Thursday, November 30, 2017

Art and Music

On Sunday, our Sunday school lesson was taught by a young woman who was a youth at our church when she was younger.  She is now working on her PhD in art history. It was a joy to listen to her as she led a discussion in our class about Luca Giordano's Saint Sebastian Cured by Irene.

Notice in the painting that the background is dark and the characters are almost spotlit in the way they are painted. It is dramatic. The painting was created in the Baroque period, which followed the Renaissance. Liz shared with us that the naturalism in the painting and the drama were reactions to people leaving the Catholic church - they were using art to try to attract people back into the church.

It reminded me of the way we have tried in the past to rely on contemporary worship and music to attact people. I'm not saying that either the art or the music are wrong, or even that it's wrong to adapt our practice of religion to speak the language of a younger generation.

What we might want to take care not to do is to rely on only these changes to evangelize. What pulls people into a relationship with Christ? I think it is probably evidence that faith makes a difference - that God makes a difference in our lives.     

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Doing Bad vs. Being Bad

This afternoon I was reading in Eugene Peterson's Psalms: Prayers of the Heart.  The Chapter centers around Psalm 51, which is attributed to David following his actions with Bathsheba.

Peterson writes this:

Our experience of sin does not consist in doing some bad things but in being bad. it is a fundamental condition of our existence, not a temporary lapse into error. Praying our sin isn't resolving not to sin anymore; it is discovering what God has resolved to do with us as sinners.

What are your thoughts?

  1. We often thing that granting someone forgiveness hinges on their commitment to not hurt us again. If our prayers to God do not hinge on such a condition - and if what Peterson says is true, then this is the case - then why should we only grant forgiveness to people who resolve to not sin again? Is it possible to promise to not sin again?
  2. Doesn't grace gain a bigger meaning if what Peterson says is true? God isn't granting us pardon for what we have done - God is working within us to change us.
  3. And is this what sanctifying grace means? 

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How Can That Be?

On Wednesday evenings at my church we are studying the book Psalms: Prayers of the Heart by Eugene Peterson.  Each week we look at a different Psalm and consider how it is a prayer in our life.  The introduction of Psalm 8's chapter asks, "When traveling, have you ever awakened and not known where you were?" I think we all experience that sometimes - maybe when traveling, maybe after an unusually timed nap. Peterson says that Psalm 8 is an orienting act of prayer, so I worked on rewriting it as if I began in that odd feeling of not knowing where I was.

My eyes open,
and I don't know where I am.
Everything is unfamiliar.
Everything is strange.

The only certainty is you, O God.
Majestic and glorious.
Dwelling in heaven
Dwelling in me.
How can that be?

I look around this uncertain place,
and I see what I cannot understand,
what I do not comprehend.
You stop your enemies with the word of a child.
You bring peace amid anger and hatred
by returning none of it.
Revenge may be sweet to you, O God,
but only because it is love,
returned for hatred.
How can that be?

I stand in this uncertain place,
and I look up at the sky.
I am struck silent by the stars
which you set in their places,
by the moon, steady and bright.
Who are we? Who am I 
that you would even notice me?
That you would care about me?
But not only do you think of us,
not only do we dwell in your mind,
but you dwell among us.
How can that be?

I stand in this place, uncertain and lost,
and am overwhelmed by the certainty
that you have created us.
Shape us in your own image,
made us into your own children
so that in each other
we see you.
How can that be?

Around me stands all of your creation.
Everything in your world - 
the sheep, the cows, the animals
the birds, the fish
All that dwells with us
Entrusted to us.
How can that be?

I awake in uncertainty
but come to life

in your creation.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Anything to Declare?

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.  (Psalm 89:1-2)

Earlier this week, in a meeting I attended, the chairperson of the committee shared a devotional. He read a scripture passage (I don't think it was the Psalm above, but it was one about declaring the works of God, so this one works, too), and then he said, "Do you have anything to declare?" 

