Thursday, December 30, 2004

Thoughts at the End of the Year

You will see beneath this post one that just has a capital T. Such are the vagaries of working with a laptop (brand name I won't mention) that does weird things with the cursor should your hand inadvertently wander around in the vicinity of the touchpad. (If you own one of this brand, you probaby know exactly what I am talking about.) The capital T was as far as I got with this post...then it decided to post, and nothing could stop it or delete it. Be careful what you write on the Internet!

Thoughts at the end of the year...

I am still recovering from surgery, not as quickly as I would like. I am an energetic person, and this forced incapacity does not sit well with me. I want to get back to work and play and all the things I normally do. It is a humbling experience to have to ask someone to take out your garbage because you can't drag that big can down your 200-foot driveway. Midlife is an adjustment; old age is going to be really, really hard.

I have been working on a sermon series for January. I generally work from something called the Revised Common Lectionary, which is a selection of scripture readings for each week of the church year; it runs in a three-year cycle. This is year A. Each week's readings include an Old Testament lesson, a passage from the Writings (generally a psalm), a reading from the Epistles (New Testament), and a Gospel lesson. For the first four weeks of January, I'm going to preach a series on "New Year, New Life." New life in Christ, that is. These passages for the next month have so many references to hope and newness and God's promises. One of my seminary professors was always talking about "God's radical newness" and I am unashamedly borrowing the phrase for one of my sermons. It is so easy to think of the Bible as a dusty old book with nothing new to say to our modern day world...or to be so frightened by a world that is changing rapidly that one insists that the text have only one meaning, only one way to look at it, and that God has nothing new to say to us.

God's promises are new every morning. There are new discoveries, new insights to be found in scripture even today, if one will only be open to them. There is still that strange dimension to reading scripture that we call the Holy Spirit, which scares the hooey out of a lot of folks in my denomination because it tends to defy control and definition. But we do believe that the Spirit -- also known as the breath, or ruach, of God -- inspired the people who wrote the Bible and inspires the people who read it, even today.

The first chapter of Genesis says that when God began to create the world, the spirit, or breath, of God moved across the waters. That's the Hebrew word ruach. The Greeks call it pneuma. When Jesus talks about sending the Spirit to the disciples in John's gospel, that word is pneuma. Powerful thing, that Spirit of God, and not to be ignored. Maybe more on that later.

A new year is coming. In many ways, January 1 is going to look a lot like December 31, I predict, but in other ways, it can be a time of newness, if we will only let it.

Pastor Kathy


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

What to read when you're recovering from surgery

As I was headed to the doctor two weeks ago (with a hunch that she would put me in the hospital), I stopped at the mailbox at the end of the driveway. My package from had arrived. It contained a set of DVDs of The Vicar of Dibley and a novel. I began reading the novel in the hospital. I started watching the DVDs after I got home and, sad to say, the Vicar of Dibley's jokes began to wear thin on me after about four episodes. Your mileage may vary.

But the book has proved to be quite the choice during my recovery. It is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, published in 1996 (New York: Fawcett Books, 408 pp.). Technically it's science fiction; as you see by my profile I am a science fiction fan -- Return of the Jedi is one of my favorite movies (not for the blaster battles, but for Luke's struggle to understand his father and to deal with his own dark side). But The Sparrow is about a lot more than science fiction.

In a way, it kind of takes the premise of Contact and runs in a whole different direction with it. Sometime around 2019, radio signals are received from somewhere in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri. It turns out the signals are music. There is much excitement in the scientific community about this. And then a private group decides to launch a secret expedition to find the senders of the music.

And who is this private group? Think for a minute. Who were some of the great explorers of North America, around the seventeenth century, who are still around today? The Jesuits. Yes, the Jesuits decide to launch a mission to Alpha Centauri. My first reaction was, in this day and age, if any "Christian" organization decided to do such a thing, the only ones that would have that kind of money would be the televangelists. I can see Brother Billy Bob Whoosis on tv doing a big fund raising telethon to raise money to bring the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to the heathens of Alpha Centauri. But the book makes a quite logical case for the Jesuits doing this: their long history of intellectual inquiry and exploration. The author makes it all somehow make sense. In my hometown, the Jesuits operate an outstanding high school and a well-known university, so even though I am not a Catholic, I am well aware of their reputation.

