Welcome to our blog! This is a place to share ideas, thoughts, concerns and joys of our faith journey. I'll be posting sporadically, but hope you will feel free to comment and join in the discussions.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Thinking Ahead, Considering What Came Before

Happy New Year! Well, tomorrow anyway will be the start of the New Year. So I'm a day early!

 At the beginning of a new year everyone thinks about what took place the year previously. It would probably be a better practice to take stock in the middle of the year, thereby giving us a chance to re-direct, but alas, hardly anyone I know does that. I don't want to discuss the famous celebrities who passed last year--although there were a few of note. I definitely don't want to discuss the new administration--this isn't and probably never will be a political posting place. There are plenty of other venues for that, just not here. Nope, what I want to draw attention to for the start of the New Year is the reading from Matthew, the second chapter. The Gospel lesson for the week is from verses 13 to 23. We refer to these passages as, "The Flight to Egypt" and the "Slaughter of the Innocents." Great discussion titles for Christmas, hunh? Certainly stops the conversation dead in its tracks.

The Flight to Egypt, the bible tells us is that Joseph, in a dream, is told to "get out of Dodge" because something awful is about to happen and he doesn't want to be there when it does. Because he was spoken to before in a dream and knows what THAT meant, he packs up the wife and kid and scoots across the border.  The Slaughter of the Innocents is because, Herod, the weirdo, evil king at the time decides that since the Wise Men from the East tricked him by not coming back to him and telling him where the "King of the Jews" was, he would take care of the problem of a possible usurper to his crown and have all male children killed who were aged two and under. Every male child. This wasn't the scene in Star Wars where Darth Vader before he becomes Darth Vader goes berserker. This was a man who was paranoid and in power and didn't want anything to stand in the way of his being THE KING. He planned this.

Why are these stories told in the Bible? Why are these horrific things even mentioned? There are theories of course as to why. Many preached that these stories let you know that the world is an evil place (yeah, 'cause we didn't know that already?). Some even taught it was to "teach us a lesson". But what lesson could this teach us about the love of God and Jesus? I did some reading this week, in between family dinners and sleeping late. And I think the writers of the gospels wanted us to get a very specific message from all of their narratives. I think they wanted to make sure we knew that Christmas was ALL about Jesus being among us. Being scared, being vulnerable, being troubled. Jesus was there in the midst of all that stuff. As God is as well. God was with Joseph, Mary and Jesus in Egypt but he was also with the mothers and fathers of those poor innocent children. He is with those parents from Sandy Hook. He is with those families of the people shot in a church during Bible study, in the families of the loved ones in Berlin and Aleppo. God has NOT abandoned us in our trials and sad moments. As we worship him with songs of the coming of the Christ child, let us also recognize that He is there with us with the songs from family funerals and times we face of trouble and seeming inconsolable difficulties. God is with us. He sent Jesus to show us that--Emmanuel. So as we begin the New Year, let us bring this thought along with us in our walk everyday...God is with us. We do not walk alone or unloved. God is with us--Jesus showed us that.

Peace be with you this day and EVERY day.

There's a Kind of Hush

During the evening of the 24th we finished wrapping some presents. We pushed the cookie tin lids down tighter. We locked the doors and trudged up the stairs to bed. But I couldn't sleep. I was thinking. About a lot of things. I took my hearing aids out because I was going to go to bed, but then, well, I just wasn't quite ready yet. The house was hushed. True, even if it were slightly noisy; without the hearing aids in, I wouldn't know it. But our son commented on how quiet it was compared to where he is living these days.

The world is hushed. And waiting. Every year I feel anticipation for Christmas. Sometimes it's joyful and excited anticipation. Sometimes its anxious and almost nervous (especially if I haven't completed all that I wanted to do before the actual 25th). I felt like the world was waiting too. The air was colder and the dark seemed almost ominous. What would happen in the next 24 to 48 hours, I pondered? Will we come to the realization that God is among us? Will we take a deep breath and accept that the sun rose with God's good grace and not because we put it there? And would Christmas be all that we hoped it would be?

