Tuesday, December 26, 2006


We gather together this Sunday on the morning of New Year's Eve.

Many of us take a moment or more at the turn of the year to reflect on the year past and to project hopes on the year to come.

As Christians, we enter into these reflections in the aftermath of the joyous celebration of the birth of Jesus.

My question is this: What is our response to that gift of grace embodied in the birth of the infant Jesus and realized in his resurrection? What gifts can we share as our response to God's gift of grace to us?

Our scriptures this week offer some suggestions.

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
that there is a time and place for everything and our response is to find joy in all things -- all things. Given the litany of things there is a time and place for, though, this is a bit of a challenge for me.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus
provides a description of discipleship: feed the hungry, provide drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned.

Often with New Year's resolutions, we set goals for ourselves that are hopeful but not necessarily realistic. However, we each have gifts that we can draw from as our response to the gift of grace we experienced in the arrival of Jesus. Realistically, what gifts can you resolve to share in the coming year as a response to God's gift of grace?

Monday, December 18, 2006

a nativity

The father of a dear friend helped install this nativity scene at his United Methodist Church in Claremont, CA.

Christ's birth may not be what we expect.

peace on earth

Ok...so a lot of things make me think of U2 songs: reading Mary's story, and her daring song of celebration in Luke's gospel strikes me as more than a bit like "Peace on Earth":

Jesus, in the song you wrote/the words are stick in my throat: Peace on Earth.
We hear it every Christmas time/but hope and history won't rhyme, so what's it worth: Peace on earth.

Her song is a wild promise--so complete that it may seem like pure fantasy. God's promise has been fulfilled.

And yet...

Mary dares to sing a song of celebration. She sings about the work already DONE in God--even as she's just pregnant with Jesus. An unwed mother, destined to be talked about by others, who's gonna have to lay in a manger after he's born, because there won't be any room in the inn--she sings about the work already DONE. (Past tense!)

I wonder what amazing sings of God's reality are all around us--promise as wild as incarnation--but unnoticed or not believed by the rest of us.

I wanna sing like Mary.

And then I wanna live like it's true.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

john the baptist's guide to christmas preparations

Surprisingly, there's nothing about trimming the tree or baking gingerbread in John the Baptist's advice about how to prepare for Christ's coming.

(There is some talk about an ax cutting a tree, but I think he's talking about something else...)

The juxtapositioning of wild, prophetic, going-to-be-beheaded John the Baptist and our sweet Christmas traditions seems downright twisted.

Of course, technically, this was already many years after that first Christmas when he gives the advice in today's scripture, since it's an adult John who talks here, and we know that he and Jesus were both in their mothers' wombs at the same time. Time complicates things...

NONETHELESS, we talk about John B as we get ready for Christmas. And, helpfully, he has some advice about how to get ready. (I wonder if Martha Stewart ever feels indebted to John for pioneering this field?)

He says some pretty smart things, things that may really, literally, help us. Even today:

If you have 2 coats, give one of them to someone who needs one.

Don't cheat other people, by taking more than is fair.

This is good stuff. He seems to be imagining a more-fair, more beautiful world.

His advice would lead us to live in a world very unlike the one the Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah, describes. There, things are so bad that God has to turn everything over--making the "lame and outcast" into the most powerful and celebrated.

I invite you to think about what that would look like today--who are the most outcast in our midst, or in our world? And what would it look like for them to be lifted up, exalted, celebrated?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Waiting or preparing?

Advent is often described as a time of waiting for the arrival of Christ in the manger on Christmas Eve, celebrated each year in Christ's Mass -- Christmas.

Last week on the first Sunday in Advent, we were told of signs of something yet to come, signs of something spectacular, signs of the bold presence of God among us.

Every second Sunday in Advent, like a crazy uncle (sorry, Mom) come early for the holidays, we get John the Baptist,
wild-eyed and intent on delivering the word of God that has come to him in the wilderness.

John tells us to prepare the way for the Lord. He even offers a few helpful tips: repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. He foretells of the one who will come to baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit.

But what is our response to that grace? How do we prepare ourselves not just for the arrival of Christ at Christmas but for the presence of Emmanuel -- God among us -- every day?

We'll also hear from the prophet Malachi and we may even spend some time with the prophetic song of Zechariah.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

the signs are everywhere

Our scripture passages are telling it to us, loud and clear: it's time to get ready. The signs are all around us, that it's just about time.

Trick is, the signs that the scripture are talking about don't have much to do with making sure our presents are all purchased (wrapped, and, if necessary, mailed...) They're actually not at all like the signs that invite us to buy more, for cheaper.

Instead, these are signs of the inbreaking of God's spirit--which is getting ready to come into the world as a little bitty baby.

Jeremiah and Jesus, in Luke both tell us to get ready, to be on guard, and to notice the signs around us.

