Monday, November 28, 2005

Alternate Advent Readings

On my morning walk in Willamette Park this morning, I noticed some new graffiti scrawled on the door of the tiny structure that houses the park restrooms. The restrooms are only opened from Memorial Day through the end of September--probably to save the Parks Department some maintenence and custodial costs. A big, official Parks Department sign on the door proclaims CLOSED FOR THE SEASON. There is a light on inside the building, though, which is puzzling. It's not a bright enough light to discourage loitering. It just looks like whichever hapless city employee locked up for the winter forgot to turn off that one light.

Under the official door sign, someone has scrawled, "The light is one, but no one is home." The graffiti artist either did not pay attention in spelling class, or was heavily under the influence of whatever it is that inspires people to scrawl graffitti on the doors of public restrooms." The Light is One, but no one is home.

As I proceeded with my walk, I pondered that this snippet of mis-spelled graffitti sounds like it wandered out of an Advent scripture reading.

Maybe from Isaiah: The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. The Light is One, but no one is home.

Or maybe John's gospel: The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world . . . yet the world knew him not. The Light is One, but no one is home.

Sort of like a post-modern Advent lament.

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls . . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Instead of a quiz

These days it tends to be a small crowd of immediate family at my Thanksgiving table. But back in the days when it was a more mixed crowd, we'd often get the conversation going by playing everyone's favorite game: What part of the Thanksgiving dinner are you and why? If I had the time and inclination to figure out how to create quizzes on Quizilla or some such, I could come up some quiz that would tell you your results.

Instead, I'll just let you tell me. I'd have to say this year my life feels like gravy: many disperate elements coming together that could either turn our really wonderfully or really badly depending on a lot of factors--some not under my direct control.

How about you?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Hogwarts Churches

In honor of the new movie release, let us revisit the idea of Hogwarts houses reflecting styles of ministry. (See July 25 post for earlier thoughts on this.)

Ravenclaw Churches The church member who first uttered the sentence, "Let us appoint a committee to study the matter," surely was part of a Ravenclaw church. These congregations love to discuss, ponder, debate and contemplate. Once in a great while they might actually get around to doing something. Lay theologians and bible study lovers thrive in these churches. They like scholarly preaching and can sniff out a theologically incoherant argument from miles away. If they receive a huge bequest, they will likely use it to endow an annual lecture series.

Griffyndor Churches These are cause driven churches. While other congregations also address current issues, in Griffyndor congregations issues are THE focus. These churches are animated by commitment to some kind of crusade: anti-war, pro-life, inclusion of GLBT persons, converting the lost, justice for the poor, saving the traditional family---you will find these congregations across the entire theological/political spectrum. These churches are very exciting places to be and you are never in doubt about what they stand for. However, since members of these congregations are nearly required to think alike, the spiritual growth that comes from seeing Christ in "the other" is often lacking.

Hufflepuff Churches Think Jan Karon's Mitford congregation. Deep down, we all probably wish we had a Hufflepuff church in our lives. These congregations are not particularly intellectual or activist. They are ordinary places where ordinary people can experience the love of Christ at work in their lives. These churches are comfortable rather than exciting or stimulating. They have the best pot lucks. The same person has probably been directing the Christmas Pagaent since 1972, but if you go into emergency surgery, the pastor will be in the waiting room when you come out--not buried in her study, not marching on Washington. Because they are traditional and conflict averse, these churches have a hard time adapting to rapid social and cultural change. They thrive on stability and may not survive if their community changes drastically.

Syltherin Churches These churches sincerely believe that we bear the best witness to the gospel if we employ the very best tools the world places at our disposal: imposing physical plants, state-of-the-art technology, a staff of hard working ministry specialists, and the best mass communication access money can buy. Syltherin congregations attach much importance to quantifiable measures of success: numbers, money, market share. They are convinced that nostalgia for quaint, old traditions is getting in the way of proclaiming the good news in a world where secular forces are arrayed against the faithful as never before. They challenge the rest of us to re-think old ways and strive for excellence, but they can also get so caught up in the tools of the culture that the culture captures them after all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Skating Toward Bethlehem

School was out Thursday and Friday last week and it rained buckets both days. In search of indoor entertainment, we went roller-skating at a fabulous, old-fashioned, wood floor skating rink just across the river from where we live.