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Christmas Prayer

Now I lay me down to sleep.
But I can't sleep yet.
I have things to do, errands to run,
Things to buy, people to see.

There aren't enough hours in the day, Lord.
Can you help me tackle all this stuff?
But wait, but wait.

My head is on the pillow and I can see stars outside.
The moon is tracking its way across the house
On its silent, silvery highway.
And the neighbors Christmas lights have gone out, finally,
So it must be past midnight.

It's so quiet, Lord. And all those things?
Well, I can't do them at night anyway.
And it's nice to just lay here with my head on the pillow
Looking up at the dark, blue sky and listening
To the night.

When you came all those years ago
As a tiny baby, fisting your hands in Mary's hair,
Was it quiet? Well, I mean the angels made a bunch
Of noise I know. But there in that dark, damp, steamy
Manger, was the moon lumbering across the sky
In counterpoint to that bright shiny star?
What did you hear that night besides the animals breathing
And Joseph snoring and Mary perhaps crooning a lullaby?

And I'm quieted knowing that long ago
On a quiet night, when God came down as a baby,
It was a grace filled moment of love
Without presents or tinsel or hundreds of people.
And I don't need more hours in the day,
Just a few of these moments with you in the dark of night
Listening for you on the night of the anniversary of your birth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Miracle of Gifts and Timing

This is not a post about Christmas gifts. You could argue that it is about gifts all wrapped up, but not in the way you might think. To explain...

I accompanied our daughter to a doctor appointment the other day. She wasn't supposed to drive home and her hubby could not accompany her this time. I, as always, am happy to oblige and take her anywhere. So we're sitting in the waiting room, waiting of course, and talking quietly and sharing little asides about this and that. When both of us notice that the receptionist is trying to talk to someone on the phone. She is having trouble because the women on the other end of the conversation is speaking Spanish and the receptionist doesn't. No habla espanol. My daughter looks at me with raised eyebrows. She is a Spanish teacher for elementary and middle school aged children. She spent half a year in Spain. She looks at the desperate woman behind the desk, sighs, then gets up and enters the conversation on the phone. The Spanish speaking woman speaks rapidly and her phone keeps breaking up, but eventually between the receptionist and my daughter, they get the information needed so that when the person who works in the office who DOES speak Spanish gets there, she will have the name and phone number of the caller. She comes back and sits down next to me. I tell her how great that was that she just went over to help. She shrugs, "no big deal," she says.

But you see, by us being there in the waiting room at that moment when those two women needed to communicate, that IS a big deal! To them this was important. And my daughter didn't appreciate the gift she has at the moment. I thought of it as a holy moment. People will say I'm making too much of this, but really, at THAT moment, at THAT time this woman called who needed help. Yep, that was a little miracle right there. A miracle of gifts and timing.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Moon and Stars

On November 14, according to the weather people, whom I don't always believe, and the astronomists around the world, whom I do, there will be a Supermoon. It is the closest the moon will have ventured to the planet earth since January 1948. It will not be seen like this again until 2034.

I like looking at the night sky. I'm not too adept at finding the constellations, but as long as there is something up there twinkling, I just like looking up. Once, when I was in the island of Maui, and the ambient light wa almost nonexistent, the sky looked like a piece of velvet with diamonds sprinkled across it. It was breath-taking.

And as I gaze upwards, I can't help thinking about the Creator. Who thought this stuff up? How could such wondrous and fantastic things like, planets, suns, nebulas and galaxies come into being? It makes me feel, not insignificant as I've heard others describe it, but yearning. Longing to meet such a God that has such powers of beauty and awe at his fingertips! What a fabulous thing to have created! And I get to see it! And so do you, if you care to, that is. So look up that night and think of the Supreme Being in all his mighty heavens, and marvel at those things. I'll be right there looking, too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Dreary Weather?

We had been in a stretch of rainy, no-so-warm-but-not-cold either weather. It didn't feel conducive to going outside and being energetic in ANY way. But for days now, I have been reading and contemplating and I need to get out and move. I decided to de-clutter the back deck, clean up the leaves, remove the dying and spindly annuals that will no longer bloom, in short get ready for the fall and winter weather. I felt ambitious even though I would likely get rained on any minute. But I was determined.

