Sunday, April 30, 2006

My Sister

That is my mother and my sister a while back in my living room. It was the day we heard that my sister has Alzheimers. I knew a long time ago, but didn't want to know. I'll be going to see her tomorrow...gone for a week. This will break my heart, and I hope I learn some things and find joy as well.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Together for the Gospel

I copied this from Suzanne McCarthy's blog. A few comments from me are at the end.

T4G on Women.

The Together for the Gospel Conference Article XVI

We affirm that the Scripture reveals a pattern of complementary order between men and women, and that this order is itself a testimony to the Gospel, even as it is the gift of our Creator and Redeemer. We also affirm that all Christians are called to service within the body of Christ, and that God has given to both men and women important and strategic roles within the home, the chuhrch, and the society. We further affirm that the teaching office of the church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the biblical teachings and that men are to lead in their homes as husbands and fathers who fear and love God.

We deny that the distinction of roles between men and women revealed in the Bible is evidence of mere cultural conditioning or a manifestation of male oppression or prejudice against women. We also deny that this biblical distinction of roles excludes women from meaningful minstry in Christ's kingdom. We further deny that any church can confuse these issues without damaging its witness to the Gospel. The teaching office of the church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the biblical teachings.

Suzanne adds, "If this is the conference whose registration form I read earlier, then it had a 'no women need apply' condition. I understand from this that if a woman preaches the gospel it damages the church's witness to the gospel."

Here is a link to the Together for the Gospel site. I went and took a look and then took a short trip down memory lane. In my late 20s I sat under the ministry of one of the speakers. He was an amazing communicator and a gifted teacher of the scriptures. My life was significantly influenced by this brother, and I can vividly recall sitting in a large crowd of young people, pouring over my Bible and writing notes like mad.

Reading Article XVI and remembering the amazing potential and power of this man, and also realizing what a meeting with him would likely be like today....well, it made me deeply, deeply sad. I grieve for my evangelical brethern, for the denomination of my childhood, for the men, and women too, who believe this and would never comprehend that it is not what God ever intended but instead was the plan of the enemy of our souls and of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Suddenly I'm Visible

It was a strange district council for me.

It was good. (That is not the strange part.) The business went smoothly. The district is moving in a good direction. The music was skillfull and uplifting. The preaching and times of prayer were encouraging. The ordination service was a highlight, as always, and it was good to see a young woman I know receiving her "license to preach" (the middle level of ministerial credentials). Then I attended a nice little gathering for the alumni of my alma mater.

Someone introduced my husband as his sister's pastor. Dear Husband corrected him, of course, but this only happened one time.

The strange part was that suddenly I was...well...I was visible. I don't know how to explain what I mean, and I do not mean to be disparaging or critical of years when I was not. It is simply that I grew accustomed to being mostly not spoken to, except by friends. I do not mean that people were intentioally doing this. It was more like being invisible. I've been in this district for 21 years, and this has always been the case, more or less.

At one of my first councils a pastor from a neighboring town walked up to my husband and me, and we both greeted him. Pointedly ignoring me, he said to my husband (who is a chaplain now but was pastoring at that time), "I hear that you let her preach. What are you thinking? Aren't you afraid of what might happen?" We, a bit stunned, thought he must be joking, and my husband replied in that vein. I don't remember what he said, but the other pastor looked daggers at him, spun oh his heel and stalked away. We looked at each other in shocked silence.

That was, thankfully, the only time something like that happened at a disrict council, and it was a long time ago. Mostly I just was just not noticed much. This year, all that changed. Suddenly, people seem to see me.

Everyone smiled at me, as well as at my husband. People spoke to me and called me by name. People asked about how things are at my church. Several people who I did not know seemed to know me (now that was strange). A well-known official who used to avoid eye contact (I don't know why) now stops and chats with me and is genuinely interested in what I am saying. He asked about something we had spoken about several months ago, and was encouraging and complimentary.

What has changed? This is a good thing, but honestly, I found it a little bewildering, even though it was good. I don't know what is happening.

Is it about me? Is it about the women ministers in our fellowship? That is my hope.

Monday, April 24, 2006

It worked!

