Friday, June 30, 2006

A Letter to God

Dear God;

Excuse me, but we need to have a little talk. I know that we discussed earlier this week that Anita had called, asking me to join her team. She graciously gave you and me a "few" days to discuss this proposition. That was Monday. Today is Thursday, and I have a feeling that she will be calling this evening, so we need to get busy.

So far the only advice you seem to be giving me about this choice is, "You know the answer." I'm sorry to say that that is not very helpful. If I knew the answer, God, I wouldn't be asking you about it, would I?

I have to confess, heavenly Father, that a few weeks ago, when S was dealing with this same question, I didn't quite understand his worry that he might interfere with or in some way diminish someone's walk experience. I thought (and still do think) that he will be a wonderful member of the men's team, but now I understand his worries. Have you met me, God? I talk when I shouldn't and don't know what to say when I need to know. The thought that something I might do (or not do) might get in Your way on a walk is intimidating.

"You know the answer."

You know, God, that bigger decisions are coming up sooner or later, and I hope you plan to be more helpful with those. I mean, really, how much could it cost to send a postcard?

Oh, right, I guess I know the answer to that one -- it costs everything.


The Middle of Winter

Colossians 3:12-17

It was the middle of winter. The church was cold – the fact that the trustees could not decide on a setting for the thermostat was evident in the number of women who refused to remove their coats and gloves in the sanctuary. The people were still arriving, stomping the snow off their shoes at the door, creating little puddles of water. No one bothered to remove his cold attitude, however, and the people in the room weren’t providing any warmth to chase away the chill of the Sunday morning.

Announcements were shared. The speaker didn’t bother to ask the congregation to “greet each other in Christian love.” The walls between these people were too high and too thick to be breached with a handshake. The choir had long since disbanded over arguments about the style of music it should sing. The organist, who had been playing at the church for as long as anyone could remember, played the anthem by herself. No one really listened to it, because they had all heard it before. They didn’t sing hymns anymore; there was no choir to lead them, and no one really felt the joy of any “Amazing Grace.”

Finally the time for the sermon arrived. The minister, who had been newly appointed the previous week, stood at the pulpit and surveyed the flock whose care had been entrusted to her. Her hands were shaking, and she wondered if her voice would fail her. In the three days she had been living in the parsonage, she had received not less that six phone calls warning her to avoid the mistakes of the previous pastor. No one really agreed what those mistakes had been, but everyone was sure that all of the problems they now faced were because of him. No one was particularly confident that she would be able to make a difference, but each of them wanted to make sure that the new preacher understood “how things were.”

She gripped the edge of the pulpit, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. She was not at all reassured by the grim stares of those who sat in front of her, waiting for her to fall off of the tight-rope she was walking. Reaching for her bible, she said, “Today’s lectionary reading is from Isaiah 55.” She reached verse 12, and said, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

Someone near the middle of the room slammed a hymnal down on the pew. On the side of the room, someone else laughed – not a laugh of amusement, but one of snide contempt. An indrawn breath was the last sound to be heard before the room fell to complete silence – as heavy as the humidity on a mid-August day, but with none of the warmth.

In the quiet, the door burst open, and light from the mid-winter sun filled the room. Everyone turned to see who would dare come into church late. They watched as a man began to walk down the aisle. He had dark hair, a little long, with a tiny amount of gray at the temples. The gray spoke of years of experience, but did nothing to dim the vibrant and passionate life which seemed to vibrate from him. His eyes were as blue as the hair of one of the youth who sat in the balcony – an unnatural color – and they seemed to spark. Laugh lines radiated from his eyes, but right now, he wasn’t laughing. He wore a simple outfit of slacks and a golf shirt, covered by a worn but comfortable-looking brown cardigan. The only odd thing about his appearance was that he wasn’t wearing any shoes, which caused many of those present to frown.

He continued to walk up the aisle, not stopping to sit in a pew. One very brave little boy escaped his mother’s restraining hand to dart out into the aisle, stopping the stranger. The man bent down and smiled at the boy, the wrinkles in his face becoming more pronounced. The boy said, “Why aren’t you wearing any shoes?”

The man replied, “I haven’t found any that don’t hurt my feet. No one can seem to make a pair that I can’t overfill.”

“My shoes hurt my feet, too, but Mom says I have to wear them.”

He smiled again, and said, “Moms can be particular about things like that.” He ran his hand over the little boy’s red hair, and then continued up the aisle, toward the altar. No one tried to stop him; they were all amazed that this man had the effrontery to come into their church.

He smiled at the minister, who smiled back, and then he turned to speak to the church. Unrest was starting to travel across the crowd, but everything hushed when the man’s voice was heard. The man was a stranger to them -- they hadn’t heard his voice before. Even so, they immediately recognized it.

“I have chosen you. You are a holy and beloved people, and yet you are disappointing me.”

No one moved. No one spoke a word or even blinked an eye.

“I have given you many gifts, including a wardrobe that would please me. I picked it out for you – each piece perfect in its structure and appearance. You are to clothe yourselves in compassion and kindness, and yet you don’t even seem to know the meaning of the words. The grace of humility and the soft touch of gentleness are foreign to you.” He laughed, not the laugh he had shared with the little boy, but one of disbelief. “Patience? Not to be found here. I love you, and I have created you to love each other. None of you is perfect.” He stopped, and glared at them, his blue eyes intense with meaning. “I am telling you to bear with each other, and to forgive each other’s mistakes. Whatever the grievances are, none of them are more important than the love you are to show to each other.” He stopped for a moment, seeming to want to add emphasis to his next words. “I have forgiven you. I forgive you everyday. Forgive each other.”

He turned toward the minister, and walked across the front to the church to reach the pulpit. Stopping for a moment, he took off the sweater, and said, “Over all of this, put on the gift of love, which binds everything else together.” Saying this, he laid the sweater across her shoulders. Wrapped in the warmth left in the garment by the love of God, she started to cry, finally able to escape the cold.

Turning back to the congregation, he found them no longer frozen, but instead holding each other, some with tears, and some with smiles – all sharing warmth. “I sent my son to teach you about me. He came so that you would know peace, and so that it would rule your heart. Remember that you are all part of one body – you are all part of me. Be thankful. Remember what my son taught you, teach each other of his words, and care for each other. Let gratitude overflow from your hearts and worship – sing songs which echo from the spirit I have left with you. Sing with gratitude and joy; your efforts will be pleasing to me, and you will know I am with you, smiling.

“Whatever you do, do it in the name of my son. Remember that you are beloved, and remember to love each other.”

God blew the warm air of his breath across the room, chasing away any remaining chill. He walked back down the aisle and left, but all those who remained knew that he would be back, and that he would be welcomed into His church.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

What are we missing?

I ate lunch in the park the other day. After lunch, I grabbed my camera and took a walk. I was parked near the rose garden, so that's where I headed. I'm walking through the roses, looking for a good one for a photo when all of a sudden I looked up. The garden (if you live in Huntington, you should go see it) was FULL of roses -- hundreds of blooms. I almost missed it because I was so determined to find the ONE rose for a picture.

Do you ever do that? Do you focus so much on one thing that you miss everything else that is wonderful that is happening around you? I do that all the time!

I was reading Philippians today and came across one of my very favorite verses (Philippians 4:8):

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Think about these things!

If you know me, you may have heard this story before, but I can't read this verse without thinking of it. When our younger son, J, was born, he suffered from an injury to the nerve bundle in his right shoulder -- called a brachial plexus injury. For the first six weeks of his life, he wasn't able to move his right arm at all. The first time we took him to occupational therapy, at 7 weeks old, he was able to shrug his shoulder, just slightly, and we were thrilled.

Of necessity, we were very focused on his injury and its treatment.

One day I was in church, and this verse was part of the lectionary reading. All of a sudden it hit me -- I was so focused on J's injury, that I was missing everything else about him -- everything wonderful and commendable. Everything excellent and worthy of praise. Since then, I've always been grateful for this verse and for God's excellent timing in helping me to hear it.
It occurred to me today as I read this verse again, that we do the same thing so often in life. We are so focused on one thing, that we miss the abundance of everything else around us. Sometimes I need a reminder to open my eyes, and to see it ALL -- what is true, honorable, excellent and worthy of praise. It's there -- it's all around me -- but I get tunnel vision and miss it.