Later that day, in an office conversation, we were talking about the worship practice of witnessing - a member of the congregation will stand and will tell the story of how God has been at work in his or her life that week.  In the church I attend, no one ever does this; no one is invited to do this. I'm not complaining, or saying one way is better than another, but the juxtaposition of the two experiences brought to mind the following question for me:

Do we have anything to declare? Does the fact that in my church we never declare the personal work of God in our lives mean that we forget how to do it? And does that make us uncomfortable when we are encountered with an opportunity to do so? Does God ever create that opportunity for us? If not, is it because we aren't prepared for it? What can we, who don't often witness in worship, do to better prepare ourselves to make a declaration of the work of God?

Do you have anything to declare? Are you prepared to do so?

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Gratitude quotes

As part of my bullet journaling this week, I’ve been finding a gratitide quote each day. These are the ones I including in my journal:
  • I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness - it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude (Brene Brown).
  • Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings (William Arthur Ward).
  • Joy is the simplest form of gratitude (Karl Barth).
  • Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend (Melody Beattie).
  • Gratitude changes the pangs if memory into tranquil joy (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Genesis 15: Part 3

Thinking about Genesis 15 (see Monday's post)
Role of ritual in the story
And then there is that really nasty passage about splitting animals in half and walking between them. It’s important to set this passage in its place in history – know the context. (another great hint for understanding God’s message through the word we read). The slaughter and splitting of animals was a Near Eastern covenant ritual in which the covenanting parties walk between the pieces of animals, thus taking upon themselves the fate of those animals should they violate the covenant. They signed contracts differently then than we do now.

If you read it carefully, you’ll see that a fire pot and buring torch pass between the animals – symbols of God, but that Abram does not. God is taking on the responsibility for fulfilling the covenant alone.

Seeing it, Abram would have known what was happening, and would have understood, through this ritual.

Are there rituals or ordinary experiences that God uses to reveal himself to us?

The stated purpose of the lesson is “to have the courage to question and to trust in the Word of God.” In this passage, Abram moves from doubt to faith: Verse 6 says, “Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord recognized Aram’s high moral character.” 

Psalm 8 has been called the first Psalm of praise in the Psalter.  Read Psalm 8 and consider the idea of Trust.

Prayer: Awaken in us, God, the possibility of dreams. Teach us to see in the images common to our lives your very presence. Calm our fears as we walk deeper and deeper into the darkness as we encounter the fame of your spirit; it Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Genesis 15: Part 2

Thinking about Genesis 15 (see yesterday's post)

What is your initial impression of the story?  What do you think Abram’s responses say about his faith?  Verse 2 says, “But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damacus?” Does Abram’s response indicate faith or doubt?
  • What do you think about doubt? Is it a sin? Is it a natural part of faith? (I think doubt is evidence that we are exploring our faith deeply – I think doubt is the growing pain of sanctifying grace – in order to mature in our faith, we have to ask God and our faith questions. I think we can trust God enough to bring God our doubts.)
  • When have you experienced doubt? Do you doubt your ability to answer God’s call? Do you find doubt in your faith? Does Abram’s doubt help you relate to him?
  • How does God respond to Abram’s doubt? with patience or impatience? How will God respond to your own doubts? How should we respond to other people’s doubts?
Role of Nature in the story
God takes Abram outside to look at the stars. Imagine what the night sky looked like the desert with no light pollution or buildings to block the starshine. It must have been a beautiful site that easily illustrated God’s point about descendants. What would this have told Abham? It would have been a reminder that God created the stars – this is God. It reminds me of the scenes in Job when God says things like, “Were you there when I set the foundation of the earth?” God’s not just saying, “Count the stars.” God is saying, “Remember who I am.”

Does God ever open your eyes to God’s presence through nature?

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Genesis 15: Part 1

I taught a lesson in Sunday school based on Genesis 15. The next few posts are from the notes I made for the lesson: 

In Genesis, we meet Abram in chapter 12. God calls him to “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”   And so he and Sarai go – God said so, so they go. Abram was 75 years old.

