Friday, November 23, 2007

Post Thanksgiving Day Friday Five

Singing Owl writes: Ah, the day after Thanksgiving--groan! Fortunately, I love Thanksgiving leftovers.

Thanksgiving is the American holiday when the greatest number of people travel somewhere else to celebrate. I am posting this from my son’s home in Minnesota where we are recovering from the food shopping and the preparations and the meal and the clean up. It is difficult to think of anything requiring much energy today, and I am enjoying my sweet baby granddaughter, so I will keep it simple. For those of you not in the USA, I apologize for the nationalistic tone of this Friday Five!

1. Did you go elsewhere for the day, or did you have visitors at your place instead? How was it?
We went to our friends' house a couple of towns away. It was wonderful! We were neighbors at seminary, and getting together over a meal is great fun. With my daughters, their son, and another couple from seminary and their two sons, and three dogs, we had quite the table!

2. Main course: If it was the turkey, the whole turkey, and nothing but the turkey, was it prepared in an unusual way? Or did you throw tradition to the winds and do something different? We had turkey prepared the traditional way, giblets on the side and both stuffing and southern cornbread dressing. Sides were traditional green bean casserole, drunken sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and a broccoli/new potato/hot mustard casserole. Of course there was the gelatinous canned cranberry goop, sweet tea, and rolls to round it out. There was also a platter of lefse, two pumpkin pies, an apple pie, and a pecan pie.

3. Other than the meal, do you have any Thanksgiving customs that you observe every year? For the last two years I have led worship at the local nursing home--mainly because it falls on my regular Thursday and because I enjoy being there.

4. The day after Thanksgiving is considered a major Christmas shopping day by most US retailers. Do you go out bargain hunting and shop ‘till you drop, or do you stay indoors with the blinds closed? Or something in between? I avoid "Black Friday" like the plague! My daughter would prefer otherwise, but today we slept in, watched a movie, and then went to get her learner's permit.

5. Let the HOLIDAY SEASON commence! When will your Christmas decorations go up? If I had my way they'd go up as close to Christmas eve as possible. If my youngest daughter has her way, they'll be up by Sunday night. Hopefully we'll be able to compromise with the middle of December. Otherwise I fear the cat will have too many opportunities to climb the tree and exceed her previous ornament breaking record.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beginnings and Endings...

It has been a busy fall in this part of North Dakota. The harvest is complete for most folks, and the main activities now include moving cattle, weaning the calves, and cleaning equipment--in short hunkering down for winter's inevitable blast--an ending of sorts. Yes, it's the end of another year's crop, the end of warm weather, the end of the church year, and approaching the end of the calendar year. This season marks not only nature's annual dying but also the conclusion of earthly life for several parishioners and community members. For this small parish it's meant four funerals in four weeks and a full cup of grief for friends and family alike.
Yet time cycles on--we must die to this life to experience the fullness of eternal life. Fall gives way to winter in order for winter to bow to spring. The many Sundays of ordinary time pass so that we may experience the reflection and expectation that comes with Advent. Life. Breath. Rhythm. Our days are numbered and marked by joy, pain, and busyness. As this present year in all its forms and functions now fades away, my wish for you is time to pause and truly live in at least some of the moments of your life.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Friday 5: Homage to the Top Chef!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Friday Five: Homage to the Top Chef!
Revhrod says, "This Fall my family has been energetically watching Top Chef on the Bravo channel. My teenage daughter watches with the dream of some day being a chef. My husband watches because he loves reality shows and I mean, really loves them. Plus the whole competition thing really works for him. Me, I love cooking and good food. Every so often I get an idea from this group of talented young chefs who are competing for big money and honors galore.The winner for this season was Hung. Not the fan favorite, but he won fair and square. In his bio, he says if he were a food "I would be spicy chili - it takes a while to get used to, but once you eat it you always come back for more!" With that in mind, here is this week’s Friday Five."

If you were a food, what would you be?

Dark Chocolate--in any form or recipe. I just love it!

What is one of the most memorable meals you ever had? And where?

The Fireman's Fourth of July Barbeque in Sheyenne, North Dakota, takes that honor. To truly experience the meal, one has to go uptown to Ostby Hall and watch the men prepare the meat. They inject the beef roasts with special sauce, cut a whole lot of onions up, and wrap the roasts with onions and seasonings using foil and cheesecloth. They also prepare potatoes for the pit, too. After everything is ready, the men load this huge concrete pit with sand, food, and cover it with boards and hot coals. They generally sit up all night watching it and enjoying a few beers. The women fix the rest of the meal. The next day, after the parade, the hall fills with more people than the town has residents to enjoy some of the best meat and fixins' in all North Dakota. Well, for that matter, it rivals the best barbeque you'll find in Memphis, TN, too. What makes it even better is how so many town residents come together to make this meal happen, with the proceeds benefitting our volunteer fire department.

