Friday, December 29, 2006

Greetings from the Land of Jello Salads

Hurried greetings from Little Town on the Prairie whither we have travelled for my Mother-in-law's 75th birthday celebration. All ten of her children will be here as well as most of her grandchildren. My California children are dreadfully disappointed that there is no snow on the ground. However, they are enjoying their numerous cousins and other relations. If we could get just a small, manageable snowfall AFTER the party is over, but before we have to drive out of town again, that would be lovely.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bing---This year, I REALLY get it . . .

The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway.
There's never been such a day
In Beverly Hills L.A.

But it's December the twenty-fourth, and I'm longing to be up north . . .

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Icons of the Incarnation

I firmly believe that children's Christmas pageants are icons of the Incarnation, vivid reminders of both the frailty and beauty of the human flesh in which the Spirit of God was pleased to dwell.

In our pageant this past Sunday we had:

One teenage chorister who nearly lit himself on fire by backing into the advent wreath

One very small angel who ran up to her Mom while she was directing the youth choir, yanked on her skirt and demanded to be taken to the bathroom RIGHT AWAY!!!

Two shepherds engaging in fisticuffs while processing down the aisle behind Mary and Joseph and

One third grade shepherd whose hat thingy kept slipping down over his eyes and getting more tangled and disheveled the more he messed with it. Finally people started laughing which so enraged this shepherd that his mother had to sneak up and take the hat away from him between musical numbers. (Ahem, this shepherd was my son and the mother sneaking onto the chancel to intervene was me.)

How about you? What have been your favorite Christmas Pageant Misadventures?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Grave Thoughts

There was a very awkward moment at the cemetery yesterday, one which I've experienced once before with another bereaved family. Everybody listen up now:

Cemeteries: You simply MUST explain clearly to bereaved families that if they wish to be present when the casket is lowered, this has to be pre-arranged. I know this is not standard operating procedure and it is more work for you, but believe it or not, there are still people who want to accompany their loved ones to the very end of their earthly journey and do not want to be antiseptically whisked away after the pastor's final words. The family I was with yesterday really, really did not need to be informed by your representative that viewing the interment was not included in the "package" they selected.

Pastors: Double check on this with both the family and the rep from the cemetery before the graveside service begins. The family may tell you that they intend to be present when the casket is lowered, but that does not mean that they have cleared it with the cemetery. They may just assume that this is what always happens. (Because that's the way it is in the movies.) And you also need to explain to them that, while the movies include a grizzled old man standing by with ropes and a shovel, in contemporary life what will happen is that two young Mexican guys will drive in with a winch and a back-hoe and toss around the pieces of astro turf that were artfully concealing the fact that there is a real grave beneath that attractive platform.

Otherwise--much distress and anguish

Monday, December 18, 2006

Committee Jigsaw Missing Pieces

I rashly stated at our November Session meeting that I planned to announce at our December Session meeting the names of those folks who had agreed to chair various Comittees at our church for the next year.

Turns out, this is a more complicated puzzle than I'd imagined it would be. After four weeks of consulting, conversing, and cajoling, I still have some Big Holes. There are the folks who would do a great job but have said "No" because they are too busy. There are the folks who are eager to chair a very particular committee that they have had their eye on but who are manifestly unsuited to do so, and then there are the folks who are open to going wherever you need them, but who you don't really know well enough to foresee if they would be a Huge Success or a Total Disaster.

I'm ready to put Committee names in a hat and force everyone to draw one. Any wisdom from those of you who've put this puzzle together successfully??

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lift up your heads

The parrots were back again this morning. Instead of just buzzing the neighborhood as they did yesterday, they actually landed in the trees and on the high wires.

I'll tell you what: It was something else to see all those jaded southern Californians standing outside in their robes and pajamas, looking up into the sky in astonishment and wonder.

Lift up your heads for your redemption is drawing near . . .

Friday, December 15, 2006

Green skies overhead

The parrots DID come back. I woke up this morning to the sound of a great commotion that I gradually gained sufficient consciousness to recognize as avian in nature. I got up, pulled on my robe and dashed to the patio just in time to see literally hundereds of parrots flying high overhead. Soon the kids came outside too and ran in and out for the rest of the time before school reporting various parrot sightings.