There are two accounts of God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis. One of them is the one that is the basis of this lesson – it’s the Yahwist’s account in chapter 15. The other one is in chapter 17 – the priestly account. In between (chapter 16, Hagar has Ishmael; Abram is 86). In Chapter 17 – the second account of the covenant, Abram is 99.  I just think it’s interesting that from the first call to the second account of the covenant is 24 years.

So, from “I will make you a great nation” until the birth of his son was 25 years.

Three times before this encounter, God has promised Abram descendants: we see them in Genesis 12:2, 12:7 and 13:16. I imagine that Abram is getting frustrated with the lack of a promised fulfilled. And so we come to the encounter we are going to read today.

It’s mainly a dialogue between God and Abram. Parts of it a little icky.

There is a literary pattern that can be seen in the dialogue:
- God’s promise
- Abram’s protest
- God’s response and reassurance

And in what we’ll read today, we’ll see that cycle twice. It’s a pattern that can be seen in other encounters with God in other parts of the Bible – in the conversation with Moses at the burning bush, for example.

Seeing literary patterns can give you clues as to what is about to happen – and when those patterns are switched around – it’s a clue of something else that is important. We should never forget that the Bible is literature, and knowing that can help us to understand God’s message through the words.

Please read Genesis 15.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Genesis 15: The script

Over the next few days, I will share three posts relating to scripture from Genesis 15. As part of the lesson, I asked several members of the class to read the scripture as if it were a "play."  Here is teh script.

God’s covenant with Abram

Narrator:  After these events, the Lord’s word came to Abram in a vision

God: Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.

Abram: Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus. Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.

God: This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.”

Narrator: Then God brought Abram outside

God: Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them. This is how many children you will have.”

Narrator: Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character.

God: I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.

Abram: Lord God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?”

God: Bring me a three-year-old female calf, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.

Narrator: He took all of these animals, split them in half, and laid the halves facing each other, but he didn’t split the birds. When vultures swooped down on the carcasses, Abram waved them off.  After the sun set, Abram slept deeply. A terrifying and deep darkness settled over him.

God: Have no doubt that your descendants will live as immigrants in a land that isn’t their own, where they will be oppressed slaves for four hundred years. But after I punish the nation they serve, they will leave it with great wealth. As for you, you will join your ancestors in peace and be buried after a good long life. The fourth generation will return here since the Amorites’ wrong doing won’t have reached its peak until then.”

Narrator: After the sun had set and darkness had deepened, a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. That day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram

God: To your descendants I give this land, from Egypt’s river to the great Euphrates, together with the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Perspectives: Barriers

Last Saturday, Steve and I walked through the park to watch the Veterans Day Parade (Josh was lead trumpet).  On the way, I saw took this picture.  My assumption is that this used to be a bridge across the creek that runs through the park. The bridge is gone, and the large black board is to keep people from walking over the non-existent bridge.  I took a picture of it because it brought to mind a few questions about obstacles. 
  1. What obstacles do we place in the way of people across a way that used to be there?  What in our churches blocks people's participation? The obvious answers are accessibility obstacles, but there are others. Do we expect people to dress a certain way? Do we want children to act a certain way? Do we pigeon-hole people into certain roles based on age or gender?  What other ways to we block people from full participation in church?
  2. What obstacles do we have in society that need to be removed? Beyond the church, are their obstacles that need to be removed for people to have a secure life? To have a home or food? To reach their potential at work? To achieve success at school? Can we look at life through another person's eyes and see what hinders them?
  3. Where is the line between an obstacle that is for safety and one that blocks a person from reaching God. How do we decide?

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Scents of Gratitude

I am a knitter, and as a knitter, I read knitting blogs. Now that I don't knit quite as much as I used to, I've narrowed my knitting blog list down, but I still enjoy Carole knits. She posts several times a week - and only a small part of what she posts is about knitting. Her blog is mainly a chronicle of her life, and I enjoy seeing her photography, reading her stories, and, yes, checking out her knitting.