And it occurred to me, as I was sweeping and straightening, that the church could use this kind of house cleaning as well. We can become complacent in our worship and lazy in our work. Can you
see it and hear it in the way we are approach things? We can become focused on the bottom line, the financial strain of the summer, the fact that the 20% do the lion's share of the work. If we stop and think for a minute, though, we become aware of the things God has given us. Eyes to see those in need, ears to hear the cries of the forgotten and lonely, and hearts--ah, hearts, the greatest of God's gifts to us. Our hearts are filled with the wondrous joy of this marvelous creation! Our hearts overflow with compassion when we see those in need. And the joy of coming together as a community in faith, well, that's just down right priceless! So let's blow away the cobwebs of fear and selfishness. Let's wash the windows of our souls and let God's love shine through so that others can see what we have to be so happy about. And let's really, really get ready for the coming months!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Your Gut Reaction

I heard a song over the airwaves yesterday evening. It was sad, melodic and I hadn't heard it in a very, very long time. I knew the song and it had sweet significance for me. My father died many years ago of cancer and this song reminded me of our conversations about music and things we loved in the dark watches of the night before he passed away. He was brought back to me for just that little while so strongly, it was almost breath taking.

Have you experienced this? This breath grabbing feeling? Most of us have at least once experienced it. It could be anything from the first time you see your child do something daring to riding a roller coaster just before you plunge down after the highest peak. Have you ever felt this with your faith? Something so important or grace-filled that it takes your breath away? What happened? And do you still remember it?

Breath taking moments in faith don't come along every day, I would venture to guess. Most of the time we walk along our everyday lives without too conscious thought of God or what He has done in our lives. But if you take a walk outside and see the myriads of birds or the hundreds of flowers or even see the tiny little fish swimming in the local watering hole, it's pretty amazing! And if you also take a moment or two to see the diversity of people walking around; no two look the same, even identical twins! And no two personalities are the same. What marvelous works the Lord has done!

Take some time today to ponder the multitude of blessings and diversity which surround us, no matter the weather. No matter where you are. Give yourself a breathtaking moment in time. Just for today.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Time for Reflection

I am in a unique position this week. I'm not in my usual routine. I am on vacation, in a sunny, warm and removed place. When on vacation, I try to bring along good reading material, you know, something fun and able to take me out of the ordinary. Someone suggested I read the book, Accidental Saints and I have to say, this so far is a great experience! It's not a novel or romance or thriller. It is a series of short conversations between this woman who is a Lutheran pastor in Denver and the reader. How can you, the reader, have a conversation with the writer of a book? Well, for me, it happens all the time. In my head I agree or disagree with whatever the writer is "saying" at any given moment in a book. And this author, Nadia Bolz-Weber, is definitely speaking to me in her essays. I see myself in her Saints and Sinners analogies and can even envision responding the way she does in certain situations. Oh, man! I can relate so well to what she says, how she reacts and even her inner dialogs with herself.

She is helping me to be a more aware Christian. Aware that God uses us no matter who we are and what we bring to the community of faith. That sometimes our reluctance is as much a part of our gift to others as our enthusiams. That our snarky comments are a part of the fabric of faith as much as our hymns of praise. Because Jesus recruited everyone to the feast, no matter who they were and it wasn't just a fluke. Everyone gets an invitation, and you don't get to make up the guest list. But you do get to show up because YOU were invited, too.

I needed to read this lady, I needed to hear her voice. And I need to come back from vacation with a renewed sense of self. Thanks, Dawn, for your suggestion of this book!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Smoke in The Night

The other night as I sat reading in bed, I began to smell smoke. It wasn't close or anything (like in my house!), but it was near. My husband, who is retired and on alert for things in the neighborhood went out to investigate. There was apparently a house fire a couple of streets over. Because it was dark, we couldn't see exactly whose house it was or even the amount of damage. And in the morning, the front facade of the house didn't even look damaged. But the fire trucks in front of the house the evening before testified to the event for sure.

