Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Yes, Virginia

Yesterday I went back to my second office, the Coffee on the Corner, to "finish" working on my homily for Christmas Day. I was wearing my new sweatshirt, the one that reads "Yes, Virginia, they do ordain women." The man behind the counter gave me a thumbs up, very nice, but then he looked confused and said "so does Virginia not ordain women?" For those who don't know, I live in the state of Virginia. This poor lad was so mixed up. I explained to him that it was a take off of the famous letter to the editor reply. He nodded but kept looking confused. I tried to explain quickly that states don't determine who's ordained or not, but still, confusion.

All in a day's work...

Monday, December 12, 2005

What Christmas Carol Are You?

I stole this from my friend Teri. Not surprisingly, we're the same carol.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
You are 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing'. You take
Christmas very seriously. For you, it is a
religious festival, celebrating the birth of
the Saviour, and its current secularisation
really irritates you. You enjoy the period of
Advent leading up to Christmas, and attend any
local carol services you can find, as well as
the more contemplative Advent church services
each Sunday. You may be involved in Christmas
food collections or similar charity work. The
midnight service at your church, with candles
and carols, is one you look forward to all
year, and you also look forward to the family
get together on Christmas Day.

What Christmas Carol are you?
brought to you by

Thursday, December 08, 2005

i'll be watching you

I'm currently sitting in Coffee on the Corner which happens to be about 1/2 block away from my apartment. I'm supposed to be working on my sermon for Christmas Day (don't worry, I'm doing that too) but I find myself often distracted by the comings and goings outside.

I love sitting here, being part of the community and being reminded of Covenant while I work. A man next to me happened to mention the name of one of Covenant's members in passing to his companion (I wasn't eavesdropping, I promise!). Then I look out the window and who do I see but Marney - doing what I'm not quite sure, but I do know I enjoyed watching her work.

I have a lovely office (such a beautiful color!) but I love working here. The other day (Saturday after Thanksgiving) I saw I don't know how many Covenant members while I worked on my sermon here. Someone next to me asked if this was my second office and I said yes! And what a great office. Cozy with yummy beverages and what's more, the chance to do my work in the midst of those who I am here to serve. There's just something special about that.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Antiphons

You really do learn something new every day.

Today I was searching online for something - I don't even remember what now - and I stumbled across a page aboutthe Antiphons. What are the Antiphons? Oh, so glad you asked. They are short prayers basedon various titles used for the Christ that the church started using in the 8th and 9th centuries. From December 17th to 23rd, the church would offer one of the Antiphons as prayer. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is based on the last Antiphon.

And without further ado, here they are:

December 17
O WISDOM, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: COME, and teach us the way of prudence. Amen.

December 18
O LORD AND RULER of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: COME, and redeem us with outstretched arms. Amen.

December 19
O ROOT OF JESSE, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: COME, to deliver us, and tarry not. Amen.

December 20
O KEY OF DAVID, and Sceptre of the House of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: COME, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death. Amen.

December 21
O DAWN OF THE EAST, brightness of light eternal, and Sun of Justice: COME, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Amen.

December 22
O KING OF THE GENTILES and their desired One, the Cornerstone that makes both one: COME, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth. Amen.

December 23
O EMMANUEL, God with us, Our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Saviour: COME to save us, O Lord our God. Amen.

Monday, November 28, 2005

what lies beneath

I've posted two sermons today - the one I preached Nov 13, the morning of my ordination day, and the one I preached yesterday.

By the way, I don't know if John or I mention this enough - or at all - but the feedback you give us is so helpful and so appreciated. I'm very thankful that I'm in such an intelligent and outspoken congregation!

Who Needs Sleep?

Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-39

Here’s the scene:

Our hero is about to embark on some dangerous – and sneaky – endeavor. Hero may be interrupted by any number of forces – maybe ninjas dressed all in black, or perhaps huge voracious three-headed dogs ala Harry Potter. Hero, not wanting to be interrupted by any of these, appoints a sidekick to stand guard. Along with offering frothy quips, it’s Sidekick’s job to make sure Hero isn’t caught by surprise when on this dangerous endeavor. Hero goes off on the mission and leaves Sidekick behind as a watch guard – with a plan to alert Hero in case any ninjas pass by.

So Sidekick sits, and Sidekick waits… and Sidekick finds himself yawning… And suddenly, Sidekick is awakened by an annoyed Hero. Apparently, Sidekick had fallen asleep and did not keep watch like he was supposed to. And someone snuck by him. Hero managed to escape a tricky situation and is now looking very displeased.

“I’m sorry,” Sidekick whines. “I swear I didn’t see them slip by.”

“Sidekick, sidekick,” Hero mutters while shaking her head.

Hero doesn’t have much sympathy for her sidekick – but I do. Every time I see or read a scene like that, I feel great empathy for the one left behind. The person seems to have a simple job – just keep alert to anyone that might come by – but that job isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s physically exhausting to stay alert for a long time. The longer you sit there, scanning your surroundings with attentive eyes and ears, the more energy you use, the more tired you become, the easier it’s going to be to be caught sleeping on the job.

And the longer you sit there, waiting in the dark, your mind starting to play tricks on you, the greater the danger that even if you do stay awake, you won’t recognize what you were looking for as it passes right by. The person you’re on lookout for could walk right by, perhaps go as far as to wave “Hi,” and he or she wouldn’t even register on your tired mind.

It’s because of this tired state, one I’ve felt while waiting for professors to call on me for example, that I have such sympathy for sidekicks all over. It is also this tired state that makes me appreciate the challenge that comes in waiting. And it is this tired state that gives me some small, very small, semblance of an understanding of what it might have been like to wait for the Messiah.

A perennially oppressed people, the Israelites waited years, hundreds and hundreds of years, for someone who would rise up and deliver them from their oppression.

The Israelites waited… and they waited… and they waited. And during this time, they spoke boldly and proudly about the power of God. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a God who would “tear open the heavens and come down.” Mountains would quake – quake like a pot of water boiling atop a raging fire. Whole nations would tremble at the sight of this great God coming down from the heavens. God’s coming would be truly awe-inspiring – and definitely noticeable.

A silent night, however holy, would not usher in the coming of God. God would come to deliver the people with huge displays of power that would been seen and heard from the ends of the earth. And whatever Messiah the Lord sent would be come with such an explosive exhibition.

Throughout the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Roman occupancies, the people of Israel waited for this marvelous power of God, waited for deliverance. Finally, one night, a night marked only by a bright star and a singing telegram for some shepherds in a field, the Messiah came. God came. While Mary may have moaned and wailed as though the heavens were being torn apart, mountains did not quake and all the nations did not immediately tremble. And a people who had waited for so long did not all see the answer to their prayers when it came.

Yes, there were signs like the star and people like Herod and the wise men who recognized a powerful someone had arrived – but these signs were not exactly like what the people were expecting – this Messiah was not exactly like the people were expecting. And so even though Jesus walked among them, performing signs and miracles, many people did not see him. He walked right by, waving “Hi,” without them even noticing. The years of waiting had numbed them, so that though they looked they did not perceive, though they listened they did not understand.

The Israelites are not the only waiting people whose expectations were not met. The earliest followers of Jesus, those who did look and perceive, listen and understand, were waiting too, waiting for Christ to come again. They waited for him to come down in the clouds he had been taken up in. Soon, they believed, would he come. After all, Jesus was recorded as saying that “this generation will not pass until all these things – until the Son of Man comes again and sends out the angels to gather the elect – this generation will not pass until these things have taken place.” And so, the people waited, living in the moment because they believed at any moment, Christ would come again.

