This time last year one of our Christmas gifts was dontations to Christian Peacemaking Teams, an organization that sends people trained in non-violence to be a Christian presence in the midst of violence and war. I was so saddened to hear yesterday that 4 of these individuals have been abducted in Iraq. Please join me in praying for them. Here are their names and a little about them:
Tom Fox, age 54, from Virginia. A father of 2 and dedicated Quaker
Norman Kember, age 74, from London. Father of 2 and gradfather of one. A lifelong pacifist
James Loney, 41, a community worker from Toronto, Canada.
Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, from Canada, most recently preparing for a teaching career
We flew back in from Thanksgiving in California last night, stuffed the kids with mac & cheese, and proceeded directly to the Fine Line for the Brothers Frantzich holiday show. Generally I don't do holiday shows in November. . . but it's becoming increasingly impossible to keep the secular Christmas calendar at bay, so here we go. (We're also going to the St. Olaf Christmas concert this week. I guess they have to do it before finals.)
It was the 3rd time I've seen the brothers perform this month, by a weird set of coincidences. They played the synod's "Relax Boldly" event at lunch, then opened for Storyhill at the Cedar Cultural Center, and then we got invited to go to the Fine Line show by John and Erin Kerns. I really appreciate their mix of old and new. And wow, the band rocked!
My letter to the Christian Century brought several comments from friends and colleagues -- it's amazing how many of us read that publication from cover to cover. One pastor in Seattle took the trouble to track me down and email the letter she sent them (but they won't publish since they don't publish letters about letters):
A parish pastor and mother of young children asks how she can possibly observe a sabbath (Letters, November 15). Norman Wirzba replied to her. I agree with his statement that it is a significant challenge to observe the sabbath in our "individualistic, pluralistic" society. But I wasn't pleased with the rest of his answer. I'm a 25-year devoted sabbath keeper through all stages of parenthood, a Presbyterian minister, and the author of a book on the sabbath. I want to recommend to pastors (with no evening service) a 24-hour sabbath that begins at 2:00 on Sunday afternoon. In the family portion of the sabbath, focus on enjoying your kids. Don't do the work of parenting: don't shop for food, clean the house, do laundry, run errands, work on home repairs, and if possible, don't cook. For most of the 25 years of my sabbath observance, I cooked on Saturday to keep Sunday free from cooking. Our kids loved having an afternoon and evening when my husband and I were able to give them undivided attention, and we enjoyed being with them and with each other without the pressure to multi-task and get other things done. During the Monday portion of the sabbath -- morning and early afternoon -- spend some time alone without working on church tasks. Read, journal, pray thankfulness prayers, walk, listen to music, do crafts. In my interviews for my sabbath book, one of the most common struggles expressed by laypeople about the sabbath was the desire for time with family, as well as the need for some time alone. Pastors have the unique opportunity to arrange their schedules to include both in their sabbath observance.
The writer, Lynne Baab, has her own book on sabbath, Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest. I'll have to check it out.
Remember reading days? The days in college when, in theory, you had no classes so that you could actually study? (Not that most of us used them that way). After a very hectic 6 weeks which included confirmation interviews and cottage meetings, I decided to award myself 2 days of reading this week. I checked email twice a day and otherwise just read the books and journals that have been shuttled back and forth between home and the office for the past month, always with the thought, "I'll read it at home/ at the office."
Well it took me half a day just to turn off what Anne Lamott calls KFKD. I actually pulled out a yellow pad and wrote down all the things I don't do often enough:
2. take my vitamins
3. say thank you
5. play piano or flute
7. trim my fingernails
8. trim my kids' fingernails
9. eat green things
11. make my kids wash their hands
You get the idea. . . it's a hard station to turn off.
But read I finally did. My favorites were the latest issue of the Journal for Preachers and the opening chapter of Holy Ground by Gordon Lathrop. I'm feeling a little better prepared for Advent now, if for no other reason than I learned how long it takes my own mind to focus on things beneath the surface.
Many Sundays, I do not have my sermon written out completely. I have shorthand notes to myself about illustrations I will use, outline-type main points, but frequently no text that anyone else could read and make any sense of. The last two sermons I've given, however are exceptions -- in part because I'm trying some new things out, and partly because it just made more sense for me to organize my thoughts that way these last couple times.
In any case, I feel reasonably comfortable actually posting these sermons. The first, Download reformation_printable.doc / Confirmation Sunday, so it addresses the 9th graders directly from time to time. The second, Download proper_28.doc is from today, where I was preaching from the lectionary but also trying to address Stewardship Sunday in some form. Neither is particularly creative in form. I was pleased with the interpretation of the parable of the talents today, however, because I think it really fits with what I think is one of Matthew's key themes: God's generosity. Unfortunately, Matthew also seems to undermine himself on this front with the regular warnings about outer darkness and gnashing of teeth. He must have been quite a guy.
