"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Talking into the air

I am teaching a course this summer which has an online format. Such a strange and disconnected way to teach. I feel as if, every time I lecture, I am talking off into the air. When students emerge from the airwaves with a question, it often on a lecture I recorded days or even a couple of weeks prior and no longer in my mental context.

Technology has come a long way, but the context and the relationship still lack in an online course. I have to work twice as hard on encouraging them to talk to one another, not just to get their information from me and go home. While I long for the days when professors would actually profess something, students must feel encouraged and capable of interacting with the material, owning it, and maybe even becoming teachers themselves someday.

I don't like talking (or writing) into the air. Maybe I have a bizarre need for attention. But it is funny that the modern blogger can fulfill some of that need for attention by (often exihibitionist) blogging whether or not anyone reads or responds. (Not so for me, I would rather people respond.) And it is strange that the reader can comfortably invade those thoughts, take what he needs, and leave, without ever feeling an urge for relatioship. Sad and bizarre.

Don't get me wrong, I like that information is so readily available and geography is no longer such an obstacle. I just find the experience of it all rather, well, weird.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Talking back..

I am spending this week at Trinity School for Ministry for the Ancient Wisdom, Anglican Futures conference. As I've always been the type to talk back, there's plenty of blog fodder here. How tempting to (as I am doing right now) sit in lectures and use this space to talk back to the lecturers, to think out loud a bit, to percolate.

An unintentional theme of the conference seems to be the need to know. Its that Protestant, Enlightenment, Baptized Humanistic viewpoint that just wants to know. So we seek and ask (great stuff there) and expect that somehow our small finite minds have some hope of understanding. Two temptations then emerge, the desire to explain away what we don't understand and the subconscious humanism that believes we have, as a human family, grown in our understanding from generation to generation. The latter problem is epidemic in the west, where we value our own learning so greatly that we dismiss the African as ignorant and backwards, and quietly assume our ancestors were uneducated and underenlightened.

Across the screen this afternoon have appeared the words "the Age of Reason" in the speaker's notes. And even this common title is a symptom of the disease, for it implies that the ages before were unreasonable, underdeveloped. Enlightenment assumes a dark age, the Academy seeks to add to the body of knowledge, further our common understanding.

But in reality it is not an adding on, progress, but in fact an exchange of goods. For our modern technology we have exchanged our connection with the cycles and seasons of earth. For our knowledge of facts and figures, sciences and such, we have exchanged our comfort with mystery and true magic. And we come to assume that cycles and rhythms, magic and mystery are primative, that these are not things we need.

But the life of the church shows otherwise. A rationalized faith is one that is just as easily rationalized away. When we let our opposition set the rules, we are destined to lose the game; yet we consistently allow the world, the secular culture, humanism and darwinism and rationalism set the rules. And in doing so we lose the magic, we strip away the mystery. And when we have done so, we are reduced to pointless rationalization or empty emotionalism, and the heart is separated from the head.

But the point of mystery is to unite the rational mind and the emotional heart. To experience something with the senses that can be explained only partly to the mind, to be consumed in a sense of "wonder and radical amazement" (to borrow the words of Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel). For we cannot begin to understand the infinite without also beginning to understand that we are finite. We cannot rationalize the mystery, the creation of our God, because it is bigger than we are, always expanding, growing faster than our own minds can catch. How much less can we control the Creator, who was and is and is to come.

We do theology in community, but even the "hive mind" cannot fully grasp the mystery. This is what we signed on for, something bigger than ourselves.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pentecost Sermon

This turned out to be a much better sermon in the study than in the pulpit (bummer) but here it is. Win some, lose some I guess.

