Tuesday, December 23, 2008

That Had Never Occurred to Me Before

This morning my daughter asked me if Frankincense has anything to do with Frankenstein.

What do you think?????

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wright, Warren and . . .

From the Jeremiah Wright controversy to the Rick Warren uproar, I think we've learned that whoever Barak Obama chooses as a spiritual representative/advisor, some portion of the population will be outraged. If this makes him decide to avoid including religious leaders in public ceremonies and/or to attend church infrequently, people will say "See, he's not really a man of faith. He was just pretending in order to get elected." He's in a no win situation on this, I think.

However, the next time he wants an experienced, articulate pastor from Southern Californian to speak at a significant event he could pick, well--you know . . . :)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This Little Child

A friend of mine forwarded this to me from an experience this year at his church:

Dear Colleagues,

Some mother of a child in our preschool came up with the idea that the script for the Christmas program would be built up with cute answers and fantasies from the preschoolers themselves. One of the prompter questions was: Who is Jesus?

There was a little pantheist...."Jesus is everything"

and an aspiring Trinitarian..........."He is God and the Holy Spirit"

and a poet who caught a truth I think we could preach............"He is a little baby who is actually taller than us"

Grace and strength be yours as you witness to ....."a little baby, actually taller than us"

Friday, December 19, 2008

In which I hand out lumps of coal . . .

. . . to the congregation for which I am Committee on Ministry liaison which has picked the week before Christmas to have a big blow-up requiring my presence at their special Personnel Committee meeting two freakin' nights before Christmas.

I will not be bringing fresh baked cookies.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Sunday morning dilemma

The lump of coal situation described below is the result of something that happened Sunday morning. I brushed by a recently bereaved member with a cheery, "Good morning, how are you?" instead of engaging in a sustained pastoral moment about how she was bearing up.

Sunday was pageant Sunday. There were 8 billion crises and logistical tangles erupting. It was simply not a time for me to engage in a long conversation with anyone about anything.

Pageant Sunday is a special case, but even on normal Sundays the fifteen to twenty minutes right before worship are usually a period of time when pastors are distracted with details: is the liturgist here? Does the choir know their cue for the response? Both acolytes have the flu--what do we do??? Could I make an annoucement about xxxxx?

This is not the first time I've unintentionally offended someone by rushing past them in a hurry on Sunday before worship when they were hoping for a sustained pastoral care moment.

I know. I know. All those details should be attended to before Sunday so the pastor can be fully present to those arriving for church on Sunday. But in the real world, liturgists forget that it is their Sunday, choir directors forget to check their e-mail, acolytes get the flu and elders forget to call during office hours to tell you about the announcement they need to make.

Have you figured out a way to solve this dilemma?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I did something--or rather failed to do something--that flipped the switch of one of those always-ready-to-be-offended persons in every pastor's life.

Nothin' but coal in MY stocking this year . . .

Monday, December 15, 2008

Whose Kid it That?

Last night we did a little Los Posadas thing with the Spanish-speaking congregation that shares our building. We ended by singing Christmas Carols in Spanish and English. It occurs to me that our idea of Christmas Carols are so wrapped around in tradition and piety that we forget what they really say. Hearing them in another language can startle us out of that complacency.

For example: What child is this? = Que nino es estes?

Whose kid is that?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Waiting and the Unexpected

I spent this morning working from home because I was waiting for a delivery. My parents have recently moved from the house they have lived in for 30 years and into a retirement community. They shipped me a bunch of stuff they did not have room for in their new place. So I had to sit at home and wait for the truck which was scheduled to arrive any time between 8 and noon.

While I was waiting, I remembered the Advent of my first year of ordained ministry. It was a long standing tradition for the youth group to sell Christmas Trees as the kick-off for their season of fundraising to go the the Mondo Montreat Youth Conference in the summer.

The just-sign-up-with-us-we'll-make-this-easy-for-you Christmas Tree people stressed that it was absolutely vital to have a group of volunteers ready to meet the Christmas Tree Truck at the appointed delivery time. The drivers of the truck were just that, drivers. They would not remove the trees from the truck, they would not carry the trees to whatever holding area you had arranged. All of that work was up to you and your trusty, dedicated volunteers.

Newly minted and eager to do the right thing, I dutifully recruited a group of youth and parents to meet the truck. A week ahead they said the truck would be there between 4 and 4:30 p.m.on delivery day. The day before they called to reconfirm the time and to remind us that the drivers would not unload the trees and we'd better have a crew ready and waiting. Roger, copy that! No worries, mate!

