Friday, June 30, 2006

Am I a Soldier of the Cross?

2 Timothy 2:3-4
Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. And as Christ's soldier, do not let yourself become tied up in the affairs of this life, for then you cannot satisfy the one who has enlisted you in his army.

My friend, Psalmist, recently posted about her discomfort with patriotic church services. It got me thinking.

For a long time I assumed that on patriotic holidays the sermon would be about America and that we would sing "America the Beautiful" and "My Country, Tis of Thee" and other such songs. I love patriotic songs. I never questioned this or even thought twice about it until I was in my 30s. It was 1976, our nation's bicentennial, and we lived in Washington, D.C., our nation's capitol. My staff-sergeant husband was stationed at Headquarters - Marine Corps, right across the street from the Pentagon. We enjoyed the years we lived there. We are both patriotic, and we both love bands and pageantry and memorials and history. It was a wonderful place to live (temporarily), especially in 1976. Free programs and presentations abounded that year--a blessing for a family with two children needing something to do and struggling on an enlisted man's pay.

My husband was invited to be a guest at a church near us on Bicentennial Sunday. The pastor had invited a representative from each of the military branches to be present and to speak. The parking lot was festooned with red, white and blue bunting. Flags were everywhere. We held church outside under the trees, the military guests of honor standing proudly together in uniform for photo ops. We sang about America, we talked about America, we praised America, and the sermon was about--America and how God loves her, and why. In the congregation, visiting for the first time that day, was a family from Africa. I'm not sure which country--this was a long time ago-- but Sierra Leone or Somalia, perhaps. For the first time in my life I squirmed in my seat at the nationalistic rhetoric of the pastor. I saw the flags and the congregation (dressed in red, white and blue--myself among them), and I heard the sermon and the songs and the prayers with the ears of non-citizens. I watched the African family. They remained expressionless most of the service.

I was mortified. I pictured myself in a foreign land attending church on such a day and looking at flags and listening to "hymns" I did not know and waiting for a reference to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ or to God's love and power, or to the family of God, or...any other scripture to feed my soul.

Even my husband, usually not particularly aware of such things (and a flag-waving American if ever there was one) looked somber. We talked about it on the way home, and I never forgot it.

Years later, in another church in another place, foreign visitors asked a member of the congregation if the large dove pictured on the back wall was, "your god?" OH! I suddenly wondered that day, looking at the platform, "If a dove was misunderstood, what message is sent by flags sitting on a church platform or altar area?"

My husband is going to preach this Sunday. The sermon is titled, "A Soldier of the Cross."

I have been singing the words all week to the hymn of the same title. It was penned by Isaac Watts, author of about 500 hymns. Here are his challenging words.

Am I a Soldier of the Cross

Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?

Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith's discerning eye

When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.

Oh, what powerful images! I have no problem with war imagery in hymns. We are wging war against darkness. I used to wonder, as a child singing this hymn in church, about being carried to the sky in a flowery bed. I thought the image was amusing, but I understood the point of the pointed question, "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?" "Oh yes, Jesus," I would think, "I don't want to float to heaven. I want to be a faithful soldier." How little I knew then. But I wanted to make a difference, and my heart still says these words. I will be a soldier of the cross, and I will not blush to speak of Jesus or to "own his cause" and I will be "a friend to grace."

A friend to grace! No, this world is NOT, as Watts notes. But we can be soldiers with grace as a watchword.

I will probably put a flag out on July 4th. But in church, even as we pray for America, and our troops in harms way, and ask forgivness for our nation's people, we will speak of Jesus and of battles that have eternal consequenceses.

Lord God, Commander of both the Heavenly Hosts, and those of us who fight the good fight here in this present world -- Even as we Americans thank you for the blessing of worshipping you freely and speaking truth without fear...even then, help us as we turn our eyes to greater things. May we not be caught up in the arrairs of this life. May we bring glory to You, the One who enlisted us. There are victories to be won! May the "glory be thine!" Amen

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Feeling a Bit...Overwhelmed

This isn't me, but I know how she feels.