What is your favorite comfort food from childhood?

Homemade mac and cheese AND my granny's homemade fried apple pies and biscuits.

When going to a church potluck, what one recipe from your kitchen is sure to be a hit?

Cheezy Apples--another good comfort foot involving apple pie filling, cheese, and other goodies

What’s the strangest thing you ever willingly ate?

Chocolate covered ants (in third grade!) Anything is palatable with the right amount of chocolate.

Bonus question: What’s your favorite drink to order when looking forward to a great meal?

A single glass of really good wine--what that is depends on the meal.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday 5--decluttering edition

Sally writes: With Jo, Jon and Chris all moving to college and University accommodation there has been a big clear up going on in the Coleman household. We have been sorting and trying hard not just to junk stuff, but actually to get it to where it can be useful. On a brighter note we have used Freecycle ( check it out) to provide the twins with pots and pans etc that other folk were clearing out.Making the most of our resources is important, I have been challenged this week by the amount of stuff we accumulate, I'd love to live a simpler lifestyle, it would be good for me, and for the environment I think...With that in mind I bring you this Friday 5:

1. Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?
I am a minimalist trapped in a hoarder's world! I'm convinced that worldly possessions multiply like rabbits, and I'm not sure how stuff even ends up in my house. I've moved 10 times in the last 11 years (insane, I know), and even with multiple yard sales, trips to Good Will and Salvation Army, I still have too much stuff. I've thought about ebay, but who has the time?

2. Name one important object ( could be an heirloom) that you will never part with.
Hmmm....considering all things will be parted with at some point...well, maybe this special pottery jar created by a friend and mentor who has since died of cancer; it's beautiful, functional, and a real treasure.

3. What is the oldest item in your closet? Does it still fit???
A pair of 50+ year old Italian leather sandals that belonged to my mother. They're really elegant and comfortable, and the leather just keeps getting better with age. And yes, thankfully they still fit!

4.Yard sales- love 'em or hate 'em ?
Love going to them but don't have time to do so. Enjoy making money from hosting one, but hate the time and effort to get all the stuff ready. Like the principle of recycling other people's stuff instead of buying new.

5. Name a recycling habit you really want to get into.
Getting as close to zero rubbish as possible...and creating art from my junk. O.K. that's sort of two, but they're interrelated, right?

And for a bonus- well anything you want to add....
Check out Anne Basye's book Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2007. It's a great, quick read that's also thought provoking and convicting.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday 5-- looking back, looking forward

Sally writes:
When I began work here at Downham Market a wise friend told me that after one year I would see a few changes and sense God at work- years two and three would cause me to question and to wonder why I had chosen to accept the post here and in year four I might see the beginnings of something new.And so with that in mind alongside yesterdays celebrations I bring you Friday 5 Looking back, looking forward..

1. Share a moment/ time of real encouragement in your journey of faith.
It had to be the kitchen table Eucharist shared with a group of friends the night before my cancer surgery. I have this thing for kitchens--you can tell a lot about people from their kitchens. I love being in the kitchen. So in the face of uncertainty and illness, five of us gathered around a white tile table with Word, good bread and wine, and tears--intimate, earthy, and real. It was one of the most Spirit-filled times of my life, and I was at complete peace going into the hospital the next morning.

2. Do you have a current vision / dream for your work/ family/ministry?
I'm trying to work on two writing projects concurrently (a non-fiction book and a play) while being a single parent to two daughters and pastor of a four-point rural parish. My vision is to finish these projects and still manage to keep up as mom and pastor. I am deliciously happy in this rural setting, am enjoying ministry with these people, and hope God wills for me to stay here for a good long time.

3.Money is no object and so you will.....
Keep on trying to live simply and maybe take more time to write. I might travel more--see parts of the world and meet people I otherwise wouldn't be able to meet. Most of all, I'd be able to give when I want to, as much as I want to, and to as many ministries and non-profits whose work I'd like to support.

4. How do you see your way through the disappointments? What keeps you going? Disappointments are part of the journey. I try to recognize that reality and keep moving forward. My faith keeps me going and gives me endless hope in the face of whatever life dishes up.

5. How important are your roots?
Roots are important in forging a connection with the past and in placing myself in context within this grand narrative that's life, but I like to think I'm like rhubarb--I can flourish wherever I'm transplanted.

6. Bonus= what would you like to add ?
TGIF!!! Today I don't want to look back anymore. I'm good at that. Today I don't want to look toward tomorrow; it will arrive if it is supposed to be here. Today I want to focus on today--on each delectable moment of this beautiful summer day on the northern prairie. I want to feel the breeze on my face while I read on the porch. I want to pick flowers from the garden to arrange for the supper table. I want to savor the taste of homemade june berry pie and sweet tea. I want to finish my sermon for Sunday and funeral homily for Monday, but right now I want to practice being present in this moment.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Five: Books, Books, Books...