The next day about five minutes past noon, when not a soul was at the church but me, up drove the Christmas Tree truck.

"You're not supposed to be here for four more hours!" I cried.

The driver shrugged. "I'm just following the delivery route they gave me this morning."

"But my volunteers aren't here! The youth group kids won't be out of school until 3:00--the adults are still at work. There's no one here to unload the trees!"

Again the driver shrugged. "I don't unload. And I gotta get outta here in about half and hour. I won't get my other deliveries done otherwise."

And he climbed back into the cab of the truck and lit a cigarette.

First, I ran back to the office and made about five, quick, panicked phone calls. I got one live person and a bunch of answering machines. (This was before cell phones--or at least before most regular folks had them.)

Then, I went out to the truck and began to unload trees. One tree at a time. We had ordered one hundred. Even then, when I was in my twenties, no one would have looked at me and thought "tree wrangler". But I persevered.

About twenty minutes and twenty trees later, three youth group dads showed up. They had gotten the word and come to the rescue. The driver grumbled and threatened and looked at his watch. We grumbled back and kept going. A few more volunteers eventually showed up and in another half hour, we had the trees unloaded and had sent the still grumpy driver movin' on down the road.

Today's delivery was smooth and uneventful in comparison.

But I think the other experience is closer to the message of Advent.

You think you know what you are waiting for, but you don't.
You think you know what to expect, but it's not that at all.
The world will not help you, but help will arrive if you persevere and keep the faith.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Advent Episodes

Big Purple Candles ordered for church Advent wreath in early November had not arrived by the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. A call to the shipper produced assurances that they would be there by for the start of Advent on December 1. Uh . . . .

Venture to craft store to buy candles so we would have them on the REAL first day of Advent produced blank stares when we asked for purple candles. Only red, green and gold on offer. Or white.

Emergency raid of Sunday school supply room discovered purple candles left from last year's advent workshop.

First Sunday of Advent found Pastor Rebel duct-taping these narrow candles into the wide candle holders on the church advent wreath.

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the other hand . . .

. . . status updates can be helpful. When you see that someone is having a particularly awful/tragic/stressful time, you know that this is actually NOT the week to approach that person about taking on a tedious but necessary committee assignment . . .

Monday, November 17, 2008

Facebook Dilemma

So say you're on Facebook and a few congregation members find you and ask to be "friends".

A few weeks later, one of these women posts on her status that she is having a very difficult day. Do you:

a)respond pastorally somehow because otherwise she might think, "Gee--I put it out there that I was struggling and my pastor didn't reach out or call or ANYTHING!"

b)not respond because then she might think, "Sheesh, now I can't put anything personal on Facebook without my pastor being all in my face about it."

c)go off Facebook yourself so you won't be in these dilemmas.

Friday, November 07, 2008

November 3, 2038

Laramie,WY--Today an emotional Logan Shepherd spoke to reporters about the election last night of the country's first openly gay president.
"Coming forty years after my brother Matthew's murder, this is a moment many of us thought could never be. If he were alive today, he would be prouder than ever to be an American."

Elsewhere, some have likened this election to the election of 2008 when Barak Obama broke the color barrier to become the nation's first African-American president. Others see contrasts.

Retired Bishop Gene Robinson, now 91, said from his home in New Hampshire, "The Obama victory in 2008 was exhilarating. But that election also brought painful results in the passage of many anti-gay ballot initiatives in states around the country. Although most of those laws were eventually ruled unconstitutional, the days after that election were full of anger and grief for many of us."

The President and her husband today invited the president-elect, his spouse, and their teenage son to the White House next week to begin planning for the transition.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

November 4, 2008

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . .

Monday, November 03, 2008


We just finished up our last week of "stewardship preaching' at our place. More's the pity because my sister sent me a wonderful stewardship sermon illustration today.

Next week our parents are moving from the house they have been living in for over 30 years into a retirement community. In the course of sorting and tossing, my Mom found the following letter my sister wrote when she was about nine and had broken something important, incurring Mom's wrath:

Dear Jesus,
Please help me. Help me find the money to pay Mom back. Only not out of the allowance Dad owes me. Just please, please help me and anyone else who is in trouble. Amen.