My husband had knee surgery yesterday. He is home and doing fine, snuggled under a blanket watching videos, leg up, iced and mostly immobile. My mother continues with a cough that won't quit and a painful case of shingles that won' The cat has an ever-worsening case of bizarre lesions on her poor little balding face. Significant members of our worship team will not be present on Sunday, so we need a plan. I'm still trying to figure out a sermon for this week. I need to prepare for mid-week Bible study tonight. Our vacation begins next Tuesday, and the nice friend/minister who was going to preach just called to (very apologetically) cancel due to a family crisis. My neice, who was going to take mom for a week while we are vacationing has had unexpected changes in the family schedule and will not be able to take "Grandmommy" till August. The car is making a funny noise. I've caught a chest cold and do not feel too well.

I'm off to call the vet (yet again), and then my mother's doctor. Then I'll try to call the district and see who I might get to preach next week. After that I'll call the social worker at the hospital and then....I'm not sure what to do.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me...I can...I can...I can...I can..."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Changes in the Southern Baptist Convention

I come from a long line of Southern Baptists. I probably left teeth marks on the pew as an infant. My first experiences of church were Southern Baptist experiences. I first leaned Jesus loved me from gracious and dedicated Baptist women. I was baptised at First Baptist, Pacoima, California. I attended Sunday School, Training Union and Girls Auxiliary. I met my first boyfriend at a Baptist camp. My husband and I were married by a Baptist minister. He was baptised in a Baptist church, and our infant daughter was dedicated in the same church. I can sing every hymn in the old blue Baptist Hymnal.

I left a long time ago, but a part of me will always remain a Southern Baptist.

For several years I have watched the tightening of control of my former denomination by a few men with (in my opinion) a damaging and divisive agenda. I've wondered what my dad, a life-long Southern Baptist deacon would think of the trends if he were alive to see them.

I rejoice that perhaps change is coming. Read about it here if you would like.

Friday, June 23, 2006

This Proves It!

I have always been interested in politics. I even toyed with the idea of running for office long ago and far away. Howevre, I always said I could never actually do so because I couldn't run as a Republican, and I couldn't run as a Democrat...and Independent Moderates NEVER EVER get elected.

Here's the "proof" in print.

Your Political Profile:
Overall: 45% Conservative, 55% Liberal
Social Issues: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Ethics: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal

No wonder I feel so conflicted when I go to the polls. I either have a split personality, am so middle-of-the-road that I'm gonna get squashed, or I am very confused! Is there a more positive explanation?

Friday Five--Ice Cream

The Rev Gals are talking about ice cream today. Here's mine.

1. Ice cream: for warm weather only or a year-round food?

Ice cream is an every day of the year food, and twice a day in summer. Why do you think the owl is so rotund?

2. Favorite flavor(s)

Homemade vanilla. Otherwise, chocolate.

3. Cake cone, sugar cone, waffle cone, cup?
sugar cone

4. Childhood ice-cream memory

Making home-made ice cream in the crank kind of ice cream freezer...electric is not the same...out on the back patio on a hot California day...adding ice, adding salt, adding ice, adding salt, cranking till I couldn't and then my dad took over...seemed like hours...but OHHHH man, the most heavenly taste in the world licking homemade vanilla off the dasher

5. Banana splits: discuss.

Sure! Where shall we go? I prefer hard ice cream if possible, not the soft serve, and fresh strawberries....mmmm mmmmm

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Vigil for Life

The post below mentions a picture. Blogger is not cooperating, but I'm leaving the post as it is and hopefully inserting the picture later.

Five people from my church recently participated in a Vigil for Life sponsored by the Roman Catholic diocese of Green Bay. It has taken me a while to process my thoughts enough to try to write about them. It is difficult for me to write about the subject of abortion for many reasons. I've listened carefully to people share their thoughts or their experiences. I've sat across from women and watched their faces and listened to their stories. I've wept with them as they remembered the anguish and pain of their particular circumstance. I have heard more than one account of a situation that made me think, "Oh God, what was the right thing? What could have been done? What would I have done?" It is also difficult to write about this because I no longer live in a tidy world where I think people who love Jesus Christ agree on just about everything. I haven't for a long time, I suppose. How young I was once!