Images: One rose from the rose garden followed by an ABUNDANCE of roses in the garden, and then one that has nothing to do with the post, but I like it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Baptism -- All about grace

I wrote yesterday about baptism, and since I still have more thoughts, I wanted to continue in today's post.

I think one of the key questions regarding baptism is its purpose. I wasn't baptized into the Methodist church; I was baptized a Presbyterian at the age of seven, but I was confirmed into the United Methodist church (age = 17). I didn't start attending the UM church because of its beliefs -- I started coming to our church because someone invited me (let that be a lesson to you).

As I've learned more and more about my "second" denomination, I've become more and more grateful to be a Methodist. I like what we say we believe -- it "meshes" with what I believe about God. The same goes when it comes to the Methodist view of baptism.

When I say in this post that "the Methodist church believes" I am basing those statements on the publication By Water and the Spirit -- a study guide. At the UM General Conference in 1996, the text of "By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism" was adopted.

  1. Baptism is our initiation into the Body of Christ. "Wesley identified baptism as the initiatory sacrament by which we enter into the covenant with God and are admitted as members of Christ's Church."* I really like the image that baptism is when God reaches down and claims the "child" (whether adult- or child-aged) as His own. It is how we know whose we are. The most important aspect of baptism is the work of God, not of our own.
  2. "Baptism is not a requirement for salvation. Our salvation is a free gift of God made possible by the work of Christ.* I really like what Wesley said about it: "the ordinary means which (God) hath appointed...and to which God hath tied us, though he may not have tied himself." Baptism is not unimportant or optional, but we limit God if we believe that baptism is the only way that God can can bring people into relationship with Him. This really resonates with me. If baptism were an absolute requirement, and God allowed no other way to salvation, then a baby who dies prior to baptism would not be able to enter eternal life. Do I believe that to be true? No, and the Water and Spirit statement of the UM church agrees with me (isn't that handy?") About a year before "we" became pregnant with G, I had what is called a "chemical pregnancy." That's a very common occurrence for first time pregnant women (about 50%). It is a very early miscarriage. Most women don't even know that it has happened, but I'm a very curious woman, and I took a pregnancy test when I was only about 3-4 days "late." It was positive. A few days later, the tests were no longer positive. If there was a baby involved in that pregnancy, and if God chose to bless those few cells with the breath of life, then I know that God has that child with Him. Why? Because in addition to being our child, that child is also a child of God.
  3. I also like the idea that we don't "rebaptize" people. If it is mainly an act of God, then we can be assured that He didn't "do it wrong" the first time. I like that we can "remember" our baptism through ritual, but we don't need to do it over. In comparison, think of marriage. Once we are married, we can renew our vows (as in the "Remember your baptism" ritual), but we are already married. We can't marry the same person again while we are still married to him or her. And, unlike marriage, there is no way to divorce God -- He's got you, babe, and He's not letting go.

It's all about grace, isn't it? God works through prevenient grace to make sure that we come to Him, and then He offers his grace again through baptism (and in so many other ways). To me, infant baptism is a wonderful illustration of grace -- proof, if we need it, that grace is a gift, freely given and sufficient.

I especially this quote from Frederick Buechner: "When it comes to the forgiving and transforming love of God, one wonders if the six week old schreecher knows all that much less than the Archbishop of Canterbury about what's going on."**

Sources: * = By Water and the Spirit ** = Beyond Words by Frederick Buechner
Image: from curtisgraphics

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Only Getting Started

Here's an "extra."

On the way back from lunch today, I stopped at The Mustard Seed, a local Christian bookstore. I was looking for something to read, but I didn't find anything. You would think that in a store full of books, something would appeal to me, but nothing jumped off the shelves and said, "Read me." Apparently I don't judge a book by its cover, but instead by its acrobatic abilities.

Before I headed back to the car, I took a look at the CD's. I picked up one by Steven Curtis Chapman (I've always liked him) called "All Things New." On the way back to work, I put the CD into the player to listen. The first two songs made no impression, but the third one sure did. The tune and rhythm were lively, and he had me from the first note he sang.

Since the lyrics seemed to echo some of what I was thinking when I wrote the previous post, I'm posting them here:

I was just a little kid when
I heard about You for the first time
And all I really, really knew for sure
Is You were God, I wanted to know You
And now the years have come and gone
I'm still singing that same song
You might think by now I would have reached the end
But the truth is...

I am only just beginning
I am only getting started to know You now
I'm only getting started
And when I start thinking I'm getting
Close to the end, You just smile at me and say
Hey kid, you ain't seen nothing yet
I'm only getting started
I'm only getting started now

Now Your love, it is an ocean
Deeper than my deepest notion
Your grace, it is the sky above
It just keeps on going forever
And with every new sunrise
You come and open up my eyes
Show me just a little more of You
And again I see that...


God -- He had me from the first note he sang. He keeps saying, "Hey kid, you ain't seen nothing yet. I'm only getting started."

Baptism -- Knowledge of God

I was reading a post over at Cerulean Sanctum the other day about baptism as it relates to children.

Before I go a step further with this discussion, I need you to understand that I hesitate even to write it. I am a wife, mother, daughter, friend, member of the United Methodist Church, and child of God (an abbreviated list). I am a lay person, and the only qualification I have to write about baptism is that I have been baptized. Know that before you read anymore. You know what they say about a grain of salt.

Dan, at Cerulean Sanctum, is asking questions about baptism. It’s dangerous, isn’t it, to try to distill another person’s thoughts down to a few sentences, but here I go anyway. Dan is wondering how we know when baptism is appropriate – how can we know that a child has been converted or saved? By what evidence can a parent make that judgment? I think that it may all come down to a basic understanding of baptism – what is its purpose? What is the role of conversion? I think the questions are interesting, and even though I have no qualifications, I’m delving in anyway.

No big words here (just so you’ll know). I am a biologist, and I have my own bag of large, hard to understand words (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, anyone?) I know their value, but in this case, words like credobaptist and Calvinist monergists are just going to get in the way, so I’ll avoid them.

Dan is worried that it is difficult to discern if conversion has occurred in a child. That’s not a question that I’ve ever asked myself. I believe in infant baptism, and I’ve taken two sons to the altar of our church to be baptized. I was able to do that because it was (and is) my belief that God was at work in their lives, as young and as small as they were. I didn’t need proof – it was faith in things unseen.

It may be easier for me to explain this if I get a little more personal that I usually do on this blog.

I remember as a child – this was while we were still living in Virginia, so I was probably three or four – knowing that God existed. I didn’t understand much of anything about Him, but I knew He existed. We didn’t go to church much, so I wasn’t mimicking back VBS themes; it was knowledge. Had Mom told me that God existed? Probably – that’s part of what we do as parents. But my certainty was more than that. And really, isn't that where all us start? Knowledge that God exists.

I’m a Methodist, and when we say prevenient grace, I know what it means. God is at work in our lives from the very beginning. I never had a conversion experience. I never made a conscious decision to believe in God, to accept God. It has always just been my reality. The question, “Are you saved?” has always bothered me. God never lost me.

Does it sound arrogant? It isn’t meant to be. The credit for that isn’t mine at all; it’s God’s. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t turned away from God, that I haven’t (and that I don’t continue to) sin, or that God is in any way done with me. It only means that God has been working in my life from the very beginning.

I know that my story isn’t anyone else’s story, and that yours is different. Some of us have conversion experiences, and thanks be to God for them.

In The Silver Chair, by CS Lewis, Aslan says, “You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you.”

Because of that certainty, I am able to take my children to the altar for baptism. I don’t need evidence of God’s work in their lives. There is no trial, and I am not the judge. All I need – all I have – is the deep down knowledge that God is working in their lives. And I have that certainty as a gift from God -- grace.

That’s not the end of my thoughts – only the beginning – so more tomorrow.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Love Language

I went to a baby shower on Saturday. One of the "activities" we shared was to write advice on an index card for the mom-to-be. Most of the advice was pretty interesting -- have you ever used scented spray room freshener as "monster repellent?" Spray it to scare away monsters, and the child can continue to smell the "repellent," knowing that it will keep working. Smart. My, "J -- there is not a skeleton hanging outside your window" didn't work that well.

