Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Five: I Like Myself

Ever notice how much easier it is to note your faults than to see your good qualities? Today's Rev Gal Friday Five is about some healthy affirmatio. Tell us five things you like about yourself!

1. I am tenacious. (Yes, I'm also stubborn!) If I think something is right, just, needs to be...I'll hang in there as long as I can to try to get it done. I don't give up easily.

2. I am flexible. Not physically...nope,nope,nope. In life. I can adapt to situations, people, places. And usually I can not only adapt, but I can find something to like and enjoy. That trait has been well-exercised in my life, which has been full of unexpected twists and turns. Someone recently said I was like a "Weeble." Those are toys. "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down!"

3. I can laugh at myself. Essential!

4. I can laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep.

5. I have a friendly smile. (Okay, I was running out of stuff.)

How about you?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Pajama Farmer

Most of you know that our daughter Kris and her family have moved to rural Wisconsin (about 10 miles from us) from where they lived in almost-inner-city Minneapolis. Daryl started a blog about their experiences on their little hobby farm. It's called "Pajama Farmer." Go visit if you are interested in two city kids going country.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Little Big Foot: Paint

Marla Whitewater sat back on her heels with a sigh. "I think that about does it." She balanced her paintbrush carefully on the side of the paint can. "Ready for the roller." She glanced into the can. "I hope we have enough to finish the room. I'd hate to send poor Chad back to the Ben Franklin Store one more time!" She was dressed in a rolled up pair of jeans and one of her husband Dennis' cast-off dress shirts. She had tiny flecks of pink paint in her hair and a smear of it across her right cheek.

Pastor Dee Anna grinned as she turned on the ladder where she stood painting the wall next to the ceiling. Like Marla, she wore jeans but her shirt was red and said "Eastside UMC" on the back. "That's a lovely shade of blush you have on your face, Marla, but maybe a bit too permanent to be practical."

As Marla raised her hand to her cheek, Dennis' genial brown face popped around the door frame. "How's it goin' in here ladies? It's been a challenge covering up that bright green color, but Chad and I are about done."

"I woulda been done an hour ago if I hadn't had to keep running to the store." Chad's voice called from the hallway.

Dee Anna climbed down from the ladder as Marla stood to her feet, stretching. "I could use some nourishment, but it would be nice to get Madeline's room all painted before we stop." She bent to pick up a roller. Madeline was spending the night with a new friend from school and Dee Anna hoped that when her daughter arrived home the next afternoon she would find her bedroom looking bright and welcoming with no hint of the dark purple that had made the small room look like a cave.

Pastor Dee Anna Hansen was surprised at how well things were going. When they had arrived there had been plenty of guys to help unload the truck. Madeline had kept Charlie occupied as best she could while the grown ups unloaded their belongings. Dee Anna had been surprised and gratified to see that a sizable portion of her new congregation were there to help out. In the church kitchen, Jim Johnson told her, several women were putting together a soup supper for everyone.

As Dee Anna directed the parade of furniture and boxes from a spot just inside the parsonage door, Marla Whitewater and Lorene Johnson had eyed the boxes till they found the ones marked kitchen. The two of them had the dishes, utensils and pots and pans stowed away in short order. "I don't know if we put things in the spots were you will want things," Lorene had said to Dee Anna, "but it'll be easier rearranging than it would be unpacking a bunch of boxes in the kitchen."

Lee Coats and a middle-aged man named Ted had put the bed frames together. As soon as the mattresses were unloaded from the U Haul, Lee's wife, Mary, and one of the teenagers who Dee Anna learned was named Tiffany, searched for the box containing bedding. By the time all the furniture was in, the two of them had made up both her bed and Madelines with sheets, blankets and bed spreads.

Dee Anna had watched from the parsonage doorway as her couch, end tables, dresser, and cedar chest had emerged from the truck. After moving in all the furniture, several men and teen boys made a sort of assembly line and moved the boxes inside the little house.

Chad had led a group of young men in dispersing boxes to the various rooms. The whole job of moving all their things from the moving truck to the house had taken about an hour, and in another hour the furniture and boxes were stacked in the right places. Madeline had giggled when she came in to find that somone had even put her giant Winnie-the-Pooh in the middle of her bed. "But, Mommy," she'd said later that night, "the colors in this house are all bright."

Now, a few weeks later, Dee Anna stood in the middle of her daughter's room for a moment, gazing around. It was looking pink--a shade that reminded her of sherbet. She smiled at Dennis and Chad, who had also appeared in the doorway. "I could go for some fish fry. Isn't that what you all eat up here on Friday nights?"