The issues are not simple. One of the Rev Gals devotions (see the book in the sidebar) was a recollection of terminating a pregnancy and the sorrow--and grace of God--that followed. We probably disagree about "the abortion issue." I read with tears in my eyes though, and I wished I could give an in-person embrace to this precious sister in the Lord.

The OB/GNY clinic is across the street from the hospital. About half of the women who see doctors there give birth to a live infant. The other half are there to have their pregnancy terminated. There are six doctors. Only two of them perform that means that two doctors are dealing with almost half the women. Something is so sad about that. We were told that one rode a bicycle and we were warned that he would likely be very angry and confrontational. He had narrowly missed hitting several walkers with his bike, frightening even senior citizens as he headed for them--and turned at the last moment. The other doctor, our shift leader said, had spoken to no one and came and went quietly. We saw neither doctor that day.

The prayer walk began on Mother's Day and concluded on Father's Day, a period of 40 days. Twenty-four hours a day for 40 days someone walked and prayed. This vigil was not confrontational. We carried no pictures of aborted fetuses, and we seldom spoke to anyone, including each other. We stayed carefully on the sidewalk. We were walking on a Friday morning, so most of the walkers were retired folks. One very old woman told me that her feet were hurting badly but that she was not quitting till her allotted time was up. As she limped she prayed the rosary. Others prayed the Lord's Prayer. Two men walked together and quietly prayed scripture.

In the picture above I'm in the front of the line. My husband is a ways behind, in the hat. A bit further back are two of my church people. There were several different kinds of signs, as you can see. I've done this before, and I always choose to carry the sign that reads, "Abortion Hurts Women" if I can't have my first choice, "Jesus Forgives and Heals." There are a few that I cannot carry, even though I believe they are true.

It was a very warm and sunny day, but the atmosphere was somber. One man walked alone for two hours, never making eye contact with any of us and never speaking. His face was full of grief. I prayed silently for him, wondering what the pain was that he carried. At one point some children arrived and walked for about a half hour. One boy with bright blue eyes and a broad smile wore a shirt that proclaimed, "I choose life." He proudly showed it to me. Somehow, it just made me sad.

We tended to walk two-by-two. When I walked with my husband we held hands and prayed quietly. Sometimes we walked in silence. At one point I walked with a woman from our church for a while. Strangely, at one point we both were almost overcome with grief. We could not speak, except she asked, "What is this grief I'm feeling?" It felt very personal, as if someone I knew closely was dying. Tears poured down my face as I walked. I silently prayed for the women who were caught in desperate situations. The abused woman. The broken woman. The woman who had discovered that something was seriously wrong with her unborn child. The woman who had no one to stand with her or pray with her or just love her. The confused woman. The angry woman. The teenager. I saw them in my mind, and I wept for them and for the life in them. Then, almost as suddenly as the grief had begun, it ended.

I recalled a young teenager I knew years ago--an angry, spoiled, selfish girl. I learned that, at 17, she had just had her fifth abortion. She, and her mother, were quite casual about it all. I was horrified. Occasionally I still think of her and I wonder what went wrong. As I walked I prayed for her. She would be almost 40 now.

Next my mind went back to a dark night on a hillside. The smell of pines filled the air and the campfire crackled pleasantly. Five of us sat around the fire--my husband and I, two others whom I've forgotten, and a grieving young woman. I had been counseling her for a while. She had told me she had to have a sort of funeral for the children she had never seen. Sobbing, she laid three rosebuds on the fire. One was pink. The other two were white. As she watched the flowers burn into ashes, she spoke to her three children as if they were sitting with us. Wrapping her arms around her body, she sobbed out sorrow, brokenness, regret and pain that was beyond my comprehension. She asked forgiveness for ending their lives before they had begun. One was a girl, she knew. She told them that she would do it differently now, and that she prayed for God's forgiveness. She was only beginning to consider that God might love her. We moved away shortly after that night, but I hope she continued on in her journey and found God's healing and love.