The letter I sent to the Christian Century months ago finally appeared this week (in shortened form) and Norman Wirzba, the author of the piece I was writing about, responded! Very cool. A version of the same thoughts appeared here on August 8, but sorry, I'm still trying to figure out how to link to my own blog. Any techies out there who can help, let me know.
One of the worst aspects of preaching is how little feedback one gets. I think if the average parishioner had any idea how much we long for those tidbits of affirmation at the back door, they’d wonder what kind of needy, insecure neurotics they’ve employed. Then again, when we get more lengthy conversation on any given sermon, it isn’t necessarily more gratifying. I’m always humbled reading our confirmation students’ sermon notes, in which they have to summarize something about the sermon. I’m not saying they get it dead wrong, but they do often hear a minor point at the expense of a larger one.
Anyway, today was one of those days I wanted to hear more feedback, but what I got was commentary on the delivery – which was a bit of a struggle as I was losing my voice all morning. By the second service, people were (with good reason) concerned I wasn’t going to make it through. Whether they heard the message in the midst of the scratchy medium, I’m not sure.
Fortunately, I know the sermon is only one part of the Gospel heard on any given day. In a congregation like ours, there is music, liturgy, and just the presence of a lively diverse community that may speak more loudly than my voice ever can anyway. For me today it was the voices of 2 of our high school students and their father singing the offertory together. “Let the weak say, ‘I am strong.’ Let the poor say, ‘I am rich,’ because of what the Lord has done for me. Give thanks.”
Now that my daughter is more aware of the calendar, we live from holiday to holiday in the fall. First Halloween, then her birthday, then Thanksgiving, then Advent beings, then saint Nicholas Day, then her brother's birthday, then Christmas. . and so on.
Sunday K was busily coloring during the sermon when she heard Erik mention "November". She piped up "My birthday's in November!" in that unmistakably piercing voice. All Saints Day is normally a pretty subdued mood, but several people cracked up at that point.
For me the next 3 days each have their own resonance. Tomorrow, is of course, the day I became a mother (as well as Martin Luther's birthday). The 11th is the aforementioned Martinstag. But today is the day the wall came down in Germany, a day I will never forget, because a mere 6 months before that I had been stuck behind the wall without a passport. I was on a student exchange trip from Tu"bingen to Jena, and discovered on our last day there that my passport had been stolen. Many hours and a few grey hairs later (OK, I was only 21, but it felt that way), we were all on our way home, but it still made the reality of that border very clear to me. I would never have guessed that 6 months later the wall would come down.
When we were in Leipzig last summer on a church exchange, we visited a government-sponsored museum about the DDR years and the political suppression of that time. A series of very powerful exhibits culminates in the details of November 1989, when the Berlin Wall ceased to be a heavily guarded border and became the site of celebrations. When we asked our guide, "How is it exactly that this happened?" he couldn't really explain it. Borders had opened in neighboring East Block countries, and many East Germans anticipated that their government would ease restrictions as well. A rumor began (where? we don't know) that the DDR government was about to release new travel guidelines, and the evening news reported it as fact. Basically, the people of East Berlin emerged from their homes believing that the evening news was correct, that the wall was "coming down." And so it was. No one ever officially confirmed this policy until it was too late to recind what everyone had already claimed as their right.
This guide might have been mistaken, or exaggerating, but he certainly seemed to be on top of his game. I can't help but wonder what might become simply so if everyone simply believed it and refused to let the powers that be tell them otherwise.
The flip side of this is that November 9 also has a darker history in Germany. It was Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when increasingly restrictive policies towards Jews broke into actual violence during the Nazi era. Then the willingness of the people to believe the demagogery of the government led to unthinkable crimes against humanity.
I have long been frustrated with the poor communication my daughter's preschool carries out with its families. I think it's largely a case of our being on the outskirts of the German-speaking community out of which this school grew. Parents whose kids attend the new immersion charter school, or whose families are involved in the German-American Institute, seem to have no trouble knowing what's happening. But if you're not in those informal networks, the news releases can be pretty few and far between.
Anyway, after lots of moaning about this since last spring, I decided to do something about it and am now editing a newsletter for the 20 families or so at our branch of the preschool. Mostly I just format the content the teachers give me, but I did add something to the November issue. There are two "Martinstag" events happening this coming week, and it occurred to me that many families probably have no idea who this "Martin" is that their kids are making lanterns for. So here's what I wrote for the newsletter:
What is Martinstag??
In Germany the Feast of St. Martin (actually November 11) is celebrated with a procession of homemade lanterns to brighten the darkening days.
The feast is named for St. Martin of Tours (not Martin Luther, though Luther was born November 10 and named for the saint).Saint Martin was born in what is now Hungary in the fourth century and resisted induction into the Roman army at the age of 15. He continued to resist the use of violence throughout his life.
Legend has it that Martin encountered a shivering beggar on a cold winter day. Having no money to give him, he cut his own cloak in two and gave half to the poor man. That night he dreamed he saw Christ wearing the half he had given away, and resolved to be baptized the next day.