But, really, when you think about it, parents who have more than one child know that each child is different. What works with one, may not work with another. We know this as parents.

We also know this a teachers. We've finally come to accept that different children (and adults) learn differently -- some need to read the information, some need to watch it, and some need to do it. When I teach a particularly difficult procedure to a "fellow" in the lab, I print out the procedure for him. Then I do it while he watches, explaining each step and answering questions. Then I step back and have him do it, answering more questions as they come up. This usually works to make sure that the fellow is comfortable enough to do the procedure on his own.

A friend said to me the other day that when he listens to music, he doesn't really hear the words; he hears the "music" -- the tune and the instruments, not the vocals. When I listen to music, the tune -- rhythm, beat, melody -- are important, but its the words that I focus on. In fact, I don't feel like I "own" the song until I can sing it in the car. I love how really good writers of lyrics can use words to express an idea, sometimes in ways that can surprise me (I love a good surprise in a song). I asked S the same question, and he's kind of in between.

I read a post from see-through faith the other day. (I reference Lorna's blog a lot. Can you tell I really enjoy it?). She received the book The Love Languages of God by Gary Chapman as a gift, and she says this:

Basically Chapman's premise is that each of us have a particular love language:
  • words of affirmation
  • quality time
  • gifts
  • acts of service
  • physical touch
And just in the same way as we show love to people and receive love from them, we best respond to God's love for us, when He uses our particular love language.
We each have a different love language -- a different way to receive love from other people and from God. I have a feeling that God knows the "love language" of each of us. Maybe we need to spend some time figuring it out -- how can God best communicate with us? Will we hear him best in quiet, quality time? In acts of service?

Knowing this, we also need to know that the way which works best for me won't work for you, so if I need to communicate love to someone else, would an act of service work best? Words of affirmation? It take work, doesn't it?

Saying all this, take it one step further. Consider this theory in the light of worship. If we take a moment to think of worship as a time of communion with God, then we must accept that each of us hears God using a different love language. There is no point in calling one way better than another, but only in understanding that there are different ways to hear God. Do you hear Him in organ music? In visual arts? In fellowship with other people? In vocal acapella solos? In ritual? In preaching? In quiet, silent prayers? In community prayers?

And are you certain that the way that you think you hear God in worship is the only way you can hear Him? Is it at all possible that if you try something new, you might find a way that works even better for you?

And if we can accept that your "love language" is different than mine, then can't we use them all, so that everyone can be reached? (I'm getting dangerously close to repeating myself (Heart Songs).

And can't we believe that God is multilingual -- that He can hear and understand all of the different "love languages" -- that it doesn't matter what the language is, He will understand the love it speaks? I can imagine that heart felt worship in as many love languages as possible sounds like a beautiful symphony to God, and makes His heart smile.

Go to the Smallest Angel to read a story about my son J that really made MY heart smile today.
Image: Another one from the beach -- who wants to go here? Me! Me!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Strangers in a Strange Land

When I was working on my Master's degree, I took a class called Plant Taxonomy. The "lab" for plant tax involved everyone driving to a spot somewhere in Cabell County -- almost always a different place each time -- and following Dr. Evans around as he pointed out plants. We would all then collect a sample of the plant, press it, and have it as a reference for study for the exam. One of his rules was that in order to take a sample from the tree -- plant -- vine -- whichever it was, we had to snip it using a cutting tool instead of ripping it off. This was so we wouldn't harm the plant. The one exception to this rule was honeysuckle vine. Dr. Evans hated honeysuckle, and he didn't care if we wreaked havoc on the vine.

Honeysuckle vine -- or at least the one that earned the despise of Dr. Evans -- is Lonicera japonica. It is a vine, not a bush, and the leaves on the end of each branch are separate, not round (in case you ever have to pass a plant tax exam). The first picture in this post is of L. japonica. See the red stem running from top to bottom? That's the vine. The only other plant in the picture is a branch of a locust tree (in the foreground) and the honeysuckle is trying to kill it.

This plant was introduced to the United States in 1806; it originally came from Japan and China. It is an interloper. According to an article on a web site called "Hilton Pond:"

If azaleas and magnolias are the country club elites of the plant world, honeysuckle is the low-rent trash. It lives anywhere it lands, and multiplies like rabbits on Viagra....My backyard crop responds best after I've run over it with my car or backed into it with my lawn mower. I even stack plywood on it and still it comes back bigger and bushier than ever. Try doing that with your heirloom roses.

Bill Hilton Jr., a biologist, says, "It's great for the birds and bees but it doesn't belong here." While it may not "belong here," it has adapted so well to our area that it flourishes. It blocks the sun from trying to reach other plants, and it is a strangler, growing so well that "it encircles other plants and young trees, literally choking the life out of it."

Think back to yesterday's post about my conversation with the older lady in about anger. Before the conversation was finished, she said, "We all sin. We are made to sin."

I can't argue with the first part of that statement. We do all sin. Were we made to sin? I think the answer to that is a resounding NO. We were not created to sin. We are like the japanese honeysuckle vine -- we are strangers in a strange land. We are meant to be -- we were created to be -- like Adam and Eve were. We are created to be in communion with God, and yet we find ourselves here, separated from God. God reaches across the chasm to us, and sometimes we try to reach back, and sometimes He actually touches us, but this is not our home country.

How do we react and adapt to being in a foreign land? Do we act like the honeysuckle vine, choking and strangling each other, blocking out the light of the son? Or do we run and hide, too afraid to venture out at all?

God has given us each other. He has told us that we are to love him and to love one another. How do we adapt to this foreign land? I think that "greatest commandment" is the answer.

Images: The first one was taken up at the end of our street (in the rain -- see what lengths I go to?) It is definitely (I think) Lonicera japonica. The other two photos are of honeysuckle, but I think that they are bushes, and are not the Japanese variety, but they are pretty, and look, I took a picture of a bee.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


The sermon topics for the past few weeks at Common Grounds have been on the "fruits of the spirit." This Thursday's was gentleness or meekness (depending on the translation).

I knew the moment Joe started talking that I needed to pay attention. It was a really good sermon. You wouldn't think that a sermon about gentleness would lead me to a better understanding of anger, but it did.

First a story. I was in a class at church five years ago. I remember the date (unlike my usual attempts at memory) because it was 13 days after September 11. We were discussing the story of Potiphar's wife. The question came up as to whether her attempts to seduce Joseph were not rooted in lust but instead in anger at her husband for his inattention. Was the root of her sin of lust actually the sin of anger? A few weeks before, we had just finished a series of classes based on the book by Nicole Johnson called Fresh Brewed Life*. We had spent a whole session during that study examining the emotion of anger. It seemed strange to me now to be calling anger a sin. So, being me, I said, "Is anger a sin?"

An older lady in the class (it was an all female class) whipped around in her chair, and in no uncertain terms, said, "Yes, anger is a sin." I was shocked at the time by her certainty.

I mentioned to her that in the temple, when he cleared out the money-changers, Jesus was angry, and that we didn't consider that to be a sin. She put that aside and said that Jesus' anger in the temple was righteous anger, and then sited verses telling us to be slow to anger.

Is anger a sin? I don't think so. I think it is an emotion, just like joy or fear. I think sin comes into play when we use our anger as a motivation for hateful, horrible acts. I wrote at the time that it was not a sin to be angry that so many people had been killed in a terrorist act (which is why I explained the date of this conversation). We are made -- created -- to feel abhorrance and anger at such an act. It's what we do about it that is the key question.

So what does that old story have to do with gentleness and meekness? Joe said that the Greek word which is used in the list of the fruits of the spirit is "praotes." He said we would witness praotes when we see an offended person who has the justification to lash out in anger, but instead reaches out in love.

Do we respond with love and care, even when we are hurt and angry? Praotes. Do we "give people what they deserve?" or do we show them grace? Praotes. Can we find other way to react to a hurt without escalating the situation? Praotes.