Whether or not Jesus was speaking of a generation like we would think of it, the people of Jesus’ generation did expect him to come again before they passed. When he didn’t, the following generations had to deal with that disappointment. Perhaps they began to look more closely at Jesus’ saying that no one – not the angels in heaven nor even the Son – knows when the day and hour will come. Only the Father knows. In the face of this unknown, as each generation passed, the people waited, some with more urgency and alertness than others. They waited… and they waited… and they waited until “they” became “we.”

It’s 2,000 years later and we are still waiting. In this season of Advent, we recognize especially our inheritance of the charge to be alert, to keep awake, to stand guard waiting for the Lord. During these four weeks we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. Though we celebrate especially the coming of Christ years ago as a child, this is not the only coming we await, not the only advent we celebrate.

Like our ancestors of faith, we keep alert for the coming of Christ into this world again; we await the time when the sun will be darkened, the moon no longer gives light, the stars fall from the sky, and the Son of Man comes in the clouds with great power and glory.

Like the ancient Israelites and the first followers of Jesus before us, we are now the watch guards, awaiting the arrival of Christ our Master, watch guards who will – of course – recognize the Son of Man as he’s coming in those clouds…

While I think you and I are truly beloved people, graced people made in the image of God, I harbor no illusions about our ability to stay awake. It’s hard work to keep constantly awake, to keep continually alert for the coming of Christ. While the Son of Man may indeed come in the clouds, while the sun indeed darken and the moon no longer shine, we should take to heart the reaction of those who waited for the Messiah before us. We, too, may fall asleep, may find ourselves numbed to the signs, blind and deaf to the heralding of Christ’s coming.

Or perhaps we will be like the others – like the hemorrhaging woman, like the beggars in the street, like the fishermen who answered a call – those who saw Christ and knew, or at the very least had an idea. They may not have been expecting the Messiah to be a poor carpenter, but when he passed by them, when they heard stories about him, they knew there was something about this man, something that called them to faith.

Whether we will be like those who did not understand or be like those who saw in a humble man the Son of God, depends on whether or not we can keep awake, keep alert to the signs. A challenge, to be sure. But one we can, with God’s help, rise up to meet.

Our ability to stay alert for Christ over in this season of Advent, in the months and years beyond this season, may be found within the third kind of advent we celebrate this season. As we celebrate Christ’s coming as a child, Christ’s coming again, we also celebrate the ways in which Christ is manifested here and now. We celebrate the light of Christ in each and everyone of us. And it is this light, this coming of Christ here and now, that will help keep us awake.

If you want to be prepared for the hour and the day when Christ comes again – then look now for Christ around you. In every person you meet, look for the light of Christ. Sometimes seeing Christ will be easy – the kindly matron who serves at the soup kitchen, the sweet man who takes care of all the stray animals that come his way, the adorable child who offers hugs and expressions of love with such abandon. Christ just radiates from people like this.

Seeing Christ in some people is going to be much harder, take much more effort. There is no denying that it is hard to see Christ in people who appear to know only how to hurt, to see the light of God in those who inflict pain as easily as others express love. And yet as all people are made in the image of God, all people have the light of Christ within them. Truly, some people’s lights will be so covered with darkness that you and I may never see it. But that doesn’t mean we do not keep trying, do not keep looking for that light. If we stay alert, we might be surprised with a glimpse of light shining from even the darkest person.

As you prepare for a joy-filled Christmas Day, as you put up the decorations, plan what you’re going to eat at the big feast, get ready for friends and family from far and wide to come home for the holidays, keep awake for the coming of Christ. Keep alert to the presence of Christ among you here and now. For if we keep awake, keep alert, then when the master does finally come home, we will not be caught asleep. Instead, whether in the evening, at midnight, at the cockcrow, at dawn, when Christ arrives we will be prepared, we will rise up and greet him with delight, saying “Hello, dear friend, prince of peace, king of kings, sweet savior – welcome home.” What a joyous day that will be. Amen.

Oh, Inverted World

Judges 4

When I was a kid I loved reading the Bible. I’d start at Genesis and read all the way through. Okay, that’s not quite true. I’d start at Genesis with the intent of reading all the way through, but I always seemed to get stuck at about the same part – the middle of Exodus. Once that book turned from an exciting story of daring escape, of plagues and miracles, to talk about laws and the very detailed ways to worship God, I stopped reading. I suppose I have enough OCD tendencies that skipping ahead just wasn’t an option. So when I picked up the Bible again, I’d start at Genesis. Once, I got through the whole of Exodus but I didn’t make it much further. If I thought the second half of Exodus was as boring as it could get, Leviticus proved me wrong. Needless to say, in these childhood marathon readings of the Bible, I got to know Genesis and Moses real well and that was about it.

Had I known that just past Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, there would be a book like Judges waiting for me, I might have kept on reading just to get to the good part. Judges is a fascinating book about the twelve people who were designated as judges, rulers over and saviors of Israel – and this history of Israel’s pre-monarchial society is quite a juicy read.

While there are a few judges whose brief entries read like the cliffs notes to the cliffs notes version of their lives, other judges’ stories are told with such passion and engagement that I don’t need to be a kid with a wild imagination and a yearning for adventure to appreciate them. The history of Israel’s early period is filled with fascinating people who perform feats that seem impossible for mere mortals, people who defend their nation against indescribable odds.

You could say these stories are the big action summer blockbusters of their time. Instead of seeing Spiderman swinging from skyscraper to skyscraper, we have Samson tearing down buildings with his God-given brute strength. Rather than Will Smith saving the world from yet another alien invasion with yet another unrealistic save-the-day solution, there’s Gideon sending the enemy into panic and subsequently defeating them by surrounding them at night with his mere 300 men and creating such a cacophony of blowing trumpets, breaking jars, shouting war cries.

Unfortunately not unlike your stereotypical action movie, the book of Judges has some troubling roles for women. We, of course, have Delilah, who seduces Samson and cuts off the source of his power, literally. Delilah may come only second to Jezebel in giving women a bad rap. Along with Delilah, there are several women in Judges who give more serious concern to readers. The stories of Jepthath’s daughter and the Levite’s concubine are some of the most disturbing narratives in the entire Bible. Stories about the violent fates of women at the hands of men who were supposed to protect them. Stories that make it a true and honest challenge to see within them a just and loving God.

Though Judges bears these two disturbing stories, it also contains two of the most powerful women in the whole of our sacred texts. Perhaps it wouldn’t surprise most of you to know that I come from a large family full of strong women – many of whom are here this morning. I have a great appreciation for powerful females. In our text, we meet two of my favorite strong femmes, Deborah and Jael.

Our story begins by setting the stage for Deborah’s introduction. Israel does evil in the sight of the Lord, something it seems to do rather frequently in this particular book, and finds itself being oppressed by King Jabin and his military commander Sisera for 20 years. Israel cries out to God for relief – enter Deborah. Deborah is a prophetess and has become a judge over Israel. After all this campaigning we’ve seen for the governor’s race among others, I find Deborah’s claim to leadership rather refreshing. She didn’t seek anybody out, pass out bumper stickers or flyers, spend millions on negative ads or political advisors. Her wisdom and charisma, her fiery nature, were more than enough to draw people to her. She just sat under a tree and let the people come.

As this wise leader, she preaches God’s prophetic word to the people, here in particular Barak. And Deborah isn’t just a guru who stays under the relative calm of her tree’s shade, passing out proclamations. She accompanies the military commander Barak on his mission and inspires the charge for battle. For a woman of unassuming origins, sitting under that adeptly named tree, she proves a captivating character.

Our other fascinating female at first seems rather unassuming as well. Jael enters the scene innocently enough, coming out to meet Sisera, the man whose leader was her husband’s friend, offering him assurances and the comfort of her tent. I’ve lived most of my life in the South, a place – as I’m sure many of you know – that prides itself on hospitality. Now at first it seems Jael would fit right in, be a perfect example of our Southern hospitality. She gives this man on the run who has just seen his entire army destroyed (well, had he stayed for the battle would have just seen his entire army destroyed) a place of refuge. She covers him with a rug and gives him milk when he just asked for water.

