and, presumably, you as well) encounter every day. In all this sound, in all this information, in all this persuasion, I long for the voice of God. Not someone speaking for God, but to hear the stillness of thunder and the deafening of a whisper. Feeling overwhelmed a few weeks ago, I decided it was time, once again, to revisit these three lectures Taylor delivered in a series in 1997 at Yale Divinity School. It's powerful, thought-provoking, anguished, consoling, aggravating, lining stuff that I cannot recommend highly enough for anyone whose system feels overwhelmed.

Taylor addresses the topic of God's silence (or perceived silence) in three sections. The book is small and short, so none of the sections are very long. The first addresses the inundation of words that surround us each day. Despite being fifteen years old, Taylor's description of being swamped by words is even more true now than it was then. The second section deals with the biblical notion of God's silence. The third portion covers how preachers are to honestly address and bear the silence of God with and for their congregations.

Taylor begins with the powerful image of God speaking creation into existence:

But the most dangerous word God ever says is Adam. All by itself it is no more than a pile of dust- nothing to be concerned about , really- but by following it with the words for image and dominion, God sifts divinity into that dust, endowing it with things that belong to God alone. When God is through with it, this dust will bear the divine likeness. When God is through with it, this dust will exercise God's own dominion- not by flexing its muscles but by using its tongue.
Up to this point in the story, God has owned the monopoly on speech. Only God has had the power to make something out of nothing by saying it is so. Now, in this act of shocking generosity, God's stock goes public. "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them"- human beings endowed by God with the power of the Word. (p.10)
This gift is the one that makes us co-creators with God, but is also the one that we use most often to create trouble- for ourselves and for others. The words, the very sayability, of our humanity are what often distract us, become our idols, and create the space that we long for God to make up... even though we keep spooling out the tape. Yet, despite the popularity of meditation, silent retreats, and quiet reflection, the  noises go on- around us and inside us.

No wonder so many of us are ambivalent about silence. Silence may suggest tranquility and awe, but it may also mean malfunction and death. Peace appeals to me, but not so much that I am ready to rest in peace. Making a little noise is how I remind myself that I am alive. (p. 31) 
For Christians, the use of words is how we have maintained connection to the Word, to God's presence among us, to the last time we are certain that God was speaking.

When the disciples spoke in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, their words became acts. There was no vacuum between their saying and God's doing. When they spoke in the name of the Word made flesh, God came to earth all over again. 
In this way, a certain kind of speech became definitive for Christians. The name they used for God set them apart from those who used other names. What they said they believed about God could get them killed, but saying it was so important to them that many of them willingly chose death over silence. As time went one, they compressed what they believed into a short version that they could say together, and later they took their turns killing people who tried to say anything different about God... The Word was described, defined, delimited by words, so that what Christians said became more decisive than anything they did. (p. 32) 

"What they said became more decisive than anything they did." If that doesn't sum up contemporary culture, then I'm not sure what does. Most of us RevGals and Pals find ourselves preaching in the same culture in which we live, overwhelmed by words and trying to figure out, to receive the inspiration for, to dream about new ways of sharing the story we love to tell. Even the tools for creativity have stale descriptions, "thinking outside the box" and "keeping it fresh".

Our hearts, and the hearts we feed, long for God's word in God's voice. Yet, we do not always considering what we're requesting. The people of Israel heard the voice of God at Sinai and, immediately, turned to Moses and saying:

"You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die" (Exodus 20:19. They were not up to a direct encounter. They wanted a mediator, and in that moment the ministry was born- an opening for someone to stand between the people and God, someone to take the heat, veil the light, buffer the voice, deliver the message in a human voice, so that the people could hear it without fainting from fear. (p. 37) 
Taylor's exegesis of God's growing silence in the Bible is very provocative. Her third section, the recommendations for pastors, is probably the weakest portion of the book. However, that does make it the weakest portion of a very strong book overall. I wholeheartedly recommend that you make the time to read these lectures, to ponder them, and to consider your own relationship to words, the Word, and the God we believe is still speaking, even when we do not hear.