Anger is not a sin. When anger is used as a motivation to fight injustice or to further God's work, then we see the positive fruit of this emotion. When our anger becomes more important than God -- when the priority becomes the anger, and not our mission, then we sin.

And the good news is that praotes is a fruit of the spirit. It's not something God expects us to do on our own. It is a gift that he has given to us through His spirit. With God's help we can respond with forgiveness and care and love. Praotes.

* Fresh-Brewed Life is a really good book. I may need to go back to read it again. It has a chapter on journaling, which started me writing in a journal, and, if we go back to its tiny, baby roots, may be the genesis of this blog.

Image: Joe and Carol have a real fruit to represent each fruit of the spirit, and watermelon was the one for praotes.

The Kingdom of Heaven

This is kind of an extra -- not my post for today.

I took a quiz over at Quiz Farm which is designed to figure out your answer to the question, "What is the Kingdom of God?"

I'm not sure about my answer -- as I answered the questions, I kept thinking to myself that each one was too narrow a description for the Kingdom of Heaven.

I guess my answers reflect two items -- I do not think that we should withdraw from the world -- as Christians, we are meant to be involved in the world. I also think that the Kingdom of God is not something that we wait around for -- it's here and now (and then and there). One of the last things I would say about myself, though, is that I think the Kingdom is a "Christianised Society." So for what it is worth, here is what the quiz says about me, although I don't agree with it.

Maybe I really think the Kingdom is all of these things -- and none of these things.

You scored as Kingdom as a Christianised Society. Christians shouldn't withdraw from the world, but by being present in it they can transform it. The kingdom is not only spiritual, but social, political, and cultural.

Kingdom as a Christianised Society


The Kingdom as Earthly Utopia


Inner spiritual experience


The Kingdom is mystical communion


The Kingdom as a counter-system


The Kingdom as Institutional Church


The Kingdom as a political state


The Kingdom is a Future Hope


What is the Kingdom of God?
created with

Friday, June 23, 2006

Joy and dependence

I just finished this post, and the power went off. Let that be a lesson to you. Save your work. The second time through is never as good as the first, but here goes.

Yesterday, I received my copy of the West Virginia United Methodist newspaper. Obviously, this time it is full of articles about the recently completed Annual Conference. Flipping through it, one particular article caught my attention first. Dr. Patricia Jarvis, pictured right, offered the sermon on Saturday morning. That particular worship service was focused on children. Take a look at the photo. See the arrow pointing to the beads? If you have read this blog before, you may recognize those beads. I've talked about them here and here. Those beads were strung by our youth during their 30-hour famine. Each beads represents one child who dies in any 24-hour period because of hunger related disease. There are 29,000 beads strung on those plastic cords. They were taken to Annual Conference and used as a visual aid in this worship service -- filling jars and draping across the lectern and pulpit.

Glad to see the beads, I stopped to read the article.

Dr. Jarvis says that, "Jesus taught us that children have the qualities necessary to enter heaven: joyful enthusiasm for life and humble dependence."

Compare that to this scripture from Matthew 18:2-4:

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

I've always liked that passage, but never really grasped it except in a rather abstract way. What does it mean to become like little children? According to Dr. Jarvis, it means to have joyful enthusiasm for life and humble dependence.

Joyful enthusiasm for life. It does seem at times that our children have cornered the market on this characteristic. Do you ever feel it? Sometimes I do. And when I do, it is wonderful, but I know that all the stresses, pressures, responsibilities and work of life can crush our ability to feel joyful enthusiasm. Dr. Jarvis says that it is a necessary quality to enter heaven. That does kind of make the pursuit of it a bit more of a priority, doesn't it?

But what really struck me in the article was this: "Children know that they can't provide for themselves," Dr. Jarvis said. "They are utterly dependent. To the child this is no disgrace."

Humble dependence. Vulnerability. To the child this is just the way life is; to experience it is no disgrace. For us, though dependence and vulnerability are to be avoided. We do not want to be dependent. We do not wish to feel vulnerable or to even appear vulnerable. We forget sometimes that we are dependent upon God. We (I think) don't want to give up our masks of control, and yet Dr. Jarvis is telling us that in order to be close to God, we must realize that we dependent upon Him. Vulnerable.

I hate to cry in public. Hate it. I try to avoid it at all costs. However, I find that as I get closer to God, the heat of His love and power are melting my heart. The resulting tears, I think, are the thawing ice. I don't like it. I wish it were different, but you know what they say about heat, and I'm not ready to leave the kitchen.

These beads are a visual reminder of the vulnerability of children. The beads shout at us to remember that children are dependent upon God and upon us. Our children -- the JM youth -- learned about hunger and vulnerability as they strung them together. Hopefully they will be able to teach us -- about joyful enthusiasm for life and humble dependence.

Images: The first is shamelessly copied and pasted from the online edition of the WV United Methodist. Click on that link to read the article, but, be warned, it is a 16 page pdf file. Loading it might take a little bit of time if you are on dial-up. The other two photos were taken by Jeff Taylor. Thanks to him for sending them and for letting me post them.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I Stand Here

Psalm 8

I stand here.
I am nothing.
A particle of dust.

You stand there.
You are God.
King of Kings.

And yet, you care for me.

I look at the sky,
The stars,
And know that you arranged them.
That you created them,
And placed each one in its orbit.
You taught the wind to blow,
And the water to wave.
The sun shines at your command,
The moon rains silver light
Because you whisper in its ear
And tell it how.

And yet, you care for me.

You not only care for me,
But you have lifted me from my nothingness,
And blessed me.
You honor me with responsibilities,
And trust me enough to carry them.
When I say, “Maybe I can do that.”
You don’t laugh.
You say, “Yes, you can, and you can do this, too.”

I am nothing,
And yet, you care for me.
And I stand here.

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bone Tired

Lorna of see-through faith led me to a post on RevGalBlogPals by Songbird based on this scripture:

And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. (Mark 4:36a, NRSV)

This scripture is from Mark 4. Jesus had been teaching and then spent some time explaining the parables to the disciples.

Have you ever noticed the phrase at the end of the verse quoted above? "...just as he was." As Songbird says (and I've never noticed this before):

Her friend "imagined Jesus so tired that the disciples had to bundle him into the boat, the way we might a child who has had a long day. Mark's gospel repeatedly refers to Jesus' withdrawing for prayer and rest. Just as he was, he rested in the back of the boat, asleep on a cushion, so drained he is not wakened by the storm.
We don't think of Jesus as tired or stressed. We don't consider, I think, that his body has the same frailties as ours. We don't dare to imagine that his spirit could become crushed by the weight of his mission. I've mentioned before that I am comforted by the idea that Jesus felt many of the same challenges that we all do as humans, but this is the first time I've realized that he would be tired -- so tired that he would collapse on a cushion, falling so deeply asleep as to not be awaked by a storm in a boat. To be tired is not sinful.

Notice that he did try to rest. Do we forget that sometimes -- that we need sabbath -- a time to rest? We need to figure out what recharges our spirits -- quiet time, reading, walking -- whatever it is, we need to do it. It is not sinful to recharge -- it is necessary.

And then what happened? The disciples woke him up in the storm to save them because they were afraid. Imagine what you are like when you finally get to rest after a long and stressful day, and someone wakes you up. Do you feel even more tired, even more drained? Jesus probably did, too. And yet he is able to calm the storm. God takes us "just as we are," whether that is tired, burned-out, crushed or confused, and can still use us for His purposes. You can extend that thought to other weaknesses -- whether we feel inadequate, alone, talentless, or sinful, he takes us "just as we are" into the boat, and continues to work with us -- equips us for His will, and blows his breath onto the sail, sending on our way.

Image: Flowers from our vacation, although I don't remember where I took the picture.
Menu tonight: (One of the few nights lately that we've gotten to cook dinner) -- Steak and corn on the cob cooked on the grill (S did this -- just outstanding), pasta, cornbread and fruit salad. Key lime pie later for dessert.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


First of all, welcome to post #200. A little bit of a milestone.