We have a bit of tweaking to do, but the video projector worked, the new mic worked, the altar area looked wonderful, the people were full of joy, the preaching and ministry were wonderful. And the trees are showing tinges of green. The grass will soon need mowing. Yay!

Now I am off to our district council (business meetings and ordination service, etc.). Three days of rushing, and hopefully meeting old friends--and other good things here and there.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Good Changes

This won't mean much to most of you, but my church is coming into the latter half of the 20th Century. Chuckle...

We have a keyboard that looks like a keyboard instead of a toy. We just set it up. It sounds great!

We figured out a way to hook our bass guitar into the sound system which means that a 4 foot tall speaker and ugly green amp can be thrown out the

This meant we could move an altar table to a more advantageous spot, which changed the whole look of the platform for the better.

We are in the final stages of getting our new video projector and laptop set up so we can throw our clanky overhead projector out the it. It might even be ready by this Sunday!

In a few minutes I will be on my way to the music store to purchase a wireless lapel mic.

All in one day! I can hardly contain my glee!

And tomorrow I am heading out for a two-day break in a nearby city. Saturday night I will be picking up a wonderful evangelist, professor and saint of God from the Green Bay airport. I am excited about his ministry with us for two services on Sunday. Saturday night my daughter and son-in-law will arrive and join us for church Sunday (guest speaker is one of her favorite professors from her Bible college days). I don't get to see them all that often, so this makes me happy.

These external changes at church are part of deeper changes and that is good. Very good.

I'll be back to the blog next week sometime.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

It Was a Candlelit Week, it Seems

The Thursday before Palm Sunday, we read the passage about Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus with spikenard...and Jesus commending her. That started me thinking about Mary. She truly must have been amazing. First we see her defying convention in an incredibly brave way by daring to sit at the rabbi's feet and learn from him. And later she seems to understand something that the 12 disciples still did not, even a short time before the end. She understood, it seems, that Jesus was going to die.

I finally stopped struggling with a sermon for Palm Sunday and dressed up in a costume and did a monologue instead. It was well received, and I may do more of these.

Then on Thursday we gathered for candlelight communion. The sanctuary was lit with dim purple light on the back wall. The only other light was lots of candles. Most often we share communion by having the deacons pass it to the congregation and then we all take the bread and cup together. Sometimes I do it various other ways though. This night I asked people to come up to the candlelit table, where I held the matzah and my husband held the tray of little cups. (I really don't like matzah, but it seems right to use the correct bread when it is Passover.) As each person stepped forward I looked into their eyes as I said, "_________, the body of Christ was broken for you." And DH said, "___________, the blood of Christ was shed for you." Since it was a somewhat small group, and no visitors, we could call each one by name. The reactions varied from tears to a hurried pass with no eye contact.

The next night was an ecuminical Good Friday Tennebrae service at a church that is out in the countryside. It was completely full of people, elderly to infants. Nine clergy participated, and of those, six were women. Isn't that unusual? Two Roman Catholic priests, a Presbyterian, a Lutheran, a Methodist, a few UCC, and one Assembly of God pastor (me). It was a very traditional and very beautiful service. The sanctuary grew darker and darker as candles were extinguished one by one and lights were dimmed. Then the church bell tolled...such a mournful sound it was...and we sat in darkness as we listened.

My husband and I went out for ice cream with some of our parishoners who had attended. Is it right to eat ice cream on Good Friday?

And this morning we entered our church's lovely little sanctuary to the sounds of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." There were many visitors, which is not always the case for us on Easter Sunday. The cross was draped with a gleaming white cloth, and the crown of thorns was replaced by a golden king's crown. Lots of candles. Lilies, gardenias and azaleas filled the room with a sweetly fresh scent of springtime. Teen Challenge women were our guests today. That is a Christian program for people with life-controlling problems (very successful and one of my favorite ministries). They shared a ham dinner with my mother and me and many others at the lake cottage of one of our church couples, and each of the Teen Challenge women received an Easter basket. Precious women. New life from darkness. Thanks be to God!

Strange in a way, Good Friday was a beautiful sunny day. The temperature reached 70 degrees (yippeee)! Easter, on the other hand, was grey and cold and drizzling.

