My in-laws claim that they know a pastor who has trained his parrot to say "Not biblical!" Like a clock stopped, this is bound to be right some of the time, and in fact would probably be right about 50% of the stuff that is passed off as Christian.
Harper's has had a lot of decent coverage of religion in American lately (though some of it is perhaps overly alarmist. This week there's an excerpt from Bill McKibben's latest writing on what it means to be Christian in America.
"Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical."
The texts for the week are so full of so many layers, it's hard to know where to start. Jacob wrestles with the angel, Paul is in agony for his people, Jesus feeds thousands in a distinctively eucharistic fashion.
The feeding of the thousands (I refuse to say 5000 if the women and children don't count) had a significance for me in the years when I was in seminary. I was in a church study where we were invited to visualize the scene and allow the words to speak to us personally. When Jesus turns to the disciples and says, "You give them something to eat," I took it personally, and I also felt keenly the sense of inadequacy the disciples must have felt at that demand. So when the disciples round up the few morsels that are there and Jesus acts as if that is enough, I also felt for the first time that maybe the bits and pieces that I round up might be enough as well.
The remarkable thing to me is that Jesus trusts the disciples to find the food, and then trusts them to trust him that it will be enough. How very different from the attitude of hoarding and fear that so permeates the way we live our lives most of the time.
The folks at Spirit Garage, the congregation I developed and served from 1997-2002, have just released their second CD. I had nothing to do with this particular project, but I feel like a proud mama anyway. It's so wonderful to see folks at SG carrying on and creating new things. Also check out the great photo work of the SG band at SG staffer Ryan Torma's site.
My husband is a notorious book thief. I buy or borrow a book, and he snatches it up and reads the whole thing before I have a chance to get in it. It has happened with nearly every one of the Harry Potter installments, including this one. The plus side is that it is forcing me to read some of the other things I've been meaning to read for a while but hadn't yet. I just finished The Tipping Point, which is fascinating and full of good stories, though I'm not yet sure what it's application is for me yet. I have to ruminate on that.
Next up, a new "theology of childhood" Graced Vulnerability, by David Jensen, who did his PhD. at Vanderbilt while I was there. (OK, full disclosure, we dated for a while). It looks fabulous -- a much-needed antidote to all the anthropologies that define humanity in strictly adult terms.
I also plan to get to Post-Rapture Radio by Russell Rathbun, one of the very cool preachers over at House of Mercy. I've been avoiding it, though, because I'm insanely jealous of anyone who can preach regularly in a mission congregation and still write a book. It's in the "damn, I should have written that" category.
It's Friday night, and I'm feeling pretty stuck about this Sunday's sermon. I usually rely on a pretty intuitive method for coming up with a central idea for a sermon. Once I've read the texts and commentaries and done some ruminating, something often emerges. In fact often my biggest problem by Wednesday or Thursday is whittling my ideas down to one sermon instead of three or four.
This is not one of those weeks. There are several parables of the kingdom in this week's gospel, any of which could probably make a complete sermon by itself. I had narrowed it down to two, but now I'm stuck again.
The usual unsticking methods -- sleeping on it, a long walk, reading something totally unrelated (Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, which I should have read long ago) -- are not working.
This has been one of those weeks which was surprisingly busy with the kind of variety that I love about ministry -- pastoral care, some administration, strategic planning, planning for faith formation, recruiting volunteers, a council meeting, text study and lots of other stuff -- but the busy-ness hasn't left much time to focus, and my subconscious is apparently working on things other than preaching.
I'll keep plugging away for a bit, but pretty soon that new Harry Potter I picked up today is going to beckon. I want to read it before someone gives away the ending to me. Maybe one more night of sleeping on it will bring some clarity.
Will and I are scheduled to teach at Holden Village for two weeks in August. I still have a lot of work to do to prepare my Bible studies, but I'm really looking forward to it. I'm especially looking forward to hearing him teach for a week, since most of the time he only teaches and gives talks at out-of-town work junkets. But the best part? No cell phones or email for 2 weeks!
In the mean time, I have to pretend that fall is just around the corner, even though it's 90 degrees out. .
I’m a big fan of Adam Gopnik’s writing, especially Paris to the Moon. His thoughts in the latest New Yorker on the bombing in London are, as usual, insightful. So much of our politics is dominated by fear these days, it is helpful to see a society that is willing to engage in rational debate.
Our upstairs is now 88 degrees (we have air conditioning only in two rooms in the house), so it seemed like a good day to just retreat. Katie and I went to see March of the Penguins at the Edina Theater.A lot of other people had the same idea, which makes sense on the 8th straight day over 90 degrees. The theater wasn’t even set on freezing the way many multiplexes are, but watching footage of Antarctica for an hour and a half does tend to cool one off.
The film is worth seeing for the cinematography alone. The narration was occasionally rather corny – though I could listen to Morgan Freeman’s voice any time (maybe it’s just all those years of Electric Company in the 70’s).I knew that male penguins incubate the eggs. I didn’t know that they do so without any food for four months during the harshest weather of the year. (The females are busy walking back to the sea before they starve to death). As in most parts of the animal kingdom, there is some competition for mates, but when winter storms roll in, the males huddle together to keep themselves and their eggs warm. And – here’s the part that surprised me -- they take turns being at the center of the huddle.
These amazing creatures have a way (not an easy way, but a way) to survive in the harshest climate in the world. It’s likely that global climate change is going to make life a lot more difficult for most humans in the future as well. A planet with more storms, more drought, more hurricanes and so on will not be an easy place to survive. I sure hope we can learn to take turns when the going gets rough.
I have had several conversations in the last week about motherhood, infertility, childbirth, life with a newborn, and so on. My friends James and Jenell just came home with twins after going through four years of sorrow and loss.Another acquaintance took a hiatus from parish ministry after enduring her second stillbirth. Another just started a small group at my former congregation for women dealing with infertility.
Having children is one of those odd issues that is both universal and endlessly varied. On the one hand, people have babies every day. On the other hand, once you try and start a family you very quickly find dozens of other people who find that it’s not so easy. If you have a miscarriage and talk about it, you will inevitably encounter many, many women who have been through the same thing. Women who experience stillbirth seem to find one another, as do parents who are going through infertility.
I know there are people who, as they say, “look at each other” and get pregnant, but that has not been the experience of most of my friends. What amazes me is how powerful the desire to have children is, that people will endure so much loss and uncertainty and, sometimes, risk to their health, in order to have babies.
What they say about the pain of childbirth seems to be true about the whole journey to parenthood. No matter how difficult the travail, once the child is in your arms the pain dulls in your memory.It’s not that the pain is forgotten really – not in the “I-broke-my-arm-when-I-was-five-but-all-I-remember-is-the-cast” manner, anyway. You can’t forget the sorrow of a miscarriage or the dashed hopes of infertility. But the joy of welcoming a child into a family always seems to outweigh whatever pain preceded it, as if your heart grew bigger during all that breaking, and now the whole space is filled with the wonder of this tiny life.