Which brings me to the question Karen and I want to pose for us all, this year, during Advent:
where do you see signs of God's light, of the (subtle?) inbreaking of God's world, this year?

Monday, November 20, 2006

get in on the action

Since I'm not preaching at Water's Edge this week, I thought I'd use a post to shamelessly recruit for our church's "big mission project." (Shameless because I share it with the joy of the Lord...)

We've been talking a long time about doing a "big" project, to be in ministry with people living in poverty in San Diego.

Now, we have some basic values, some priorities that come of our a bunch of interviews our church folk did with folks in Mid-City San Diego, and some next steps.

You can take those next steps.

We're looking for people who will volunteer during the rest of this school year for 3 things (but, especially, the first):
1--volunteer in a school in Mid-City, helping with an existing program. This could be as easy as reading with a 3rd grade student who is behind in reading level. There are volunteer options for a variety of interests and skill levels.
2--help us shape longer-term plans and do research and planning

If you're willing to jump on-board, or just want to know more, visit the church website for the project. (And you can see a stunning quicktime movie about the project, starring some of our Water's Edge own!

Monday, November 13, 2006

giving birth to something new?

My first reaction, as I turned to this week's scripture was: "Oh geez. Another good story--but why do all these stories end with women giving birth, as if that's the end-all, be-all?"

Last week, it was Naomi (through Ruth's childbearing) being restored to motherhood.

This week, it's Hannah, finally bearing a child, after all those years of suffering in childlessness, comparing herself to the other wife: the fertile but less-loved Peninnah. Despite her husband's assurances that she's loved abundantly, she prays so fervently for a child that the PRIEST thinks she's drunk or crazy. God hears her prayer, and "opens her womb."

And Samuel is born.

I admire her faithfulness, and her determination. Her willingness to look like a fool, for the sake of seeking after God's blessing.

I just wonder why God's blessing so often is portrayed in the shape of a child. I've known plenty of women (and men, for that matter) who have lived faithful and inspirational lives, without ever having given birth...

Then, I turned to the Gospel lesson. And her, the birthing is metaphorical. And big-time. In Mark, we experience birth pangs--not from the birth of a little child, but from the birth of God's new creation.

Oddly, this is reassuring to me: perhaps all this talk of giving birth is about much, much more than little babies. Perhaps this talk is again reminding us that we are all suitable for the work of bringing God's creation into the world.

Just last week, I was chatting with a father before Water's Edge. We were talking about one of his kids. And delighting in her personality, intelligence, and thoughtful concern. "I've never though of my kids as 'my' kids," he said. He said it's more like they are these strange creatures of God who he's given responsbility to take care of, for a time. And it's incredible to watch them.

Perhaps our scripture records so many stories of God working to fulfill us, in stories of women giving birth, because they help us know something about the wonder of God's work: it begins in our care, but grows and far beyond our reach.

Monday, November 06, 2006

figuring out who to learn from

As we watched "Invisible Children" at our movie night on Saturday, I was moved by the gratitude of children living in the midst of human atrocity in northern Uganda. At night, when these children walk into the city to sleep in crowded, makeshift shelter so they won't be abducted by the LRA rebel army, they often sing praises.

Sing praises?

I think about our own singing. Sometimes we catch the spirit, but it doesn't much compare to the joy of the songs and dances I saw children in Uganda share in, in this film.

Maybe we need to learn something from their joy and gratitude.

Then, I read this week's scriptures.

In the end of Ruth's story Ruth's story, we see how Ruth, a widow who chooses to become a foreigner to remain in community with her mother-in-law, makes possible Naomi's restoration. (We're not going to read all those verses in worship, so you'll want to see what's all in there so it makes sense when we skip some...)

Then, in Mark's gospel, we get the story of a widow who showed-up the scribes in her faithful giving. Though she had just "two small copper coins, which are worth a penny," she puts in everything she has. She gives her whole self.

Just like Ruth, I think--two widows who give their whole selves for the sake of faithful living.

I wonder what it would look like for us to give our "whole selves"?


And, while you're meditating on that, I want to remind you that we're looking for folks who want to help with worship during Advent. On these four Sundays in December, we get ready for Christ's birth. If you have gifts or passions for decorating and designing spaces, for creating videos, for writing prayers, please let Karen or me know--we would love to have you be a part of our worship planning.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Getting closer

By the end of last week, I came to believe that "restoration," for both Job and Bartimaeus, has more to do with being reconciled with a community than it has to do with gaining wealth, children, or even vision.

And this week, it seems like our Bible stories just keep luring us to draw even more closely together.

First, Ruth's story begins with tremendous grief (and you thought things would get better when we finished Job's story!). Right on the heels of grief, though, is a bold choice: Ruth chooses to cling to her mother-in-law, and to return with her (Naomi) to Naomi's homeland, a foreign place for Ruth. Now, choosing belonging to mothers-in-law may sound odd in our own culture, but Ruth's choice was daring for even more reasons. Somehow, though, God lures her to take up this solidarity. And we know the end of the story: Ruth enables Naomi to become a mother again, and one of her descendents will be Jesus.