I remembered the night a relative told me something she had never shared with anyone. Twenty years before, in an abusive and adulterous relationship, she found herself terrified for her life...and pregnant. She doubled over in grief as she anguished, "I know it was not right. I felt like I would die too when I went into that room. I hated the doctor. I hate myself sometimes too, and I grieve for that child every day of my life. But if I was in that situation again I can see nothing else I could have done. I had no choice." I said nothing. I just hugged her and sobbed with her.

I remembered the young woman who was raped and became pregnant. Seeking help from Planned Parenthood, she was only told the location of abortion clinics. Only when she became angry and insistent was she told about adoption options. She carried the baby for nine months, and she talked to it, sang to it and told it she loved it. When her little girl was born she cradled her for two days before tearfully giving her to the parents she had chosen to raise her child. Six years later, a picture of a newborn still sits on her dresser.

All these thoughts swirled in my mind as I walked and prayed. I prayed for God's confused, sinful, broken creation. I prayed for women, and for men, and for babies unborn. Not once did I pray for Roe V. Wade to be overturned. It never occurred me to pray about politics. There is much I don't understand, but I know this much. Politics and courts are not the answer. I also know something else.

Jesus forgives and heals.

Patricia Gundry has written a very thoughtful article, "Why I am Anti-Abortion and Pro-Choice." She discusses why we may feel conflicted about the abortion issue. I'm not sure what to think about all of what she says in this article, but she makes a lot of sense, as always. The article can be found here at FemSpeak. It will give you lots to ponder.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Wedding Story

My daughter's favorite movie is "The Princess Bride." She and most of her friends have watched it numerous times. They've even been known to have Princess Bride parties.

My daughter was married a couple of years ago. She always planned that her dad would perform the ceremony, and she asked him to begin the rehearsal with the speech of "the clergyman" pictured in the meme below. As the rehearsal was about to start, she reminded her dad, "Don't forget what we're gonna do, Dad. Remember?" Dad said, "Huh, what are you talking about?" "YOU KNOW DAD, don't you?" Her rather stuffy pastor came up at that point with a direction, so the conversation was dropped. The rehearsal went well, except that afterwards the bride came up to me and lamented, "Oh, Mom, I'm so disappointed. Dad forgot he was supposed to do the clergyman lines from Princess Bride. How could he forget that? We've talked about it so many times!"

Next day the music played softly, the candles were lit, friends and family arrived and were seated. The guests included ministers and elderly missionaries, several Wiccans, a girl in leopard tights accompanied by her spike-haired biker boyfriend, several Goths, two guys in wheel chairs (residents of a group home where the Bride had worked), professors, a man covered with tattoos and more. It was the most eclectic group of guests I've ever seen at a wedding.

The bride, in an elaborate gown with a long train, entered on her father's arm and processed down the aisle to the strains of Bach. The pastor spoke a very formal charge to the groom. Then he stepped aside and Dad placed Daughter's hand in Groom's hand and stepped to the front. The bride's brother, a groomsman, wiped a tear away.

The hush was broken by the words, spoken with great solemnity, " what bwings us tegeddah today..."

The congregation gasped in disbelief, and then erupted with laughter. Daughter's mouth dropped, and then she burst into laughter too. After we all regained our composer the wedding commenced. It was a very lovely wedding, all in all, rich with personal reflection, prayer, testimony of God's grace, and sweet joy.

The pastor wasn't happy though. He did not attend the reception. We had a wonderful time dancing (shhhh...don't tell...chuckle) by candlelight and eating chocolate-covered strawberries in the park pavillion. No wedding cake, just wonderful finger desserts. Daughter never wants to be particularly traditional. She did want her father to give her away though. But that is another subject.

A lot of people who probably tend to believe that Christian's are prissy and stiff found out differently. At least that day!

My daughter and her husband now attend an "emergent" AG church in Minneapolis. Take a look at Church in Uptown.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Princess Bride Meme--Well, whattaya know!

The Clergyman

Which Princess Bride Character are You?
this quiz was made by mysti

Internet Monk Weighs In on Pentecostals

This article, titled "A Growing and Awkward Silence: Things I Can't Talk About With My Pentecostal and Charismatic Friends" is long but worth reading for anyone who is interested in the relationship between both individuals and denominations of differening "stripes."