Marla looked at her and laughed, "Now that'd be a sight! The four of us trooping in to the Little Big Foot Diner dressed in jeans and paint splatters!"

"How about I go over to the Lumberjack Drive-In and get a sack of their hamburgers?" asked Chad. "They have the best burgers anywhere around." He glanced at Dee Anna with a small smile, "And besides, they actually sell Dr. Pepper."

A short while later the four of them sat around Dee Anna's round kitchen table, companionably sharing french fries and munching what had turned to be excellent hamburgers. Charlie snored softly from his dog bed in a corner. Most of the house was looking orderly, and Dee Anna confided to the others that she and Madeline were starting to feel at home. The four of them had spent most of the day painting and they were all tired, but it was the good sort of tired that comes after shared physical labor. The chartreuse hallway was now a warm beige, and Dee Anna was happy that Madeline's room would soon be looking feminine and cheerful.

The windows had been left open so the air could dispel paint fumes, but the night air was growing chilly. As Dee Anna rose to close the window above the kitchen sink, Dennis commented, "So, who's painting the wooden pumpkins on that bean bag game for the fall fest? And where are we going to find bright orange paint?"

"We could always send Chad back to the Ben Franklin" Marla said with a chuckle.

"Oh," said Pastor Dee Anna, thinking of the large stash of half empty paint cans she'd discovered in the basement a few days before, "I think I have just the perfect thing. Have any of you seen the orange closet in my bedroom?"

The others stopped talking to stare at her.

"There is at lease a half-gallon of that paint in the basement. It will be perfect for pumpkins."

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm Employed...and We Heard from the VA

Well, friends and cyber neighbors, SingingOwl is employed!

Some of you know that I started a teeny tiny job answering the phone and doing some filing for a couple of hours on Monday morning for a small financial services firm. This has turned into a temporary, full-time position.

How long "temporary" turns out to be depends on several factors that are unknown as of this moment. It will be a few months, anyway. I am still answering phones and filing and doing some data entry, but I am also doing something creative.

The woman who owns the firm, MW, values education for her clients and others too. Several opportunities for this have opened up, and hopefully there will be more to come. I'm developing written materials (worksheets or handouts), advertising stuff, and power points to go along with the various topics in the presentations.

It is good to be doing something creative. It is also good to be working for a woman of great integrity and ethics. Also good to have a friend working in the office too (the one who recommended me for the job in the first place).

No, it's not "ministry" in the usual way we use the word. I'm still working on getting that going. But it is good to be employed!

Several times the boss lady has said something like, "I believe God is going to use the things you are learning here and doing for me for some additional purpose. Meanwhile, you are helping me." I hope and pray that she is correct about that!

And remember when we went to the Veteran's Administration for Ken to get an evaluation? Well, we heard from the VA service rep today. He told Ken that he is rated 100% disabled. This does not mean that he cannot continue his employment, this is just for Uncle Sam's purposes. How much money we will receive is unknown at this point. Ken should find out next Friday.

We hope this means we will soon be current on the mortgage!

Not exciting to be face-to-face with the fact that he is not doing all that well physically, but exciting to think the financial pressure may be easing soon.

Thanks to those who have prayed for us.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

God Loves People

John 3:16-17 (King James Version)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

God loves us.
You knew that, right? Me too. So why is it so easy to start thinking and acting like God is condemnation, or God is anger, or God is snobbish?

Last weekend we went to one of our favorite "Rendezvous" sites. (That's "rondy voo" as in fur-trade era playing), not a romantic tryst. I've posted about this site before. This is the third time we've been to this one, which is mostly a smallish group (20 lodges or so) of friends and friendly acquaintances. It is the place where I was asked to do something I never expected, the place where I baptized someone I normally wouldn't have, where I met The Mandolin Man, and where I took pictures of musicians in the twilight.

Each year we've been there we have been aware of God's presence in some way, particularly on Sunday in the little church service. This year was no exception. Something had subtly changed in attitudes towards us, not that they were bad before, but this time people were more relaxed. They remembered our names, talked about previous rendezvous there, admired little Trinity (who was with us without Mommy and Daddy and did fine). They also graciously welcomed Kevin, Ken's brother, like a long-lost friend.