I am considering reading this with adults in a more advanced study. While written for clergy, it is worth having a deep conversation as congregation and pastor about roles, words, and how we listen and speak for God. Your thoughts? Do you feel overwhelmed by words (after just reading a long review)? What are your thoughts on how people are able to hear God and God's promises over the relentless drumbeat of consumerism, patriotism, and information that washes over their lives? What is your own perspective on how God is still revealing God's Word(s) in the world?

Taylor, Barbara Brown. When God is Silent. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Lanham, MD. 1998

All citations taken from the Nook edition of the book.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

prayer for Proper 24B/Ordinary 29B/Pentecost 21

Creator God,

We praise you,
We love,
We thank you.

When we look at all you have created it catches our breath
And we find ourselves in awe of you.
We find ourselves wondering how can such a God care about each one of us?
And yet you do.

And because you care for all of your creation including each one of us, we can bring to you our needs, our cares, our hurts, our frustrations, our joys, our hopes, our dreams and our celebrations.

Caring God,
We bring before you those in our midst who are suffering, praying for your loving presence, knowing that you too know what it is like to suffer.
We pray for those who are grieving for your comfort as you know what is like to grieve.
We pray for those who are worried because they have no work, no food, no shelter, Relieve their fears as they find work, have shelter, and have food to eat.

Loving God,
You sent your son Jesus to be servant of all and to set free many people.
You also call us to be servants.
Lord, it is not easy to serve in a world that values power, being number one and winning at any cost.
You have set the model for us to live as servants through your son,
Encourage us, teach us, and inspire us to lives of service for you.
Set all free from the chains that bind them by the power of your love.

cross posted at revgalsprayerblog and rev abi's long and winding road

11th Hour Preacher Party: Make a Wish, Grant a Wish Edition

This sleepy kitty has had a big day. A big month, really.

A month ago, Ruby was an indoor Pennsylvania cat.  This month, she has become an outdoor-venturing cat exploring a tropical Louisiana back yard.  Her world opened up when she discovered the cat door!

She has staked out her territory in the house, but she hasn't quite made peace with the other two cats in the household. 

Still, she's 15 years old, and she made the 1200 mile journey with grace and spunk. And she always seems to make lots of time for naps!

I'm sure there's something profound or inspirational in that. I wish. 

Adventure. Stability. Progress. Peace.  I wish.

I love the words of Jesus (yet again!) when he told them (James and John? the rest? us?):  

"You don't know what you are asking."  

No kidding!

But you never know until you ask.

So, come right in, all you preachers, and ask boldly!  It's a party, so make a wish!  Thanks for bringing cyber-snacks!  I wish you would let us read your sermon drafts and let us know how we can pray with you today.    

Just ask.    

Welcome, friends!   

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Five: Church and/or Politics

Churches of different denominations are working towards having Consecration Sunday for tithing commitments to be made. As these are being planned in various churches, our local community is opening up national voting for early voters before Election Day. All this seems to be coming at the same time as we all ponder WHO to vote for!

So for today's Friday Five, share about your thoughts and/or struggles about this time in church and/or political time of the U.S. nation: Think of five aspects of either or both that you want to bring up!

Please leave a link in the comments about your thoughts, so we will come and visit your blog.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Revitalizing Women's Ministries

In many congregations, ministries with and for women are morphing into new expressions.  Today's question is from a pastoral leader who is assisting in this process in her setting:

We are doing a "re-boot" of the women's ministry, as it had dwindled to 3 women having coffee at Starbucks on a Wednesday morning (when the rest of us were working). We have buy-in from these 3 women to move to the evening so that all can attend. (Hallelujah).

My question is more one of content. While I could write/lead the studies, I was hoping there was a book study or Bible study that would work which is more topical in nature. It does NOT have to be about "women's things" (i.e. babies, boobs and menopause!) All of the women's studies I looked at on-line were kind of an assumption that all women were "egg-layers and pew warmers" (as one of my seminary buddies used to say.) We have professional women (doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers), women in the arts, and stay-at-home moms. The denominational materials I could find were hopeless (American Baptist).

I know this kind of follows on a previous question about adult studies, but I'm really looking for ideas on curriculum and materials. 