Then, Jesus reminds us of the greatest of all the commandments: to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love neighbors as ourselves. The closeness comes not only in loving neighbors as ourselves, but in how close this work brings us to God's kingdom.

This is good stuff: after all those weeks when the disciples kept getting it wrong, we finally get a glimpse of what would be right (or close-to-right, which may now count in horseshoes, hand grenades, and God's kingdom-building...). It's in loving others.

And I suspect that when he says "neighbors," Jesus means to direct us to love others who may be more difficult for us to love.

(Maybe even as difficult to love as that creepy guy who seems to lead the "Others" on Lost... I digress.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Film Series--films for thought

Join us on Saturdays in November for a series of 3 thought-and-dialogue-provoking films. We'll watch them the first 3 Saturdays in November, at 6:30 p.m. in the Cove. All are welcome, and it's FREE.

Nov. 4--Invisible Children
discover the atrocity in Northern Uganda through the eyes of 3 young SoCal filmmakers

Nov. 11--Gunner Palace
a view of the war in Iraq, told through the voices of soldiers stationed in a former palace
(my husband, Matt, who was stationed breifly at the Palace where this film is set during his year in Iraq, promises to come for this one...)

Nov. 18--Wal-Mart: the high cost of low price
a look at the deeper costs of Wal-Mart’s policies, and an invitation to look at what we value most

We hope you'll join us as we let these films raise questions for our discussion.

See you there?

happy ending?

This week we get to the end of Job's story (literally, even--he dies, old and "full of days").

Here's a link to Job 42

At first read, it looks like a happy ending.

But there are still some questions--
like that it's not entirely satisfying that he suffered so much at all, or that God would allow us to be used in a contest with Satan;
and that it feels odd he had to "repent" before receiving his blessings, when he hadn't really deserved the suffering that raised his questions;
and that, even though he got new riches and new kids, God certainly didn't undo the depth of grief he went through. As Karen keeps reminding me when we talk of Job, the kids in the "happy ending" weren't the same kids.

The Gospel lesson this week provides similar challenge, especially as we seek to be a community that is truly inclusive of people living with disabilities: we read of and celebrate Bartimaeus's healing from blindness, but resist believing that blind people need to be healed to be whole.

You can read Mark 10:46-52

Perhaps the "happy ending" we seek is much harder to describe and to envision.

My own experience is that good endings in the stories of my friends' lives are seldom tidy. New love kindled out of grief does not erase grief. New joy in a child's birth does not undo the pain of a long struggle for fertility.

Instead, new restoration invites us to a place we've never been before, to a new possibility and hope lived out not in getting back to what we knew before (in the "good old days"), but in moving forward to new possibilities.

Monday, October 16, 2006


We continue to follow Job's story this week. And now, after having seen this "deal" between God and Satan, the suffering of Job, the inadequacy of his friends' answers, and Job's big questions, we finally get God's answers. And it puts everything in a whole new perspective.

Makes me think of that Far Side cartoon where two bugs sit back (on a blade of grass or mushroom or something), look up at the stars, and muse about how the night sky makes them feel small...

God is so much bigger than we are--it's mindblowing to even begin to imagine God's own perspective.

Our reading this week is Job 38:1-7, 34-41. Plus, to deepen the conversation, Mark 10:35-45.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

a bigger picture of God

Last week, our scripture in worship let us in on the tragic part of Job's story: he loses everything he has (children and property), and even his own health. All this is organized as a sort of a test--to show Satan that Job is more faithful that he belives possible.

We become aware of at least one time that the suffering experienced in a lifetime is not necessarily a result of the sin of that person.

This week, we hear Job asking demanding questions of God. His friends have given him unsatisfactory explanations for his suffering. He has questions for God that he longs to have answered.

The view he has of God--certainly the view of God shared by his friends--isn't big enough for his experience of life.

I think this is how we so often grow in faith, too--the things we thought we believed become unsatisfactory answers, and we're pushed to deepen our relationships with God.

And the beautiful part, as I see it, is that God is way, way deeper (and more complex) than any of the explanations we know how to offer.

Our questions take us into that depth.

They do not disqualify us from the community of those trying to be faithful.

Have questions you asked to God deepened your own relationship with God?

Monday, October 02, 2006

homework, suffering and Job

For the next four weeks, we're going to be using pieces of the book of Job in worship. I invite you (here's the homework) to read the whole book.

The book wrestles with questions like why bad things happen to good people. But it all starts from the perspective of a story, Job's story.

So check it out. There'll be a lot to talk about...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

christian unity? (or, what if they do it without us!)

Our scripture for Sunday is from Mark 9:38-50. It starts with the disciples sounding (I think) a lot like kids who want to have exclusive control of Jesus' brand of coolness.

"Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us..." they say.

I feel a bit that way sometimes. I think my way to God is pretty good, and that others should follow it.

Or, on worse days, I think that I've worked hard to get to this place, and other people should have to go through the same stuff. They should FOLLOW me. (I had a college instructor like that once--it felt like she had suffered to get her PhD, and thought that we should suffer, too...)

Jesus is more expansive. He says that if folks aren't actively against us, they're as good as for us.

On our team. (And they may not have to follow US to get to God!)

It's been a while since I felt like I was really "on the same team" as all other Christians.

I wonder what that would look like today?

Monday, September 18, 2006


Other than being the street on which Mr. Burns lives in the Simpsons, I've been intrigued today in exploring what "mammon" means for us.

As in "serving God or serving Mammon."

This Sunday is "open minds" Sunday, which I take to mean I can follow all sorts of nerdy searches into finding out what this might mean.

Wikipedia had all sorts of interesting things to say.

I'm struggling with this distinction James makes--between "earthly" things and things that are "from above."

I think James reminds us of an important reality: this life of faithfulness requires constant, vigilant attention to the "reality" we're living in. Do we get caught up in seeing things the way that is MERELY earthly--that is, that ignores the divine presence in creation? Are we able to connect all that we see and know to our knowledge of God?

My problem is that it's far too easy to think that earth=bad and spiritual=good. I treasure the earth, and delight in many earthly things. (Just yesterday, the way the daisies I had so rudely transplated, and in so doing subjected them to searing heat, bounced back to life amazed and delighted me.)

I see God's presence in those daisies. And in many other places. I'm trying to see God's presence even in difficult/ugly places.

If earth=bad and spiritual=good, how does that all work?

One way we've avoided this dilemma is by personifying "earthiness" as "mammon." Sometimes become a devil-like character, mammon is a force of temptation to all sorts of greediness and worldliness.

(Turns out that underdog geeks used this image/word to describe Microsoft's empire... But that must have been before the Gateses got named Time Magazing People of the Year. With Bono.)

Unhappy with easy answers, I don't like this simplification, either.

It's not a case of choosing, once, between the two. I think we have to make this choice everyday.

The big question, I think, is:
Will I see the world only as a limited resource, to be owned or used for my personal gain? Or will I see the world as God's creation, to be enjoyed and shared?

The difficult questions are how I'm going to live differently to show that I've chosen the second answer.

I was talking the other day with a friend who had a profound encounter, in which she felt confirmed in her commitment to care about people who are poor and in need. She really wants to change her life and the world. But then, when she was shopping with another friend, she still wanted to buy all those fun things...


(And I'm still letting my mind spin as I imagine commentary can be made from the fact that MTV--producers of the "real" world--is now making an online virtual reality, "set" in Orange County.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

poverty and riches

This week, our text is from James, chapter 2.

It's a challenge to us--a reminder that we shouldn't welcome rich people and be less-than-welcoming to poor people.

This is work enough for the church.

Just this past week, I had a conversation with someone, who would not count herself as part of the church. And is reticent to join--mostly because it looks like church people are all perfect. (And, really, probably not that much fun to be with.)

Her description made me think of church membership as being like the "No Cavity Club" that my dentist had when I was a kid. If you could go the whole year, between check-ups, with no new cavities, he'd take your picture (with a Polaroid camera), and post it on the bulletin board. And you got a treat. (Not candy, of course...)

I think church often looks like the No Cavity Club--folks who have it together, who dress nicely, and who are probably rich.

In James, it's different.

And it also continues. "Is it not the rich who oppress you?"

More than just welcoming poor people, we are called to identify with them, and to seek out answers to poverty.

May it be so.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

house rules

This Sunday will be our "Open House" Sunday. It's the start of a fall series of Sundays, on our "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" theme. It's a good time to come to church, and a good time to bring friends...


This past weekend, I was up in Julian again, working on my husband's family's house, which we're rebuilding post-Cedar Fire. It was hot. When Matt handed me an ice-cold glass of Gatorade, a proverb I learned in west Africa welled up in me. (I got used to saying it there, when people would offer cold water. It was hot a lot...) The translation of the Proverb is "Cold water knows the place of the heart."

Proverbs are fun, and a bit funny; knowing how to speak this proverb in Zarma won me quick affection from Nigeriens who were impressed. I love trying to learn at least one useful Proverb when I travel--it makes me look much smarter and aware than I am.

When you can speak in the proverbs of a culture, you know more than the surface of its language--you know something of it's values.

And, in both Niger and Julian, cold water (or Gatorade...) can be a true gift.

This Sunday, we'll share a piece of scripture from the book of Proverbs, chapter 22. Short, easy sayings, embedded with all kinds of insight into the values of their speakers.

Proverbs seems so familar that they lose their literal meaning. (After all, who knows what a "bird in the hand" is worth, and how in the world would you compare it with "two in the bush"? I have no idea what I'd do if I had a bird in my hand...)