A few weeks ago a fierce storm whipped through the neighborhood. It uprooted a few large trees into people's houses. They are just now clearing away the huge stumps left over. And the houses have blue tarps on their roofs and some have bricks in the yard from the chimney that collapsed when the tree hit it. Again the front of the houses looked undamaged, until you saw the brilliant blue on the roof.

Life is full of uncertainties. If ever there was a cliche to write, that is it. But just because it's been said hundreds of times before, does not mean it isn't true. Each day brings new experiences. Some of them are almost exactly like the day before and the day before that. But sometimes they are larger, more catastrophic and even scary. I have heard people attribute these happenings to God. And it makes me angry. I don't believe that God wiggles his pinkie finger and causes the trees to topple in storms. Or he blinks his eyes and causes those horrendous floods like the ones which happened recently in West Virginia. Why would a God who has loved us through time, make something like that happen to his beloved creations? But neither do I believe that God just sits and watches as we struggle through whatever adversity comes our way.

I have been taught, and learned through experience, that God is with us at all times and in all places. From the falling of the Twin Towers to the scraped knee of a kid learning to ride a bike. In ALL times and at ALL places. If you read the Bible you will see his presence with us, not preventing things from happening, but standing with us when those things happened. For a society that prides itself on "doing it myself", this may be uncomfortable. But while in the midst of a crisis, nothing is more comforting than knowing there is someone there to lean on, to listen to you, to comfort you. Our front "facades"; those faces the world sees can hide our pain, our discouragement and our fear. But the God of my faith is standing right next to you and me, just waiting for a chance to put a tarp over our roofs and help us through whatever we are feeling. But there is a catch of sorts. You have to let him in. Our God doesn't tramp his way into your troubles uninvited. That free will thing is kind of a bummer. But true nonetheless. Opening your heart to God is like opening the windows on a new Spring morning. The fresh breeze of his love for you will come in and comfort and abide. But you have to be willing to open the window to get it.

The neighborhood where I live is really no different, or maybe that different from yours. Things happen everyday. But the God of our faith is there with us in the midst. With us. Emmanuel. I pray that you will feel his presence with you.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Missed Chances, or Not

I've been somewhat remiss in posting lately. I started to feel guilty about that, but then stopped myself. I write this blog for those who wish to visit our site and see for themselves what we do and who we are. And who we are includes all of God's people, the industrious and the not so much.

I teach an adult Sunday School class throughout the year (yes, even during the summer) and one thing I encounter are people who have attended the class either once or more than a few times, who feel they have to explain why they haven't been there. I try to stop them before they get too far along in their explanations about busy lives and hard to get up on Sunday mornings and whatevers. I don't take attendance in class. I want to see people when they come to class because they have the time THAT day at THAT hour. My class does not build one upon another. We try to have discussions on whatever the Gospel lesson is that week. Sometimes we deal with a topic or even a short book, but the class is never one to be so structured that if you miss one, you're lost for the next however many weeks. I'm not boasting about the class, I'm explaining the way it works. And really isn't that the way it works in our faith life as well? Most time we have the "faith time" built into our schedules. Maybe it's the ritual of Sunday morning worship. Maybe it's the beginning of the day, pausing to pray for the day. Maybe it's at the end of the day. Even if only to say, "Thank God today is over!" Our faith life fluctuates as our life does. What worked for you in elementary school, usually changes by the time you reach high school. What you had time for in high school is pushed to the back burners in young adulthood. Each stage of our lives brings about different understandings and rhythms of our faith. I don't think God keeps an attendance book either. If he did, my attendance would have been practically non-existent in my young adult years. But I don't believe he holds that against me. The God I know and love understands life changes and faith growth. And he waits for us with open arms whenever we have the time and chance to come and talk to him and listen for his wisdom.