Of course, what Jael does next, you know driving a tent peg into Sisera’s temple until it reaches the ground, might disqualify her from winning any Sweet Southern Miss contest. Though she starts out so seemingly sweet, she, uh, hammers home just how fierce she can be. It is Jael the homemaker, not Barak the military commander, who ends up wining the day and the glory; though Barak defeats Sisera’s army, Jael defeats Sisera himself.

These women are strong and brave, so brave in fact that they have been at the center of some heated discussions. Women need to be sheltered, you say? How could women be considered in need of shelter and protection when you have the example of Jael, a resourceful woman who took instruments she would have on hand, and simply and apparently calmly takes on a man who until a few hours before had been commander of 900 iron chariots? It’s hard to see women as weak and helpless with Jael around.

And in conversations over the centuries, people have turned to Deborah as an example of why women can and should be leaders in the church – a woman once was a leader of the whole people Israel after all. On the other side of that debate, people such as our own favorite theologian John Calvin have said that Deborah was a special case, that not all women should be regarded on her level and she was just unusually gifted.

Some have gone further than limiting the potential found in Deborah’s amazing story, by trying to discredit either Deborah or Jael’s achievements. More than one commentator, classic and contemporary, has suggested that though Deborah was a prophetess and offering wisdom and governance to Israel, she wasn’t a complete judge because she needed Barak for the all important military prowess. Now, true, the other judges in this book were men who fought battles, and so Deborah doesn’t quite fit the mold. But if we remember the story, then we know that Barak refused to go into battle without Deborah, and that it was she who commanded the day of attack and even gave the big rally the troops speech.

As for Jael, well some have been quick to point out that she broke rules of hospitality. In the ancient world, hospitality was not just about offering someone a nice meal or a place to crash – it was about survival. With no motels or rest stops along well-paved highways, the people of the Middle East had to rely on the kindness of strangers when they were crossing long distances or fleeing from an enemy. When you invited someone into your home, you were promising them protection against harm by nature or by humans. Jael, well, she doesn’t let either nature or Sisera’s persecutors get him, but he certainly doesn’t stay safe in her care.

However, I would think that one cannot really accuse Jael of breaking the rules of hospitality if one considers Sisera’s own acts. You wanna talk breaking the rules – how about a commander abandoning his troops when things get a little hairy. And while Jael offered it, given the rules of their time, Sisera should never have accepted her hospitality – only the hospitality of her husband. By accepting her offer to hide him, Sisera proved himself a doubly unworthy man and perhaps even left Jael to suspect he might want more from her than shelter and a drink of water.

Lest we think it’s just a gender thing, I really should point out that while there are those who would lessen Deborah and Jael’s contributions, there are also those who would diminish Barak’s role. Poor Barak, sandwiched between these two unique women, he tends to get lost in their glory. Deborah is the brains and Jael the brawn and Barak, he’s the filler. He’s what gets us from Deborah’s wise leadership to the grand and gory finale; a plot device, really, and nothing more meaningful or important.

Except that’s not it either. Amid all the commentaries I’ve read and in conversations I’ve had recent and past, most people don’t know how to handle this trio of actors. And I don’t blame them. The world of judges is inverted in this story. The pattern of every other judge isn’t followed here. Instead of one strong man freeing Israel from oppression, we have several strong people, including two women. So folk keep trying to play around with the story, to find a way to make one of these people more important than the other. You would think we Christians would find it a little easier to understand and accept that through three persons Israel was delivered. Instead, many of us keep trying to force one or another into the role of true hero.

But that’s not going to work. Think square peg, a square tent peg if you like, in a round hole. Without Barak, Deborah wouldn’t have had any army to charge; without Barak, Jael wouldn’t have had any one to chase Sisera off in her direction. Without Deborah, Barak wouldn’t have heard the command of God to start the whole thing off and without Jael, Deborah and Barak wouldn’t have seen an end to Sisera’s tyranny. Each needs the other and each is important to the others.

When we try and force one or another of these characters into being the star of the story, we miss out on the beauty of this collaborative effort. We miss out on interplay of each person’s different gifts as they weave together to create this story of freedom.

And what’s more, by trying to show one of this human characters as the true actor of salvation, we forget the source of that salvation. We forget that though Deborah was a wise leader, Barak a good military commander, Jael a brave, resourceful woman, God is the one who spoke first to Deborah, God is the one who sent Sisera’s army into a panic that caused him to flee. God is the source of all their gifts and their call to action. God is at work in these people’s actions and it is God who is savior, who is the true judge, true leader of the people. God is, or at least should be, the focus of our attention just as God is the focus of this narrative.

The story does not end with a summation of Deborah’s works or Jael’s bravery, or a list of Barak’s military conquests. It ends with: And so on that day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelite. It ends with a statement ascribing to God the glory for what came to pass. And following the narrative is a beautiful song that beings and ends the retelling of this story with ultimate praise to God.

God’s part in this story as with our own story, is as source of the gifts which bring about good things, as inspiration to seek out freedom from our oppression. And just like our forbearers of faith, our part is to be inspired by God and to seek out what God would have for us, whether we be Deborahs, Baraks, or Jaels.

So glory be to the God who works within us all, who weaves our gifts together, and moves us toward freedom from all that binds us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Lights, Camera, Action!

Here are a few images from this weekend.

This is me right before the service starts. I'm wearing the robe my Nana and Grandpa got for me as a graduation present. My sister Dawn is on the other end of the camera making faces.

These are cupcakes Emily and Rachel Eller made for me (if you can't read it, they spell out: Congratulations Amy). Sweet treats from sweet girls!

This is me (my back's to the camera) cooking in my kitchen with my sister Beth and my aunt Jackie. See that pumpkin pie Beth is cutting - Jackie gave what was left to my sister Neli when she left. The outrage! My pumpkin pie, how I mourn your loss.

What kind of thinker am I - are you.

My friend Teri found this quiz on the BBC website. These are my results (seems about right).

Interpersonal thinkers:
Like to think about other people, and try to understand them
Recognise differences between individuals and appreciate that different people have different perspectives
Make an effort to cultivate effective relationships with family, friends and colleagues

Other Interpersonal thinkers include:
Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, William Shakespeare

Careers which suit Interpersonal thinkers include:
Politician, Psychologist, Nurse, Counsellor, Teacher

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hey, Amy, now that you’re ordained, what are you going to do?

Well, I’m not going to Disney World (Space Mountain scares me). It is interesting, though. I woke up this morning expecting to feel, I’m not sure what. Different? More mature? Extra holy? Well, I can’t say I feel any of those things. What I do feel is a sense of completion. While I have not reached the “destination” of my journey, I have finished one stage (gotten to the World’s Biggest Ball of String stop on my long road trip, if you will). Part of me feels incredibly excited and another part a little sad. Sad, you say? But Amy, you were grinning ear to ear yesterday. I think any time we reach the end of something, as exciting as the new beginning on the other side is, being a little sad is not unusual.

But don’t worry, I’m still my general cheerful self. And how can I not be? Yesterday there was a wonderful service and celebration honoring God’s call in my life. I think everyone should be so blessed. When we celebrate an ordination, the community is celebrating and affirming a call to the ministry. Well, since we are all called to the ministry in some form, whether we be doctors or teachers or homemakers, perhaps we should all join together to affirm all our calls to ministry. Oh, wait! I forgot – that’s part of what we do every Sunday. Every Sunday when we gather as a body to worship, we talk about being the body of Christ, the people of God. Recognizing our part in this community is recognizing and honoring all our calls to ministry. We just don’t always have cake afterward!