This rendezvous was quite enjoyable partly because there were a number of really good musicians. The man who plays the washtub bass like a pro was there again, an old man who literally made music with a pair of spoons, another interesting guy who used a washboard for percussion (Zydeco style), a fiddler, and a couple of guitarists. Ever since the baptism experience, we are asked to have a worship service on Sunday. It's always interesting. This year several of the musicians agreed to play for Sunday worship.

They were a motley crew, I tell you! I wish I had a picture. (I would have except I forgot to put the memory card back the last time I used the camera.) Picture all of the people dressed in 18th Century garb.

The bass player plucked his one string, with facial expressions and body language that eloquently said, "I love making this music." He is extraordinary, and I can hardly believe the music he makes with a washtub, broom handle and one string. It makes me smile just to watch and listen to someone enjoy themselves so much in such a simple way.

The man with the spoons had a long, grizzled beard and his hard life showed in the deep wrinkles of his face. The one with the washboard was white-haired and smiling and wore red suspenders to match his voyageur-style red striped long socks.. The guy with the guitar, who loves Dylan songs, was younger.

They played and sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "I'll Fly Away," and "Keep on the Sunny Side." It might seem funny to think of singing those songs at a worship service, but they were very sincere. As they played Trinity smiled and clapped her little hands and bounced on her wooden camp chair. Others sang, smiled, or just nodded in time. Kevin sang from his wheelchair next to Trinity, wearing his late father's Stetson hat that he had flattened out "mountain man" style. A beautiful little girl with long blond hair sang and smiled in the front row, her boot tips peeking out from beneath the hem of her long skirt.

Something happened. I became intensely aware of God's love. Pure, unalloyed, constant--God loved the spoon player with the deep wrinkles who had probably imbibed too much the night before. God loved to see the washboard bass player having so much joy in his music. God loved the beautiful little blond girl, the cute black children who were dressed in fringed buckskin, the grandparents of the little boy who'd been baptized a couple of years ago. God loved the circle of simple worship. And God loved the ones who, in spite of our efforts and our friendly invitation, did not attend but stayed away, as they have each year, for reasons only they knew.

I wanted the simple moment, the simple and sentimental music, the blue sky and sunshine to go on and on. Truly, my spirit seemed to swell with a deep awareness of the boundless love of our Creator God to his fallible and fickle creation, humankind.

A chance jest from the organizer of the rendezvous, "No need to pray for _________, he's going to Hell no matter what" had turned into a sermon idea. I ended up talking about John 3:16-17. Several of the church attenders probably had little to no understanding of God's "good news." So I kept it very simple. I spoke of God's love and how so many of us think God is eager to condemn us--when the opposite is true.

Afterwards, the grandmother of the baptized boy (I don't know how else to identify him) came up to me and softly said, "Thank you so much" as she hugged me hard. I'm not sure what she was thanking me for, but I knew the Holy Spirit was with us in that moment. Her little grandson, now almost four, appears to be autistic and to have other problems.

Her husband, who tends to be bombastic, hugged me as well and joked, "That is the first time I ever hugged a lady preacher. I used to be scared of you. Maybe some of the holy will wear off on me." Another man quietly said, as he shook my hand, "Thanks for helping me think about God in a different way." Another said, "I liked your sermon. The only time I go to church is here or at other rendezvous. Don't misunderstand, I am a Christian man. I just don't like church. Thanks for making us feel welcome.."

Thank you, God for people. Thank you, God for being love--so amazing, so holy, so beyond finding out. And thank you, God, for the chance to share a simple sermon and to be reminded that you did, indeed, call me to preach the word. Send someone to water the seeds planted, to love, to smile, to be you in this world. Have your way in the hearts and life of each person who was with us last weekend. Continue the good things you have begun, I pray, for the sake of the Kingdom. Amen

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Comments About Rick Warren

I left a long comment under the previous post, so I decided to just turn it into a post.

I did not say Rick Warren has never worn a Hawaiian shirt. The thing was that he says he does not routinely wear Hawaiian shirts, and that he does not presently own one. He laughed when he said that newspaper articles keep calling him the "Hawaiian shirted pastor," his point being that articles just quoted each other instead of finding out for themselves. People could say (if there was any purpose) that I am the "long-red-dress-wearing woman pastor" and have a picture to prove it.

As for being what he needs to be depending on who is around him, I seem to remember St. Paul saying something about that very thing?

A weak stand on the gospel? What does that mean? I'm about to get snarky so we will agree to disagree.

I find the current Rick Warren bashing among certain segments of the evangelical word to be ludicrous and to bring reproach on the church, not the other way around. Certain websites even seem to believe he is a sort of anti-Christ. You don't have to be his biggest fan to realize how foolish that is.