So, a team of four Jesuit priests and four laypeople go to Alpha Centauri, and they do find intelligent life there. From the beginning of the novel (the book is arranged in flashbacks), we understand that only one priest survived the mission, and he has been badly injured and traumatized by what happened on the planet. The book is his story. But it's not just about a science fiction expedition to another planet. It's about one man's faith journey and how he comes to a deeper relationship with God -- and it's not all wonderful. He is a broken man. Somehow, starting to read the book as I began to heal from my surgery, I could identify with him.

So -- I commend this book to you. I haven't finished it yet, but it is powerful reading, and I don't think the ending will let me down.

Jesuits in outer space. Who woulda thunk it?

Pastor Kathy

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Life Is What Happens...

You have heard it said: "Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans." Two weeks ago, exactly halfway through the season of Advent, my plans got turned upside down. God tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Pastor Kathy, I'm taking you out of the game for awhile."

What started as a bad bellyache never went away, and after three days I ended up in the hospital. The following morning I was having exploratory surgery. Turned out I had appendicitis. Of all the things I might have had on a list of "dread diseases I worry about getting in my lifetime," that one wasn't on it. I had a good surgeon and it was all over before I had time to work myself into a lather about it. It's just the recovery that's taking forever.

At midlife, you give thanks that you're not, well, seventy or eighty years old. You can still get yourself to the bathroom after surgery and manage a shower by yourself after a couple of days. But when the surgeon tells you, "Just remember, you're not twenty years old anymore. It's going to take some time for you to recover," well, it doesn't do the ego a whole lot of good.

After three days, I came home. Friends helped me with ordinary stuff that was suddenly outside my ability to handle: like taking out the garbage, and even tying my shoes. (I never want to have a hysterectomy.) I settled in on the sofa for the duration.

The night I started hallucinating on the pain meds (I can't believe some people use hydrocodone as a recreational drug), that was the end of them. It was pretty tough trying to get by on Advil after that, but I didn't have the slightest interest in going back to la-la land, where I couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't. After a couple of days I was able to get up, shower, wash my hair, and put on clean clothes. I felt like the Gerasene demoniac (Luke 8) after he had been healed by Jesus: clothed and in my right mind and sitting at Jesus' feet. The story says that when the people of his community saw the healed demoniac, they were scared out of their minds and asked Jesus to leave them. Anyone with that kind of power, to cast demons into swine and send them over a cliff, might get mad at them one day and turn on them. Jesus was about as welcome as a nuclear power plant. So he left. The healed demoniac begged him, "Pleeease take me with you" (beam me up, Scotty, there's no intelligent life down here?) but Jesus told him to stay in his community and tell everyone what God had done for him. And he did.

When God knocks you on your rear end exactly halfway through one of the busiest seasons of the church year, you know it's no accident. The best thing you can say at that point is what the old prophet Eli told the boy Samuel to say to the voice speaking to him: "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." And so I did. God and I have had some interesting conversations this week. Had I not been immobilized on the sofa, I might not have been listening.

I haven't given up on the blog. I just haven't been able to sit at the computer for two weeks. I'm back in action. Stay tuned!

Pastor Kathy

Thursday, December 02, 2004

I didn't take that course

Ever since I graduated from seminary, I have been threatening to write a set of encyclopedias called "Things They Didn't Teach Us in Seminary." I think most ministers starting out have their own outlines for a set of encylopedias on this subject. They don't teach you how many rehearsals to have for a children's Christmas pageant or when is the best time to schedule them, for instance.

Seminary teaches you Greek and Hebrew and Bible and theology and the history of Christianity and pastoral care and that sort of thing. To my surprise, apparently a lot of people in congregations think seminary teaches you how to read minds. My least favorite comment to hear is, "But I thought you knew." I thought you knew X was in the hospital. I thought you knew X died two days ago. As if this information were magically transmitted over the airwaves into the minister's brain by, say, the Holy Spirit. Dang, I didn't take that course in seminary.

