Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Illusion of Control

Are you familiar with the story of Hannah? It is told at the beginning of the book of Samuel. She is a barren woman who yearns for a child. She ends up presenting herself to God in prayer. Eli finds her and sees that she is praying earnestly, although at first he mistakes her prayers for drunkenness. Following this time of prayer, she becomes pregnant.

I was reading about Hannah in the Frymer-Kensky book. She says that rabbinic authors throughout time have wondered what Hannah prayed. What was so convincing that God granted her request? Many theories have been presented, most of them very paternalistic (such as, "Dear God, why give me a uterus if you don't intent for me to use it?").

To me, it speaks of our need to be able to explain everything. Why do we find it comforting to think that everything has a reason? Why do we equate the idea that God is control with everything having a reason? And why do we arrogantly assume that we can understand what God does? I wonder if it gives us an illusion of control.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Peace, Be Still


Monday, June 25, 2012


This evening, I read this post from the blog Out of Ur. It talks about the view that some people have that the Bible is inerrant, and some of the dangers that can arrive from that belief.

For example, we are tempted to find support for our belief (rather than God's truth) in scripture, and then say, "See, it's in the Bible, so it is truth."

We are tempted to believe that the words of Scripture are only open to one interpretation -- and that interpretation is our own. If we believe it, it must be what was meant. Alternatively, if the preacher says it, then it must be truth. We ignore the need for thought -- we reject the possibility of doubt.

The biggest danger of believing the Scripture to be inerrant, rather than inspired, is that we begin to worship the Bible, rather than God.


Saturday, June 23, 2012


What Freedom is...
  • The ability to worship God in a way that leads you to God.
  • The strength to let go of self-righteousness to see the righteousness in someone else.
  • The humility to let go of pride to open your mind.
  • The compassion to reach out and help someone who needs it.
  • The love to offer forgiveness when you are hurt
  • The integrity to ask for forgiveness when you hurt someone else.
  • The confidence to dance to the music you hear
  • The sense of humor to laugh when it's funny
  • The empathy to understand the pain of someone else
  • The need to seek after the right
  • The voice to speak for justice
  • The courage to proceed in fear
  • The gratitude for the blessings you have received
What Freedom is not....
  • Doing what you want when you want it
  • Using the Bible as a tool of hatred
  • Judging others
  • Blaming God for our own shortcomings and sins
  • Binding God to patriotism, and assuming they are the same thing
  • Closing our minds to the idea that we might be wrong
  • Trapping ourselves in the despair of vengeance
  • Cutting ourselves off from the love of others and of God

Today Steve left Huntington as part of a bike ride to raise money to benenfit the homeless veterans in our town.  He and seven other men are riding from Huntington to Washington, DC - a total of 425 miles in six days.  They have so far raised over $23,000.

He is my hero.


Friday, June 22, 2012

How many messages?

I taught Sunday school a few weeks ago. The truth is, the curriculum was at church, and I didn't want to drive downtown to get it, so I designed a lesson around the lectionary (I posted about it in early June).

The lesson had three purposes:
1. Learn about the lectionary -- what it is, how it is structured and why we use it.
2. Spend some time in Bible study with the lectionary readings for the week.
3. Learn and use some basic techniques for delving into a scripture passage.

I see reasons for all of those learning goals. I think if we are going to follow the lectionary, then we should understand what it is and why we use it. There are many advantages to preparing for worship each week by reading scripture and having a couple "go to" techniques for entering a scriptural experience is handy.

I say all of that in the light of an email I received after I taught the lesson. The person who wrote to me didn't agree with the value of the lesson. For this person, every lesson should relate to salvation and preachers should never be tied down to a lectionary reading.

On a related topic, I was in a training class a couple of months ago where we explored "Preaching from the Gospel of Mark." Mark is the lectionary gospel for this year. One of the class members was a pastor in the Conference. He did not see the value of lectionary because he only has one message -- salvation -- and if the lectionary reading doesn't support that, he choses one that does.

Is there only one message?