I wonder what proverbs (biblical or otherwise) you know? Do you have a favorite? (Postings encouraged!!!!) What do you think these Proverbs say about us?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

why did we let nike get that copyright?

Just do it.

Not that I want to get caught in the trap of thinking that I have to achieve lots to be a good Christian; I just don't want to think I've ever quite gotten there. Or--the horror!--that I can just sit back and "be" a Christian.

James 1:22-24 is clearer: "But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like."

We've got to act out our faith. Do things differently because of it. Continue to be a part of the world--maybe invite the world to do things differently because of our faith...

And, this week, the words of Psalm 72 are echoing around in my head. (Maybe it's 'cause I'm working on a video for worship...) They remind me, again and again, that God isn't about the fancy sitting-back, but about the work of lifting-up of those who have fallen, about caring for the poor, about comforting those who are in pain.

James says that this is pure religion. This, and keeping "oneself unstained by the world."

"Stained" can be such a loaded word. I wonder what James meant. What do you think it is that "stains" us? Cynicism? Hopelessness? Materialism?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

real food

I think about eating a lot. Maybe it's because food can be so good...

This week, Jesus keeps talking about food, inviting us to "eat" of him: "For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink."

I guess it makes me glad that I get to read this knowing about our sacrament of Holy Communion--"eating" and "drinking" Jesus' flesh and blood sounds a lot more, well, beautiful when it's in the form of Communion.

I wonder how I would hear this invitation, if I didn't treasure Holy Communion. These words are jarring. Scary. Bizarre. Almost vampirical. (Is that a word?) Eating flesh, drinking blood...

From another view, though, they remind us again that our God is about the work of sustaining us--nourishing us. Throughout our biblical tradition, God is providing food and drink for the journey of life. Whether it was mysteriously providing this nourishment on Moses' journey through the wilderness, or in a prophetic vision of the ideal world where everyone enjoys the fruits of their labor, God is manifest in food and drink.

Jesus is no less.

True God--in all the mystery "God" entails, and also real sustenance for our lives.

Check it out: John 6:51-58. And while you're at it, look at Ephesians 5:15-20 for some more advice on what to "feed" ourselves with...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

a genuine copy

When I spent a semester in Niger, as a senior in college, I studied as apprentice to a weaver. Amadou worked in the National Museum, weaving in traditional styles but making innovative items which the few tourists who found their way deep into West Africa might buy. (They sold tablecloths in traditional designs in a country where only foreign guests and people in restaurants eat at dinner tables...)

One of my favorite moments in our weaving area happened when a French woman living there in Niamey, Niger came to pick up the baby blanket she had commissioned Amadou to make.

"This isn't an African blanket!" she complained loudly. "This looks like a French blanket. It's the colors of Paris: black and red and white! I wanted an AFRICAN blanket. One that was green and gold and orange--the colors of the earth. This isn't African!"

To which Amadou replied, "Look. I didn't make this up. I just copied it. You can look for yourself in the exhibit over there--I just copied it."

My art-and-innovation-loving instincts were amused by an artisan who insisted he was just copying things.

This week, Paul calls us to copy--to imitate--God. And to see that we belong together.

I find this challenging--I want to be individual, independant, and special.

See what you think: Ephesians 4:25-5:2.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Jesus must have been on the Bazaar committee

OK, so I'm stuck on this food kick. It's not my fault: it's there in scripture. Two weeks ago, we were slaking our thirst with Jesus' water of life. Last week, 5 barley loaves and 2 fish were feeding 5,000+. This week, Jesus is bread. Good, tasty bread--after eating it, we will hunger no more. (John 6:24-35)

Which is party of what makes me think Jesus must have been on the annual Bazaar committee. We're talking the Bake Sale of all time...

AND, then, to take it further, Paul gives us knitting lessons. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

OK, so the passage is not about knitting potholders (useful though they be), but about the church--the BODY OF CHRIST--being "knit together" by all us people with our varied gifts.

Which is why I have an affection for church bazaars--they seem to have space for all of the strange and wonderful creative gifts folks have. (I did not, you'll note, call our gifts "bizarre," which has entirely different root origins that the "bazaar...")

I treasure that church is a place where we come together with folks who are different from ourselves--folks we'd likely never choose to hang out with. And, we're asked to knit ourselves into an image of Christ's body. We're asked to see Christ in each other, and to work together to share Christ with the world. Bizarre, indeed...

Today, reading the paper, I was reminded yet again of how desperately our culture needs to hear Christian voices that look more like our bizarre bazaar. Two things seems especially beautiful about this week's scripture: Jesus' bread seems to come with no risk that it'll run out--this is salvation abundant enough for everyone. And, this work we're called to will take all of us--so there's no sense wasting our time figuring out who is best or most right. Rather, we should let Christ build us up together.