I have a phone at church, a phone at home, a cell phone -- and voice mail on all of them, so that you can leave a message even if the line is busy. Also email, at home and at the church. And yet I am told, far too often, "We couldn't get hold of you." Often I am told this by someone who has caller ID but no answering machine or voice mail -- and yes, I do know that these people screen their calls and sometimes don't pick up when they see it's me calling.

"But we came by the church and you weren't there." No, I was out in the world, doing ministry. I was at the hospital or the nursing home, or I was at a member's home or office, or I was at a meeting of a community organization. I may have been dealing with a confidential pastoral care situation that I can't discuss with you. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. That thing in your house: it's called a telephone. Use it.

Sorry, this is a rant. A brief one. Mind reading does not come with ordination. God knows what goes on in the human heart, but I am not God (thank God) and I don't. I can have a hunch (I am a solid "intuitive" on the Myers-Briggs scale) but I am often way, way wrong.

Tomorrow: another subject they didn't teach me in seminary.

Pastor Kathy

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Even more about media...

A continuation on musings about children, the media, and Jesus:

In the last post, I wrote of a review of a book called The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust by Mark Pinsky (Westminster John Knox Press). Let me be clear on this one point: I am not slamming Disney characters. I am a genuine, first-generation member of the Mickey Mouse Club. It drove my mother nuts when my little friends and I vaulted over the living room sofa in our muddy shoes to land in front of the early-1950s-era Philco TV at 4:30 every weekday afternoon to sing the Mickey Mouse Club song. I loved all the cartoon characters. I loved Spin and Marty. I loved "Lady and the Tramp." You name it. I am not, repeat not, slamming Disney characters. I am just concerned that our kids may be more familiar with Disney characters than they are with Jesus.

In his book, Pinsky says that images of Disney characters are "far more recognizable around the world than images of Jesus or the Buddha." And that is scary.

He also says that there is a kind of gospel associated with the stories: "Good is always rewarded; evil is always punished. Faith is an essential element -- faith in yourself and, even more, faith in something *greater* than yourself, some higher power. Optimism and hard work complete the basic canon."

Well, OK, nothing wrong with those values, I guess. I mean, when we teach our children the story of David and Goliath in Vacation Bible School, that's pretty much the core of it. But the story of Christianity has a whole lot more to it than that. I have told my congregation that if Hollywood had written the story of Jesus, he sure wouldn't have ended up dying on a cross. Peter, after denying him three times, would have gotten so disgusted with himself that he would have rallied, gathered the other disciples, and staged a commando raid on the Roman soldiers on the way to Golgotha and rescued Jesus. I kinda favor Bruce Willis as Peter. I'm not sure who would play Jesus. Maybe Will Smith.

But it didn't happen that way. Jesus died. And then there was that weird morning at the tomb, when the women thought they saw something. It's always the women, huh?

In my own church, I fret because parents aren't bringing their children to Sunday School. Somehow they can get the kids to school on Monday morning at 7:30, but they can't get them to Sunday school at 9:45. How are they going to learn about Jesus if they don't take part in Christian education? They sure learn a lot in front of the TV set and playing video games. The parents tell me, "If the kids wanted to come, we'd bring them." Somehow that argument falls apart when Monday morning rolls around. Very few kids actually want to go to school, but their parents darn sure make them go.

I don't know what to say. My Catholic friends in my community tell me there is still a vestige of belief among some parents that if their kids aren't baptized and confirmed in the church, they'll go to hell. That's a nice motivator to get them there, but it has never been part of my denomination's belief system. I suspect we need to work on the parents in order to get the kids to Sunday school. It's one hour a week. How many hours do they spend in front of the TV?

I have been told by some of my readers that they can't post comments to this blog. Not sure why. Apparently there is something I haven't figured out yet as far as setting it up. Those of you who know how to get in touch with me, please send me your comments. Any ideas you have on kids and the church will be much appreciated!

Pastor Kathy

P.S. Update on an earlier post: Robert Blake's show about Father Hardstep was called "Hell Town."