So no, I don't feel guilty about not posting recently. And I hope if you are visiting here or on the website in general you will come to see us at St. Marks Lutheran Church. We're always looking for those who are looking for answers or asking questions. Even if we don't write about them every week.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Those Little Voices of the Night

I'm writing this post at 3:30 am. In the morning.  In the "dark watches of the night." I'm not sick. I'm not sleeping either. This is where I'm most vulnerable. At night. In the dark. Where the worries and problems of the day or even weeks can make me sit in front of the computer and play solitaire until I can't see straight anymore. I often feel this is a failing in my faith--this anxiety--not being able to sleep. If I believed, I tell myself, I wouldn't be worried about paying bills or how my son is doing across the country or even how my daughter is within the same state. Remember that symbolism about the "faith like a mustard seed"? It's in Matthew, Chapter 17, verse 20: He replied, "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Yeah, I think. I'm supposed to have that kind of faith. So where is it?

This is where the idea of faith takes hold I think. Because when it seems hardest to believe, when you know you aren't in charge, when you have nothing else to grab onto, faith gives you something intangible. Grappling with questions of why the world is this way, how could people be so insensitive, and where are we headed; we humanly, cannot answer those by ourselves. Of course, God isn't booming out the universal answers either to my most anxious of problems--at least in my experience. And I've listened with my hearing aids up full blast. Honest. But I know God is near. I just know it. I can't prove it, or point my finger at something to look at. The Holy Spirit is with me. If I could just trust that. And that is the crux of the problem at 3:30 am. Trusting that the Holy Spirit is with me, not solving the problems, necessarily. Not erasing the anxiety. But sitting next to me, rubbing my shoulders, lending me strength, if I would stop fighting it. I'm not there yet, that's all. The brain is beating away to the staccato rhythm of this, that and the other thing. And until I believe in the Father's healing touch, and truly trust that the Advocate (Holy Spirit) is with me, I'm bringing up another round of solitaire and waiting for the sleep to kick in.Trying to fix the problems, trying to beat back the worry, and trying to believe in the strength of the seed. It will be another long night.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Optimistic Magic

So apparently, this weekend on TV, on one of the channels, they are running the Harry Potter movies. I am assuming in sequence as they don't really make sense out of order too much. I'm a fan of Harry Potter, both the books and the movies. I've always loved stories with magic and happy endings. Some people tried for a while to say one of two things about the series. Those who didn't like them, well, some of them said they were the work of Satan, drawing people away from the Bible. Then there were the people who felt as though the stories were a metaphor for Jesus, you know, saving the world through love. Me? I thought they were terrific stories without a hidden agenda.

And I guess I liked Ms. Rowling's underlying message. Good is better than evil. Love conquers hate. The good guys, though bloodied and bowed, win in the end. Of course, in the real world we all live in, that is not necessarily so. We've seen bad guys win, haven't we? We've seen good men and women get some pretty raw deals, too. Life is not always fair, like in the movies.

We talked about that sort of, in the adult Sunday school class today. That weighing of good versus bad. And it sort of came to the Harry Potter conclusion, that love wins over all. God's love is above all things. We make crappy choices and complain and whine about life, yet God is right there listening and waiting for us to realize His support and love for us. We don't have to do anything to make Him love us. We actually can't. I mean it's nice when we pet dogs as opposed to kicking them, but God's love requirement is not earned. Because technically, we can never be good enough. He just loves us, period. If there is more optimistic magic than that, I don't know what it would be. I don't even own a wand, but apparently, I don't need one. What a relief!

Monday, February 29, 2016

These 40 days

Because we are in the season of Lent, and it lasts 40 days, not counting Sundays, I figured I would write about the general purpose of Lent. But something stopped me from doing that. I heard the term Lenten journey just one too many times in the past week and it is sort of bothering me. So I'll let you know what I'm thinking regarding that instead.

People who have experienced the season of Lent for a bunch of years, perhaps look at it as something that has to be done. Like taking castor oil as a child. It tastes awful going down, but "it's so good for you!" mothers everywhere used to exclaim. I have heard some folks talk about this time of reflection as akin to knowing they have to do something to show they are devoted to God, but Lent just seems to last forever (I saw a movie once, where a kid enunciated every syllable of that word, FOR EV ER, stringing it out for a couple of extra beats). That's how some people see Lent. When they refer to their "Lenten Journey" it is almost like they have chosen to walk with a pebble in their shoe to show how devoted and holy they are with a sore foot.