1. Fiction what kind, detective novels, historical stuff, thrillers, romance????
I enjoy most kinds of fiction, although I really don't read romance novels. For light brain relief reading I enjoy thrillers and mysteries. I read a really fun series of liturgical mysteries a couple of years ago, but I can't remember the author. They were based on a major character who was a choir master for an Episcopal congregation, and had fun names like The Alto Wore Tweed or some such stuff. Anyone read those or remember the author's name? They were so funny I laughed out loud.

2. When you get a really good book do you read it all in one chunk or savour it slowly?
Word hog that I am, I prefer to guzzle it all in one sitting if possible; however, that said, reality usually dictates a few chapters a day.

3. Is there a book you keep returning to and why?
There's not one particular book I return to, but I do find myself drawn to daily doses of poetry. I will pick up volumes from my library and read a poem or two each day, and I also subscribe to "The Writer's Almanac" with Garrison Keillor.

4. Apart from the Bible which non-fiction book has influenced you the most?
Hard to say. I guess maybe it would be either Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship or any number of works by C.S. Lewis, William Sloane Coffin's Credo (which is wonderful for reading in small bits), or Henri Nouwen.

5. Describe a perfect place to read. ( could be anywhere!!!)
I have this wonderful old chair and ottoman with corduroy slipcovers in my sitting room. It's wonderful for curling up under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book--especially early in the morning or late at night when the house is quiet and all the animals vie for a place on the chair with me (usually the cat around my neck on the back of the chair, the poodle at my side, and the Springer on the ottoman with his head on my feet). Where I previously lived there was also a fireplace to add olfactory and auditory stimulation--along with warmth!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Friday Five: Parties, Birthday and Otherwise

1) Would you rather be the host or the guest?
Hmmmm.....I enjoy entertaining, and throwing a party is one of the very few ways my house ever really gets a good cleaning, so I suppose I'd rather be the host. That said, I'll be the first to say that I'm not a particularly good host--I panic too much about preparations and amounts. So I work best as a member of a team. Plus, it's a lot more fun to do something as a team or group.

2) When you are hosting, do you clean everything up the minute the guests go home? Will you accept help with the dishes?
I used to be a fanatic about cleaning up the dinner party mess before going to bed. I'm way over that now. Sometimes, cleaning up at a leisurely pace the next day even allows one to revisit the party and savor the best moments in the joyous fog of memory. One thing's for sure--the mess won't go anywhere. And yes, I gladly accept help with dishes.

3) If you had the wherewithal, and I guess I mean more than money, to throw a great theme party, what would the theme be?
If money, time, and creativity were of no concern, I'd probably throw an awesome Epiphany Open House for the parish with oodles of candles, scads of luminaria outside, and food from many countries with attention at the same time to sustainability, simplicity, and fair trade food--light to the world.

4) What's the worst time you ever had at a party?
Usually I enjoy a good party, but I guess the worst was a dinner/dance for new faculty members at the boarding school where I used to teach. It was on a river boat, so we were a captive audience. My now former spouse was getting good and sloshed and saying absolutely ridiculous things and making ludicrous claims about himself. I wished I could have dissolved into one of the chafing dishes. It was totally embarrassing.

5) And to end on a brighter note, what was the best?
The best would have to be my birthday this year. I turned 46, and the parish helped me celebrate all week long. On April 1, one congregation had a lovely "trick cake" (a beautifully decorated cardboard box) followed by the real thing after worship. They all got a real kick out of watching me try to cut it and remain polite and pastorly.
The Sunday school children decorated a huge card, gave me a pectoral cross made of horseshoe nails, and sang happy b'day to me.
And finally, on the actual day about 22 women in the parish took me out to a fancy restaurant for a party with cake, laughter, and some really cool cards and presents--one of which was a quilted wall-hanging from which 30% of the profits of the sale of the fabric are donated to breast cancer research (I'm a cancer survivor, so that was really thoughtful). These folks wrapped me in arms of love and caring and made my first birthday away from all my friends and family back east and down south a wonderful experience.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Movement of the Spirit and a very “Improper” Preface

I think that sometimes those of us in ministry tend to overlook the working of the Spirit in our lives. Take sermon preparation, for example. As a Lutheran, I was schooled in the art of carefully crafting a sermon through prayer, study, and a solidly written homily. We were taught that it was irresponsible to think that the Holy Spirit was going to bail us out if and when we failed to adequately prepare our sermons. This makes sense to me, especially given my past life as an English teacher and freelance writer. A potential problem with this approach is that it can lead one to become too “text-bound.”