At a meeting tonight, we got into a discussion of delegation. Am I the only one who finds this to be an unwelcome word? I think delegation must be a skill, and that I don't have it.
Why is it important for a leader to delegate?
  • I think one of the jobs of committee chairman is to involve as many people as possible in ministry -- that may mean finding a little job for someone who doesn't have a lot of time to give but still wants to be involved. It may mean matching the perfect person to the perfect bigger job.
  • When I stop doing this job, there needs to be someone who knows how to do it -- not that what I do is very difficult, but someone who has the confidence to take it on would be helpful. That experience can probably only be gained by being involved in the job itself (Although, really, I didn't start this job having any idea what I was doing, and still don't know most of the time.)
  • I want the committee and the church members to have "ownership" over what the committee is doing. The only way that will be done is if they are involved. I get very twitchy when people say, "Kim did it." There is very little that I do on my own; most of what I do requires lots of other people to make happen.

What is it so hard to delegate?

  • I like what I do, or at least most of what I do. I don't want to ask someone else to do it; I find joy in it, and want to do it myself.
  • I have a certain vision of how things need to be done. If I delegate, I loose that control (I have a feeling that this is probably a problem for a lot of people).
  • What happens when the person to whom I delegate a project or task just completely fails to do it? Sometimes that means that some little thing doesn't get done and there is no real consequence; other times the job is important enough that failure isn't an option. It has to be done. What do I do then?
  • The biggest reason that I fail to delegate is that I absolutely HATE to ask anyone to do anything. Hate it. Hate it so much that I often just don't do it. I procrastinate recruitment into failure.

It isn't that I never delegate. I often delegate if delegation can be equated to recruitment of volunteers for short term tasks. What makes this easier for me to do is that I do it through email. There's something about not having to ask a person in "person" to do a task that enables me to ask them. Isn't that sad?

An older gentleman on the committee tonight told me that I need to delegate the tasks I like as a form of leadership development (for the delegee). I asked him what I would do if I delegated all the tasks I like to other people. "The things you don't like to do," he answered.

Hmmm. Recruit people (which I HATE to do) to take on the tasks that I like to do in order for me to do the tasks that I don't like to do. There's something wrong with that scenario.

Images: First two images are of the sunrise this morning, taken by S. He's asleep, so I can't ask where he was when he took them, but he drove to Canton, Ohio today, so I would guess that they were taken on I-77 on the way to Parkersburg. The third photo was taken by me on the way home from my meeting. I had to stop the car and take the picture, and I still didn't do it justice. It was a gorgeous sunset.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Comments on a comment

I love comments. Comments are great, because they are kindling for thoughts I might not have had otherwise.

John (from Locusts and Honey) left a comment on a post recently which I really thought was interesting. While I do like comments, I'm not so fond of responding to them in the comment section -- I always feel like the chain of communication is broken. So, instead, I thought I would put my thoughts here.

First, go take a gander at Locusts and Honey if you haven't already. I enjoy John's blog (I think he co-authors it). John does something fantastic each week. Somehow he reviews the list of Methodist Blogs (they are listed in my sidebar -- and, yes, look how many there are) and writes a short summary of posts each week. This is a great way to scan the blogs to see what might be of interest each week, and I am completely at a loss a to how he does it.

Anyway, on to the comment. I wrote a few days ago about some church signs I saw on the way home from vacation. One of them was on a Baptist church. It said, "Men of God wanted. Apply inside." I thought this sounded very exclusive (in that it failed to invite half the population).

John's comment was interesting, though:

Maybe because it's so hard to get men to come to church these days.
I wonder if we will reach the point one day when the clergy is considered a properly female profession, like teaching, nursing, or librarianship -- that men who enter it are oddities.

First of all, one of the great things about signs on a church is that they are so open to interpretation. I never would have considered that this Baptist church was asking men to come inside because they had a shortage. My lack of this reaction, I'm sure, is because I don't see this phenomenom in my church. Our church is full of active, Christian men. We don't have a shortage of men. A shortage of younger members, yes, but that is not gender specific.

If the members of this church are looking for men to correct a gender bias, then perhaps this sign is not the best method of recruitment. I could ask if men are less likely to personally ask another man to come to church, but the more I think of that, the less convinced I am. It's a very stereotypical comment, and I have a feeling that my husband would be much more likely to invite someone to our church than I would -- if only because of our personalities.

My own reaction to this sign is based on my assumption that Baptist church members are more likely to equate men with the spiritual head of the family. Why bother to invite women when it's the men that are responsible for leading his family to God? (If you don't know me, I'm being sarcastic.)

I guess I'm particularly sensitive to comments like these. I was even a little bit worried during our sermon yesterday. Joe spoke about the role of fathers in their families. Sitting in the row behind me was a young woman who is a single parent. How would she feel to hear that the spiritual development of a child can't be complete without the influence of a father? I know this isn't what Joe meant -- I know he meant that fathers have a crucial role in family life. I think, though, that while every one of us is indispensible to God, God will find a way, no matter what the circumstances. I always get a little twitchy when I hear phrases like, "the role of women," "the role of men," etc. Phrases like this seem to leave no room for "the role of God" in defining what we are to do.

Since I've gone on and on, you may have forgotten the second half of John's comment -- "I wonder if we will reach the point one day when the clergy is considered a properly female profession, like teaching, nursing, or librarianship -- that men who enter it are oddities."

Professions which are historically considered "properly female" -- teaching, nursing, librarianship -- are only that because, I think, so many professions were closed to women. Women who were called to be doctors, lawyers, businessmen, policemen, firemen, professors, scientists, ministers, politicians, etc, found these roads to be difficult, if not impossible to follow. Women who needed to "work outside the home" did so in these "properly female" positions. If men entering these professions now feel that they are an oddity, then consider how women felt when entering medicine or law at the turn of the previous century -- or even later. I hope that as we begin to lose the concept of what is a "proper profession" for one gender or the other to follow, then no one will feel like an oddity as he or she follows the path for which God has equipped him or her. If men feel like an "oddity" in these historically female professions now, it is only a sign of progress. By that I mean that it is a good thing for these men to be forging into these "properly female" professions. Soon enough, they won't feel like an oddity at all.

Consider other "properly male" professions. As I type this, two female medical students are sitting across the table from me. Do men feel threatened that their "properly male" profession will become all female, and become closed to young men? No, I doubt it.

Our church, which I mentioned before has no shortage of active Christian men, has one male and one female pastor. I doubt anyone could find a man in our church who is intimidated by our female pastor or who feels that his role in the church is threatened by her. She is called by God to do what she is doing, as are the other female pastors that I know. Why would anyone wish to stop her? How could anyone dare to stop her?

Thanks, John, for the kindling, and keep up the good work (and here, I'm not being sarcastic).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Does the room matter?

For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20)

Our church sanctuary is undergoing "sprucing up" - the walls are getting a coat of new paint and the carpet is being stretched. The painters are using special acoustic paint which will allow the sound to reverberate more effectively in the room. While that is going on, we are having the Sunday morning service in the Social Hall. What can be learned by worshipping outside the usual place -- outside the Sanctuary?
  • That we can sing hymns without the organ.
  • That the choir can offer a wonderful anthen without choir robes.
  • That the acolytes can stumble through lighting the candles in their "street clothes."
  • That we can hear the Word of God sitting in a regular chair rather than a pew.
  • That our offerings can be made with only four ushers.
  • That children can still have a "moment" in the worship service while sitting on the tile floor with the pastor.
  • That we seem to laugh more easily, applaud more readily, and actually shout out, "Amen" in the Social Hall. Why is that?

What can be learned from having church in a different place that the usual Sanctuary? That God will be with us, even if we worship in a different place. That God doesn't need "reverberating paint" to make himself heard. His presence bounces off our hearts -- reflecting from one of us to the next -- with no special equipment necessary.

The lectionary reading today includes the lines from 1 Samuel 16:7b:

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

I love our Sanctuary, and I'll be glad when the painting is done and the carpet is stretched so that we can go back to worshipping in that lovely room again. In the meantime, it is certainly a blessing to know that God will follow us wherever we go. It's a gift that He doesn't care what the room looks like or what kind of chairs we use. He is only concerned with the heart of our worship. And so far, the heart of that worship is alive and well.