I am deeply saddened to say that I think every point he makes is desperately needed. I am getting tired of saying things like, "I am sorry that your Charismatic neighbor said that. I don't agree with that" or having people think that Pentecostal means a lover of all things TBN. (Aaaaaarrrrrrggggggh!)

For the record, I do not listen to Rod Parsley, TD Jakes, or Kenneth Copeland, to name just a few. And I do know what expository preaching is.

This fellow looks all too familiar.

Perhaps I should send a link for Monk's article to our headquarters.

Friday, June 16, 2006

friday fiveZzzzzzz....

The Rev Gals have a tradition of a weekly five-question quiz. Here's this week's.

1. In what kind of environment do you sleep best? (e.g. amount of light and noise, temperature, number of pillows, breathe-right strip, sleeping in the buff, etc.)

Firm mattress. Dark. Quiet. Very cool temperature with a blanket over me unless I'm really warm. Don't like the feel of air blowing on me though. I tend to get too warm at night so I sleep in nothing or in very light pajamas. That was more than the Rev Gals needed to ask, IMO. ;-)

2. How much sleep do you need to feel consistently well-rested?

Honestly, I hate this, but it is about 9 or 10.

How much can you get by on? Six or seven, but not for days on end.

What are the consequences when you don't get enough?

I get blank. Just glassy eyed and can't think. Eventually I get really hyper and silly. Not good. If it goes on too long, I just don't funcion well AT ALL.

3. Night owl or morning person?

Depends on the situation. Mostly a night owl, but I love the occasional really early-morning for walking, sitting on the deck, drinking coffee and reading my Bible when no one else is up.

4. Favorite cure for insomnia

Still looking for one. :-( Tried warm milk (ugh) and melatonin and eating a small snack and taking a warm bath. Nothing is working very well. I have been struggling with insomnia for a while now.

5. To snooze or not to snooze? Why or why not?

Snooze. Because I wake up slowly. I rarely wake up feeling anywhere close to wide awake, and it often takes me some time to feel really awake. Once in a while, and I love it when it happens, I wake up raring to go. If I wake up and I am wide awake, I get up.

For now, I am really tired. Hope I can sleep. G'night.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Of Chivalry, or its Lack, and Presbytery

In April I posted about becoming visible at our denomination's district council. I never did come up with any real reasons for the evident change in other's attitudes--or was it a change in me?

Something else that seemed odd happened a few days ago. I'm not trying to brag or imply anything whatsoever. I am just curious, more than anything else, about the "whys." Just musing to avoid going outside and doing yard work maybe. (Today it is HOT in Wisconsin.)

I was attending a small, early-morning training session led by our district superintendent. There were eight ministers present. I was the only woman among them. We all know each other to a greater or lesser degree. I was last to arrive, but the superintendent was out of the room, so we spent some time getting coffee and exchanging small talk and good-natured banter. Two of the group, Rev. R. and Rev. H. are former pastors who are now employed as officials for the district.

I was included in the group as if I was "one of the guys." I mean this in a totally good way. I do not think this has ever happened to me before in a group of ministers. They are kind but I never feel like a friend and peer. This morning--something was different.

Rev. H., the white-haired and jocular man in the chair to my left teased, "Well [SingingOwl], it is good to have you join us. You just significantly lowered the ugly factor in the room." I laughed and replied with some similarly light comment, and the other district official (Rev. R.) in the chair to my right looked at us both very seriously and said, "She raised the intelligence factor quite a bit too." I was surprised at the comment and wondered if he had been concerned that I was offended by the earlier remark (I wasn't). There was no time to reply since we were beginning our class at that point.

Later I was carrying some light but awkward boxes out to my car. I juggled the boxes, my notebook, Bible, pen and purse, dropping the pen in the process. The others were ahead of us, but Rev. R. (carrying a load of his own) awkwardly picked up the pen, calling out loudly, "Hey GUYS! Someone could come and help the lady with this stuff!" They were too far ahead and did not hear him, I assume, since they did not stop. I grinned at him and said, "Well, when you gain some things you sometimes lose other things." He sort of "harrumped" and said he guessed so. I said that I'd take this anyday. He looked at me with what appeared to be somewhat surprised understanding.