You know what you call a flock of parrots??? A Pandemonium of Parrots.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Comfort Ye My People

Hard, hard week. A mother of three in our congregation dropped dead of an apparent heart attack this past weekend. Her oldest child found her slumped over the computer in her home office. (Let this be a caution to us all . . .) She was exactly my age and her two older children are exactly my kids' age. We didn't know the father very well: she came to church on her own with the kids. It's emerging that there are serious questions about his ability to cope on his own as a single dad. Please keep the whole extended family in your prayers.

On a lighter, almost surreal note: We have Parrots! Yes, really. This morning our preschool director came running in to tell us that a flock of wild parrots had landed in the trees near the playground. Unbeknownst to me, Southern California is home to thousands of wild parrots, descendants of pet parrots who flew the coop, so to speak. No one in the office could remember seeing them here in our town, though. They are bright green and red. Very Christmasy. I saw at least a dozen. By afternoon, they seemed to have gone. Maybe they will come back.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Friday Five Christmas Carol Referendum

This morning's Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals encourages us to reflect on Christmas music good, bad and ugly.

1. A favorite 'secular' Christmas song.
Rebel Jesus by Jackson Browne or Home By Another Way by James Taylor

2. Christmas song that chokes you up (maybe even in spite of yourself--the cheesier the better)The last verse of It Came Upon a Minight Clear

For Lo, the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold
When with the ever circling years comes round the age of gold
When Peace shall over all the earth her solemn splendors fling
And all the world give back the song that now the angels sing.

3. Christmas song that makes you want to stuff your ears with chestnuts roasted on an open fire.
O Holy Night sang by a warbly soprano or tenor who really should know better.

4. The Twelve Days of Christmas: is there *any* redeeming value to that song? Discuss.
The theory that this is a coded catechism is intruguing. Even if it's only a legend, it's stil fun. The Partridge in the Pear Tree is Jesus. (Mother Partridges apparently will sacrifice themselves for their chicks by leading predators away from the nest.) Two Turtledoves are the Old and New Testament. Three French Hens=The Trinity, Four Calling Birds=the four gospels, Five Golden Rings=The Pentatuch, Six Geese a Laying=the six days of creation, Seven Swans a Swimming=the seven gifts of the spirit, Eight Maids a Milking=the eight beatitudes, Nine Ladies Dancing=the nine fruits of the spirit, Ten Drummers a Drummin=the Ten Commandments, Eleven pipers Piping=the eleven faithful disciples,(minus Judas)and Twelve Lords a'leaping are the twelve points of the Apostles Creed.

5. A favorite Christmas album
Still have to go with my childhood fave: A Captain Kangaroo Christmas

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Happy St. Nicholas Day

Yes, I know St. Nicholas Day is not on the Presbyterian calendar. But I might be more into Saints than your average Presbyterian. I think it started years ago when I read something C.S. Lewis wrote. He said that if one really believes in the Communion of the Saints, that the church is made up of Christians across space and time, then why wouldn't you consider asking both the living and the dead to intercede for you when you are in need of prayer? This made sense to me. I'm more likely to go to one of my grandparents or beloved, departed members of congregations I've served--but every once in a while, I'll call on one of the official Saints whose story I've found inspiring or who I know is a patron of the type of person or situation I'm concerned about.

Day before yesterday, I lost my calendar. I know your guts are all clenching in anxious sympathy. At first I wasn't too worried. I'm an absent-minded person where stuff is concerned. I lose things all the time. Usually the lost thing surfaces within a couple of hours. But my calendar was gone for two days. Two. Whole. Days.

I was awake at 3:30 a.m. stewing about this. I had a sense that I have several appointments and meetings on Thursday and Friday, but I couldn't remember exactly what they were. It occurred to me to ask St. Anthony for help. St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items and also the saint for whom my husband is named. A formerly Roman Catholic member of one of my former congregations years ago taught me the traditional prayer Catholic children are taught to pray when searching for something they've lost: Tony, Tony! Look around. Something's lost that must be found!
Couldn't hurt, might help, I thought. And so I prayed.

After about ten seconds, I heard a voice in my head say, "Look in the trunk." And then I went to sleep.

This morning I got up, went to the garage, popped open the trunk of my car and sure enough--there in the trunk was a box of books I had decided to tranfer from my office back to the house, and perched on top of the box was TA DA!!!! My calendar!

I'm not headed for Rome any time soon, I'm just tellin' ya what happened.