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ezra's assertions

I was reading more today from the Frymer-Kensky book. Today's chapter centered around the book of Ezra, and the prophet's assertion that the men returning to Jerusalem from exile who had married "foreign" women should leave their wives and children to maintain the holiness of the nation.

She discussed the idea that Ezra used a scriptural support for his prophecy that might not apply to his current situation. In addition, Ezra's urging to abandon wives and children was not at all scriptural. The author wondered if he had indeed been concerned about purity or if his claims were more political in nature.

Do we do that today? Do we use the Bible to support our own purposes? Do we mold God's image and word into what we want instead of the opposite?


Sunday, June 17, 2012


According to Frederick Buechner, the intersection of the place where God calls you and the world's deepest need is joy. I quote that often, and we use it at work to describe what we do. We help people to find that place -- that intersection -- and we call it sacred ground.

As I told that to a church today, I heard the word place. Location. God calls us to action, to a place in our lives. He also calls us to a location -- a place.

The job I do now was a change in place -- a change in my place in the world and in ministry, but also a physical change of place.

Changing what we do brings opportunities. Changing where we are does the same thing.

Sometimes our call is to a change of action, and sometimes it is to a change of place. I think about the pastors who are changing places in the United Methodist Church at this time of year, and I call on all of us to keep them in our prayers. Changing places is a frightening thing to do.


Friday, June 15, 2012


The Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals (once again, amazingly taken up by me actually on Friday):

I (writes Jan) have just started studying Jung and dreams with a group of friends. I am hearing about lucid dreaming and imagining, which have opened me up to wondering about dreams in general. So how about wondering with me?
  1.  Everyone dreams: Do you remember your dreams? How often?  I often remember my dreams when I wake up in the middle of the night -- I don't as often remember them in the light of day, but sometimes.
  2. Did you or do you have a recurring dream? Share it, if you'd like.  I don't have one recurring dream -- as the next question asks, I have recurring images.
  3. Have you ever had recurring themes or images in dreams? Examples?  Walking around in my dreams wearing whatever I'm sleeping in, such as going to work in my pajamas.  Airplanes crashing while I watch them from the ground. 
  4. Do you day dream? About what?  I used to more often than I do now.  I would make up stories in my head -- mental writing, I supposed I would call it.  I don't do it as much any more because my mind feels to busy.  I start the story and I'm off worrying about something else.
  5. What are your dreams/hopes/goals for the future?  Oh, I'm not sure.  Get my kinds through college.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

A book Meme

I was looking for something on my blog, and I ran into this MEME, originally from Cheesehead in Paradise (a blog that is no longer available, sadly).  I thought it was worth running again, with new answers:
Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!): This was more difficult that it would seem.  The book closest to me, The Seeds of Heaven doesn't have 123 pages.  The next book was in my iPad, which was fine by me, but it was a kindle book wihtout page numbers.  Someone else in the office has the hard copy book, so I borrowed his.  The book is Reading the Women of the Bible by Tikva Frymer-Kensky.  I'm working my way slowly through, and I highly recommend it.
Find Page 123 and find the first 5 sentences.  Page 123 is part of the chapter about the story in Judges 19 -- a terrible, terrible story about the Levite and his concubine. 

Post the next 3 sentences. He sits in the town square, but no one offers him hospitality. An old man comes from the fields who is not a native of the town - he is from Mount Ephraim, where the Levite lives, while the poele of the town are from Benjamin, a different Isrealite tribe - and invites them to stay at his house. Without a doubt, the Benjaminites who live in the town should have taken the tavelers home, but perhaps it was not wise for the man from Ephraim to do so?

Go read the story in the Bible.  It is at the end of Judges and it portrays Israel at the end of a period of time of "implosion and dissolution."


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Experiencing God

I was reading Bookgirl's blog, and was struck by this post.   This paragraph is from that post:
This last week, I followed a reflection from the Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word from the Genesis text. The writer (Bert Marshall) points to Adam’s line, “I heard the sound of you in the garden…” (Genesis 3:10a), imagines how God might have sounded, points out that the God of the written word is silent, and wonders how we might hear the sound of God in our world.
What does God sound like?  How might we hear God in our world?