I e-mailed back and asked if she remembered how Jesus responded. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Calvin Year

Here in Presbyland, we are gearing up for the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin in 2009. Our Worship Comm has discussed several thing we might do to observe this liturgically. One idea was to take Calvin's emphasis on scripture and his perfered method of preaching "lectio continua" and attempt to preach through the bible during the course of the year.

One article I read on this notes that since Calvin preached daily and usually for an hour or more at a time, it was easier for him to make steady progress through books of scripture than it would be for us "twenty minutes once a week" contemporary preachers.

Have any of you done something like this? How did it work? How did your congregation respond? Would you recommend it?

Our other thought was a Calvin Lazer Tag Birthday Party.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Modest Proposal for STewardship Season

The most interesting bit of info I gleaned from the media coverage of the Sarah Palin clothing budget controversy was this: the average American household spends about $1900/year on apparel. So perhaps a "discernment" question we could pose to ourselves and members of our congregations during Stewardship season is this: Does our pledge to our faith community AT LEAST equal our annual clothing budget?

As a Thief in the Night

Our No on 8 sign was stolen from our front yard yesterday afternoon while no one was home. I ran into the Pastor from the United Methodist church last night and she said the same thing happened to her.

Stealing to protect "biblical morality"?


Update: Add to that extortion and blackmail

Friday, October 10, 2008

My son the mind-reader

Yesterday when I picked up my fifth grade son after soccer practice I greeted him with the words:

"Hey! There's my boy!"

"DON'T call me little boy!" he growled.

"I didn't say little!" I protested.

"But you were THINKING it." he said.

He's right. I was.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Anything to add?

So yesterday I asked one of the "elder statesmen" of our Presbytery if he had any wisdom on doing Stewardship Season while the economy is in total meltdown.

He just smiled and said, "The most important thing is not to lose your sense of humor."

I get that. But I'm still struggling with what to preach.

What are YOU doing?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bitchty Soccer Mom Moment

Standing in line for team pictures for daughter's soccer team.

Me: Oh look. The girls on the team in line ahead of us all have color-coordinated hair ribbons that match their uniforms.


Teammate's Mom: Hmmm. Somewhere, someone has WAY too much time on her hands.

Snarky giggle.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Criminal Background Checks: Here's the thing

Does running criminal background checks on church volunteers who work with kids really make kids safer?

Here's the thing. Predators are slippery. Chances are, they will not call attention to themselves by doing something as obvious as volunteering to teach Sunday School or lead youth group.

Instead, they will befriend the families at the church. The will throw pool parties and barbecues at their house. They will join a small group along with their spouse. They'll join the buildings and grounds team and get a reputation as being able to fix anything. They'll help church members out when a lawn mower breaks or a dryer goes on the fritz or a sprinkler system implodes. The kids in the church will be used to seeing this person in and around their homes.

So when one of these predators overhears Mr. and Mrs. Smith fretting at small group about how are they going to get their kids to all their activities next week when Mr. Smith is out of town on business, he will readily offer to pick up 11-year-old Suzie Smith from band practice. After all, it's right on his way home from work, no trouble at all. And Mr. and Mrs. Smith will gratefully accept. And when he shows up at band practice half an hour early because, "he got the times mixed up" Suzie will leave with him anyway because how else is she going to get home? And when they get to her house and he suggests that he pop in for just a minute to check on that ceiling fan that her Dad says isn't working, well--it won't seem THAT odd that he come in when her parents aren't there because he has fixed stuff in her house before and the ceiling fan really isn't working. . . .

Where, in this chilling but too common scenario, does a criminal background check of volunteers help? In fact, it might hurt by lulling church families into thinking that all possible diligence is being exercised on their behalf and they can rest easy. The freak-out scary truth is that the biggest threat to kids is that predators will use the network of relationships they develop at church to facilitate access to kids at times and places where they are vulnerable--mostly NOT at church or during church sponsored events.

What might help would be empowering parents and kids to be aware,to recognize red flags, and trust their guts if they sense something "off". Then maybe Suzie might say, "Actually, I think it would be better if you check that fan when my parents are home."

Criminal Background Checks

Does your church do criminal background checks on all volunteers? All volunteers who might work with children or youth?

Several years before I arrived here, our C.E. Committee passed a policy requiring this. It did not happen. In fact, neither I nor my colleague were aware that there was a policy like this until someone who had been on the committee back in the day asked why we weren't doing it anymore. As far as we can tell, we never actually did this. It did not move from policy to implementation.