Image: We ate breakfast on the patio of the Sea Captain's House one morning on vacation. Growing near the doorway to their "backyard" was this beautiful flower.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Venti blessings

Have you ever stopped to think about the names of coffee sizes at Starbucks? No?

They are "tall," which is paradoxically, the smallest size; "grande," which is actually a medium, but sounds really big, and "venti," which seems to be a made up word, and means in Starbucks lingo, "great big coffee." Does anyone besides me feel silly using these words? Part of my problem is that I can't usually remember which one means small, which one means medium, and which one means large. To me they all sound like large. Do I want a large, a large, or a large drink?

Could it be that Starbucks uses these size names to avoid sounding as if any of their cup sizes are skimpy?

I wish we would do the same thing. God's blessings are large, large, or large, and yet sometimes we insist of calling them "short."

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:38)

Brad Smart said on Friday night at the Emmaus Gathering that God is everything we need. We so seldom believe that.

If a church has a mission -- something that God has planned specifically for our congregation to do in our particular point on the map -- then what tool for that mission could we possibly be missing? What talent could we be lacking when we combine forces?

Our blessings are venti (or is it grande?). What do we miss the signs of abundance and insist on recognizing scarcity?

Friday, June 16, 2006

A Gathering to Worship

The service began
as the community gathered.
Some recognizable faces,
Some never seen before.
Dressed all in red,
a group of youth,
beginning a tour to minister
in youth detention facilities.

Worship began in song.
Those gathered sang of their love of God

I love You Lord
and I lift my voice
To worship You
O my soul, rejoice!

Take joy, my King
in what you hear
May it be a sweet, sweet sound
in Your ear.

The last time through the song,
God walked into the room,
sat down in a pew,
and surrounded His children.

Concerns and celebrations were shared.
A child with cancer,
A husband beginning treatment,
A baby with leukemia,
A brother-in-law having surgery,
A friend fighting for her life,
Youth attempting to pierce the darkness
with God's Word.
Many more prayer requests than could be remembered,
but God heard them all.

Prayer was offered,
and the minister who prayed,
pointed to God,
and reminded us that God was with us,
that He had set aside everything,
to listen,
to comfort,
and to work in our lives.

A simple man,
just like us,
stood to share his journey.
He spoke of faith,
He spoke of God's ability and williness
to provide for every need.
He told of his experience,
living a life of faith.
His love of his wife,
His faith in God,
shown from his face,
through tears fought back,
through his laughter,
His words were painted with the knowledge
that God was all that he needed.
His words were a joyful celebration
of faith,
gained through struggle,
but sweet in its certainty.

Communion was shared.
The shepherd who ministers to this flock,
proved that God is not the only one who listens.
This smart man listens to those who speak,
listens to God,
and speaks as God directs him.
His words were a blessing.
Just do it.
Step out in faith.
Say yes when asked by God.
He pointed to God and said,
"God is all we need."
Communion was full of tradition,
of signs of community.
A comfort,
touched by God,
offered to God
offered by God.
Thanks be to God.

Credit: Song lyrics by Laurie Klein (click here to read about the song)
Image: Photo taken on the way home yesterday. The sun is behind the tree. Can you see the beginning of the rainbow in the clouds near the bottom of the picture? It wasn't raining.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Church Signs

We're home -- the car is unpacked, but the suitcases aren't. Blah.

Anyway, here are some interesting church signs I saw this week and on the way home:
  • Hanging on a Lutheran church in North Myrtle Beach was a banner that said, "Come and See." I liked that one. It said to me, "Leave your preconceptions behind and just come on in."
  • One church had a sign out front that said, "We have room for one more family -- yours." Not my favorite. In fact, I didn't like it at all. Only room for one more family? I know that they don't mean this literally, but it just sounds exclusive to me.
  • Speaking of exclusive, a sign on a Baptist church on the way home read, "Men of God wanted. Apply inside." Only men? Can I come if I bring sandwiches to feed the Men of God? What if I bring the butter?
  • At a crossroads on the way home were two United Methodist signs -- one pointing each way -- Faith UM church one mile to the right and Hope UMC three miles to the left (I made up the names). Dueling UM churches.
And then there was the field that had both donkeys and horses. The donkeys were in the middle of the field, and the horses were in the corner, off to themselves, as if they were not going to associate with those icky donkeys.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Waves on the sand

Pristine, smooth.

Holes dug by eager children.
Gouges made by a stray bottle.
Piles of sand pretending to be a castle.
Decorated with imagination and creativity.
Tracks left by gulls,
And sandpipers.
Broken into pieces,
or rarely,
left whole by an accident of the ocean.

Waves approach,
and everything is washed clean.
No trace remains.
The sand is once more
Smooth and untouched.

And so it is with us.
Our lives are full of mistakes.
Errors in judgement.
Lies, hurt feelings, disappointments.
Hatred gouges away pieces of us,
leaving us marred, broken, torn.

Grace approaches,
and washes over us,
leaving forgiveness in its wake.
Filling the holes,
washing away the pain,
And we are once more
Touched by God.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I was glancing at blogs today -- I haven't really been reading them while I'm on vacation -- and I stopped to read the Smallest Angel's post. She was writing about intolerance.

  • What does it say about us that we applaud the denial of membership to a gay man to one of our churches?
  • What does it say about us that we turn away a pregnant woman from the City Mission?
  • What does it say about us that we turn away a man from the Mission because of the way he is dressed?
  • What does it say about us that we fail to show love and acceptance to those who most need a witness to the accepting love of Christ?
I think it says that which we already know -- that the man rejected by his church, that the pregnant woman, that the "poorly dressed" man are not the only ones who need the forgiveness and grace of Christ. We all do.

It says to me that we can't forget that the church is a gathering of sinners. We need to reach out to those who are marginalized, but we also need to remember to reach out in love to each other. Apparently God is not finished with any of us yet.

What does that have to do with faithfulness?

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
(Hebrews 11:1)

Faithfulness -- the ability to be certain that God can work through you and me -- even though we are broken and sinful. Faithfulness -- the hope that while trying to show love and tolerance to those who are unlike us that we will be able to find healing for ourselves as well.

Image: The view from the Sea Captain's House at breakfast yesterday.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Approaching Storm

A storm is rolling in down here, and I thought I had better go ahead and post before my "office" (better known as the balcony) gets rained out.

We came back from dinner early, and the guys went down to the indoor pool while I spent some time on the "patio" -- a large, outdoor, seventh floor sitting area overlooking the ocean. I watched a couple of crazy people wind-surf. They were strapped to what kind of looked like a surf board and harnessed to what kind of looked like a parachute. The wind pulled them around on the water. I was getting worried about one guy -- I wondered if he would eventually just cross over the horizon and be gone forever. I guess he could steer, though, because he finally did turn around and come back.

It is kind of fascinating to watch this storm roll in. Dark clouds, mixing with white clouds, lightening in the distance, thunder, and we could watch the upper air current move the clouds closer and closer. I remember as a kid, Mom and I would go out on the back porch to watch it rain, and I still love to do it today. Her mother and aunts were always scared to death of thunder storms. To this day she has a cousin who hides in her basement when there is thunder and lightening.

I seem to be full of analogies this week. Watching this storm roll in reminds me that sometimes we see the storms that hit our lives -- we can anticipate and plan for them. Other times, the storms just sneak up on us and take us unaware. Sometimes, even when we expect the storm, the actual effect of it is surprising in its intensity.

Here's hoping we keep power -- no candles, and the flashlight is in the car, five stories down.

Image: Storm over the ocean with light in the distance. In "real life" you can see the light striking the ocean beyond the storm clouds near the horizon.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Standing in the water,
Surrounded by the ocean,
I am struck by its contradictions.

Waves crashing to the shore,
Beating against the sand
as they release their stored power.
Like a drum beat.
The sound is unique, identifiable,
A signature sound.

No cell phones, no TV,
No doctors, no endos-to-be.
Only the ocean.
Even those around are made to seem quiet,
in the relentless sounds of the water.

Wave after wave,
the rhythm never changes.
The ocean is always where we left it.
Its power and its force never end,
Never alter.
One can find comfort in its predictability.