Hold that question for a moment. 

In an MLC meeting on Monday, the Chairperson said that we do not find God in nature (or something like that).  God isn't found in a beautiful sunset.  As a person who often finds evidence of God in nature, I have to disagree with him.

When I look at Bookgirl's question, I realize that many of the sounds of God I would list are part of nature.
  • waves at the ocean
  • music, especially with words I can grab onto
  • the wind and the sound it makes
  • laughter
  • communion liturgy
So, if I expand the question, then how do my senses experience God?
  • the feel of the wind
  • the heat of the sun
  • the beauty of color
  • the intricacy of flowers and plants
  • the testimony of friends
  • the smell of baking bread (or maybe that's just comfort)
What would your lists look like?

When I think back to the sermonette at MLC, I remember a book I read a few years ago.  I can remember WHERE I read it, but I can't remember which book it was.  It could have been an Ortberg book.  Anyway, he said that there are ways in which people relate to God -- some through service, some through nature, some through worship, some through -- well, you get the idea.  It's important to both discover how you relate best to God and to realize that your way is not everyone's way.  We're made that way. 

This is a rambling post, but it's all tied together for me today.  Good luck with it.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Do you ever watch the Big Bang Theory?  A few months ago, I would have answered that questions, "What?  Big Bang Theory?"  And then I ran into a couple of friends from the building where I used to work, and they told me about it.  "Watch this show!  Everyone in our building is in it!"

Now I'm hooked. 

I bring it up because the other day I was watching as Sheldon and Amy had a conversation.  Sheldon said, "I want to stop listening to you now and say something."  We've all been taught it is rude to interrupt, but Sheldon doesn't live by normal rules.

Is it ever OK to interrupt?

In the Bishop's sermon during Annual Conference, he said that if the house were on fire, it is necessary to interrupt.  If someone is drowning, interrupt.  If you win the lottery, interrupt.  (I'm making up examples now, but you get the picture).  If the news is life altering, interrupt.

We have good news to share.  God has arrived, and the world will never be the same.  Shouldn't we be interrupting? 

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Muscle Memory

When I worked in the lab, there were certain tasks that I did -- such as pipetting liquid into 100s of tubes -- that were accomplished through muscle memory.  Do a task often enough and your body learns how to do it, without much direction from you.  In fact, when I was pipetting, if I thought about it too much, I would make a mistake.  As I write this post, it occurs to me that typing is probably another one of those muscle memory tasks.  That must be why when I took typing in school, we practiced so much.  Practice enough, and the body knows how to do the task. 

I have a friend who often talks about praying without ceasing.  I wonder if that is one of those muscle memory tasks.  Do it often enough, with enough of a habitual routine, and the body and mind just move toward it, without the conscious instruction of the mind.  I wonder if that is part of what it means to pray without ceasing.

Jack was talking today about taking pleasure in the small joys of life -- grandchildren, family, friends, nature, etc.  If we live in the kingdom of God, now, today, then surely there are glimpses of heaven.  We will see them if we will just look for them.  Do it often enough, and build up the muscle memory for seeing those glimpses.  Do it often enough, and when God's kingdom comes fully in our lives, we will see it.

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Friday, June 08, 2012

Hard Work

My husband participated in the UMCOR 150. Fifteen cyclists biked the 150 miles from Charleston to Buckhannon to raise money for the disaster relief work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. It was a very successful ride - no injuries, everyone finished, and a good time was had by all. All of that success came at the price of hard work and preparation. No one showed up on the day of the ride never having ridden a bike before. The participants trained, practiced and invested hard work and energy. Was it worth it? I imagine all of the riders would say "yes."

How often do we avoid starting a ministry in our communities because it would involve hard work? How often have you been in a meeting when it was said, "That's too much to ask people to do."?