Thank you all for being part of the celebration. Thank you for being so open and caring. Thank you for being such good family.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

an unexpected joy

My non-minister friends have always been fascinated by different aspects of my job. "What's it like to write a sermon" (answer: stressful, but in a fun way) or "do you actually like going to church that much" (answer: most days, yep I do). One question that I'm often ask is one I asked of myself at the beginning - "how do you handle being with people who are sick or suffering or something? Isn't it really depressing?"

When I first heard my call I was nervous about being with people in the hospital. How will I know what to say? What if my prayers sound stupid? What can I really do? A college professor who was also a minister told my theology class that he had similar concerns when he first started and sometimes he still did. Sometimes he'd leave a room and think "what in the world was that prayer?" And when that happened, he would later hear from the person he was visiting or his/her family that "that" prayer meant so much. Even if he thought he was bumbling, the Spirit worked through him.

So, even with these concerns of mine, I decided I could be a minister and I'd just have to "get over" my nervousness in a hospital room. When I went to seminary, I was taught all this psychological stuff about visiting with folk, given different prayer ideas and techniques. While I suppose these pieces of education were supposed to help calm my nerves as well as prepare me, I didn't feel anymore calm. I spent a semester visiting people in a hospital, employing the various techniques I learned, and still, didn't feel fully comfortable.

It wasn't until I was an intern at St. Andrews that I finally began to relax. I visited this sweet older woman whom I hadn't met before (I had just started and she had been in the hospital and unable to come to church) and through my visits with her I learned something that has since made all the difference - visiting people in the hospital can be a joy!

I think because I had never had much experience visiting people when they were sick (my family tends to be a healthy lot), I just didn't know what to expect and the unknown always makes me uncomfortable. Through my visits with this particular woman, I discovered how conversations both light and deep, heartfelt prayers, and small acts of care could mean so much to both of us. I became so comfortable in a hospital setting, became comfortable with tubes and IVs and all such matters. And I became comfortable with my role as a friend, as a pastor, as a sister in Christ.

So when my friends ask me if visiting people who are sick is depressing, I just smile and say no, it's often quite the opposite. Even when people aren't doing so well, physically or emotionally, it doesn't bring me down. I get sad, yes, cry even, but there's always this sense that in our time together, God was there in that moment. That feeling lifts me up, carries me through even the hardest of days. And the good days - well, there's a heck of a lot of laughter and storytelling and even a couple offers to scout out a cute doctor for me! It is an honor and a privilege; a joy, that while unexpected, is so real.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

upon further reflection

Sometimes when you preach a sermon it haunts you... you can't get something you said out of your mind or you keep wondering if there was more to be said that you missed or if you got it "all wrong." And sometimes your life takes a new twist that puts everything you said in a different light.

I've been thinking a lot about my last sermon in the past week and a half. Thinking about my claim that we need to weep with people, be a companion for them as they suffer so they aren't alone. My own words (or perhaps, as this is what we hope for when we preach, the words of the Spirit through me) have been running through my mind, challenging me in a way I wasn't prepared for.

When I said that we are called to be with people I took something for granted - that we can be with people. I didn't stop and think about circumstances when we just can't, when distance and other factors keep us seperated from those we would wish to comfort.

One of my dearest friends suffered a tragic loss this past week. And more than anything I just want to be there with her, for her, at the very least talk to her on the phone, just to hear her voice so I can feel as if I am with her in some way. But this friend of mine lives across the ocean and I only have her e-mail, not her phone number. I feel so disconnected and I hate it. I can offer prayer and I do but it doesn't feel like enough.

And so I find myself struggling with how to be a friend, how to be the physical presence of God's love when I cannot be present. I realize that I am not so much a "do-er" but a "be-er." And when I can neither do nor be, I am challenged. I do think that in pray lies, not the answer, but an opportunity to be a friend, a sister in Christ. So I keep praying, praying for my friend and her family and praying for myself, that in that act I will find peace with my limitations.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

some light reading

Several of you have asked about the sermon I preached at presbytery last week. Well, here it is! I'll still make paper copies available next Sunday on the table in the narthex.

“Miles to Go”
129th Meeting of the Shenandoah Presbytery
October 25, 2005

Lamentations 1:1-12
John 11:17-37

Though it is in our lectionary, our Lamentations text - this prayer of pain and petition - is not something we hear every day. I doubt many of us here could quote from Lamentations as easily as we could from Psalms, from Isaiah, or from any of the gospels or epistles. So when we do hear from this book, it may come as a shock to our system. When I’ve told people that one of the texts I would be preaching from this morning is Lamentations, I got very similar responses. There were a few “oh”s and “that’s interesting,” and even an occasional “oh my.” Not exactly the words of assurance a woman would want. But these words did not really surprise me for what we find in this book – undiluted expressions of despair – are rarely the passages we seek out for nice Bible studies or our bedtime readings.

We are fortunate, then, that though we may not seek certain passages out, they may surely seek us out. The scriptures which testify to the Word made flesh are not just letters on a page. When engaged with the Spirit, they are a living witness. This living witness is a Word that does not sit quietly, waiting for us to stumble upon it. It relentlessly seeks us out, captures us in its warm grasp, will not let us go until we have thoroughly engaged it.

Though many of us may avoid a book which is consumed with such vulnerable grief, given the recent events in our country, in our world, perhaps it is not surprising that this particular Lamentations text is seeking us out. With its opening words “how lonely sits the city that once was full of people” the passage invokes disturbing images from our recent news reports: images of cities empty of people but full of water; images of homes, businesses, places of worship destroyed by rumbling ground; images of complete and total destruction; of ways of life and life itself lost.

These words recall such images because they were written in the midst of similar despair. Lamentations is a poetic response to perhaps the most traumatic series of events in Jewish history outside the Holocaust, the Babylonian exile. In 587 b.c.e. the people of Jerusalem were invaded by the Babylonian empire’s army. The siege lasted two years and saw the destruction of the city’s walls, buildings, and even the temple, saw a famine where men, women, children alike died from lack of nutrition, saw the deportation of Jerusalem’s king, the murder of the royal family, and the exile of many of its citizens. The lament we have before us, unlike the pain expressed in books like Ezekiel, does not come from those in exile. This lament is unique in the portrayals of the exile for it comes from those left behind. Those who look around and see the invaders in their homes, those who see their destroyed temple, those who see the mass graves. It is this people in this place who cry aloud as Daughter Zion “is there any sorrow like my sorrow?”

Through Daughter Zion’s words, I can hear the voices of the victims of the unrelenting hurricanes, of the earthquake in Pakistan, of the places – too many places – where war is a way of life. In the face of pain and suffering in a multitude of places on such massive levels, Lamentations cries out to us. It cries out, speaking of loneliness, speaking of desolation. It cries out to God and it cries out to this body, the body of Christ, demanding to be heard.

In her book Lamentations & the Tears of the World Kathleen O’Connor well describes the power of this particular Word. “The haunting voices of Lamentations,” she says, “insist upon wide-open alertness to the world’s small sorrows and massive atrocities. They demand that we become witnesses, even by simple acts of reading and praying the text. They invite us to become empathic witnesses who resist with all our might whatever harms life, violates human dignity, and defaces the earth. Lamentations summons us beyond ourselves. It calls Christians to become the communion of saints, the church united, the body of Christ broken together, the sacrament of healing for the world.”[1]

Well, that’s wonderful. We are invited to be witnesses who resist with all our might whatever harms life, violates human dignity, and defaces the earth. Beautiful call but it can certainly be overwhelming. The power of despair, of hopelessness is that it surrounds people whole, bears down on them, suffocating them until they cannot even gasp for the breath of life. How do you even begin to resist that kind of power? Amid the small sorrows and massive atrocities of our time, how do we answer the call to be the sacrament of healing for the world?