Aileen, my wonderful intern supervisor, provided bold and helpful critique, praising my careful writing and good content, but wondering if my devotion to the printed page didn’t hamper my ability to engage the congregation. Her challenge was to find some way to become less bound to my written page. So I’ve tried various techniques—writing the manuscript and then summarizing it in bullets on cards, or outlining it, or even printing it small and book-fold so that I could slip it in my worship book—with the goal of not having the appearance of delivering an academic paper at a professional conference. Working hard to not look like I was working so hard, it’s easy to forget the working of the Spirit in the creation of the word to be delivered. But as I’m out in the parish and becoming “at home” in this particular context, it becomes more and more apparent that the Spirit does move and breathe each week in the art and craft of the homily.

A few weeks ago I was having a horrible time putting anything together that made any sense. I struggled all week with it to no good result. Finally, on Saturday night, in a fit of desperation, I looked in my files for the last time I preached on that particular text in Year C. With apologies to God and self, I reworked it for this present context and put in a couple of fresh illustrations and then went to bed. I was still frustrated that my original direction had led only to dead ends. So at the early service at the country church I got up and preached the revised, reworked, rehashed sermon. It felt awful the whole way through—like wearing pointy-toed, too-tight stiletto heels. But I chalked it up to just one of those days that wouldn’t work. We all have a couple of dreadful sermons, right?

By the time I reached the town congregation for the 11:00 a.m. service, I was still fretting over the sermon. During the entrance hymn, I looked out at the congregation and suddenly knew—deep in my gut—that I couldn’t preach the revised, reworked, rehashed sermon. So I prayed—VIGOROUSLY. I also knew—again, deep in my gut—that this one was not meant to be delivered from the pulpit (my usual style). I’d worked long and hard on trying to get this idea to gel, so which direction to take was not a problem; what I didn’t have a clue about was how to end it. Yes, the Spirit was goading me, driving me into a place I would rather not have gone.

The end result was nothing short of amazing and God-breathed. I knew from the expressions on the faces of folks in the congregation and from the tears in the eyes of a particular few and from the energy I felt that this was a Spirit moment and the word of God, with me being purely and only the instrument on which it was played out. After worship the organist came up to me (she played at both services) and asked “Where did that come from? It wasn’t the same sermon!” So I shared the story with her. “Well it was powerful, and it worked,” she said. Chalk one up for the Holy Spirit. Humble and amaze one pastor.

The most recent time I experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit in worship came this past Sunday at our Synod Assembly with what I'll call the story of the “improper preface.” I was on the planning team and had to miss a couple of meetings due to parish conflicts so told them to plug me in wherever they needed me. Well, they did, as presiding minister for the Sunday a.m. worship when the bishop was preaching. That should teach me to miss meetings in the future! But like Ado Annie, I'm just a girl who can't say no.

Typical of the overstressed and overbooked, I forgot a couple of things. First of all, I left my collar at home. I woke Saturday morning out of a sound sleep to that realization. Fortunately, the two voting members from the Norwegian town church hadn’t left yet, so they were able to bring it with them (I’m one of the few women in my synod who doesn’t wear a tab collar, so I knew there would be no replacements to be had.). I also forgot that they don’t use a leader’s ritual edition on the altar at assembly, so there was no proper preface for the Eucharist. Things had been so crazy before worship began that I totally overlooked that fact. I was more worried that there was no font for the affirmation of baptism (we ended up with a plastic punchbowl).

Talk about silent panic! I pondered whether I had enough time during the offering to run around to the Augsburg Fortress store and grab one, but no, that wouldn’t work. I asked the bishop what he would do. Very pastorally he replied to either forget it or make something up. So I prayed—VIGOROUSLY. I could remember the beginning and the ending of the preface but not all of the middle part for Easter (memorization is not my strong suit), so I quickly jotted something down, took a deep breath and plunged ahead. It all worked fine; in fact, I had a more difficult time breaking the bread (a delicious and crusty sourdough that proved quite stubborn). In the end no one castigated me, and clearly the Spirit was at work because I couldn’t have come up with those words on my own. A couple of folks thought it had been written especially for the assembly (well, it had been—sort of).