The color of the water
Is a reflection of the light, the sand,
Sometimes green, sometimes blue,
A brilliant silver in the full moon.
Sunset turning it a delicate peach.
At times the power of the waves is almost hidden,
when the surface is smooth.
After a storm the whitecaps are like jagged teeth,
biting through the water.
It can be a gentle brush on the shore,
or a horrendous, frightening power.

Have you ever noticed
that the ocean shares many characteristics
with its creator?
Never silent -- pushing, shoving.
And yet sometimes almost seeming to be silent,
whispering, leaving room for doubt.
Constant, never changing.
Always where we left Him,
when we come home.
Never the same,
Our understanding of Him
Grows, making more questions,
As we find more answers,
Until we understand so much,
that nothing is as we understood.

Images: First, the -- uh -- ocean (rather obviously); Second, a palm tree and the moon; Third, full moon over the ocean.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


I keep a travel journal while we are on vacation. It's something that I've done for years, and we always enjoy going back to read about previous years' vacations. It's probably the closest thing I'll ever get to scrapbooking -- I'll never be a scrapbooker.

The hotel we are staying in this week is undergoing renovations. They were supposed to be done when we got here, but -- surprise, surprise -- they are not. I wrote in our journal, "The room in caught in a time warp between the way it was and the way it will be..."

Isn't that the case for all of us? Aren't we caught between the way we were and the way will will be? Sometimes that position is a little awkward -- not everything matches, and at times nothing much makes sense, but we are in transition.

Images: First is the view from Coleman's in Calabash (dinner Friday), the next one is the view from dinner tonight (Broadway on the Beach -- Margaritaville), and the last one is the full moon last night -- not quiet completely dark.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Controversy of a Vaccine

I'm out here on our balcony again -- it's the only place in the hotel room that has wireless internet signal. How I wish I could use THAT as an excuse at work: "I have to go outside; I can't get internet signal here in the lab." It's a pitiful signal -- it comes and goes and makes computer work an adventure, at best.

But who cares? It's the beach.

I was fixing breakfast this morning...stop laughing...No, I do not cook on vacation -- it was cereal and bagels. Anyway, I was fixing breakfast this morning and listening to the news. A story came on about the new vaccine against human papilloma virus. The story's gotten me "all worked up." A few facts first -- these are from the NIH:

  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.
  • Two companies are working on vaccines against two strains of the virus -- these two strains together cause 70% of all cases of cervical cancer.
  • "It is estimated that in 2006 more than 9,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 3,700 will die of the disease. Worldwide, about 270,000 women die of cervical cancer each year."
  • HPV is a sexually transmitted virus
  • To be most effective, the vaccine needs to be administered early in the life of a young girl, prior to any sexual activity, since the virus is mostly transmitted to young women. The story on the news today said the recommended age will probably be 9 years old.
So I'm pouring cereal, listening to this story, thinking how wonderful it would be to be able to reduce the cervical cancer rate by at least 70% just using a vaccine.

And then the reporter asked the doctor being interviewed about the controversy surrounding the vaccine. Controversy? Well, shoot, I thought. It must have some bad side effects or being very expensive. No -- apparently some people are worried that this vaccine will lead to sexual activity in young women.

I sat there a minute, stunned. What?

First of all, the vast majority of women will become sexually active at some point in their lives. Has no one told these people that this is a normal and healthy passage into adulthood? What these people are really worried about is promiscuity, not sexual activity.

So let's call it what we mean.

Even if that's the case, I'm still mad. Does anyone actually think that the threat of cervical cancer will stop young women from having sex? Has it worked so far? Does anyone actually think that if you give a 9-year-old little girl a vaccine that she will suddenly think, "Oh, I'm safe now. I can go have sex?" Ridiculous.

Would we withhold a bicycle helmet from a child because we thought it might make him reckless on two wheels? Would we remove seat belts from our cars so that our teenagers will be more careful when they drive?

What if we found that testicular cancer was caused by the herpes simplex virus (which it is not), and we had a vaccine against HSV (which we do not)? Would we frown at the vaccine because it might give young men an excuse to be "sexually active?" Of course not!

As parents, we need to do our jobs. We need to protect our children as best we can. If that means that we can vaccinate our young girls against HPV, and possibly protect them from cervical cancer, then we should do it. Then we need to remember that our jobs also include teaching our children about "sexual activity" and the joy of intimacy with a lifetime partner.

Let's not be so silly and misguided as to throw away the bicycle helmet.

Image: The view from dinner last night. We ate at Damon's, which is right on the beach, and sat on their patio. I had two other pictures to upload, but the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, so they'll have to wait.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

So Many Questions

I'm sitting on our balcony, having "quiet time." I feel guilty about it. Poor J just keeps coming to the window, and staring out, hoping to come out with me. "No, J, I'm having 'quiet time.' It's the only time all day when I'll sit somewhere quietly. Stay inside, and I'll be in in a minute."

I love him more than life, but my son talks all the time. Or at least it seems like it. On the way to school the other morning, he was (you guessed it) talking -- mainly asking questions. I hung my sunglasses over the rear-view mirror as we drove through a shady part of the road, and he said, "Mom, why did you hang your sunglasses there?"

"J! Why do you ask SO MANY QUESTIONS?"

Without a second thought, he said, "It's my passion!"

S's favorite phrase to describe J's questions is, "Can I have? Can I go? Can I do?"

I wonder sometimes if I sound like that to God?

Image: View from the balcony.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I mentioned a few days ago that we had a meeting at our church about possible technological upgrades to the sanctuary -- installation of projection equipment and screens. Several of those who spoke in favor of the new system discussed how much technology plays a role in the lives of younger people. Some even discussed how children are learning to use PowerPoint in school.

An older member of the congregation asked, "Just what is PowerPoint?"

Sometimes it feels as if we are not even speaking the same language.

Right now I'm sitting on the balcony of our hotel, surfing the internet using my laptop, stealing sneaking onto someone’s wireless signal. The ocean breeze is blowing, the palm trees are swaying, and I’m lovin’ it.

I think back to 14 years ago. S and I were on vacation – no children (can that really be possible?) When I compare the amount of technology that we used on that trip to the amount we are using on this trip – only 14 years later – I find the differences amazing.

  • Fourteen years ago, we would call Huntington on the pay phone across the street from the hotel. We could use our calling card, and not have to pay extra money to call from the room. Today, when I called to check on my mom (she had an injection at the pain clinic today), I picked up my cell phone, which is not much bigger than a deck of cards, hooked up my wireless earpiece, and called. There were no long distance charges at all.
  • Fourteen years ago, I called AAA to arrange for maps so that we could find our way here. Last night, I got online, printed out maps from MapQuest that were customized to our departure and destination addresses.
  • Fourteen years ago, if we wanted music on the beach, we took a radio. Yesterday, my older son, who is turning 13 tomorrow, received an iPod as a birthday present (more about that later).
  • Fourteen years ago, we didn’t own a computer. I used them at work, but mainly with DOS programs. Tonight, here I sit using a laptop, updating an online log (if I can get the hijacked internet access to work).
  • At dinner, S picked up his cellular phone (which is much smarter than mine), read his email, and sent one out to a friend. Fourteen years ago – what’s email?
No doubt, technology has snuck its way into our lives. Our children are even more used to its presence than we are. Even so, the best moment I had today was sitting on the beach after dinner, listening to the surf, and watching the boys play. Nothing high tech about it.

All of these “wonders” are great, and I enjoy them. They are amazing tools for communication.

I do think that we need to install the projection system in the sanctuary. I think, if used right, it will be an amazing tool for our church to use to reach people with the word of God – expressing that word in any language available to us is almost a responsibility. The technology isn’t the message, but it is another cart to use to carry it where it needs to go.

IPod story: Poor G – he loaded up his new Ipod last night – something like 350 songs. When we got here today, he hooked it up to my laptop to charge it. My laptop isn’t the computer he used to load it last night, so when he activated my (never used before) iTunes software, the software automatically synced to the iPod, and erased every song stored on it. Fresh new birthday present, week of vacation, no music. Talk about bummed. Super bummed. Sometimes we just get covered in techno-snot.