There has been a fair amount of turn-over in pastoral and lay staff in those years, so part of what happened was probably that the ball was dropped early on in terms of who was actually going to make the recommendations in the policy happen in real life. However, based on my experience with other churches, I'm betting some other things happened too.

1. The policy was passed without anyone doing the math on how much it would actually cost to run a $75 background check on several dozen volunteers each year. Once the realization dawned, implementation bogged down on the question of "who pays for this?"

2. The background check rule proved unsustainable in the midst of the chaos of congregational life. When it's one week before VBS and you are still scrambling to fill all the volunteer spots, the idea that you have to wait thirty days before that new volunteer's paperwork could possibly go through causes you to cut corners rather than cancel an event that has been publicized city-wide for a month.

I'm just not convinced that running background checks is the best way to make the church safer. The check we run on employees tells you only if a person has been convicted of a crime in this state. Okay. But what about other states? What about arrests that did not result in convictions? What about convictions that had nothing to do with child abuse? Is a thirty year old marijuana possession a deal-breaker? So far the only "conviction" that a background check has uncovered at a church I've served was for welfare fraud. The individual had, as a young single mom, failed to navigate the welfare bureacracy succesfully, filled out her paperwork improperly and for a few months received more benefits than she was entitled to. Do we cross her off our list of potential Sunday school teachers forever and ever?

I'm not suggesting that churches do nothing in this regard. But I wonder if implementing safe practices such as open doors, rooms and offices with windows, raising awareness among volunteers and parents and the kids themselves would do as much, if not more, than relying on expensive and potentially intrusive background checks.

What has been your experience with this?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Direct from the WTF Department

So I get this e-mail from someone in my church:

Great sermon last week. Next week you have to tell us how to DO it. I have a bet with someone who doubts you have the nerve. You have to help me win.

Umm--betting on sermons?? All righty then.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And speaking of fundraisers . . .

If the government can shell out 700 billion dollars to bail out the banking system, couldn't they give the schools enough money that we wouldn't have to sell f***ing Wrapping Paper every fall???

Just sayin . . .

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thin Mints and Pledge Cards

I hated selling Girl Scout cookies as a kid. Hated it. I really think that if a team of experts worked for a year to come up with the most effective method to torture shy little girls, making them go door to door selling cookies would be the method they would recommend.

I was a loyal Scout and a bright child. I "got" that the cookie selling was directly connected to our troop having the funds to do cool things later on. And since my Mom was Cookie Chairman for our troop at least once, I also got educated about how our cookie sales helped support the work of Girl Scouting nationwide. (Early training for interpreting per captia maybe?)

Still, I hated it. Even at that young age, this idea had somehow implanted itself deep in my psyche: If you ask for help you will appear lazy, stupid and incompetent. People won't like you. Better to go on the offensive and be as helpful as possible. Then you will appear kind, industrious and wise and people will love you. Asking people to buy my girl scout cookies, to my mind, equalled asking them to help me out. Yes, of course they weren't really helping ME but my organization--but I had a hard time making that distinction emotionally.

Fast forward 35 years. For me, the annual Stewardship Campaign feels EXACTLY like the annual cookie drives of yore. When I get up to address the pseudo-festive Stewardship Breakfast I might as well be wearing my old green uniform and knee socks, holding a box of Thin Mints in my trembling hand.

Would you like to buy some cookies?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Overheard on the Church Patio

Retired Professor to still-working Biblical Scholar,

"Hi Jim! How's the Old Testament?"

Still-working Bible Scholar to retired guy,

"It's doing well, thank you."

Good to know.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Attractional Blogs vs. Missional Blogs

In the years I've been blogging, I have encountered more than a few people who, upon learning that I have a blog, tell me, "I tried blogging. But I dropped it because no one ever seemed to read it."

When I probe a bit, it almost always turns out that what these former bloggers did was put up a blog, write posts, and wait for readers to appear. Of course those of us who are--for want of a better word--"successful" bloggers, know that this is not how it works. You have to go visiting. You have to read other blogs and leave comments. You have to read and comment on the blogs of those who read and comment on your blog. You have to join blog rings. If you want your blog to generate really interesting conversations, you have to read and comment on blogs written by people outside your own usual circle of friends and colleagues. In short, you have to put yourself out there.

I'll freely admit that there are times I don't do this. I get busy, tired, etc. and post infrequently and inanely. I stop visiting unfamiliar blogs and stick with my dozen or so favorites. Without fail, when I go through a spell like this, traffic to my own blog slows down.