We piled into cars and proceeded to Famous Dave's for some fabulous BBQed ribs. It was an enjoyable lunch with lots of warm conversation. There were six at our table, because a short distance away the district superintendent sat with one of our number who has recently been elected as an area presbyter. "Why are they eating by themselves?" I asked Rev. H. who again was on my left. He told me that since the pastor was assuming a new position, the superintendent had decided to begin the education process over lunch. Rev. R. (funny, he was on my right again) said "It's too bad we aren't a little closer. That way you could listen in and when you become a presbyter you can skip the first part of the instruction. Well, I suppose they'd just make you do it again anyhow." He didn't grin.

What kind of joke is that? I'm not saying I'm next on the list for presbyter or that I even want to serve in that way. I am saying that not long ago the remark simply would never have been said.

What is happening?

This is good. I'll carry my own boxes if necessary.

Ten Commandments for the Internet Age

These ten "commandments" (or is it eleven?) are courtesy of Ben Witherington, proving that intellectual types can have a sense of humor. I especially liked the second to last one.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Just a frosty reminder

I forgot the pink petunias. Can you tell I like petunias? My mom does too, and she spends a lot of time sitting on the deck in spring and summer so we put lots of them out in pots. We wait and wait for summer and then the mosquitos are so bad we can't sit in our yards. However, DH just sprayed the yard for the third time and I think he may have finally conquered the swarms of mosquitos for now. We call them the "state bird of Wisconsin." Our Minnesota neighbors think the mosquito is the state bird of Minnesota, so I guess they have the same problem over there.

As for the reminder, well it isn't showing up very well on the computer, but this is an early-morning picture from February when we had a beautiful frost in the morning. It coats every twig and is the most breathtakingly gorgeous thing to see, but soon gone. There is snow on the ground and the temperature was...well..COLD!

Monday, June 12, 2006

It is WARM in Wisconsin

A while back I was battling depression and looking for signs of spring in my life and in my surroundings. Here are a few pictures from my backyard. Yes, spring has finally really sprung in Wisconsin.

I have beautiful pink peonies in in my yard, as does almost everyone in town. It's such a pity they don't last long! The roses only more so.

And speaking of roses, here are some blooming in the side yard.

Daisies by the back deck.

Yellow Petunias! The color doesn't show up correctly, but they are a beutiful buttery color, and the blue ones are really purple. Those bright yellow flowers are something I never saw before but couldn't resist.

Marigolds and geraniums and some other things that haven't quite bloomed yet.....ah, we love our flowers up in da nortland....

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Some Follow-Up

I was thinking about that dentist chair, and the comments made. Here is what Proclaiming Softly said:

How often does any of us go to a meeting or club unless we are personally invited, unless we have a prior association with that group? Many of us would be uncomfortable walking into a "new" space without a friend. There are a couple of places close to my home that I've never gone to even though they are popular with my acquaintances, yet I've never had a friend say, "hey, lets go to ____." So if we did go and we thought the place had strange, unfamiliar music, how would we feel? What about seeing a guy leading the group wearing a "dress" and chanting? Does that seem somehow uncomfortable because we might not have it in our background?

P.Softly is a Lutheran, and I'm a Pentecostal, so you might say we are from "different sides of the church aisle" so to speak. :-) What is familiar to a Lutheran is not familiar to my folks and vice versa. But the principle is exactly the same. For example...

Last week I attended the funeral of a Roman Catholic, the father of one of our church members. Since I only knew the deceased man slightly, I was free to watch and think during the funeral. The sanctuary is rather small and quite lovely and I have been to a few Catholic services before. Nonetheless there were a couple of objects that were unfamiliar to me. I wondered what their purpose might be. The priest in that particular parish is quite elderly, and the service was very formal. Which meant I was a bit lost. A large part of the congregation knew the proper responses but I (for the most part) did not. My familiarity with Catholic liturgy pretty much ends with knowing that when the priest says "Peace be with you" the appropriate response is "And also with you." (Okay, slight exaggeration, but not much.)