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I like to shop down at the Korean grocery store in Oakland. It’s a little mom and pop shop that does most of its business selling ramen noodles to college students and niche market ingredients to Asian immigrants. Only once have I ever seen another non-Asian customer in that store. And the first time you go in, it’s intimidating. All the labels are in Korean or Japanese, some have an English translation on the package, some don’t. I once bought something there that looked tasty and got it home to realize I had no idea how to prepare it. The little line drawings that substituted for non-Korean instructions didn’t help.
The owners are first generation immigrants, and while they speak English passably well, some days are clearly better than others. On any given occasion, I’ve heard Korean rattled off joyfully between shopkeeper and customer, but I am often greeted with a friendly silence as I bring my items to the register. Of course, their English is far better than my Korean, but usually I try out my handful of Korean words – hello, thank you, good bye—when I see them. On one such day, clearly not the best of English days for the lady at the counter, I quietly waited while she checked out my items, and then offered “thank you” in my surely mangled Korean. She lit up, stepped back, flung her arms wide, and said in exuberant Korean “Yes yes! Thank you!” Somehow, I seem to have made her day.
I know what’s like to be shy about your language abilities. My sophomore year in college, I lived with a French woman. Since she knew I was studying French, she suggested early on that we speak French in the dorm room (this was intended to be for my benefit, since she was fully and comfortably, bilingual). Ashamed of what I suspected to be a truly horrid French accent, I declined. Perhaps, if we had spoken French among ourselves, I would remember the language today; instead, I let six years of language study slowly waste away.
The visitors to Jerusalem in the Acts passage today would have been like my French friend or our Korean grocer; able to understand the language of the land they were visiting, even though it wasn’t the language of their innermost thoughts. Most everyone in the Roman Empire at the time of the New Testament would have understood Greek in addition to their native tongue. Most Jews would have understood Hebrew for Temple use. The people who had come to the Temple would have been Jews who had been scattered into many foreign lands during the Exile and the movements of the centuries after. They would have retained their Jewish heritage by learning Hebrew, even though it was not the language they used for everyday life.
Pentecost was one of the primary pilgrimages of the Hebrew calendar, and the visitors to the city would have saved and prepared for months or years to make the long journey from foreign lands. Many would have simply stayed in Jerusalem for the fifty days after the Passover festival in order to participate in the Pentecost celebration of the first fruits of the grain harvest without enduring a second journey. For many of the far flung people, this may be the only chance they have to visit the Temple, to worship God in the only place that was believed to be truly his home.
Most of them would have been Jews, one people scattered by geography and separated by the details of native language and culture. Others, however, were converts, “God-fearers” who had given up paganism to seek the one God of the Jews, outsiders with neither a common ancestry nor a common covenant to bridge the gaps of distance and ethnicity.
And while the scattered peoples were gathered, the disciples were huddled together all in one place, awaiting further instructions now that they had seen Christ ascend. “And suddenly there came down from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Soon the huddled disciples will be the ones scattered to out into the world, in order to bring the good news to all people that God is calling every tongue and tribe and nation to become his people.
There’s a word play here that is worth noting. In Greek, the word pneuma means “breath, wind, or Spirit.” The same is true for the Old Testament word nephesh, which we’ll see in a moment. So suddenly there is a great rushing wind, breath, spirit, in the room, and the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit.
And in the beginning, the spirit, the breath, of God was hovering over the face of the deep, dark, chaotic waters. And after God had tamed the chaos and brought forth light and order, God used the same creative breath that spoke all things into being to breathe life, spirit, breath into the man and woman. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit because this is what, at the beginning of Creation, man was intended to be.
After humankind rebelled against God in the garden, the Holy Spirit seemed to be in much more limited supply. A prophet here, a prophet there, maybe a king or two along the way might have the Holy Spirit; but the gifting was restrained. It was so restrained, in fact, that ever since the Hebrew people returned from Exile centuries before, they believe d that the Holy Spirit had ceased to be given at all. And here, suddenly, the spirit comes like a rush, a flood, poured out in abundance. And the disciples begin to speak in languages they had never studied, so that the people could hear the Gospel in their own language.
After humankind decided to turn from God in the Garden, men and women began to try to make themselves like gods, building a tower into the heavens. But because we are not nearly so godlike as we wish to believe, those plans were thwarted. The effect of sin included the confusion of languages, so that one person could not easily communicate with another, and the scattering of people to the distant parts of the earth. But now, as the Kingdom of God begins to enter into creation, the effects of sin begin to unravel and man can hear the Gospel clearly, and the scattered peoples are drawn together to worship God.
Three thousand people were baptized that day. Three thousand! If you want the unbeatable model for church growth, here it is: just follow the Great Commission, to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations and let the Holy Spirit do the work. Every Christian has access to this marvelous gift, and while we don’t all have speaking in tongues and other shazaam moments, the Spirit will work through each of us if we are faithful and willing. The disciples had only taken the first baby steps into “all the world” and already a handful of disciples had become thousands. And that was not all, for day by day “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
The Lord chose to do this miracle on Pentecost, the ancient celebration of the first fruits of the grain harvest as a sign to us that the harvest is indeed plentiful and that these thousands are really just a drop in the bucket. God desires that all men and women be saved, Jesus has promised that by his being lifted up on the Cross he would draw all men to himself. Its your job, brothers and sisters, not to grow this church, but to grow God’s kingdom. And while that feels like a tough job, all we really need to do is to be willing to make those baby steps out into the world, offer the unblemished Gospel in a language the people can understand, and let the Holy Spirit do the work.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hot stuff.