I'm kind of tired about these analogies. To me Lent is a time to hear about how definitively Jesus shows himself to the world. How he proclaims the good news over and over again, to lame, beggars, blind, poor and misbegotten individuals. It reaffirms that goodness of God's Son in so many ways its almost impossible to enumerate them. If you feel that Lent is such a burden and such a trial, then well, cut it out! Stop that moaning and rending of garments. No one is going to come to God watching you weep, wail and gnash your teeth. And that is the whole point of being a Christian, really. Bringing people to God. Showing love and mercy because of the love and mercy showered upon you by God. Again and again in our adult Sunday School class we have discussed how you cannot talk your faith into someone. They need to see you live it. Breathe it. Act upon it. Not just on Sundays but always, everyday.

Although we have buried our Alleluias until Easter, Lent is a time to realize that those joyful shouts are still within our hearts. Our enthusiasm and overflowing love is just waiting to be tapped. You don't have to be a mournful, depressed sinner. You can be a sinner who is confident in their redemption based on the loving God of the universe. So let's lighten up, okay?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful...

Here we are in the Blizzard of '16, housebound, stating at the television if you're lucky enough to have power. Church has been cancelled tomorrow. It's too dangerous to be out there driving around. And God is aware of the situation, trust me. So I was just thinking why don't we ponder what the gospel lesson is about tomorrow and chew on that for a while as opposed to going crazy staring at the four walls?

So the reading from the gospel is Luke, chapter 4, verses 14-21. Jesus is beginning his ministry. He was baptized by John, went into the wilderness for 40 days and, in these verses we are told he has been filled with the Holy Spirit. So he comes to his hometown of Nazareth, attends synagogue and as a courtesy, since he is becoming well known for his teaching, they let him read for the scrolls. He reads from Isaiah, the following,
 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

Everyone is waiting to hear what Jesus will say next, how he will explain the text to them (that is, after all, what rabbis or teachers do--they explain and answer questions about the text). And what does Jesus say? He says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Picture the people of Nazareth, the people who have seen Jesus growing up with their children, saw him working in Joseph's shop. Seems a bit presumptuous--this statement. The people who knew him when he skinned his knee, wiped his nose with his sleeve, hammered his thumb, they are supposed to believe what he is telling them? He is announcing who he is, right there.

And we, 2000 and some years later, we're supposed to believe, too? Are we not? Do we really believe, though? We say we believe this man was among us and he was our Savior. But what happens when we skin our knees? When we are angry at the job, our spouse, the world, God? Do we still believe then? Jesus is still proclaiming the good news to us, even all these years later, telling us we can trust him no matter our circumstances. He promises to help, to give, to love us wherever we are and no matter what we do, if we come to him, he will takes us in.

It was not presumptuous for him to proclaim those things, it is imperative that we hear him and believe. Because nothing is the same after we do.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Epiphany is one of those words...

I don't know if you have noticed it or not, but the church always seems to have words that stick out. They aren't used anywhere else. Words like: narthex, sacristy, vestments. But the curious thing is that the "church" also has words that are used in other places: baptism (by fire usually), blessing (or a curse) and epiphany. The word epiphany means:  a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurrence. This is the season of Epiphany, when we come to understand that Jesus came and surprised us all by saving us from sin. The most famous story of the season is the one where the Wise Men come from the East to offer the baby, gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is symbolic that three guys from out of the area came to see the "King of the Jews" and they themselves were not Jewish. That is kind of what Epiphany emphasizes. You don't have to be Jewish to see Jesus as Savior of the world. 

I was reminded of something today which I wanted to share. It has to do with a house blessing, writing the following in chalk over the door post. It's a way to celebrate this becoming aware of the gift of the Messiah. It goes like this:

20 + C+M+B+16

The letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the customary names of the three Magi:  Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. They also abbreviate the Latin words, "Christus Mansionem Benedicat" which translates to "May Christ bless this house". The year is divided before and after these letters with the plus signs (small crosses) representing the protection of Christ on the dwelling.

Happy Epiphany! And I wish for you an intuitive and sudden understanding of the miracle of Jesus coming to us!