Lessons learned? First, never underestimate the power of the Spirit in what we do as rostered and lay ministers. Second, just like they say in seminary, never rely on the Spirit when you haven’t done your part of the work. Finally, be as forgiving to yourself as God is to you. Life generally works out, sometimes better than other times, but the end of the world hasn’t come yet, and the use of an “improper preface” probably isn’t going to hasten its happening. Grace and peace to all ya’ll. Keep up the good work in a world that sorely needs the Good News. And if you wear a collar, don’t forget to pack it when you travel. Pax et lux.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Monday's Small Pleasures

Easter and Low Sunday are past--this year the Triduum sped by in a blur of activity, illness, and worship. After attending the UND Writers Conference at the end of March, I managed to contract a nasty cold that lingered until post-Easter mid-week. During the Good Friday Litany, while kneeling at the foot of the cross in one of the country sanctuaries, I had the pleasure of a rare coughing fit--the organist ran for water and a parishioner slipped up behind me with a cough drop. I ended up with tears running down my face and into my collar from a combination of being overcome by the service and the physical act of coughing so hard. The moment of epiphany came when I processed out of the sanctuary in the evening stillness and looked northward across the fields--a stunning sight. Tones of earth brown, tan, yellow, and white gold interspersed with flecks of green, bluish evening sky, and the brilliant sunset colors embodied both the reality of Christ's death and the hope of the resurrection to come. It was one of those frozen moments in time that I won't forget.

But this morning I sit with a delightful cup of chai, lazily coming round from last week's busyness before facing the week ahead, and counting the small pleasures of the Monday day off and the blessings of this vocation. There's the bliss of a good quality, freshly-sharpened pencil--the scent of the wood and graphite combined, the graceful way the words in my journal roll out beneath its point. And then there's the sight of my faithful companions all three gathered on the parsonage office futon--Spatchy the pastel tabby sprawled across the back, Pete the beloved companion and Springer Spaniel stretched across the seat amongst the papers that should be dealt with and the upcoming week's confirmation lesson, and the newest addition, Truffles, my daughter's toy poodle puppy, curled at Pete's side. The notes of Vivaldi's Four Seasons surround my head, remind me of time's gentle passage this day, and calm my heart that would seek to be "doing" instead of "being". Just for a time this brings comfort. It's a comfort much needed before a routine of stretching and praying and walking. After that, the rhythm of this day will take flight, carrying me along on its waves until at long last I am able to settle in with a cup of peppermint tea, a good book, and what I hope will be a peaceful night's sleep. Shalom to you all. May your Monday be blessed.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A poem for Monday, March 12, 2007

12 March 2007, common era

Surrounded by family, censed with love, pain, and tears,
the weary patriarch leaves life for eternity even as the
morning sun in ruby-red glory rises above yet fallow fields.
Styrofoam coffee cups in hand, the Cenex regulars
talk of spring calving and the price of winter wheat
while outside, on the streets of town, passing trucks
crush the leavings of winter’s snow and ice.
Walkers navigate a topography of silt-laden run-off,
in bitter reminder of Lent’s somber, ashen warning
that all, yes all creation, returns to earth.

Later, by a windswept grave off County Road 1
parents bury again the memory three years past of
black ice and a daughter, an almost bride, lost to life.
Pink roses and birdsong counterpoint their mourning
while beyond the evergreen sway, across snow-melt pastures,
children’s laughter and playground fancy signal another grief—
a school called this night to greet its own death justified
by declining numbers, increasing cost and board vote.
Meanwhile the price of diesel rises and reality rubs raw
against the advent of soil and seed turning.

Such is this March day on the Dakota prairie.
Weatherbeaten winter and hopeful spring dance,
unsteady partners in time’s gaited passage.
Sturdy stock, these good Norwegian folk
will brush away the mud, disregard the chill,
and go on resolute, backs to the wind, chins set
against the howl of life.

Days Like This!

"Mama said there'd be days like this,
there'd be days like this, my mama said..."

...but she didn't say anything about weeks like this, or even months like this. Egads!

North Dakota in March is a strange and unpredictable place. One minute you're freezing your eyeballs out and the next minute you're awash in a sea of mud and melting snow runoff without the benefit of adequate storm drainage systems. Life takes on this odd rhythm that I'm sure is somehow linked to the precocious patterns of the weather.

In "Little, Little Town," the mood is stormy. Tonight is the final vote on closing our school. In all reality we merged with the larger district in the south of the county last year, but somehow not all the folks in "Little, Little Town" realized the implications of the merger--especially that if our K-6 campus couldn't maintain a certain number of students the board "may" reassign those students to the main campus in "Little Big Town." The board has taken the word "may" to mean "shall," while the residents of "Little, Little Town" heard hope. The school is the largest employer in "Little, Little Town," so people will lose jobs, and another empty shell of a landmark will grace the northern plains horizon. Some folks are calling it (quite dramatically, I think) a crucifixion. Others are ignoring it and pretending it isn't happening. Still others are saying we have no options and it's simply a fact of life in a dwindling area.