All in all it was a successful adventure--except for one distressing episode involving wads of paper towel and the discreet drying of small undies with the hand-blower in the ladies room. When it was all over my little girl commented, "It's complicated going to the potty when you are wearing roller skates!"

It is complicated. In fact, it's a lot like doing ministry at the beginning of the 21st century: it's a straightforward task you thought you understood, but suddenly everything is different. You aim and miss the mark. You think you're headed in the right direction and, without warning, you are sliding to a whole different place. You are chagrined to find that what has worked so well for so long suddenly seems not to be working at all. You find yourself all wet, embarrassed and flat on your butt. You become jelouse of your fellow skaters who seem to have it figured out better than you have.

But I suppose the only choices we have are to risk it with abandon--or hold it until it becomes to painful not to try.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Gord's Favorites Meme

Gord at Following Frodo, who is a nice person and prefers to focus on positives rather than negatives, invites us to give equal time to our Christmastime favorites.

Religious Music: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, especially the last verse. I like Christmas songs that look forward as well as back. The last verse of Once in Royal David's City would be another example.

Secular Music: The piano music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Movie/TV--How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch would be another possible favorite music choice

Food: Rum Cake

Tradition: Children's Christmas Pageants. Children's Christmas Pageants are icons of the Incarnation.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Too fun! Don't stop now.

Apparently people feel quite strongly about bad Christmas music!! I don't want to stop the flow of opinion on this, but the time has come to declare myself.

For pure secular torture you can't beat Jingle Bell Rock. Inane lyics: "Jingle be-e-e-ll time, it's a sw-e-e-e-ll time . . . ", and an irritating tune that nevertheless sticks in your brain all day long.

I have to throw my vote behind "O Holy Night" for worst offender in a religious role. The schmaltziness might be bearable if it was sung really, really well. But in 16 years of ministry and many more years of church-going, I have never heard it done really, really well. Congregations with top-notch music ministries don't choose this song as the highlight of their Christmas Eve services because they have better things to do with their lives.

Tomorrow--Gord's meme on favorites . . .

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Calling all Grinches

As we approach Advent/Christmas lets do some personal sharing: What is your least favorite Christmas song of all time? You get to nominate one religious and one secular candidate. Please include a brief explanation for your choices. So as not to unduly influence responses, I will reveal my own choices at a later date. Have fun.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Link and A Question

A friend in my pastor/theologian seminar is president of a group mobilizing a nationwide effort to spread the word that America contains many serious, devout Christians that are not conservative fundamentalists. They are doing some interesting things and their website is definetly worth a look.

Now the question(s): what is the best way to get this word out? What if you're not a conservative fundamentalist but can't quite get behind all of the "progressive christian" platform either? We often wring our hands over what would happen if all the conservatives or all the liberals pulled out of our denominations--but I read an intriguing comment on another blog recently, "What if all the moderates pulled out? Then how many would be left?"

Friday, November 04, 2005

Image and Likeness

When I wasn't busy slathering my hands with isogel, (see previous post), I spent lots of time on last weekend's retreat looking at a stained glass mosaic of Christ over the chancel in the sanctuary of the church where we were meeting. The sanctuary faces west, so the mosaic was most vibrant and colorful in the late afternoon--which is a shame since that is not a time of day when many folks are normally in church.

As my mind wandered from whoever was speaking one afternoon, I found myself thinking about the phenomenon in Harry Potter where the former Hogwarts headmasters in the portraits in Dumbledore's office are able to "visit" other portraits of themselves elsewhere to check up on things or deliver messages. I started thinking that perhaps this is one way to understand the function of icons in other Christian traditions: that Christ is able somehow to inhabit portraits of himself, drawn in faith, to communicate with us in some way.

But then my inner Reformer asserted herself. Painted portraits aren't where it's at. WE are created in the image and likeness of God. WE are the portraits Christ wants to inhabit to communicate with the world. The goal of our faith is to grow into truer and truer likenesses so that this can happen more completely.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Literary Pursuits

This morning my kindergartener hopped up on my lap to show me a work in progress. She is drawing the pictures for the book with the idea that I will fill in the words when she is done. Meanwhile, she was narrating the completed pages.

"Once upon a time in winter, a little bunny was hopping through the forest looking for a place to hibernate . . ."

Bad Editor Mom breaks in: "You know, sweetheart, I don't think rabbits hibernate."

Literary daughter fixes Mom with a withering stare. "Mom. This is FICTION!"

I'm going to have to remember that comeback. It could come in handy.