Ruth, I say a loud AMEN (what a surprise--not) and CO, I assumed some things too. I found I was wrong. I was impressed with his gracious manner, the civic forums his church holds, the way he reaches out to others...Yep, I think some who villify him are people who have a pretty narrow view of what a Christian looks like. But maybe I am stereotyping again! :-)

As for the fluff factor...well, I am not commenting on "The Purpose Driven Life." That wasn't the point of the post. Was there anything to criticize there? I think so. There was also much to praise. And the fact that so many people did not know the very basic things discussed is in that book is, in my opinion, more an indictment on the pitiful state of knowledge of the average American church goer than of Rick Warren.

Tomorrow I am on to a totally different subject.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Forgot Rick Warren

I know, I know. Some people who sometimes read here probably think that would be a good thing.

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, California, and the author of "The Purpose Driven Life" spoke to us one morning at General Council. I was not enthusiastic about this. The reason why is not really important.

I need to say that I was wrong. It was a terriffic hour or so and I was encouraged and challenged. This man is different than I expected. He says that about 90% of what is reported in the media about him should be taken with a large grain of salt. I believe that. That's because I've been interviewed numerous times for newspaper articles of one sort or another, both as a minister and in other employment arenas. Ken too. I have yet to find that the reported acurately repeated what I (we) said or did. And I'm not a clebrity anywhere exceot in my own home.

Much of what I assumed about Rick Warren is apparently false. He was down-to-earth and not one bit pompous. Contrary to often repeated media reports, he does not wear Hawaiian shirts. He says he does not own one. He was dressed casually, however, which was fine. He lives on 10% of his income and gives away 90%. He did not move into a larger home when the money from Purpose Driven Life started pouring in. He doesn't wear a Rolex. He says a minister should be know for his or her purpose, not prosperity. (Yes!) His car is ten years old. He is passionate about addressing the AIDS crisis in Africa and elsewhere.

I was prepared to dislike him. Instead he won me over. Do I agree with everything I suspect he believes (or doesn't? I'm sure not. But I had to ask God's forgivness for my attitude. You know, we folks in the "church" really do need to learn to cut one another some slack.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Odds and Ends from General Council '09

Some relatively random impressions of how things went at the Assemblies of God General Council.

Lots of Young People

The "Fine Arts Festival" was happening at the same time as General Council. This means that AG teens from around the nation are in the finals of a competition that starts in the local church, goes to the district, the region, and ends up with the finalists at General Council. There was so much energy and fun all around us in the convention center as the kids practiced anywhere they could find an empty spot or corner--a living video here, a solo there, a violin or guitar playing somewhere else. And lots of matching tee shirts with youth group or church names on the back. I also was aware of the diversity I saw among the youth. There were many Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, etc. We are clearly no longer a fellowship of mostly white, rural people. The Hispanic churches account for the largest share of the continued growth of the Assemblies of God.

Something that happened this year that we thoroughly enjoyed was that we had a combined service one evening with the youth. WOW! It was wonderful. Thousands of people singing, worshiping, rejoicing together. Everyone loved this inter-generational service, including the kids. And we got to hear Shane and Shane.

Culture Changes

AG culture, that is. Every morning before the business sessions started a pastor had about ten minutes for prayer and a devotion. Not new. What was new was that the pastors who were asked to do this were all WOMEN ministers. Is this a small thing? Perhaps. But it speaks volumes. I could be mistaken, but I think this was a first. And it did not only happen once. If the change doesn't happen with leadership it is not likely to happen. Was it accidental that women were featured in this way? Not likely. Young ministers and minorities were more in evidence as well. The speaker for the evening service that was combined with the youth was a young, black pastor, Herbert Cooper. He was a wonderful (and funny) preacher. Well, I admit it did not hurt that he looked a lot like a hefty version of Denzel Washington.


It seems the Assemblies of God is coming into the 21st Century. The changes have been noticeable in many places (George Wood is on Facebook for example), and these changes were evident at council as well. I was impressed with the overall organization and look of things.

No Longer a Fashion Show

I know this was partly due to Florida heat and humidity, but the clothing was casual. This is a good thing. I mean, I recall times when it seemed that the main attraction of a GC for some people was that they could display their best outfits and jewelry--to such a degree that one almost felt out of place if not decked out. This more casual attitude was evident in many areas, not just clothes. And while the heat played a part, I'm sure, such was not the case when council was in CA or TX. So something else is happening. I hope it means a new willingness to take ourselves less seriously and walk a bit more humbly.