In response to Hurricane Katrina, the people at Covenant Presbyterian Church sought many ways to fight the despair, to ease the sorrow. There were and still are raisings of funds, collecting of heath kits and packages for kids, developing of plans to join mission teams, and of course, many, many prayers. Being in the midst and being a member of this family as it sought to be the body of Christ to this particular suffering people was awesome, and humbling, and very educational. Over and over we sought to make sense of what was happening, to figure out how we could best serve the people of the Gulf Coast. And many of us wanted to know then and now: what can we do, when can we go down there, how can we use our time and talents, how can we use the work of our hands. It wasn’t just Covenant where I saw with this sort of urgency. People all around this presbytery, this nation, around this world looked at what was going on and felt a call to help. And many of these people shared the same question with the members of Covenant: where do we start? There is so much to do, so many needs to be meet, so many miles to go before we can put this suffering behind us.

I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but I know that this community has been blessed with and promised to follow an incomparable guide. When despair threatens to consume, we have someone to turn to, to look to. When we don’t know where to begin, we can turn to the example of our Lord. We have been given a unique witness to the One who came to serve, and so when Lamentations calls out to us, summons us beyond ourselves, it is again to scripture we may turn to understand how to respond to such summons.

In the Gospel according to John, we find Christ encountering his friends Mary and Martha, sisters who are consumed by despair following their brother’s death. Though it’s not the same agony as the people of Lamentations know, it is certainly deep and overpowering. In the beginning of this passage, in the face of this despair, Christ seems… aloof. He does not appear concerned by Lazarus’ illness and upon hearing the news of his death offers no emotion. Though he tells Martha he will raise her brother, Jesus does not challenge her assumption that resurrection may come only at the last day. And faced with a weeping Mary, a weeping crowd, he does not rush to assure that that all will be well, does not run immediately to the tomb and end the cause of their suffering.

But he does not stay stoic, this Savior of ours. After Mary, like her sister before her, tells Christ that her brother would not have died if he had been there, Jesus truly begins to engage these mourners. After Mary’s words, the narrator tells us that Jesus sees her weeping, sees the weeping of the people who have come to grieve with the sisters, and finds himself “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” And in this disturbed and moved state, Jesus for the first time asks where Lazarus is. And so the people offer to guide Jesus to him. Yet still he does not go.

Instead, Jesus began to weep. When surrounded by a people lost in grief who are mourning a loss they cannot overcome, Jesus weeps with them. Though death is not the final word for him, he does not move to immediate action. He does not offer to solve the problem, to alter the conditions that cause their pain. Although later he will indeed raise Lazarus, now he joins them in their mourning pains, he shares in their sorrow.

As followers of Christ, we are asked to follow in his Way, to look to him as our guide, to share in the sorrow of those who suffer. For some of us who are “doers” this may not seem like enough. We may want to rush to the doing of things, rush to the tomb and raise Lazarus, rush to rebuild houses, to offer supplies, to give of the work of our hands. We may want to rush to do all this things and in doing so rush right past our call to spend time simply weeping with those who mourn.

But that is not what Christ does and this is not what people who suffer are crying out for. Lamentations, our text which comes from a community that has been inflicted with so much suffering, our text which summons us beyond ourselves, confirms our call to empathy.

Daughter Zion has been abandoned by all who once claimed to be her friend; she has been left shamed, unclean, exposed for all to see. In this condition she does not ask for aid, she does not ask for vengeance, she does not ask that her misery be ended. She asks to be noticed. She weeps because she cannot get anyone to see, cannot find comfort from anyone. She invites stares, wants to be seen standing there in all her nakedness, in all her suffering. She wants God to see her and notice her pain. She wants people to see her – not just glance at her, but take her in, take her pain in, see all that she is. “Is it nothing to you,” she asks to those who pass by. She has grown tired with “all you pass by,” a phrase often used in Hebrew poetry to speak of witnesses of suffering who often mock the sufferer and do not intervene. She wants those who usually just mock to truly take in her pain, to not look and point, but look and understand.

As the body of Christ we are called to be Christ’s physical presence on earth, we are called to look and understand. We are called to be with the city as she weeps. There other things we may do, finding ways to ease people’s pain through actions, to awaken the sleeping Lazarus’ of our time. The efforts we must give, the miles we must travel, cannot be forgotten. But before we can start on those miles we have to go, before we move to action, we must weep. There have been times and there are going to continue to be times when that is all we can do. Be with people, weep with them, pray with them, pay attention to their pain, offer ourselves as companions in grief so that no more will the city that was once full of people sit and weep alone.

[1] O’Connor, Kathleen. Lamentations and the Tears of the World. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2001. 132, 138.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Go Google Yourself

Have you ever tried googling yourself? It seems to me to be a 21st century version of "this is your life." When you google yourself, or yahoo yourself, or *insert favorite search engine here* yourself, you get to see what about you is floating around in the cyber space. If you disappeared off the planet tomorrow, taking with you all paper records and such, this would be what was left to remember you by.

When I googled myself, I found that every single link where my name came up had something to do with religion. Either it was something from St. Andrews, the church I interned at, something from seminary, from the presbyterian group I belonged to in college, or something from General Assembly when I was a Youth Advisory Delegate (in fact, the very first link that popped up was my YAD profile which included perhaps the worst picture taken of me ever - don't give into temptation and look unless you're looking for a Halloween scare!).

My first thought was "sheesh, I need to get more of a life." All people will know me for is what I do in the church or church-related organizations... what about my academic prowess, or my devotion to music, or my ability to host a good shinding, or my love of reading, or my general joyful (and sometimes silly) way of being? What about these things, huh?

Well, Amy, you may certainly say, it's not as though Google is the end all and be all of your existence - even if you and all physical traces of you were disappeared off this earth, we'll stick around to tell about your obsession with music and your occasional smarty pants moment, and definintely your enthusiastic self. That's one of the great things about friends and family - they'll remember you and all that made you - even the things you wish they wouldn't!

Still, even if all that was left of me were these googled links, I suppose it wouldn't be so bad. One could do worse than be a swinger of birches and one could do worse than be remembered for her work for and love of God.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Yippy Skippy!

I passed! I passed!

On Tuesday I passed my presbytery exam and am feeling rather joyous about it. I was so blessed and honored to see many of you there and to know that those who couldn't be there were thinking about me. All your prayers and well wishes are probably why the moment I stepped in the pulpit, I was as calm as can be.

Now that I'm officially official, I feel great. Even though I've been here for two months, there has been this small part of me that wasn't here. I didn't want to feel completely at home yet because there was a slim possibility that this wouldn't be my home after all. And now that possibility is no more and I know beyond any doubts that this is my place, this is my home. And that feels really good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

somewhere over the rainbow

It's no secret that I hate to fly. I have an irrational fear of flying - as in telling me it's safer to be on a plane than in a car does me no good because I'm irrational - and even though I used to fly all the time (I was on over a dozen planes this summer alone) I get frightened. I've made my peace with God several times over - sometimes several times on just one flight - and I've even been known to make out a will or go over any thoughts I might have for a memorial service with people before I get on a plane. Melodramatic? Sure, but remember that key word, irrational.

I visited my sister and family this weekend (it was her senior recital) and so I got to fly on a plane. And it wasn't just any plane - it was a LITTLE plane. As in 50 seater, as in you get to feel the bumps in the air so much better, as in Amy's least favorite make of her least favorite mode of transportation. The flight over to Chicago was okay - I found myself sitting next to a woman who is a Methodist pastor in South Carolina and so I was distracted by talking shop. The flight on the way back, however... "Just a little turbulence" the captain says. HAH! I felt like I was traveling down a gravel road in an old pickup with no shocks. This camper was not happy.