The thing that disturbs me about the whole issue is the decided lack of vision and willingness to be innovative. There is here a sort of collective malaise, a resignation, and a sense of inferiority that is absolutely maddening to the "outsider." As pastor, citizen, parent, and newcomer, I walk this fine line of what I can and cannot say, what is appropriate and inappropriate, and what would be politicizing from the pulpit. I've alternated between taking tearful, angry calls from parishioners to keeping my mouth shut in front of another parishioner who is on the board that's decided to close the school. So now there will be grief issues to deal with that are as insidious as cancer within the parish body and the community.

Add to that the personal dilemma of having eldest daughter home from college for a week. She was bored to tears within 24 hours and settling back into the familiar pattern of sparring with youngest daughter (who's 13 with a vengeance and resenting the encroachment upon her queen bee status). Both of them complain with great gusto about Single Pastor Mom's vocational responsibilities.

And to top it all off, beloved patriarch of close-knit farm dynasty dies at 6:00 a.m. in hospital 23 miles away. The family has me called at 3:00 a.m., but do I hear the phone? No. Does said hospital also call my cell phone which was on my nightstand? Of course not. Fortunately they do call a colleague in "Bigger Little Town" who is pastor to one of the children, and she was able to be with them. I know I can't be all things to all people, but events like this are frustrating. Thankfully, on Sunday afternoon, I was able to take communion to the hospital, so that the family (who filled the room and hall) were able to share the meal with beloved patriarch. It was truly one of the most touching things I've experienced to watch beloved matriarch help her husband receive the wine and real presence of Christ. This will be a hard funeral in one sense, but it will be a celebration, as well. We'll be opening up one of the buildings from a congregation closed some years ago for the service--out on open prairie with a commanding view and a cemetary surrounded by the sheltering presence of tall evergreens.

Enough venting for one Monday morning. At least I'm now fully awake and ready to start on funeral homily notes, sermon prep for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, homily prep for Wednesday evening prayer, and confirmation prep. Will Easter ever really get here?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Road of Danger: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year C

Grace and peace to you fellow travelers on this Lenten pilgrimage, grace and peace from the One who was, who is, and who is to come.

Two roads diverge in front of us this morning. One is unmarked. It looks appealing, oft-traveled, and well-maintained. Four lanes of velvety-black, ribbon-smooth highway. Look! There’s even a sign noting the presence of a travel oasis a few miles ahead. The other road shows signs of disuse and wear—frost heaves, ruts, and a sharp turn ahead that blocks your view of what might lie ahead. You’re concerned because there’s no oasis sign proclaiming hospitality ahead; the only marker is a faded yellow, rusty metal sign, pock-marked by a few bullet holes, containing a solitary word: DANGER. Further unnerving you is the presence of several of those little roadside crosses on both sides, names and dates that have no meaning to you, but that raise the hair on the back of your neck as their sun-cast shadows play across the road ahead.

What will be your choice for this leg of the journey? Will you choose the highway, or will you risk the road of danger?

Maybe you’re inclined to say something along the lines of “Well, that’s a no-brainer. I’ll head for the travel oasis and be assured of a Starbucks and a McDonalds and plenty of fuel.” Maybe you consider that to be the prudent, the wise, the safe option. Certainly it’s the preferred choice of most rational folks in search of good travel. AAA would concur. Mapquest would agree. Google would go along. The other road might not even make it onto the pages of your Rand-McNally Atlas.

As disciples, we know which road our directions tell us to take. Yep. That’s right. The Road of Danger. The Way of the Cross. The “road less traveled.” Our gospel text this morning makes that choice abundantly clear through the example of Jesus, as he faced two divergent paths.

Jesus is warned by his peers and fellow religious scholars to take the wide road out of town as fast as he can go because Herod wants to do him in. But Jesus won’t be sidetracked; he won’t change direction.

The word “must” is important. Jesus says, “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.” There is a sense of urgency, of importance, of a necessary course of action. Jesus’ motivation is clear. He is on track to do the will of God, and Jerusalem is in the way. God’s chosen people, personified by Jerusalem are at odds with this mission. Jesus’ mission is risky business. Prophets in Jerusalem often end up dying because of their proclamation. We know Jesus died there. We know that he was raised in the shadow of the city, too, but let’s save that story for Easter and focus on the dangerous road he’s on now, the same dangerous road we’re called to tread in his footsteps.

Business guru and author Stephen Covey said, “The greatest risk is the risk of riskless living.” No one could accuse Jesus of Nazareth of riskless living! And as his followers, we should not be accused of riskless living either.

I’m pretty sure that the farmers among us know a thing or two about Covey’s statement. Farmers take risk by the very nature of their vocation—every planting, every major equipment purchase, every decision to get back out there and do it again is shadowed by risk. In our North American culture, I’d be willing to stake a claim that being a farmer is truly more risky than being a Christian. What I mean is this:

A farmer is a farmer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, especially if he or she has livestock.