The USA Missions Banquet

Ken and I attend because the chaplains dept. is part of USA Missions. Among other stories, we heard a moving and amazing testimony from a former prostitute, drug addict, abuse victim, single mom with nowhere to go (except to church, evidently) and what happened to her when two inner-city pastors (a husband/wife ministry team) reached out to her with genuine love and compassion. Five years later she is drug-free, employed, and ministering to others. It was such a wonderful story, and the nervousness of the speaker detracted not at all. We gave her a standing ovation (and she cried). What a reminder it was of the reason we do what we do!

George Wood's Sermon About Leah

I have never preached, and never heard, a sermon with Leah (first wife of Jacob) as the central character. Dr. Wood preached a sermon about the legacy of our lives that was truly unforgettable. Was it an accident that the sermon was about a relatively unremarkable (not really) woman? I do not think so. Our new General Superintendent's regard and kindness to women is notable. And along with the women ministers who shared devotions, I think the sermon was very much "on purpose."

When Dr. Wood was elected two years ago it was for only a two-year term since he was serving the duration of the unexpired term of Thomas Trask who resigned mid-term. So this year we had an election again, and Wood was elected to serve a four-year term. Two years ago I heard snippets of conversations about how he was "too old" to take our church in a fresh direction. One young pastor commented in my hearing that Wood would be a good person to serve for two years and help us transition, and that he expected a younger person would be elected in 2009. Well, George Wood was elected by an overwhelming majority on the first nominating ballot. He has won the hearts and minds of just about everyone. YAY!

Our First Woman, and Our First Young Guy

In response to a resolution that passed last time, we elected two additional members of the Executive Presbytery. For the first time we have a woman minister, and a minister under age 40 serving in this the leadership body (a small group). The woman was Beth Grant, who some of you know. I voted for Dr. Debbie Gill, but Beth is great too.

A Disheartening Note

Inexplicably, last council we voted to elect a woman and a young person to serve on the executive team, but an almost identical resolution to add a percentage of women and young ministers to the General Presbytery (a larger body) was defeated because it narrowly missed the 2/3 majority required. Naturally, a similar resolution was offered this year. All of us thought it would pass this time. Especially since when Beth Grant shared a heartfelt thank-you to the assembled voters for electing her, and reminded us of why this move was historical and important. How could we applaud adding women/youth to the executive presbytery and not also add them to the general presbytery? The discussion in the business meeting got lengthy, and many substitute motions and proposed amendments clouded the issue. Long story short, by one (YES, ONE) vote, the whole thing was sent back to a committee for further review. ONE VOTE! Sigh. Next council is in 2011.

I will refrain from comment, because it just wouldn't be fittin'.

Overall, it was a remarkable General Council

A few pictures:

Here I am with two other rev gals (no, not official ones). Ken took the picture of us just before we headed out into the Florida heat and humidity. We looked better in the a.m. than in the p.m. :-)

Ken and I discovered what was advertised on the menu as "Orlando's Best Kept Oriental Secret." It was a tiny Thai restaurant that was easily overlooked--not quite sure how we ended up there. When we walked in and sniffed the amazing aroma, we knew our food was going to be good. Ken learned to use chopsticks in Okinawa when he was in the USMC.

A shot of Dr. George Wood (I love that guy!) chairing one of the business sessions.

Ken and me outside the convention center.

A gift to Dr. Wood from AG missionary (and Native American) John Maracle.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

General Council Update

The worship service for General Council was really good. Thousands of people singing "Holy Holy Holy" is a moving experience! Pentecostal pastors do know how to sing with enthusiasm and the convention center was filled with praise. There is something amazing about singing praise to God along with thousands of other worshipers. The worship leaders and choir were superb.

A sixteen year old named Parker brought the crowd to our feet as he challenged us to effectively resource the next generation of ministers, and our General Supt., Dr. George Wood preached a truly powerful sermon. It was about the legacy we leave behind and was based on someone that I don't think I've ever heard a sermon about in my whole life--Leah (Jacob's first wife). She was a woman who would have considered her life a failure. She experienced much that was unfair, even abusive--and yet Dr. Wood took us on a walk through scripture that showed us how the significance of her life could not be contained, or measured, during her lifetime. I found myself getting teary-eyed more than once. It was good.

Tomorrow we get up early and head out for the start of the business sessions. The resolution I spoke of in the previous post is number five, so we may get to it tomorrow.

Good night!