What do you think that would look like?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Are you drinkin' what I'm pourin'?

I think this week's scripture passages ask us about what we've been feeding ourselves.

(Maybe I'm still just stuck with that image we used last Sunday, of Jesus at the well, needing water and offering the water of life... Or maybe food really matters to more people than just me...)

In any case, the food is obvious in John 6:1-21--Jesus takes the meager offerings of one little boy (five loaves and two fish) and uses it to feed a skeptical and hungry crowd. With abundance, I might add.

The food is a bit less obvious in Ephesians 3:14-21, unless you think like a tree--Paul prays that Christ will dwell in our hearts as we are being "rooted and grounded in love." Roots are a part of the eating-and-drinking work of plants. We're nourished in love, and that's how we get to embody Christ-ness.

The food is even more obscure in the Psalms, except that other Psalms tell us that God's wisdom is sweeter than honey: looking at the corruption of the world, God wonders if there are any who are wise enough to seek after God.

So my question is: what do you spend your time seeking after? (And is it good food--the kind that will allow Christ to dwell in your heart, and love to be shown to neighbors?)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

at the water, part 2 (after)

Thanks for coming to the water!

Monday, July 17, 2006

at the water

This week, we're going to worship AT THE WATER'S EDGE. In Mission Bay, at DeAnza Cove. Gather at 9:30 for songs; we'll worship at 10. We'll remember our baptisms, and share in holy communion. And picnic afterwards!

(Bring something to share and something to drink and plates to use; we'll have hot dogs.)

So my blog question of the week is: what is the most life-giving (fun, beautiful, treasured) memory you have of being in or near water?

Our scripture for the week will be Isaiah 55 and John 4:1-15.

difficult passages, part 2 (or, salome as hero)

Inspired by our worship yesterday (and, perhaps, by the heat), I've come up with a new option for interpreting the story of the death of John the Baptist. (My thanks to Karen and Marty for pushing me this way during talk-back time.)

What if Salome is using her request as a subversive way to expose and embarrass her mother and Herod?

Sure, Herodias (the mother) wanted JohnB dead, but surely she didn't want his severed head to appear at the party. That's over-the-top.

Mark doesn't tell us what happens to the party after the head is presented. It only says that Herodias asked her daughter to request JohnB's head, and that her daughter asked Herod for JohnB's head "on a platter." Then, they go immediately kill him, and present the head to the daughter, who gives it to her mother.

Perhaps Herodias was hoping she could carry out this vengeful plot of stage. But her daughter (who we call Salome, thanks to the historian, Josephus's record) forces it on-stage. She says, "Fine. Have your vengeance. But it's gonna be in your face, and in front of your friends."

I wonder what this would have done--at the party--to the other guests. I mean, it's fine to play along, but then, as if all of a sudden, there are severed heads on platters. This party has gone too far, and this host is clearly sick.

And Herod was clearly worried about what other people thought--Mark tells us that the reason he went ahead with his daughter's request is that he had made the offer (to give her anything she wanted) in front of everyone, and he didn't want to fail on his oath. Perhaps he didn't really want to see the implications of his actions, either...

The image is just so jarring--a head on a platter.

(Martha would NOT say that this is a good thing.)

As I said, this option came to me on a very hot day, with no scholarly evidence, but I think it sounds exciting. (Subversion in the Gospels is almost always a good thing..)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

difficult passages

This week's gospel lesson, from Mark, is not the kind of story whose picture you'd hang in your living room or, certainly, your nursery.

Which is not to say it's the kind of story that no one make pictures of--lots of artists have been inspired by the story of the death of John the Baptist. King Herod's wife Herodias's daughter (who we've come to call Salome, thanks to details supplied by an early historian) dances for the King, and he's so pleased he offers her anything she wants. She asks for instruction from her mom, who tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. On a platter.

Now, I'm not sure if it's that I've grown accustomed to the image of crucifixion, and so it doesn't seem to unsettling, or what.... But this image of a severed head on a platter turns my stomach in much more visceral ways. Perhaps it seems too much like violence I've seen lately in Iraq. Perhaps it's because it's stems from a personal quest for revenge--Herodias remembered how John the Baptist had preached out against the morality of her marriage to Herod.

In any case, it's an uncomfortable text.

Made more so because it's one of the few (only?) stories of dancing women we get in the gospel. And I'm all for dancing. Specifically for women dancing. That it's not a disgraceful or immoral thing. We have bodies, and we can use and enjoy them in beautiful ways--even praise God with them.

The Psalm for this week is all-for dancing, too. (Well, okay, it doesn't SPECIFICALLY say "dancing," but it does use this image of the temple, which both lifts its head and has gates. I read it to be a metaphor that easily stands for our bodies. And I don't know how to lift up my head as a might gate without a little bit of dancing...)

So, I guess one of my questions for this week is: what divides the dances of the Psalm and Salome?