What do we expect? To run the race without the hard work? Do we expect to show up on race day, never having ridden a bicycle? Or even worse, do we expect to arrive at the finish line without peddling?

The work is hard. It takes preparation and an investment of time and effort, but Christ guarantees that it is worth it! Start peddling!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Do we love God?

Bishop Marcus Matthews preached for the opening worship service of the Conference this morning. He asked several important and inspiring questions.

Jesus sat on the beach and asked,"Peter, do you love me?" He asks us the same question. Do we love God? Do we believe God is here with us? Then we should act like it.

People hunger for change. They hunger for spiritual growth. How will we be a witness to the transformational changed God brings to our lives? How are we a ray of hope?

Do we love God? Then we should act like it.

Does the Light shine in our lives? Can others see the Light in us? Our challenge is to say yes to God, even when we do not feel equipped. Our challenge is to say yes to God, even when the path is hard, and we think the odds are stacked against us. Will we say yes? Will we let our light shine for God?

What does that mean for my life? What does it mean for your life? How does it translate to the work of the local church? These are critical questions that we must answer for the work of God to be done in our lives and in Christ's Church.

Do we love God? Then we should act like it!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


This is from the Painted Prayerbook:
In one of his homilies, Dorotheos invited his hearers to imagine such a circle, with God as the center point. 
The straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of human beings,” Dorotheos said. “…To move toward God, then, human beings move from the circumference along the various radii of the circle to the center. But at the same time, the closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God.” [Dorotheos's quote can be found in Bondi's splendid book To Love as God Loves.]
To move closer to God, we must move closer to each other, and the closer we move to other people, the closer we move to God.  I believe there is wisdom in that statement.


Monday, June 04, 2012

What is the Lectionary?

I don't do these kind of posts very often, but I taught a Sunday school class yesterday that focused on the Lectionary.  Here is part of what I learned and taught concerning what the Lectionary is, how is was started, etc. 

What is the Lectionary?

The best place to start, I think, is to look at what the word Lectionary means – it is a table of readings.  So, a lectionary is a collection of readings or selections of readings from the scriptures, arranged and intended for proclamation during worship.

Lectionaries have been used for centuries – major churches in the Fourth Century arranged scripture readings according to a schedule that followed the calendar for the church year.  Prior to Christ, those who studying the Hebrew scripture arranged it into a schedule of readings for particular celebrations, like Passover.

We currently follow the Revised Common Lectionary, which was first published for general use in 1992.  This is a revision of the Common Lectionary, which got much of its pattern from the Roman Catholic lectionary for mass of 1969.

While the United Methodist church uses the Revised Common Lectionary, it is not United Methodist.  It was compiled by two groups – the Consultation on Common Texts (a forum among many Christian Churches in the US and Canada) and the International English Language Liturgical Consultation group.  The RCL is used worldwide.

Before we get into it more deeply, consider – Why bother?  What should we have a table of readings?  What advantage does it offer us as a local church?  Or as a connected church?  Do you see disadvantages?

Structure –
  1. The revised common lectionary is a three year cycle of readings.
  2. Each Sunday in the year is assigned four readings
    a.       A reading from the Hebrew Bible (although during the season of Easter, the
    Hebrew passage is usually replaced with one from Acts)
    b.      A Psalm
    c.       A reading from the epistles or Revelation
    d.      A reading from the Gospel
  3. There are three years – A, B and C.  The first Sunday of each year is the First Sunday of Advent.  Year A is always divisible by 3, so December of 2007 began a Year A year.  We just finished a Year A year (2010 through 2011) and are currently in Year B.
  4. Since the seasons of the church year reflect the life of Christ, the gospel reading is usually the focus for the Sunday’s readings.  
  5. Each year – A, B, or C – focuses on one of the synoptic gospels, with sequential readings throughout the year.  Year A is Matthew, Year B is Mark and Year C is Luke.  John is read in every year, especially during Lent, Easter and Advent and also in Year B during a few weeks of the summer because Mark is a short gospel, and they ran out of it.
  6. From the First Sunday of Advent, which is the beginning of the year’s readings, through Trinity Sunday (first Sunday after Pentecost), the non-Gospel readings have a thematic relationship to the gospel reading (although not always). From Trinity Sunday through the rest of the year, there is an alternative tract of readings that carry a connected theme – for example, in Year A, the alternative readings carry the story of the Patriarchs through the Sundays – Abraham, Jacob, Moses, etc.  Year A is the Patriarchs, Year B is the Monarchs and Year C is the Prophets
  7. What passages are not included in the RCL?  Not much from Leviticus or Numbers, Chronicles, nothing from Obadiah, Nahum, 2 John or 3 John. Not everything is in the RCL, but you have a Bible.  Go read it.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