She does a regular Thursday (I think it's Thursdays) post called Three Things.  This week's three things was Three things that are the scent of gratitude for you.  That one intrigued me, so here's my three things:
  1. Steve's cologne - Ever since we strarted dating, Steve has worn the same cologne. I hope they never stop making it, because, for me, it is Steve's scent.  It's Lagerfeld. I love how it smells, I love it on Steve, but most of all, when I smell it, I am grateful for my wonderful husband.
  2. At Rotary last week, the guest speaker was the owner of Charleston Bread.  Listening to the owner talk about the bread she bakes and seeing pictures of it had me craving her bread.  So, on Thursday evening, I stopped at the bakery on the way home to pick up a loaf of bread to go with our spaghetti for the evening. The store has a small parking lot next to it. After I parked, and got out of my car, I could smell the bread baking.  That is the scent of gratitude for me. Baking bread.
  3. Around here, we are starting to think about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has a certain smell, doesn't it? Turkey cooking? It is the scent of gratitude for me - it reminds me of family gathered around the table, sharing a meal.
What scents are scents of gratitude for you?


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Where we Walk

At church, at our Wednesday night Bible study, we're working through the book Psalms: Prayers of the Heart by Eugene Peterson.  

Look at the first verse of the first Psalm:

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;

He asks the question, "What significance do you see in the progression from walk to stand to sit?"

Truthfully, I had no immediate answer. I didn't see any significance. But think about it.  Walking is movement - you're not spending much time with someone you walk by. Standing with them takes a little more time. To sit down with someone - that is a commitment of time.

Is temptation like that? Do we start with a small step - something we can easily dismiss through rationalization? And then do we move on to something that is deeper? And then, do we end up sitting down with sin? I think our progression away from following Christ's commands is like that. We don't make that choice (often) as a dramatic one. It's a bit by bit movement - something that we don't even notice at first, and can easily excuse. But it leads to more.

May we be aware of where we walk because it can lead to where we sit.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wesley Covenant Prayer

The Wesley Covenant Prayer, as I hear it:

I no longer belong to myself, God. I belong to you.
Use me as you want to; place me where you need me to go.
Let me work in your kingdom, even if it means suffering.
Keep me busy, or set me aside.
Let others see you through me; let others not see me at all.
Let me be full; let me be empty.
Let me have all things; let me have nothing.
I freely give of everything I have been given
to your pleasure and use.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Creator, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am yours. So be it.
Let this covenant I make here today

be completed in heaven. Amen.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Where I've been

I'm sorry to have been AWOL so long. I had anticipated being away from the blog for a couple of weeks, but those two weeks stretched into four. I'm back now, and I hope to stay back for a while.

 I thought I would start with telling you where I've been. In the middle of October, I went to Chicago for almost a week for software training. I had never been to downtown Chicago before - interesting city - the hotel where I stayed was right on the river. It's as if the city said, "Yes, we know there is a river - we're just going to build as if it isn't there.

 The week after that, Steve and I went to Denver for the national meeting of United Methodist Foundations. I've been to Denver before, but it was great to experience it (and the Rocky Mountains) with Steve. The last day we took a bus into the Rocking Mountain National Park. We climbed to over 9000 feet above sea level. It had snowed on Thursday to the road that goes to 2 miles high was closed, but still - it was a great trip.

 The next week we were in full out planning mode for Josh's senior trumpet recital and the reception that followed. I had thought to hire a caterer, but time slipped away from us, so Steve and I (with the help of Josh's girlfriend) planned and implemented the event ourselves. The recital was wonderful, and I think the 75 or so people who stayed for the reception enjoyed the time together. Who knew college kids loved meatballs so much?

 The same week we were planning the reception, a new person started working on the Foundation staff. It's been wonderful to let go of some of the things I have had to do in the absence of our financial person and let her start doing them. Life never really calms down, and that is OK, but I feel as if it will be returning to normal soon.