Check it out and see what you think. (Psalm 24 and Mark 6:14-29)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

strength and weakness

In this week's text, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Paul talks about "boasting" of his weakness.

"For whenever I am weak, then I am strong," he says.

Weakness keeps me from thinking it's me, alone, doing great things.

God can use even fools like us.

I think this may be why we have family, too--to keep us from getting big heads and thinking we're "all that." People who live with us know better.

I have fears about what would happen if I were suddenly incapacitated--someone would come through my office and see all the things I've done not as well as I should, and discover all the things I've left in a mess (literally and figuratively). Someone would find the disasters I've procrastinated at home. Someone would uncover the reality that I don't really have my act together.

And then Paul tells me how he "boasts" of his own "thorn in the flesh"--the thing that keeps him in the reality that he's got, as we would say, "issues."

So my puzzle of the moment is how to accept Paul's invitation to accept--and even celebrate--our own issues and inadequacies. Without becoming complacent about our shortcomings, or sloppy about how we strive to allow God's will to be done, here on earth as in heaven.


Monday, June 19, 2006

What are you afraid of?

Jesus had just finished sharing those growth parables we heard about Sunday as well as a few other parable classics, and it was getting dark, and he was tired (okay, I added that last bit, but if you had been preaching all day by the seashore, you'd probably be tired). And he says: "Let us go across to the other side." Why? Well, presumably the crowd isn't on the other side and the boat ride might provide a little respite. So Jesus lay down on a cushion in the stern and went to sleep. A great windstorm arose. The disciples feared they would perish and woke Jesus, who looked directly into the storm as a parent looks at a disruptive child (okay, I added that simile, too), and he said: "Peace. Be still." And the storm ceased and there was calm. Then, after rebuking the storm, Jesus turned his attention to the disciples and said: "Why are you afraid?"

It's a good question for us, too. What are the storms that we face? Where are the places in our lives where we could use some calm? What is it that we fear? Do our fears paralyze us or motivate us? Or both/and? Both as individuals and as a community of faith what fears would we like to release into peace and calm? What are we afraid of? Can our faith help us overcome those fears? And, knowing what we know about living as servants of God -- both from our own experience and from Paul's description in our other reading this Sunday, can we still our fears and/or use them to energize us so we can continue God's work in the world?

The Gospel is from Mark 4:35-41. (But if you keep reading, you'll find out what Jesus faced on the other side of the sea.)
Also this week, we'll spend some time with 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, where Paul has words with the church in Corinth.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

kingdom block party/kingdom weeds

I've started reading Brian McLaren's new book, The Secret Message of Jesus. In it, he raises questions about how to explain and interpret the "Kingdom of God." Kings are out-dated. Maybe, he says, we should think of it as a block party. Or a dance. Or something else.

Whatever our name for it, he reminds us that the consistent piece of what Jesus says about it is that it IS. "The Kingdom is as someone woudl scatter seed on the ground..." "The Kingdom is like a mustard seed..."

I'm captivated by a comparison that Shane Claiborne made to the mustard seed: he says it's like kudzu.

Somehow, this was lost on me in Sunday School--I remember being handed mustard seeds. I remember planting LITTLE BITTY seeds and delighting in how they could grow.

What I don't remember is mention of the fact that the thing we're planting is a dangerous weed that most farmers want to keep off of their land.

(Hence his comparison to kudzu--any Southerner will know this prolific plant. First introduced in the US at a 1876 Exposition in Philadelphia in the display from Japan, of beautiful plants, it was widely promoted during the Great Depression as a means of erosion control. Well, it grew and keep the soil in place, but also too over EVERYTHING... Now, folks worry about the health of the forest, because this plant whose vines can grow 60 feet a year is keeping the light out.)

Which suddenly makes being a part of Christianity sound a whole lot more dangerous--and more is at stake. Perhaps this kingdom will grow in us and our communities, and will mean lots of changes...

So check out this week's scriptures and see what you think: Mark 4:26-34 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-17.

Monday, June 05, 2006

dancing the trinity?

I've heard of the two-step...why now a trinity dance?

After all, this Sunday is Trinity Sunday. And, now and then, I get this yearning to celebrate and emphasize our trinitarian theology. Not just the ol' formula (Father, Son & Holy Ghost), but with all kinds of names.

One of my favorite trinitarian words is perichoresis. (I figure that during the week after the National Spelling Bee, it's a good time for tricky words. Did Starbucks ever put that one on a cup?)

In theology, it's been defined as the interconnected relationships of the Holy Trinity--the dance of interconnection between God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

For all you word nerds, you'll see that it has roots in Greek words that could be translated as "dancing around": peri- like perimeter, meaning around, and -chor- like choreography mean dancing or moving.

Anyhow...all of this is to say that I like imagining the divine (GOD!) as a wily, dance, working with us (and the whole world) in beautiful steps to building God's justice. A dancing God who can't quite be caught on film or tied down, even by the most elegant of church-y language.