Ya gotta want it

Ya gotta want it, to be a witness to the Resurrection.

I was reading Martha's blog again -- her blog is always full of wisdom.  She was relating the story of a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses who came to her door to tell her about a convention they were going to be part of in town.  She explained that she was a United Church of Christ pastor, and that she probably wasn't going to come to their convention, but she did it in a polite and kind way.  She relates that she admired their courage.  It does take courage to knock on someone's door -- literally -- to tell them about Christ.  And then Martha wrote:

Ya gotta want it, to be a witness to the Resurrection.

A few year ago -- actually, more than a few, our Witness Committee at church targeted a few blocks near our church as a field for witnessing.  We got together as a group and walked the neighborhood, hanging door hangers on the doors.  Steve and I did it, but neither of us liked it.  It was a little creepy -- sometimes a lot creepy -- to walk up on people's front porches.

Ya gotta want it, to be a witness to the Resurrection.

It's hard, isn't it, to speak about God to those whose faith is not clear to you?  It's difficult to put yourself out there -- vulnerable - and speak the message. 

Ya gotta want it, to be a witness to the Resurrection.

And yet, even though it's hard, it is what we are called to do.  To be a witness to the Resurrection with the way we live our lives, what we say, how we go about touching the lives of others.

Ya gotta want it, to be a witness to the Resurrection.

Do we really want it?

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Friday, June 01, 2012

Five Summer Things

This from the Friday Five at RevGalBlogPals.  And it's even Friday:

In my neck of the woods folks who have children of a certain age are doing a dead sprint through end of school year activities: piano recitals, baseball tournaments, travel soccer games, gymnastics meets, dance recitals, graduations, band concerts, field trips and end-of-the year fill in the blank.

I'm ready for Summer. True, I still have to work, but I'm ready for a different rhythm, some more free space to do stuff and the trips we have planned.

Please tell us five things you are doing this Summer.

Bonus? One thing you're not doing, but WANT to be doing.

Here where we live, school is already out for both our college student and our high school student, but the question hits the nail on the head -- we have been rushing in a dead sprint through all of the end of year activities, especially musical ones.  In fact, I just got home from a piano recital. 
Five things I'll be doing this summer:
  1. Spending much of the beginning of summer with our youngest or my hubby away from home.  June into July is a travel month.  We'll start with Annual Conference, then J goes to an Arts Academy and then he goes to SYC.  After that, Steve is going on his bike ride (second one for June), and soon after he gets back, we're going on vacation.
  2. When we get back from vacation, I'll be co-coordinating the volunteers for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in Charleston.  And up until that time, I'll be working to get ready for it.  I'll be glad when that is done.
  3. I hope I can find the time to learn to how to use Photoshop Expressions.  I just keep learning bits and pieces of it, but I want to learn it intentionally.
  4. Read more.  I'm not sure that related to it being summer, though.  I used to read without any effort, but now I have to intentionally find the time for it.
  5. Did I say go to the beach?  Go to the beach.  We didn't go last year; we cruised instead.  That was great, but I'm looking forward to beach.
One thing I won't be doing that I would like to do?  Hmmm.  Going to Scotland/Ireland/Britain.  Cruising the coast of New England and Canada.  Parking in our garage (although by the end of summer, maybe).