About 10 minutes into the flight I looked out the window and noticed something interesting. I could see the shadow of the plane on the clouds below us - that wasn't unusal - but I saw something else. Around the shadow of our plane was a circular rainbow. I'd never seen anything like it. This rainbow didn't disappear in a few moments like other rainbows I've seen from planes - it stayed in sight, stayed around our plane's shadow, for a long time. In fact, it wasn't until we had finally cleared the turbulence, about 20 minutes later, that the rainbow disappeared from sight.

Now I'm sure someone well-versed in the sciences could talk to me about the sun's position and the clouds and whatever else would explain my rainbow. But that's not important to me. What is important is that when I was scared I was given a sign of hope. I didn't look at this rainbow surrounding my plane's shadow and think - well, that's a sure sign we're going not going to crash - I looked at it and thought: hey God, thanks. Thanks for reminding me that no matter what, no matter what scares me, no matter if this plane makes it to Dulles or not, you're with me, always with me.

I know that - I feel that - I live that truth - that God is always there... but sometimes it's nice to have a reminder.

Monday, October 03, 2005

What is prayer?

For some of us prayer consists of a few words we say before dinners, before going to bed, before tests. For some of us prayer means long periods of conversation with the Almighty. For some of us prayer is taking small moments of silence during our day.

Prayer can be many things. Our Directory for Worship from our church’s constitution recognizes prayer as speech, song, silence, dance, art, and so much more. There are so many ways in which we may pray; the important thing is that we do pray. Bur that can be more challenging than it sounds. Prayer doesn’t always make it in to our daily schedules and sometimes we don’t even know what to pray for.

I’m going to let you in on a secret, something I didn’t learn until my second year of seminary: prayer is work. Seriously! For some people it comes easier than others but all of us will experience periods when prayer is just not something we take time to do, or know how to do, or have the desire to do. But even when we cannot find the strength or passion to pray, we can pray for that strength, that passion.

During the next few weeks in the life of the church we are focusing on our growth in faith, including inner growth. I encourage each of you to think about your prayer life. Think about how you can deepen, strengthen your relationship with God. Consider setting apart time each day to spend with God. Even if you cannot find words to express yourself, you can listen in the silence for the voice of God.

You may also consider joining a prayer group. Starting in this month, we are forming prayer groups for those interested. If you do have an interest in joining a group that meets regularly, either to pray for specific people and places or to explore different styles of prayer, please let me know.

John Calvin, that illustrious theologian we Presbyterians love so much, called prayer the chief act of faith. It is at the heart of our worship, the heart of who we are as the people of God. I pray that each of us would find our own hearts filled with the love of the one to whom we pray.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Okay, so as I look out my office window, the sky is a heavy grey and a brisky wind is stirring the tree tops. Still, I say lovely day. Something about the pre-storm sky moves me. All this power is there, all this potential just waiting to be realized.

And in other news, my family is starting to make plans to descend for my ordination. Batten down the hatches, folks. With this crew it's always a chaotic trip!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

the song your heart sings

Over the past week I have had a song stuck in my head. This is not a newsflash - songs get in my head all the time. I had "What Become of the Broken Hearted" stuck in my head for two years (off and on, I assure you). I usually get a song in my head if I've heard it recently or someone reminds me of it.

The song that's in my head now, I haven't heard in some time. But I keep singing it over and over again. It's a Taize song, so singing it over and over again is perfectly appropriate. It goes "Bless the Lord, my soul, and bless God's holy name. Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life."

Whenever I do get a song in my head that's not some random bad 80s pop or a popular commerical jingle, I wonder about it. Why am I singing this song? My very rational scientist father would probably tell me that though I didn't hear this particular song, I heard or read words that triggered it in my subconscious.

I suppose that could be true. But I imagine it could be more. This particular song brings me to a peaceful place, a place where I'm focused on God, remember who is the reason I'm doing this thing called ministry. And as my schedule starts to kick up, as I find myself getting busier and busier, I cannot forget to take the time to be with the One who has called me here. And yet, with that busy schedule, making time is something that can easily fall away in the midst of life.

And so, I think, my heart sings this song to me. "Bless the Lord, Amy," it reminds me, "and bless God's holy name. Bless the Lord, Amy, who leads you into this busy life, the one who leads you to life eternal."

When I stop to listen to this heart-song, I feel more at peace, more connected to the Lord. Though I am blessing the Lord, I feel blessed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Something old, something new

Tonight we're having our first Service of Prayer for Healing and Wholeness. I'm quite excited about it - part of how you know you're in the right place is when you get excited over things like getting to help develop new church services. Am I a church dork? Yes, and proud of it.

Services like this may be new to Covenant but they come from a long tradition. I think of biblical passages like Luke 10:1-16 where Jesus sends out the seventy. Among other things they are charged with curing the sick and saying to them "the kingdom of God has come near to you."

When we prayer for healing and wholeness, we aren't trying to change God or demand of God that which God does not willingly give. We are trusting in God and that we will be healed - though the whens and the hows are still a little fuzzy.

When I think of what healing and wholeness is, I think of that saying. We are whole when we are with God and so when the kingdom of God has come near to us, we are healed. Whether or not we are physically healed of our illnesses, we can be so complete with God that we transcend those illnesses... At the same time, we recognize that God can indeed heal our physical wounds... It's one of those things - and for me there are so many - that goes beyond my understanding. So I think that's one of the things I really enjoy about this type of service. That and the candles I got to buy for it :).

Thursday, September 15, 2005

So you're living in the Valley...

I had my first real moment of "I don't live in a big city anymore" yesterday.

John and I went to cellone to get me a cell phone - one that, you know, doesn't have a Georgia line. Our rep was great - very helpful, very informative, very nice. I, however, was a big baby. Why? Because I found out I couldn't use my previous phone, the one I have from Georgia, because of some technology jargon that's over my head. But it's such a pretty phone (here's the whining). It has a keyboard and fun games and all these neat little features. This phone and I have been good friends for over a year. And now we have to part ways.

We're not in Kansas anymore... and we're not in Atlanta anymore either!

Lest you worry about my poor self, I have begun to come to grips with my new phone. It's prettier than my previous one, so that's something.

You really do learn something every day - I had no idea I was that attached to my old phone until I found out I couldn't keep using it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Yes we can!

While watching the news this weekend - I just got cable so I've been a bit of a junkie, making up for lost time - I caught a program on CSPAN that sparked my interest.

The author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, John Barry was talking about, surprise, surprise, material from his book. This flood displaced over a million people, covered more states than Hurricane Katerina did, resulted in 146 different levies breaking... I think that flood and this disaster are somewhat comparable.

What struck me about this flood was that though the damage totaled what was 1/3 of the then federal budget, and though over a million people were without homes, the federal government didn't spend a single dime to help in the aftermath. I've heard some criticism about President Bush and his reaction to this flood... well, regardless of what he could have done better, he is heads above the president in 1927. Calvin Coolidge refused to visit the South, wouldn't autograph pictures to be auctioned off to raise money for the victims, and even opted out of doing a radio address to the evacuees.

I bring this flood up because, while less than perfect, the government's reaction to Katerina is light years better. Why? Well, according to Barry, after the 1927 flood, the American people were so enraged that people would be treated like that, that the government would have such a strong "God helps those who help themselves" attitude. And so they fought for change. And they got it.

On Sunday I asked that we fight for change, realizing how daunting a task that might seem. After hearing the story of the flood of 1927, I was even more convinced that we can enact change. We've done it before, we can do it again.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

something more... aka get yourself wet

Exodus 14:19-31
Romans 14:1-12

I have a confession to make this morning. Though I have only myself to blame, since I picked the texts out of the lectionary options, I’m not entirely comfortable with this morning’s passages. Now Paul’s letter to the Romans, it’s got some great stuff. In this particular selection, I love that Paul is writing that different worship styles, practices, that as long as they honor God, they are not to be judged. It’s not the how that is most important – it’s the who. With God at the center of your practices, whether that means you see one day as more holy than the next or you see all days as holy and consecrated unto God, with God at the center, you’re alright. That’s beautiful. And in a time when some churches, some God families find themselves divided on the how’s to worship, among other things, it’s a good word for all of us to hear.