Here's part of a poem I found online, by a man named Andrew Stephen Damick. Poetry about a dancing God. What could be better?!


O elegant and gentle Leader of the dance,
we do not know the meaning of each step
nor how to rightly turn this way or hold this pose.
Each spinning step or angled movement's twist
does sometimes give us vertigo here where we stand;
this mystery of how the rhythm's pulse
and how the music's lilt are tuned to only You
has caught us up, and we are overwhelmed.

O grace-filled, grace-bestowing Leader of the dance,
please teach me how to twirl and how to move;
please teach me how the song pervades each dancer's form,
these dancers who have learned to dance with You
throughout the ages of the song, the holy song
You sang in ages past to Abraham,
to Isaac and to Jacob and his Hebrew seed:
Now sing to me and give me, too, this life.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

summertime psalms

Hey, all:

Here's your big chance to help make worship this summer.

You are invited to interpret a Psalm--in photos, pictures, video, whatever. It can include the words of the Psalm, or just illustrate them. It can include music or not. There's hardly a bad answer.

Here's how I think it can work:
you pick one of the Psalms/Sundays for this summer. let us know, so we can be sure no one else is already doing that one. Then, you put together some kind of artistic expression of that Psalm.

**NOTE: I've added names next to the Psalms that have been "claimed" already. Please pick one of the other ones!**

The options are:
June 11 -Psalm 29

June 18-Psalm 72--Middle School youth

June 25-Psalm 9:9-20

July 2-Psalm 130

July 9-Psalm 48

July 16-Psalm 24--LuAnn

July 23-Psalm 89:20-37--*we'll be at Misson Bay*

July 30-Psalm 14--John I

August 6-Psalm 51:1-12--Dylan

August 13-Psalm 130

August 20-Psalm 111--Sr. High youth

August 27-Psalm 84

It'll be fun. :)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

that wily Spirit

So, this Sunday's Pentecost: the birth of the church. (Happy birthday!)

We get to celebrate the descent of the spirit on the people gathered--it came on Pentecost like tongues of fire.

The Spirit has also been described with other metaphors: in the waters of baptism, as a dove, in the wind.

How do you picture the Spirit?

Monday, May 22, 2006

that's quite a definition for the church!

In one of this week's scripture readings, Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul offers a prayer that includes all kinds of teaching.

He asks that God would give us (well, the Ephesians, but we read ourselves in there, too...) a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we'd know God with "the eyes of our hearts."

Then, he talks about God's power, and, finally, mentions that the church is his body, and "the fullness of him who fills all in all."

That's a big job description, I think.

What do you think it would look like to be Christ's body, as the fullness of him who fills all in all?

(I'm wondering especially what it would look like in the little details...)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

buddy christ?

Our scripture texts for this weekend are:
John 15:9-17 and Acts 10:44-48.

In John's Gospel, Jesus redefines his relationship to the discipes. He gives them a commandment, and then invites them to relate to each other and to him differently:
"'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends...'" )John 15:12-15a)

My question is: have you had friendships that have lived into what you think Jesus is talking about?

In the irreverant movie, "Dogma," the Catholic church unveils a new campaign with a new Jesus-hero: buddy Christ. Part of me likes this image. It reminds me that Jesus is my friend. But I certainly wouldn't want to reduce Jesus' love to cheap sentimentality or commercialism.

So my second question is: how do you describe "friendship" without sounding cheezy?

Monday, May 08, 2006

the matrix, mother's day and jesus

Our scripture passages this weekend are:
Acts 8:26-40 and John 15:1-8

In John's gospel, we get this lovely image of Jesus as a vine, in which we are branches; our being and power are found in him. (Here's verse 5: I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.)

Which makes me think of a matrix. Dictionary.com defines "matrix" as: "A situation or surrounding substance within which something else originates, develops, or is contained." Jesus' vine is a sort of a matrix for us all.

Of course, matrix can also mean womb, and it comes with a decidedly feminine root word (like "matriarchal" and "maternity").

So, it seems to me that we get to celebrate Jesus' being a mothering power in the world this weekend.

In England, they call this weekend "Mothering Day," which seems pleasantly inclusive of a number of life-giving activities that I'm grateful for.

Not least of which is God's love...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

a bible question for this week...

Our scripture for Sunday is from Acts 4:5-12. It is:
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners* stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,* whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus* is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.”*
12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

My question for the day is: how do we know when we are doing things "in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth," and what does that look like?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

gotta get your community somewhere...

I've felt hungry for more chances to share thoughts and life with folks in worship--things keep moving so fast on Sunday mornings, and I'm not yet good about just inviting folks over for dinner. So, I'm hopeful that we might can share our thoughts online. Not that I want us to stare at separate computer screens and imagine that it's community, but so that we can start to remember that we're supposed to be a part of Christ's community even when we're staring at separate computer screens.

Wanna join me?