A nice ending note, the Teen Challenge director told me that our church was the warmest and most wecoming congregation they had visited in the state. Yay for us! :-)

I hope the day was filled with joy for you. Time for a nap for me. Whew.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bugs on the Windshield

I said I was looking for signs of spring. This is a clear one. I drove to our district office, about 75 miles away, and when I started for home I had to stop to wash the windshield because I couldn't see. Really, this is a good thing!

Other signs:

1. Tiny green buds on my front hedge.

2. Birds are singing happily

3. The birdbath in my front yard has water in it instead of an ice chunk

4. The stream behind my house is gurgling

5. Our church's lawn guy is out with some sort of machine that takes gravel (from our parking lot, pushed there by a snow plow) out of the lawn

6. There are beautiful lilies, azaleas and gardenias in a corner classrom waiting for Sunday--ahh--the smell of flowers

7. I'm wondering if it might actually be warm enough to wear something springy and bright on Easter

8. I put the snow shovel in the shed

9. I wore a sweater today (instead of a coat)

and last but not least....(drum roll)

10. My Texas-born-and-raised mother is thiking about whether to doff her long underwear!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Heading into "Holy Week"

It's a few days before "Holy Week" but I'm struggling with Sunday's sermon.

In an earlier post I said I had been in a rather dark time and I was watching for signs of springtime. I meant it in both a literal way and a spiritual way.
This morning as I sipped a cup of coffee I looked out the window and saw a definite tinge of green on the back lawn. A small miracle that happens seemingly overnight! The pussy willow bush is covered with those lovely soft and fuzzy harbingers of spring on the way. Iris shoots are appearing in the flower bed. The sun is shining brightly in a lovely blue sky. Pairs of birds are flitting around the feeders. This morning I saw a new pair--bright yellow goldfinches whose canary-colored wings flashed in the sunlight.

I am dreaming of warmer days and home-grown tomatoes and packing the coats away. But it is still cold outside. There is a sharp northern wind blowing, and the trees are still bare. Looking out the window makes me anticipate warmer days, but stepping out the door is a different matter!

I refuse to wear a hat or gloves. Done. Fini.

What does this have to do with Holy Week?

I know spring is on the way and there is a new lightness in my heart, but it seems so long in coming. I am weary of cold and grey days and bare trees and snow. I want to fling the windows open and air out the closets and dig in the dirt. But...not yet. Sigh.

I feel the same in a spiritual sense. Last Sunday I entered the sanctuary and gazed for a moment at the cross on the back wall with its dark purple drape and the crown of thorns. My heart was sad as we shared communion together. I have a strange mix of anticipation and sadness. I know Jesus is risen...but first I must take time to ponder anew the wondrous mystery of the last days of his life, the miracle of Lazarus, the anointing of Jesus for burial, the upper room and the Master taking the place of a servant (something none of the disciples, apparently, were willing to do) and picking up the basin and the towel. Then the heartbreaking interlude in the garden. The obtuse disciples. How like them I am! Forgive me, dearest Lord.

Then the agonizing betrayal, humiliation piled upon humiliation, Peter's denial, the horrible beating, jeering crowds, standing mute Herod, Pilate washing his hands. Carrying the cross to Golgotha. Weeping women. His mother's agony of mind, body and spirit. Blood, pain, darkness, loneliness, death. The tomb.

Amazing Love! How can it be?

There is no resurrection without death, no joy in the morning without a dark night of the soul. No spring without winter. I know. This is true of my personal life, both physically and spiritually, and my church's life. I see signs of spring, and my heart lifts...but, oh, it seems so very long in coming.

Precious Jesus, thank you for the signs of spring in my life. Thank you for wonderful times of respite like the recent conference. Thank you for sending encouraging people who touch my life along the way. Some briefly, like Lee Grady, and some for a long time, like those who have stood with me and watched and prayed through good times and bad. Bless each one, Lord. Help me faithfully stand. May I wait and watch in the garden with you. May I not grow weary in the tasks before me. May I be faithful in the waiting time, and please grant that I may come to see the fruit of the watching and waiting. The joy of resurrection, new promise, new life, new hope. Amen

As Tony Compolo preached in his wonderful sermon, "It's Friday--But Sunday's Comin'!"