True, theoretically, a Christian is a Christian 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But what’s the reality? What percentage of folks who claim the name invest the corresponding amount of time or lifestyle or resources? A farmer who spent as much time farming as the average Christian spends at church, in prayer and study, and in activities pertaining to the Christian life, would be the talk over the coffee pot in the Farmers Union AND bankrupt in short order. A farmer who only farmed twice a year? What would happen?

Or how about this: a farmer who only invested 2.2% of gross income back into the farm—well, you tell me—what would the result be? Yet that 2.2% of gross income figure represents the average percentage of household giving to a religious institution (church or synagogue) in the year 2003, according to a study by the George Barna Group.

Being a farmer is far more dangerous, far riskier, than being a Christian in North America. Look at the number of farm-related injuries and fatalities in a given year. According to a 1999 report of the National Safety Council, the fatal injury rate for agriculture (22.5 per 100,000) was second only to mining and quarrying, with less than one percent difference (The Iowa Experience 1990-1999, Iowa Department of Public Health). I couldn’t locate any figures readily available on injuries and fatalities related specifically to being Christian, but I suspect it would be a considerably smaller percentage, if it’s even measurable.

Wonder where I’m going with all this? I want to place before you a couple of things to consider about choosing the dangerous road of discipleship.

First, I don’t believe that the wide, welcoming road is any less dangerous. In fact, I’d suggest that it’s more dangerous in the end, that it’s deadly. Any life is going to be filled with its share of pain and suffering, but without the knowledge of the love of God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ, how much worse, how pointless, how desperate can it get? The going may be really smooth for awhile, but the wide road may lead you right off a cliff, or it may lead you in dizzying circles, or deposit you at a dead end.

The road we call dangerous—that of discipleship—may indeed be fraught with pain and suffering, but on this road we will never be alone. On the dangerous road of discipleship we have the promise of the resurrection, and the guarantee of eternal life. In short, we have hope.

What’s required of us on the road of danger is that we give up the misguided but highly human notion that we are in control. We are asked to step out in faith—to leap with both feet away from every rational thing our world holds dear into the loving arms of Jesus, who longs to shelter us under wings of love, and who would have us soar on the wings of eagles in his divine care.

In some parts of the world, proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ is indeed life-threatening. People have died for the faith, and people will continue to die for the faith. Our risk factor here in this place is pretty low. In all of North Dakota I’d say it’s pretty low. In the United States it’s still pretty low—thanks to democracy and freedom of religion. What if you lived somewhere in the world where it is illegal to assemble to worship as a Christian? What if the call to justice put you in harm’s way to save others?

Do you remember from science class how much of our brain we use? If you don’t remember, the answer is 7-10%. What percentage of our faith do we really use? You see, dear Christian friends, this is where it gets dangerous.

The more of our faith we’re need to use, the firmer we’re asked to stand on what we believe, and the more sacrifices we’re called to make on account of our faith in Jesus Christ, the more dangerous our discipleship walk becomes. The more we step out in faith, the more our eyes are opened to the needs and the pain of this world and our sisters and brothers and the more risk we must take.

Look at Abram. He left home, family, and security to follow God. He’s waited a long time for God’s promise. He’s faced danger, he’s lied to save his skin and that of his family, he’s done battle, and he’s getting old. He must have been discouraged. He must have wondered what in heaven God was up to. But he’s told in a vision not to fear, that God is his shield, and that his reward will be great. I think Abraham had to use more than 7-10% of his faith.

So what about us today? Are you willing to continue walking by faith? Are you willing to let God lead you down a dangerous road, trusting in the divine promises, in your baptismal covenant? If you are, then you will find yourself led way out of your comfort zone, you will meet challenges that seem insurmountable, and you WILL work in the fields of the Lord more than two days a year—that’s for sure—because God requires nothing more of you than all you are. And lastly, you WILL lose your life at some point.

But do not be afraid. You have the promise. Your reward will be very great. Your citizenship is in heaven. God is always faithful, and Jesus’ arms are strong enough to bear you and shelter you no matter how “chicken” you are or where this road leads. You are in good company, and that is good news.