I think I see a parallel between this reality and church. Most churches--my own included--would much rather just put stuff up and wait for the world to arrive at our doorstep. The time-consuming and more complicated process of putting ourselves out there and really engaging is harder, unfamiliar, more unquantifiable. So we just don't do it.

But we knew this already, right?

Joel Stein comments in his L.A. Times column today:

"In the last few years . . women in their 40s and 50s have gotten truly, deeply hot."

Glad someone finally noticed.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Yesterdays news brought a story about how the 70's band Heart is officially not happy that the Republican party is using its biggest hit "Barracuda" at rallies where VP candidate Sarah Palin appears. They do this because Ms. Palin's high school nickname was Sarah Barracuda because of her fierceness on the basketball court.

I had to smile. This brought to mind a nickname I had in high school, at least for a while. It was . . .

Wait for it . . . .


It came about like this. I was co-teacher of the Little Fishes group at my parish church in England. (Little Fishes=Sunday School-like gathering of young elementary kids that happens mid-week.) One evening, I had to pick one of the group to be "it" in a game we were going to play. To do this I stood in the middle of the circle of children, closed my eyes, and spun around rapidly. I pointed at the kid who happened to be in front of me when I stopped spinning.

"Okay! You're it!" I cried, opening my eyes. But the kids were all pointing at ME and chanting "It's Wonder Woman!" Apparently my spinning around reminded them of how the Linda Carter character transformed herself from mild-mannered school teacher(?) to super-hero--by spinning around and around. I didn't really look anything like Linda Carter, (still don't), but I WAS American and I DID have long, dark hair, and with the spinning and all, I guess it was an easy connection for them to make.

They got such a kick out of it, that this became a regular feature of Little Fishes night. I would spin around to pick kids for games, speaking parts in skits, etc. Soon, the kids from this group stopped calling me by name and started calling me Wonder Woman--even when meeting me in the shops or at football matches.

It was fun, but of course it could not last. The wheels of time spun rapidly and I soon left that village to return to the U.S. to attend college. My secret identity as Wonder Woman faded into history.

Still--if I were ever to run for high office and this story were unearthed, I think it would be an asset, politically. And I would hope whoever wrote the theme song for Wonder Woman wouldn't mind it being played as I strode onto the stage at the National Convention.

What about YOU? What was YOUR high school nickname? Would it be an asset should you decide to seek elected office? What song would be associated with it?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Check it Out

Hey, my friend just started a new blog. Drop by and say hi.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Glad It's not Me Department

Turns out my son and the son of the Pastor of the Academic Suburb UCC are in the same class this year. Two 10-year-old PKs in the same 5th grade classroom. Please be in prayer for their teacher . . .

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tempus Fugit

My son is almost 11. His best bud across the street is two years older. Best bud had a birthday yesterday. That means my little boy is best friends with----A Teenager!!!

What just happened here?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Separated at Birth?

Helen Crump/Sarah Palin

Just sayin'

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

From the Back to School Shopping Front

Hands on hips, my eight-year-old daughter declares:

Mom. I am OVER character backpacks.

Alrighty then.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hermeneutics Fifth grade style

Yesterday my son came stomping home from his best friend's house across the street. Sensing that there had been an altercation of some sort, I asked what had happened.

"We were playing Monopoly," my son explained. "As usual, we were kind of making up our own rules. When Tom landed on the square where I had a hotel he owed me, like, $1000-but I let him move his piece one more square forward so he wouldn't totally lose all his money. Then when I landed on his railroad, he wouldn't let ME skip ahead. He said I had to pay him the $50 dollars I owed him. So I flipped the board over and came home."

"Hmmm, I said. You know, there's a story in the bible kind of like that . . ."

His eyes widened.

"Oh yeah! We heard that story at camp!" And he proceeded to recount for me the parable of the unmerciful servant--triumphantly concluding that this biblical story proved that he was right to upend the Monopoly board and come home. He retold the part about the master grabbing the unmerciful servant by the throat with particular relish.

"But the bible also says we shouldn't let the sun go down on our anger." I pointed out. "Maybe that means that after you've cooled down a while, you should go back over to Tom's house and try to patch things up."

Long silence.

"Well, I don't have to do everything the bible says."

Wow. He's already absorbed our modern hermeneutic. Stand by what enables you to feel righteous and justifiably outraged. Ignore what would be really difficult and might force you to change your heart.