Update: As I was doing a little research on St. Nicholas for staff devotions today, I was reminded of a unique part of his story. Nicholas was made Bishop of Myra even though he was a layperson, not a priest. This was highly unusual--irregular even. Now I'm asking: who believes that laypeople should be the ruling elders of the church? Uh huh, that's right: Presbyterians!!! St. Nick is OURS, baby.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Invade my Privacy---Please

It's official. The world has gone mad.

My daughter and I finally negotiated a Birthday Celebration plan we both could live with. All that remained was to invite the chosen classmates to the event. My kids' school has a strict rule forbidding the distribution of party invitations on campus. I totally understand and support this rule which tries to spare children the life-scarring trauma of being one of the non-invited ones.

HOWEVER, starting this year, due to concerns for confidentiality, safety, privacy and liability the PTA decided not to publish a student body directory. Also, the office and individual teachers are not to release a student's address or phone number without the parents' written permission.

In other words, one may not distribute invitations on campus and one is also prevented from obtaining the information whereby one might deliver invitations by phone or mail.

Crazy, yes? If it were only a birthday party inconvenience, I'd let it ride. But there are so many small ways this breaks down a school community. How can you call a friend to get homework when you're out sick? How do parents arrange carpools? How do you call three or four other Moms to see if they share your concern about _________that is going on at the school?

And this confidentialy thing is also profoundly affecting how churches care for people who are in the hospital. Back in the old days, (late 1980's) when I was starting out, pastors would swing by the local hospital(s) a few times a week and check the New Admits list to see if there was someone from the church in the hospital that s/he did not know about. One would also discover on that list folks one knew from the community who were not, strictly speaking, church goers but who nevertheless appreciated a pastoral visit in a time of need. Church members who worked at local hospitals would often call the church to alert the staff to late breaking pastoral care crises.

Now, of course, you have to know that a specific person is in a specific hospital and arrive armed with that person's correctly spelled, full name before the volunteer at the front desk will divulge the room number in which that person might be found. And with insurance companies shortening hospital stays ever more drastically, the chance that you will get this info before a person is discharged grows smaller every day. And any member working at a hospital who calls the church and releases this confidential info could lose his or her job.

It's a good thing I'm not a conspiracy theorist, because if I were I would have to conclude that the Powers and Principalities of this world want us all to be as isolated and disconnected from each other as possible so that there will be no possibility of Organized Resistance to anything they want us to do, think or be.

But that would be crazy, wouldn't it?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

And Jesus Races for the Cat Dish . . .

Check this out . . .

Update: Tell the folks at Left Behind Games you are not impressed.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Cosmic Justice

I am pretty sure the incident described below is cosmic justice for this incident in my past:

It is the spring of my freshman year in college. I have just signed up to be a reporter for the college newspaper. I am seventeen years old.

The editor, a preppy/conservative guy who was also vice-president of the Young Republicans, sized me up and sent me off to interview the woman who was visiting campus that week as Theologian in Residence. I had never heard of her, but since the senior religion majors were pronouncing the name Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenze in hushed tones, I figured she might be Someone Important.

In those days I was much given to dressing in fanciful, New Wave inspired ensembles. I buttoned up my Adam Ant pirate shirt, sharpened my pencil, and knocked on the door of the guest house at the edge of campus where Prof. Fiorenze was staying. She received me politely, but without the affable mid-western friendliness that was the dominant culture on that campus. Thinking to warm up the tone of the conversation, I gushed: "Oh gosh Dr. Fiorenze! I'm so honored to be here! This is my first interview for the Small Presbyterian College Gazette!" Rather than warming things up, this outburst seemed to deepen my subject's reserve.

Undaunted, I whipped out my freshly sharpened pencil and asked my first keen and penetrating question: "Dr. Fiorenze, could you highlight some examples of women's liberation that you see in the Bible?"

She answered my questions for another twenty minutes or so, then invoked a pending appointment and sent me on my merry way. I went back to the dorm and wrote my article, which the editor promptly buried on the inside of the back page.

As I say, cosmic justice.

Stay tuned for our next episode when, in her sophmore year, Yet-to-be-Reverend Rebel accompanies her sort-of boyfriend as he drives guest lecturer Phyllis Trible back to the Cleveland airport and peppers her with sophomoric questions. More cosmic justice may be needed.