I found myself wishing I could ask questions. I like to learn. I would have been happy to join in the service to a greater degree if I understood it, or knew what to say when. As it was I know I stood out as an uninformed Protestant. And yes, I felt just a bit powerless and a bit relieved when the service was completed. And I'm a pastor, not someone who is trying to find my way to God.

On the other hand, I know very well how unfamiliar our "free church" Pentecostal style must sound, look and feel to our Catholic and Lutheran neighbors who come for the first time. And we are a pretty quiet congregation as Pentecostals and charismatic congregations go. After all, this is Wisconsin, not Georgia or Mississippi, and the culture is quite different.

I think P.Softly has the only solution I can think of. Some people are uncomfortable because they do not want to submit their lives to God, or they simply have been hurt and are struggling with faith. That are perhaps different issues--other than that, the only way to get past the discomfort (other than the work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God) is to befriend people, talk to people beforehand about what to expect, explain what may be different, and so on.

There must be good ways to do that whether we are Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist or Assemblies of God.

We could all start by inviting our friends to church. And then having some good conversation.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In the Dentist Chair and in the Pew

Bright and early this morning I went to the dentist for a cleaning and check up.

If you have been reading here for a while you know that we like to dress up and play a grownup version of "let's pretend." As part of that I have seen the implements of torture used by "dentists" in the 1700s. Just looking at them makes my insides curl up, and I know I would have to be experiencing pain at an absolutely unbearable level to let someone put those things in my mouth.

Consequently, I have thanked God more than once for the wonders of modern dentisty. Seriously. Thanks be to the Lord for numbing agents, for high-speed drills, for crowns, and bonding fillings, etc. Going to the dentist is a relatively pain-free experience, most of the time anyway.

But...eveyone still seems to dread going.

I ponder that this morning as I sit in the waiting room reaading about creative egg-dying ideas for Easter. Why is the reading material always outdated? Why does my stomach feel a little queasy and why do I need to make two trips to the restroom? This is no big big big deal. Sheesh, what is taking them so long? I hate those drilling noises.

My turn. Okay. Not a root canal, for goodness sake. Just a cleaning and another very minor little problem to deal with. I'm a grown-up.

The nice dental hygenist, hereafter known as DH, chats brightly about the weather as she lowers the chair. And lowers it a bit more. And a bit more. My feet are now a little higher than my head! Bright light on--right in my eyes--and the receptionist destracts her with a question...ooww. My eyes squint. Okay, now she has it shining on my mouth. Whew.

DH: "Time for a couple of x-rays." In goes that hard plastic thingy, pressing painfulluy into the soft tissue under my tongue.

DH: "Hold very still."

SO: (thinking..."Owww, that knife-like plastic is pushing into the floor of my, it is bleeding a little...waaah")

DH: "Good! All done...So, life is good? Open your mouth please."

SO: Opens mouth, nods head

DH: "Wider please."

SO: Opens mouth wider

DH: "Great!"

SO: (thinking..."What is so great about it?")

DH: "I haven't seen you for awhile."

SO: "Mmmffffphh" (thinking..."I don't come here to hang out")

DH: scrape, scrape, scrape, poke,, SCRAAAAAPE, scrape, scrape, POKE!

SO: flinches

DH: "Oh, sorry. Did that hurt?"

SO: "It's okay, just a bit sensitive." (thinking..."You just stabbed me in the gum with that sharp instrument, you nincompoop. I'm bleeding again.")

DH: "Hmmm, little bleeding here....Have you been flossing?"

SO "Mmmpffph" (blinks eyes twice for yes, feeling like a recovering accident victim))

DH: "I want to ask you a question."

SO: (Clearly on the defensive, thinks, "Oh shoot, what am I doing wrong now? I'm flossing, I'm brushing, I'm avoiding candy....") "Umm...sure."

DH: "What is an appropriate amount to pay a minister for doing a wedding?"

We have a short discussion about clergy fees and her upcoming wedding. Then she gets back to work. By now I am acutely uncomfortable. I do not like having my feet higher than my head. I do not like the bright light. I do not like the splashing water on my face and glasses. I do not like the shap pokey instrument. I DO NOT LIKE having my mouth wide open. My head is starting to throb and my nose itches incessently. Why does my nose always do that when I'm in the dentist chair? The DH keeps scraping and poking and then flossing and then puts chalky stuff in my mouth and polishes my teeth. Bzzzzzz...chalk kind of makes me gaggy.