So I enjoy Paul’s message. What I don’t enjoy so much is one of his examples. The weak eat only vegetables? I have been a vegetarian now for several months, at let me tell you, it takes a lot, A LOT, of will-power, of strength, to resist a really juicy cheeseburger or a delicious smelling chicken casserole. Who’s Paul calling weak? I’d like to see him try it.

Along with squirming a little at Paul’s letter, I also find myself more seriously at unease with the Exodus passage. That may sound a little strange to you – the parting and crossing of the Red Sea, come on, that’s a classic! Everyone knows that story. I’ve worked with a lot of kids in my ministry and I can tell you this is one story they seem to remember. Okay, true, some times it’s the Dead Sea and not the Red Sea, and true, there has been the occasional comment that it was Jesus, not Moses, who lifted his hand to part the sea, but the basic concept is engrained in their minds. Think about your own experiences. How many times in Sunday school did you color in pictures of Moses? How many times at camp did you sing a round of Pharaoh, Pharaoh, O Baby Let My People Go to the tune of Louie, Louie? If there were a top ten list of Bible stories you hear about the most, this would easily be somewhere in the top three.

This story is so well-known because it is powerful, because it gives hope to people who need it the most. It’s about beating the odds with the help of God. The Israelites, even at the height of their power, were never the coolest kids on the block. They never achieved superpower status, in fact often became subsumed by superpowers like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon. Israel may not be the geekiest kid around, but it still got beat up for its lunch money.

And so throughout their history, when the Israelites found themselves being threatened, when they found themselves exiled from the land they loved, when they found themselves, as individuals and as a people, in life’s darkest corners, it is this story that comforts. “Come and see what God has done,” says the psalmist[1]. “God has turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the river on foot.”

This story is the quintessential narrative of God’s love and power for the Israelites. The big bad Egyptians who kept them enslaved for years, they all become lost at the hand of God. Not even a remnant of Pharaoh’s power remained. And God did this, God did this for the Israelites, so that they might be free. God defeated the most powerful nation on Earth, the wealthiest, most privileged people, so that this little band of slaves could be liberated.

This text is so powerful that it is not just the ancient Israelites who remembered it. The Passover Seder, one of the most holy rituals in the Jewish faith, centers around this act of God freeing the people from bondage. With prayer, song, family, and food, this story is remembered by Jewish families around the world every year. And we Christians remember it too. When we celebrate one of our holiest rituals, communion, we are reminded of this story. For on the night of his arrest, it was the Seder Jesus and his disciples were sharing, it was this story that they where gathered to celebrate. When our Lord instituted the Eucharist, the bread he broke and gave to his disciples was unleavened bread, baked to remember the flight from Egypt. On the night before our Savior died so that we might be free, he remembered this act of God’s liberating power.

This story of freedom and the hope it inspires, moves across the generations, across cultures. Many African-American spirituals borne out of the time of North American slavery include references to this narrative. It’s not surprising that this story would spark the imagination and the hope of a people who had to cross the Ohio River to find freedom in the North.

One of my favorite of the spirituals, Wade in the Water, is a coded slave song, instructing slaves on how to avoid capture when escaping their masters. “Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, God’s agonna trouble the water.” It is through water that Moses and his people found freedom and so it is through these troubled waters that African-American slaves found freedom.

So why – you may ask, I know I’ve asked myself – why am I bothered by this story? Why does a narrative which as comforted people across cultures, across centuries, why does it put me on-edge, why does it make my body tense, my heart uneasy?

The answer may seem obvious – given the events of the past two weeks, given the destruction and horror that has followed Hurricane Katrina, the promises of troubling waters, they don’t seem so comforting any more. The passage, its sparse detail makes the whole death and destruction seem so simple, so clean. We know that the waters can cause damage that is not simple, clean. And so it is hard to read about waters coming back upon people, about God causing all of Pharaoh’s army to drown, about the Israelites seeing the dead on the shore.

Hearing about God throwing the Egyptians into the sea – that may be a difficult part of the story for you. I know it has been for me. When I was a little girl I first wondered about the poor horses – did they really want to be a part of Pharaoh’s army, bring the Israelites back into slavery? Did they really need to die? And when I grew older, I wondered the same about the Egyptians.

Hearing the stories of the destruction of this recent storm, of the deaths that came when the rain poured down and the waters roared in, and then reading that God threw the army into confusion and caused the waters to come back upon them…

It is not only the waters that are troubled.

But there is something more than the talk of death and God’s hand in it that causes my stomach to clinch. And I have struggled with this “something more,” wrestled with the text, with the world around me, trying to understand what has so upset me. For it has been my experience that the “something more,” the figure that stands on the horizon that you just can’t quite make out, the thing you have to strive just a little bit harder for, stretch till it hurts so you can reach it, the “something more” is coming from the voice of God.

And as I wrestled, trying to understanding what it is that is calling out to me from the story, what it is that so troubles my soul, I found clarity in a place I’d found it many times before – in the voice of a friend. A friend of mine who has been haunted by the images from the Gulf Coast, from New Orleans in particular, asked a simple, yet disturbing question: why are all the faces I see black?

And in that moment – I knew. I knew what has been bothering me, why I have not been able to find this text comforting. It is not because of my questions about horses or even Egyptians – it is because this story about water is everything our current state of emergency is not.

The people leaving in droves from the Gulf Coast, this is not a march toward freedom – it’s a diaspora, a dispersion of people from their homes, from a place that they loved. And the people thrown into confusion, those caught up in the waters, they are not Egyptians, the most powerful, most privileged. They are the Israelites. They are the poor. They are, because the majority of New Orleans’ poor is African-American, they are the descendants of those who once sang songs, dreamt about the freedom found from wading in the water. In our time, in our country, a flood has come, the waters have rolled back onto a people, but a nation of slaves has not been freed.

The statistics that have come rushing out in the aftermath of Katrina have shocked me. In the United States alone, arguably the most privileged and powerful nation in the world, the poverty level has risen for 4 consecutive years so that now 37 million people struggle with basics like food, clothing, shelter.

Even though I’ve helped in soup kitchens, shelters, even though I’ve lived in big cities where the lines of demarcation, the disparity between the lives of haves and have nots, is extremely visible, it wasn’t until Katrina that I have even begun to grasp what it means to be poor. When the waters come rolling in, you can’t leave. To be poor, like 40% of New Orleans school children are, means not having access to a car, or gas money, or a place to go when a hurricane is coming.

As Paul tells us in Romans, not even life or death – the most impenetrable of divisions – divide us before God. No matter what, we are the Lord’s. And yet no matter this, we do not have equal access to even the very basics of life. In this realization of what poverty means, that while the waters may not discriminate in their destruction, money and means did that for them, I have been deeply, deeply troubled. And I know, from speaking with you, from speaking with friends, from hearing bits and pieces on the news, I am not the only one.

And in this awareness, something more has come upon me again. Though the waters on the Gulf have begun to return to their normal depth, this exodus story is not over yet. I do not believe God has troubled the literal waters, that the Lord sent the hurricane for whatever list of sins a person can think up, but I do believe God is here, is actively disturbing the peace.

God’s agonna trouble the water – not rivers or oceans or seas - but the waters of our complacency. Those are the waters that need to be troubled now – and I think for some of us, I know for me, they have been. I hear God calling, as God has been doing since the beginnings of our faith, for us to care for the poor, to ensure that all people are provided for. Can we really have an exodus from a world of have and have nots, from a world where one in six people live in poverty, where almost 28% of our fellow Americans do? Can we really end poverty as we know it, can we find ourselves in a place where all people would be able to flee from disaster? Part of me can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think so.