He’s loading up some music now, but it’s Mom and Dad’s music. Not really what he was hoping to listen to this week, but it will have to do.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Tomorrow we are leaving to go on vacation. I shouldn't be sitting here writing at 11:14pm. I have nothing packed. The car is not loaded. We're leaving in 5 hours and 45 minutes, and I hope during that time to get some sleep.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was called for jury duty. First time ever, and I've been voting since I was 18. I had several things already planned for these two months, not the least of which was this vacation, so I wrote a long letter to the judge, asking to be excused. I told him that I would be glad to do jury duty later, but just not right now. He excused me, probably because he got tired of reading my very long letter (one page, but it was one full page).

Do we do that in our service to God? Do we write (or think) very long letters of excuses, even though we know our calling? "Not now, God, I really need to do this other thing." "But, God, I don't want to do that; I'm busy. I'll do it later."

I do it. I do it all the time. God doesn't give up on us, but I bet He does wish we would quit looking for excuses.

I'm not sure about the internet connection in the hotel room, so I may be posting this week, or not, but I'll enjoy the sun, sand and surf for all of us.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Bear Post

Go read this.

Thanks to Locust and Honey for the link.

New Wine Skins

I'm sitting in Panera, with my portable blogging device (i.e. laptop), enjoying a breakfast of 4-cheese souffle and bagel. I am on VACATION. If I ever win the lottery (which might be hard, since I never buy a ticket), this is what I will do everyday. I'll come here for breakfast, which I will eat without feeling rushed. I'll bring my laptop and write.

We had a meeting yesterday at our church about the possibility of purchasing a projection system and screens for our Sanctuary. We already use "PowerPoint" for two services on a regular basis, and for the other one on a not-so-regular basis, but this purchase would involve permanent installation of the system.

I think we should do it, and I think most of our congregation does, but a few are uncomfortable with it, to say the least.

If you go back a couple of posts, WabiSabi left a comment (that's a hyperlink), which I thought was very interesting. I especially liked how he ended it. Consider this scripture:

Matthew 9:16-17 -- No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.

He then goes on to say "those new wineskins are just way too risky, aren't they?"

I think that's the crux of the whole discussion. Risk. This doesn't just apply to our discussions about technology yesterday, but to so many things in the church. Sometimes we are afraid to risk. We like the way things are. We don't want them to change. We are AFRAID for them to change. What will we lose if we risk what we have?

  • What if we feed people from the City Mission on Thursday night? We might lose our sense of security. We might lose our ability to avoid seeing homeless people.
  • What if we allow a woman to be a preacher? We might lose our ability to ignore that ANYONE can be called by God to do ANYTHING, even though we might try to limit it.
  • What if we let the youth plan a church service -- not just a little one, held at a different time, and not just one that fits our expectations of what worship should be, but the MAIN service, with NO limitations on what they can do? We might just see God through our own children.
  • What if we give every child a percussion instrument to play during a song in the service? We might lose our hearing, but we might also hear joy in abundance.
  • What if we clapped in the service to show our praise of God? The ceiling might fall in, or maybe we'll realize that the applause is as much an offering as the music is.
I have a feeling that old wine skins are soft, supple, drapey, and comfortable. They hang from their straps just right. Wine and use have given them a patina and color that is familiar and comforting. Even when they drip, spring holes like a sieve, we don't want to give them up. It's frightening. It's RISKY.

But this journey we are on is a Risky Business. We are called to take what we have been given -- our blessings from God -- and put them to work. We are called to have enough faith in God that we know that whatever we risk will be returned to us in abundance -- Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:38)

What's important, though? That we love each other. That we realize that some people are angry because they are afraid. (I know that's idealistic, and I know that some people are just angry, but I think fear of risking what we have plays a big part in our fear).

S said something yesterday that I loved. He told a story of Apollo 1. A spark ignited the pure oxygen in the capsule, causing a fire that killed all three astronauts on board. When testifying in Congress about the accident, someone from NASA (S would know who; I can't remember) said that the fire was a results of a "failure to imagine."

Sometimes we won't risk what we have due to a "failure to imagine" what wonderful blessings God will give us in return. We have to risk new wine skins.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Son Confirmed

Today my baby was confirmed as a member of the church.

I remember the day he was baptised.
He wore all white -- little pants, onesie white shirt,
A double-breasted white sweater.
Nine months old.
He was only just beginning to balance on his feet.
We stood him in a chair in the parlor to take his picture.
In the photo, you can see his father's hands,
held out to catch him,
in case he falls.

On that day,
the congregation made promises.
To proclaim the Good News,
To live according to the example of Christ.
To surround our son
with love and forgiveness,
to help him grow in his service to others,
to pray for him,
so that he would be a true disciple,
and would walk in the way
that leads to life.

Today he knelt before God,
and this same congregation,
and made his own promises.
To put his whole trust in the grace of God
to serve him as Lord, in union with the church,
and to remain a faithful member of Christ's Holy Church.

Today our son showed the fruit
of the promises made by this congregation,
his church family.
Today he knelt before God and proclaimed,
"I am yours."
Today he stood before God and said,
"I believe."

When we returned to our pew,
I handed him the attendance pad,
and watched as he wrote in his name,
and checked the box that said, "member."

I am filled with gratitude,
thankful to this church family
that has nurtured my child,
and taught him the word of God.

They have shown him what it means
to support each other,
They have taught him that it is OK
to talk about God,
to ask questions,
and to value each other.
They have taught him Bible stories,
as they lived out their faith.
The have listened to him sing about God,
and their lives sang a story of love.

They are fulfilling their promises.
They stand behind him,
hands outstretched,
ready to catch him if he falls.

How could my soul fail to be filled with gratitude,
thanksgiving overflowing?
Our church shared communion together.
My eyes were filled with tears,
and my throat was closed.
I couldn't recite the words.
But in my silence I knew
that I didn't need to.
I knew that my church family
was saying them for me.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

This church is dying

He walked into church on Sunday morning.
His suit was pressed; his tie was perfect.
His shoes had a glossy shine.

As he passed into the doorway,
he kept his eyes on the floor.
Mumbling to himself.
"This church is dying.
Nothing is like it used to be."

As he walked through the narthex,
he almost bumped into a homeless man.
Someone had given the poorly dressed slob
a loaf of bread
from a visitor's packet.
"What's he doing here?
This church is dying."
He shook his head,
and started for the sanctuary.

He frowned at the usher,
a short woman who smiled at him,
and welcomed him to church,
as she handed him a bulletin.
"Hmph," he grumbled to himself.
"This church is dying.
There are not even enough men to be ushers."

He looked down at the carpet,
as he headed to his pew.
He missed seeing the young couple,
freshly married,
who were so excited to come to church
the first time,
as a married pair.

He frowned at the two youth,
who were sitting in his spot,
taking up his space.
"Hmph!" he said again,
but they didn't notice.
He grumbled,
"This church is dying.
They don't even know me,
or that they are in my pew."
Reluctantly, he found another seat.

He frowned throughout the entire service.
At the soloist, as she sang to the accompaniment of guitar,
At the pastor, who delivered his sermon wearing his father's fishing hat,
as he talked about fishing for men.
At the baby who cried when she was baptized,
At the children who laughed through the children's moment.
Didn't they understand?
This church is dying.

The choir sang a postlude,
and as they finished,
the congregation burst into spontaneous applause.
How dare they?
This is CHURCH!

He threw down his bulletin,
and stomped out,
almost running into a group of friends,
saying goodbye for the week.

He finally made it outside,
glad to be away from this dying church.
He marched off, late for lunch.

He had been so sure that his church was dying,
that he had missed all of the signs of life.
Babies, children, youth.
Young couples, old couples,
Single friends in fellowship.
He had missed the beauty of the music,
the truth in the sermon,
the praise in the clapping.
He had missed the relief of a full stomach,
the claiming of a baby by God,
and the spreading of the gospel to children.
He had been so sure that his church was dying,
that he had seen more of the carpet,
than of God working in their midst.
He had felt so much pessimism and fear,
that he had missed the feel of the Holy Spirit,
trying to shake his shoulder,
and say,
"Look up! God is in this church.
Something incredible is about to happen.
Don't miss it!"