First off, let me say that the water was only out for two days and is now back on. hoorah.

The thing that's down now is the big ash tree, from which the boys have hung their rope swing for the past five years. Alas, poor Swing Tree, we shall miss you. The ash bore got it, so we need to pick a new swing tree, I guess.

It is in the upper 80's here. Hot enough to be hot, to enjoy a good swim, but not the oppressive heat I grew up with. There's nothing like walking out of the house and smacking straight into a wall of heat; but that only happens one or two days out of the year up here. Not bad.

I took the kids out for sprinkler time (yea for water) and garden weeding. I found that the carrots that I'd given up on have sprouted and were hiding amongst the larger weeds. The boys played a game they've invented. I listened to the older two argue over a lawn chair; there's something very real about that. I listened to the youngest's maniacal laughter under the sprinkler. Now they've all raided the freezer for Brown Cows (what do they call those things outside of the South? no idea but I bet nobody up here knows what a Brown Cow is) which I told them they could have if they ate them outside.

Thank God for summer vacation. Tomorrow we'll do it all again, only with a friend along for the fun of it. And then on Monday all the organized activites start... guitar lessons, camps, stuff that's supposed to keep them busy. Funny, I thought summers were about not being busy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Being the woman at the well.....

Okay, I admit that we're spoiled. We have hot and cold water at the turn of a faucet. Or at least, we're supposed to. When we have it (which really is so much of the time we take it for granted) our water is clean, convenient, and whatever temperature we want it.

Except that today, and yesterday, we don't have it. Yesterday morning, our water meter sprung an enthusiastic leak. After ten hours of convincing the local water authority that they might want to come out and take a look at it, they admitted that the problem was theirs. Another eleven hours later, they actually did come out and look at it. And they replaced the meter. yippee.

But our water is pumped to the top of our hill because the borough does not maintain enough water pressure to get it here on its own. And there's a giant bubble in the line, which means the pump can't pump anything. And the borough had no idea how to fix it.

So here we sit, for a second night with no water.

Actually, I shouldn't say no water... I was raised in the country and the pioneer girl gene is not entirely extinct from my DNA. I'm not one to sit back and take not having water. So, thanks to some good friends, I gathered up a sink full of dirty dishes, a smelly teenager, and two large buckets (well one is a nine-gallon wine fermenter complete with lid... thanks be to God... if needed I do have a second one, but they're a bear to move when full) and trotted over to the "well." The well, of course is our friends' house, where I did my dishes, sent my teen to shower, and pilfered 15 gallons of clean water. We can use that for drinking and washing for tomorrow and maybe the next day if we need to.

On the way back, I told my teen that I felt like some ancient (or not so ancient in some parts of the world) village woman, hauling to the well in the evening cool to fetch home the water for the next day. Then I quickly corrected myself... I don't have to carry the water, I have a car. (In fact, I was even able to park closely enough that I just stretched the hose right to my trunk and filled that big fermenter there... some guy rode by on a bike and kind of stared a little. I smiled and said "alternative fuel" and let him wonder. My fun for the evening.) I can fetch the water in with very little actual heavy lifting. Elsewhere in the world women and children haul heavy loads just to meet the day's needs.