Friday, August 22, 2008


I'm working on a sermon exploring the concept of Sabbath. Do you think I could get away with using the "When Harry Met Sally" days-of-the-week underwear conversation as an illustration of a twisted view of Sabbath-keeping???

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Family Friendly vs. Safety and Liability

I always laugh when "Take our Children to Work" day rolls around each year. Any clergy mom--well any clergy parent for that matter--takes their kids to their workplace at least weekly, usually more: more than either they or we really want to, truth be told.

However, we are running into a situation here where some of our staff are bringing their kids to work all the time--like every day before and after school. Personnel brought this up as a safety/liability issue.

They have a point. If any staff child were injured here on site, we'd be in a mess. If any staff child injured someone else or damaged someones car or property--even if accidentally, we'd be in a mess.

So, the thought from Personnel is that we should send out a general memo saying no more kids coming to work--except for the rare emergency or if they are coming to an event that is meant for family members of all ages.

But here's the thing: some of the staff doing this really cannot readily afford the childcare option offered by our school district and scholarship assistance is limited. Also, I don't want us to get into having to judge what is an appropriate "rare emergency situation" and what isnt'. Finally, I have kids myself who show up here from time to time. They do go to afterschool care--but they have been know to appear occassionally when logistics dictate that they hang out here for 20 minutes between say, the end of student council meeting and the beginning of soccer practice. It even happened once that the after school student council meeting was cancelled, so my son showed up at church an hour earlier than scheduled and I was off doing hospital visits, so he sat in the office and "entertained" everyone until I got back. (He's 10 and his school is right across the street from the church). So I'm far from a disinterested party in this discussion.

Has this come up where you are? How have you handled it?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mystery Cactus

For some years now, our church has been trying to adopt greener practices campus-wide. One thing we did was to get rid of part of the lawn and replace if with native, drought resistant landscaping.

Last month the person in charge of maintaining this space asked me, "Who planted those cactuses on the berm?"

"I don't know. I assumed it was you." I answered. But no. It was not. Further inquiry did not lead us to the answer. Not that we don't LIKE the cactuses, but it would be nice to know where they came from.

At last night's Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting, the question came up again: "Where did those cactuses come from??"

No one could say. Somberly, I suggested that perhaps we were dealing with a genuine miracle. One committee member asked if there is a patron saint of cactuses. But we had all been raised Protestant. No one had a clue.

At home I asked my Roman Catholic husband. He said there might be a patron saint of cactuses, but small town, midwestern Catholics like himself would not be familiar with such a Saint.

Today I googled it and found this:

The patron saint of thorny places

December 12 is the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who made her first appearance in Mexico on this date. Aransas, also named for a manifestation of Mary, seems strangely connected to that event.
The story begins in 1470, when a Basque shepherd, working the rugged land of north central Spain, saw a vision of the Virgin in a thorn bush. "Aransazu?" he cried out, meaning, in Basque, "You, sitting in the stickers?"

Friends--this is serious. Do have any idea what it could mean if a genuine Marian manifestation is appearing right here on the grounds of Academic Suburb Presbyterian Church?? And on the brink of the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin!

Should I call the Pope? Bruce Reyes-Chow? Please advise!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cool--At My Age It's All Relative

Just got off the phone with my buddy RevGal down the road. She reported the following conversation with her teen-aged daughter.

TAD: Mom. You have got to let me help you with your Facebook page. Yours is so lame.

RGDR: Really? Is it that bad?

TAD: Yes. It is. Even Pastor Rebel has a cooler Facebook page than you do.

Which, being translated means: Even Pastor Rebel, as middle aged and boring as she is, has somehow managed to put together a Facebook page that is not a complete embarrassment to her children. Why can't you make the effort?

Thanks. I think.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Garmin Lady

Now that I have my inherited Garmin gps system in my car, I am getting to know the Garmin Lady--that disembodied female voice that instructs me on how to reach my destinations. She seems competent, but I'm not sure I like her.

For one thing, when I go a different way than she tells me to,(at the beginning of trips, close to home where I know what I'm doing, dammit), she always says "RECALCULATING . . ." I think she sounds incredibly snotty and ticked off when she says it. Like she's trying to make me feel guilty. I mentioned this to my husband and he said he had noticed this too and was glad it isn't just him.