Neither An Egg-Layer Nor a Pew-Warmer Be

Martha at Reflectionary has a creative suggestion:

In a past church, I created a program called Soul Spa. It contained a mixture of what I like to call galship, worship/devotional time, discussion and some sort of response (art/writing/contemplation time) which we shared as desired. I kept it short, purposefully, advertising it as being about as long as the time you would give to a pedicure. This was a Saturday morning group to accommodate working women, although it could certainly work in the evening. We gathered at 9 for coffee/tea and a homemade treat of some kind (people signed up to do it). I created a worship center built around the theme for the week, but also with a continuing element. So there might have been a candle, flowers, a cross, stones, a lovely branch, an odd thing I brought from home, an art image--the only limit is your imagination. I offered an opening reflection based on a scripture passage. I used stories about Jesus' encounters with women, but that was mostly to narrow the field. One session was passages from Mark, another session on  passages from Luke. I wasn't there long enough to get to Matthew or John. After the devotional time, we would respond. At the entry level, it was something easy like coloring a mandala as an example of reflective or meditative practice. I provided the templates from a book. Later, as the group knew each other better and felt more comfortable, we created our own images or did some writing, and I needed to allow more time for sharing.

As a closing, I sent people out with a task (write a letter to someone you haven't talked to in a long time/someone you miss) or a question or even a word to contemplate, in each case something coming out of either the gospel reading or the devotional I developed around it. We used a stack of cards with words for reflection in one six-week session. I had planned to use them only once, but people loved it so I brought them back in the following weeks. In another session, we used a set of stones with words from Isaiah written on them. I already had these and simply re-used them, but each week I had them arranged in some different way as part of the worship center. At the end of the six weeks we used them to construct a cairn. 

That group went on without me, but they moved in the direction of studying a book together, to take away the preparation piece. 

Jennifer at  An Orientation of Heart writes:

I like the studies published by Horizons Magazine, a publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Past studies are available as well as the current year’s.

There’s no shortage of books to study, and some have study guides included.  Some great ones include some by RevGals:Any Day a Beautiful Change  by Katherine Willis Pershey and Sabbath in the Suburbs by Mary Ann McKibben Dana come to mind.
Another great new book is The Welcoming Congregation by Henry Brinton.

Hope this helps!

From Kathryn:

I find The Thoughtful Christian ( and Chalice Press ( are two places that have resources that push beyond the ordinary devotional offerings. Also, the dvd series ' Living the Questions' ( is very thought provoking.

And from Muthah+

Ask the group what they want!  And then tell them what your gifts are.  Often what they want is some quality time to learn what you know.  Meet the group and then discuss what are burning issues for them.  If they choose something that you don't know anything about and are not interested in --say so.  I have done that with a day-time group.  I love teaching Scripture and they wanted to learn--sooo we have been studying various books of the Bible.  But for the summer, they wanted to do a book study.  I leave such things up to them.  If they want to learn about stuff I know nothing about, I look to find someone who does and join the group as a learner.

In my younger days, I was hesitant to share what I knew with women who were vastly older than I.  But I had the theological education and they didn't so I played my strong suit.  I taught what I knew.  But as time went on, I found that if I presented a topic that I knew a little about, others would speak up and the conversations were rich with comments from the whole group.  Now, our groups range all over but I use Scripture as the base for all our discussion.  

This does not mean that we study Scripture the whole time.  We talk about issues that come up in the group, topics of the day as they apply to that passage, and sometimes it means grieving with someone who has lost someone.  And it is in the community that develops that makes the whole group worthwhile.    The whole of women's ministry, no matter who the women are or their abilities, is based on making connections and providing a forum to share faith.  Radical hospitality needs to be practiced but you have to be the one that the group looks to set boundaries, provide structure and bring the discussion back to what you began on.

It is groups like these that have been the joys of my ministry.  I have seen more "aha's" in groups like these than anywhere else over the past 30 years.  It has also demanded of me the greatest amount of humility too---to listen to the stories as they come and find that God has visited a person with some unique grace.   

Do you have some ideas  for this pastoral leader...some thoughts about the new forms that ministries with and for women are taking?  Join in the conversation.

Our mailbox is empty right now; it's a great time to send us a question that you'd like the matriarchs to consider.

May you live in God's amazing grace+