But one way I was like the village woman. As I stopped off at the well, I was offered a drink, a bit of hospitality, friendly faces, a conversation. The well was a communal experience. I may be seeing a lot of my friends if my water does not come back on soon (though I probably ought to mooch off different friends each day so nobody gets tired of me) but that's only unusual in a world where the conveniences of a modern tap mean I don't have to live in community in order to meet my daily needs. Women in particular are prone to feeling isolated in our culture, and perhaps the common well is part of why women doing the mundane chores at home with the kids don't seem so heavy with the task as we western women do. The phone, email, these aren't the same thing.

And while its a small kindness to let me fill my pail from your hose, it means a great deal to me. The common well is about small kindness that suits great need. Giving a drink, a hand with a heavy load, a kind word.

And the woman who cannot enjoy that community at the well cannot truly live. Her needs go unmet. And alone she slogs back to her home bearing her burdens in the heat of the day.

I'm grateful to my friends at the well.

But I'll be darned grateful when the water's back on too!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

You guys have got to see this...

Coopersburg Boy Beats Odds, Plays Baseball

COOPERSBURG, Pa. -- On a warm evening in June, excitement builds on a little league field in Coopersburg, Pa. It's just past dinnertime. The sky is blue. The breeze is brisk.
Fathers and sons have come together to do what fathers and sons have done on warm, June days for decades.
It's a delicate age for the young sluggers. Sometimes, the "hitting stick" and the ball don't quite connect in the batter's box.
But father and coach, Tim Moncman, has a solution he counts on.
"One, two, three, swing!" Moncman tells his son, who is a five-year-old who sports the number 4 on his jersey.
"Are you ready, AJ?" Moncman asks his son.
They've put in a lot of hours perfecting AJ's swing and getting the timing just right, but there's one "curve ball" Tim Moncman couldn't control.
"My wife first noticed, probably when he was about six months old," said Moncman.
AJ was born blind.


Go read the rest.... there's even a video.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Life Unrehearsed

I admit, I hate rehearsal. I'm one of those people who likes to get the general idea of something and run with it. Art over science. Spontaneity over rehearsal. Improvision over precision.

I also like projects where I can see big sweeping changes. I love to paint a room, as long as it isn't the same color as it was before. I'm process oriented with no patience for tedium. If its not fun to do, its not worth doing.

And in the immortal parental curse, I've been blessed with a child who is very much like his mother. And the one thing I secretly hate as much as he does is his piano practice. Plowing away at the same song day after day with tiny imperceptable progress and a kid who doesn't want to practice in the first place (and will find every excuse in the book to avoid work) is mental torture.

Tonight, as I type, its "The Witches' Dance" one of the little songs in John Thompson's Third Grade Book. I can look at that book cover and remind myself of progress through three books. I can listen to real music coming from his hands and remember the days when scales were the impossible obstacle. And still, somehow, part of me thinks I'm going to be a little old lady telling him not to rush the easy parts on that blasted "Witchy Song."

But I suppose life is like that. Progress comes in baby steps. Patience is a virtue. The journey of a thousand miles, and all that. Skills are built, churches are grown, children are raised, all one small step at a time.

But I want to see progress, movement. Stagnant water is good for nothing but mosquitoes. Maybe that's why I have three children, so I can look at one and see how far he's come, look at another and know he won't always be small and making me crazy all afternoon (no that I have any particular child in mind there, of course). I know that when my firstborn was little I had no concept of him ever being as grown up and capable as he is now. In my mind he'd always be small and helpless, unable to communicate his needs or solve his own problems. Now we talk about things like college, chores, jobs, and that blasted piano (he'll be filling in for our parish organist on Sunday, he's really not half bad).

I guess where I'm going is this: we all want big shazaam moments and miracles and the parting of the waters... but mostly God works in tiny little things. His attention span is longer than ours, and when he moves fast and furious, it may still be hard for us to notice. And so we are reminded that he is not slow in coming to us, as some reckon slowness, but has withheld his return so that not one who would be saved would be neglected.