Blessings on the journey!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Into the Wilderness

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

--Robert Frost
from “The Road Not Taken”

By now your Lenten journey is underway. So how’s the wilderness? Do you find yourself wandering aimlessly, or are you tending to find places to rest and watch and listen? No matter where you find yourself or what the terrain of your heart and mind, there will be choices to make. Which direction? What path? Where in the world? When will it make sense? Why do we make such a big deal about Lent anyway?
Just a few days ago, folks gathered around altar rails to be marked with the sign of the cross—in our parish a cross made from the ashes prepared by confirmation students of last year’s Palm Sunday fronds mixed with olive oil for “staying power.” On the Sunday prior, the congregation surrounded with love and prayers two young girls as they received the sacrament of Holy Baptism and were “marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Marked at the beginning of the journey, marked along the way with a reminder of our mortality and human frailty, and reminded in Word, water, bread and wine of the truth of the Gospel, we journey on toward Holy Week and the cross. We journey with Jesus toward death and then to life.
As a Christian, a disciple of Christ, you have already chosen the less-traveled road, and it will make all the difference in the end. Along the way we all find ourselves lured toward other paths that the world claims as better, more pleasurable, and more rewarding. We are tempted to choose another way, perhaps a way that offers the illusion of control. We may wander in circles, we may find ourselves temporarily lost, and we may stumble and fall—weary of the journey. Even so, we are not alone. God goes with us, and grace will lead us home. Each year the forty days of Lent reminds us of this truth in a very real and tangible way.
Blessings on your journey.

Monday, February 19, 2007

How Sweet the Sound...

...and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? --Micah 6:8

On Sunday, February 18, more than 5,000 churches in 50 states and 10 provinces marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by singing "Amazing Grace," providing information about modern-day slavery, and signing petitions to end the practice. The event was organized by Walden Media and Bristol Bay Productions, who will release the film Amazing Grace: The William Wilberforce Story in theaters on Friday, February 23rd. The same event will take place in the United Kingdom on March 25, 2007.

When the congregations I serve decided to participate in this event, I had no idea that slavery was so widespread. According to National Geographic, in 2003 there were some 27 million people living in slavery. A recent U.S. Department of State report (2006) notes that in 2005, "cases of forced labor were documented in 112 countries." One of the most common forms of slavery, human trafficking in the commercial sex trade, generates some $9.5 billion dollars each year (Trafficking in Persons Report, 2005) enlisting and violating about two million children (UNICEF, 2006). For people of God, these statistics, and the fate of the people behind them are unconscionable. As stewards of time, talent, and resources, there is much that we can do individually and corporately.

First, and foremost, we can pray that God will inspire and equip leaders in government, in the Church, and in all segments of society to combat modern slavery and advocate for basic human dignity and rights for all people. We can pray for relief and comfort for those awaiting rescue and for full restoration of those who are fortunate enough to be rescued. We can pray for prophets who will hold us accountable to the biblical mandate for Christians to seek justice and rescue the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17) and to use their resources to this end. As long as one person is bound in slavery, people of God must be committed to prayer and action.

For more information, visit; and, and

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Surviving Skiing and Transfiguration Sunday

Other than the ski-tip imprint and large bruise on my back, I managed to emerge relatively unscathed from my first-ever downhill skiing experience. Never say never because it WILL rise up and bite you! All in all it was a terrific day. Only one member of the youth group had been skiing before, but it didn't take the rest of them long to get the hang of it. I was definitely the slow learner of the group. The "expert" of the group happened to be my daughter, so she was mortified to have me flailing around as she whizzed past. Oh well, isn't embarrassment and mortification part of a mother's job description?
So I had my mountaintop experience on Saturday, and boy was I glad to come down! Today's sermons basically ended up being a challenge to be transformed by Jesus' presence in our lives--to be aware as we head into Lent of what lies beneath life's surfaces and the faces of those with whom we come into contact. We did the Amazing Grace Sunday thing, and I was gratified by the number of parishioners who signed the petition to end modern-day slavery. Most folks were pretty shocked to hear the startling figures. Slavery just isn't on most North Dakotans' radar screens. But then is it really on most folks' minds?
On to Ash Wednesday and confirmation...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dabbling with technology and texts

It's Friday, a good day to set up a blog for the first time. I have no clue what I'm doing! But at least this feeble attempt gave me a much needed diversion from writing two sermons for this Sunday. Why two? Because we have two baptisms of elementary age children at the service in town. Things aren't going so well in the sermon-crafting department; I find the texts for Transfiguration Sunday to be among the more difficult ones with which to wrestle, and this year seems to be no exception. It's also Amazing Grace Sunday, so to weave all this together is challenging. Check out this site for more info (No, I haven't figured out how to make a lovely link yet. Sorry.):
I'll need to finish the sermons today because tomorrow will be a true "mountain top experience" as our LYO and Spirit Youth Groups have a ski trip scheduled. I have never been downhill skiing before, much preferring the illusion of control that I have on x-country skis, so this should be quite the adventure. Hopefully I won't need crutches as an accessory on Sunday morning!
Well, anyway, welcome to my little spot on the map. Check back often for updates as I try to become more technologically literate and try to instill more discipline in my writing life. Peace and blessings on this warm (11 degrees ABOVE) Friday.