Also, she seems not to have made any efforts to become multi-culturally sensitive. She mispronounces the Spanish street and place names around here all the time. Like today, I had to turn onto La Verne Avenue and she said it to rhyme with Auburn rather than with Lucerne. In this day and age, that's just inexcusable--don't you think?

Finally, I don't like the way she only gives you little bits of information about the journey at a time rather than laying it all out from the start. I like knowing what's coming more than .7 miles at a time. And don't tell me you're trying to get me to live more in the moment. You're just a control freak, sister.

Are there other voices available? I'm thinking maybe Father Mulcahey.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Time Zones

Later this month we will be welcoming a Japanese exchange student into our home for 10 days. A few days ago we attended an orientation session to prepare us for the experience. One thing the program coordinator told the host families is that in Japan, it is considered very rude to be late. Our students will become upset and anxious if they perceive that we are going to be late to a scheduled group activity or appointment and embarrassed if we actually ARE late. Therefore we need to make every effort to get our students to their engagements on time.

Yesterday, I attended a baby shower for a woman from South America. The invitation said three o'clock. When I arrived at 3:10, I was the only non-family member there. Over the next forty-five minutes more guests arrived every five minutes or so until, around four, everyone was there and the festivities began in earnest. ONe of my friends who arrived around 3:40 remarked to me, "Oh I knew there was not point in showing up at 3. No one would be there yet." The thing is, I kind of knew that too. But I couldn't shake the notion that, as a relative outsider to this particular group, for ME to show up half and hour late would still seem rude.

Then there is the concept of "basically on time". I always maintain that if you arrive within 10 minutes of the appointed hour, you are "basically on time". Ten minutes is an acceptable margin of error that takes into account the phone call that arrives just as you are leaving the house/office, traffic delays, the wrong turn that makes you double back, etc. My spouse maintains that ten minutes after the appointed hour is late and to be avoided by leaving more time that you think you will need to arrive at your destination. Quite often, when his strategy carries the day, we end up arriving 10 to 15 minutes EARLY for an engagement, which I find extremely awkward,

What kind of time culture do you live in?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Face Book Guy

This morning I got a "friend" request from a guy I knew in Jr High and High School. We were in lots of classes together,lived in the same general neighborhood, and got along well but he was never part of my "inner circle" of close friends. Nevertheless, I've thought of him through the years mostly because of an insight he sparked in me which I ignored for years--to my detriment.

One day in 8th grade, my school bus was pulling into the long drive that led from the main road to our school. Future Facebook Guy was at the corner, leaning against a telephone pole. I thought to my thirteen year old self: "You know--he's pretty cute and a really nice guy. Why have I never considered him "crush" material??" And in a flash I realized that I had ridiculous preconditions in my head where boys were concerned: They had to be super-intellectual, artistic/musical/poetic, with sophisticated senses of humor. I mistrusted serious athletes, thinking that anyone who would rather play football or run track than read great literature must be a loser. It occurred to me "Someone like Future Facebook Guy would probably be a lot better for me than Tortured Genius I'm Currently Agonizing Over."

But the bus pulled up to the school. The day began and I shook it off. For nearly two decades--though from time to time when my romantic life was going badly the image of Future Facebook Guy standing at the corner by our old school would drift through my mind.

Finally, years and years later I met and married a guy who, to hear him describe his youth, was a great deal like FFBG during his high school years.

Sometimes it takes us a long time to learn what we need to learn.

Monday, August 04, 2008

How I Got A Garmin

My husband had a Garmin gps system in his car. He is a regional sales manager with a multi-state territory, so he regularly visits customers in unfamiliar cities--so he decided it was worth it to purchase one even though this was out of pocket and not covered by his employer.

Several days ago he reported that the gps system was not functioning. At all. It appeared to be totally kaput. He had tried several things to fix it, but to no avail. Worse, he was one week past the one year warranty on the thing.

I made several tentative suggestions about other things he might try. These were met with the curt reminder that he had been using this system every day for more than a year and I had never personally used it at all, so I should butt out.

Which I did.

Later my spouse reported that he had called the local Garmin store and discovered that the cost of gps technology has dropped dramatically in the last year. For the cost of having the old Garmin fixed, he would be more than half-way to the cost of their newest, spiffiest model.

I said hmmmmm.

A few hours after this, my husband came home with the new system.

That night, I cradled the old Garmin in my hands--thinking, thinking. I went on-line. Googled "Garmin gps systems--troubleshooting" and by following the instructions on the first entry of the first website in the search results was able to discover that prying off the face plate with a pen knife and pushing the reset button would likely solve the problem.