I know my teeth must be cleaned, and I like it when they are polished. Done. Okay then.

The dentist comes in. "Which one?" he says to the assistant, who replies with something about the #90 bicuspid, I think. (Ninety?) He checks my teeth over and fixes the minor problem with his drill. Rrrrrrrrrrrrr.....Ugh, nasty sound and nasty smell. But painless. No big deal. He tells me I am doing a great job, pats my arm and asks about my son and his teeth.

I make my appointment to come back in six months. "Bye. Have a nice day."

Not so bad. Why was it something I dread so much?

"It is not the pain, which is really pretty minimal" I think. "It's not that they are not very nice people. They are friendly, reasonably competent, and the office is nicely decorated, if a bit dated..."

It is that I feel like a victim. Sitting in a chair with my feet higher than my head has me feeling that way before anything even happes. I don't like having a body orifice viewed and prodded by a stranger, even if it is only my tongue and teeth and tonsils they are seeing. I don't like that they are doing things I don't quite get. I want to know why they do certain things. It is their world, and I enter it for a while to go through something necessary but unfamilar and uncomfortable and a bit humiliating. I have no power at all when I am in the dentist chair. I hate feeling trapped.

Now I'm thinking about church.

I think there may be reasons why we see some people every six months, and perhaps it is not always about them not wanting much of God in their lives. Is the reason some people feel uncomfortable in church similar in some ways? I do, after all, like having clean teeth. But I am also very glad that I don't have to return to that chair anytime soon. Do we do things that make people uneasy from the get-go? Do we use words they don't understand? Do they feel like they are entering our territory to get a little help from us but don't want to hang out because it is not a pleasant place to be?

Sometimes GOD makes people uncomfortable. Part of the job description of the Holy Spirit is to "convict" and that usually is not comfortable. But do we make people feel uncomfortable? Do we talk to them not realizing they can't answer us? Do we put them in an uncomfortable position? Are we friendly and cheerful but also impersonal? Do we have all the power? Do visitors feel trapped?

Are there ways we can empower new people in appropriately? I don't know if I'm on to something or if I am just short on sleep.

What do you think?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bits and Pieces

I wrote a long (and brilliant) post yesterday about Pentecost and worship and now it is gone-- vanished into cyberspace somehow! Not going to write it again. Don't you hate it when that happens? Well, maybe it wasn't exactly brilliant, but it was a lot of work.

It's been a busy week. Preparing for Sunday, attending an overnight training session, dealing with people, writing an article for the district, going to graduation get-togethers. Not much time for pondering. Here are just a few thoughts about a lot of different things.

The RevGals devotional book (in the sidebar) is available for daily devotional reading online. Find it at "Ordinary Time."

Here are some of my parishioners who are on a sort of "dream team" as we envision our future and pray. We just went to an overnight meeting, and when these pictures were taken we were having a great time laughing and talking and eating breakfast together.

Deacons Jim and Pat

Me, Wendy and D.H. Ken

Those who are observant will have noted that my eyes are closed. That is probably because I am waiting for the server to bring my first cup of coffee.

John and Nancy

We've been on a rather long spiritual and practical journey, and soon we will be sharing some significant direction for our congregation. I ask your prayers for me, and us, as we take the next step. I'll share more in a few weeks.

On the family front: I had a 2-hour telephone conversation with my son, Joshua, yesterday. He is thinking, and he is reading ("Blue Like Jazz"), and it is good. I believe the Holy Spirit is at work! For those who have prayed for him over the years, many thanks. My heart has been hurting for him for a very long time. I believe prayers are being aswered. Here's a picture taken at his sister's house.

Spent the better part of the day at the doctor's with my mother who is sick, but improving. Our little cat has horrible scabby lesions on her face, so I spent most of the rest of the day at the vet. No definitive answer as of yet.

And finally, if you want to read an excellent and thought-provoking post about the returning soldiers, go to Questing Parson's Blog. He is a wonderful writer, and this is a post well-worth reading.