If it were up to us I would say no. But it’s not, that’s the beauty of this passage, that’s why it is so comforting. I get that now. With the breaking of the levy in New Orleans we tragically learned that humans do not have the power to hold back the sea – but God does. God is more powerful than us, more powerful than any force, of nature, or otherwise, on Earth. We are involved in this exodus, yes. Just as the people had to trust God to cross the sea, Moses had to listen to God’s commands, we must trust and listen. But God is the power behind this wondrous work of old, behind the wonderful works that lie before us. God is the power behind us all. As Paul says, it is by God that we stand or fall, and we will stand for the Lord, one who held back the sea, upholds us.

Working to eradicate poverty, to eliminate the disparaging divide between those who have and those who do not, is not a small thing. But I think it can be aided by seemingly small things. By serving at places like Valley Mission – and sitting down to eat with those who are in need; by donating what we can to the refugees so that their lives do not fall further into despair; by becoming involved in an poverty-relief organization like the Presbyterian Hunger Program, or Make Poverty History or the One campaign; by praying for an end; by thinking about those beyond our small inner circle when we make decisions; by welcoming all those we might see as weak - perhaps because of their faith, perhaps because of their class - into this congregation.

Most importantly, and this is not such a seemingly small thing, we cannot let ourselves calm the waters of our complacency, cannot let those waters return to their normal depths. Not yet. When our souls, our hearts are troubled, we cannot ignore the work God is doing within. We cannot chalk up the dream of a world without poverty to the fancies of an idealistic youth. We cannot let the story end without seeing these Israelites through to the other side, without seeing the powerful army of economic despair swallowed whole by the sea.
We cannot take a bridge over these troubled waters – it’s time to wade.

[1] Psalm 66:5-6

Sunday, September 04, 2005

if only we had loved before

"Why are all the faces I keep seeing on the news, in the papers, black?"

That's what a friend of mine asked herself and several of us listening. Why are the majority of the people left in New Orleans, why are those who have had to suffer an existence of no living creature should know, why are all the people we've seen pictures of black?

The answer is sadly simple stastics: in New Orleans, the majority of the poor, those without the resources to have fled before the storm hit, are black. Two-thirds of the city is African-American and more than 40% of the city lives in poverty.

I've been wondering the same thing. Hearing the stories on the radio, I was horrified- of course. But somehow my horror was compounded when I saw picture after picture and saw not one white face among those wading in the flood waters, those looting for food and water, for survival. Those finding themselves resorting to violence in the face of this disaster.

John mentioned this briefly in his sermon this morning. How those who suffered most were the least and the lowly. He wondered aloud as I have been wondering within - what would have happened if we had done something before. If all the generosity we've shown, all the love we as a people have let flow out of us, what if all the good we have done, can do, had been done before? Why is it in crisis we can join together so well, but in daily living we allow ourselves to be separated?

With this on my mind, I thumbed through an old book of mine, Of War and Love by Dorothee Solle. I came across this poem, and some particular parts struck a chord in me. Challenged, convicted me.

To crucify

To crucify
to execute--to dispose of--to get out of the way--
to put in solitary--to leave an electric light on day
and night--
to sentence for life--to order special treatment
to crucify
to do away with--to destroy--to liquidate--
to wipe out--to purge--to expel--
to straighten out--to streamline--to urban renew--to
to threaten eviction--to do someone in
to crucify
to provide no place to live--to keep from learning a
to put in an institution--to kick out of a resort--
to be offended in our esthetic sensibilities--
to be unable to bear the sight of--
to not want our neighborhood ruined--to gas
to crucify
to send to a state welfare home--to turn into a criminal
to encourage dependency--to addict
to foster neurosis--to intimidate--
to stupefy--to pull the rug from under--
to cow--to brutalize
to crucify
to forget--to conceal--to not want to make a fuss
to repress--to not have known about it--
to consider it an isolated case--
to call it inevitable--to let it happen
to crucify
to bump off--to silence for good--
to bind and gag--
to deprive of language--
to make deaf and dumb--to plug the ears--
to put off with false hopes--to blindfold--to gouge out
to turn into consumers--
to blind--to stifle
to crucify
to prepare the final solution--
to make conform to the values of society--
to adjust--to execute--

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina - Want To Help? Here's An Option

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has a few fund you can donate to, all money benefiting the vicitims of hurricanes, such as Katrina. The funds include a general one for victims of US hurricanes, one to help provide pastoral care for the victims, and one to help churches that have been damaged.

If you're interested, please check out this link.

If you'd like to know more about PDA, check out their website.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Movin' on up

Last night I spoke with a good friend of mine from seminary who just moved into his new house. In between hearing him tell his new dog Yogi not to eat his own poop, I listened to my friend Ed talk about his place and how he was making it his home. It was nice to listen to Ed talk about what he was doing because I've been trying to figure out the same thing.

I love my new apartment - it's a great location and great space. But it is kinda weird - all this space with just me in it. I lived in a house about the size of my apartment (actually a little smaller) when I was in seminary. But I lived there with 2 other women. I love my place but it doesn't exactly feel like my place. How do you make that transition? How do you take a house and make it a home?

After thinking about this for a bit I've decided to christen the apartment with a marathon of my favorite tv show (which is going to take awhile since there are 144 episodes). As silly as that might seem, I started watching this show in high school and kept watching into seminary. I have memories of my girlfriends gathering together in one room, squeezing in past fire code regulations, so we could watch together. I have memories of my friend Stuart and I eating soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and watching an episode here and there on rainy days. Sure, it's just a tv show, but it brings with it all those memories. And that's what I want in my new space, in my home - the memories of friends and family. The laughter, the tears (you better believe we cried while watching on occasion!), all of it. This marathon is a way for me to bring them in.

So if you call me or stop by during the next several weeks and I say - hold on, let me pause Buffy - don't be surprised! And if you do stop by, really don't be surprised if I try to get you to stay and watch some with me. I want to bring in those old memories, but I want to make some new ones too!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Just because this amused me...

You scored as J?Moltmann. The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

John Calvin




Paul Tillich


Karl Barth




Martin Luther


Friedrich Schleiermacher




Charles Finney


Jonathan Edwards


Which theologian are you?
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These are a few of my favorite things

I won't say it's the top, but it's pretty close. Here's one of my favorite spiritual practices: when it's dark out, draw a bath, include bubbles or oils as you please. Light some candles, put on a good CD (my choice: Sarah McLachlan's Mirrorball), and just zone out. Enjoy the bath, the music, the candles. If there's anything on your heart, lift it up to God, and then let go and enjoy your bath. This particular practice was a staple of mine during the last semester of seminary!


I’ve been here for about 2 weeks now and know what I still can’t quite get over? Hills. Seriously. That the ground has continuous bumps in it keeps surprising and delighting me. Who needs the prairie land of Texas when you can have the mountains of Virginia? I also can’t quite get over – and I really don’t want to – how incredibly warm all of you (or y’all) have been to me. There have been dinners and lunches, cookies and cakes – I’ll be all ready to hibernate come winter!

Along with tasty treats, I have really enjoyed getting to know you. When asked my favorite thing about my job the answer is simple: people. I love getting to know folks so please keep coming by to say “hello.” You can find me hanging around the office Monday through Thursday and I’m always only a phone call away.

Part of getting to know you includes getting to know your faith walk. Each one of us has come to know God and God’s all-consuming love for us in different ways and I long to know about those ways. Starting next week, the newsletter is going to include a spiritual practice, a way of connecting to God, that you might consider incorporating into your own life and the life of your family. I invite each of you to drop a note in my box or e-mail me (once that’s working) a practice you or your family enjoy. From everything to a prayer you enjoy to the minute you take out every day to just sit and listen for God’s voice, I encourage you to share a practice with me and your sisters and brothers here at Covenant.