It did.

Now I have a functioning--if old model--Garmin gps system in my car.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Squealing in Worship

No, this is not a new Charismatic movement.

For the last several months we have had increasing problems with people's hearing aids emiting ear-splitting squeals in the middle of worship. Most of the time, the person whose hearing aid is doing the squealing seems not to be aware that this is happening. Either the squealing goes on and on until we are all ready to run shrieking from the building, or someone nudges their neighbor to let them know there's a problem or one of the ushers stalks up and down the side aisles until they identify the "culprit". Also, many people assume the problem is with our sound system and exit church following worship grumbling, "Can't you DO something about all that feedback??"

Now it is possible that feedback between our sound system, individuals' personal hearing aids and the hearing assistance devices we pass out is part of what sets things off. We're trying to figure out the technical issues this presents.

Have any of you all run into this? How have you addressed it? Input on the technical stuff would be welcome, but so would insights on how to handle this pastorally. A member of the worship committee suggested reintroducing the old Puritan office of someone going around with a long stick to clonk offenders on the head--snoring back in the old days, faulty hearing aids now--but I'm not sure that's the appropriate strategy here.

Go ahead. I'm all ears.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shake, Rattle, Roll

We're fine. No damage hereabouts, just lots of pictures haning crookedly on the walls. It felt worse than it was.

Though several folks asked me "How did you like your first earthquake?" this was not my first. They get earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest pretty often, but Californians seem not to be aware of this. I experienced my first earthquake, the "Spring Break Quake" of 1993, just a few days after I met my husband. This allows us to make all sorts of sappy jokes about how "the earth moved" when we met. Har. Har.

Today in the office we discussed the pros and cons of various natural disasters. What's worse/better? The hurricane you watch approach over a period of days, the tornado that gives you about two minutes' warning or the earthquake that gives no warning at all?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008



Thursday, July 17, 2008

Overheard at DFW

We were waiting at the gate for a flight at DFW Airport.

Presently, another traveller walked into the area where we were sitting. She was talking loudly on her cell phone and she was angry.

"Well....I'm finally at the damn gate. It took me twenty-five minutes to get through security. You know what those damn security guys took away from my ass?????"

At this point the ass in question was only a foot or two from our noses. It was sizeable. I whispered to my son, "Whatever it was, they didn't take quite enough!"

We're bad.
( The confiscated item turned out to be a jar of salsa that was way bigger than the 3 oz.limit for liquids.)

When we relayed this tale (ahem) to my Mom and sister they exclaimed:

"TSA will take stuff away from your ass? Who knew! I should travel more often!"
"Yeah, I'll take my smaller sized swim suit with me! Psyched!"

They're bad too.

Back to vacation. As you were.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

True Purpose

Every year for the past ten years I've been in conversations with church staff, parents, kids etc. about whether Vacation Bible School is an idea whose time has passed. Is it time to let go of this mid-20th century manifestation of Christian formation instead of clinging to it, tweaking it, and waxing nostalgic about the hundreds of youngsters who flocked to this hallowed week at our church "back in the day"?

But I think I have finally accepted the real purpose of VBS. It acts as a once-a-year antidote to Pastors taking themselves too seriously. In the past three days I have:

Helped a nine-year old stuff bird seed into a balloon.
Led fifty+ children and youth in a rendition of "Jesus Was A Cool Dude"
Soaked, squashed and crumpled T-shirts, then placed them in the church freezer.
Arbitrated a jello dispute between two kindergarteners
Cheered enthusiastically for TEAM PURPLE!!!
Listened to biblical instruction from a squirrel puppet.

You see? VBS still plays an important role.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Why is it . . .

That no matter what the theme,
Or the curriculum,
Or the format,
Or the denomination hosting the event. . .

From my own days as a VBS-going kid
Until the present

Vacation Bible School always and invariably involves me coming home with a piece of construction paper to which cotton balls have been glued????

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Two Questions

1. The other night I had a dream that I was praying for an old friend. So the theological/psychological question: If you are praying in a dream, is it a real prayer?

2. Someone in our church is furious at me because he was "not informed" about a particular something. This particular something was included in an article in the church newsletter, announced at two different congregational meetings, highlighted in a children's moment in worship, and was the topic of discussion at several Session and Deacon's meetings. So, the question is: Whose fault is it that the person was "not informed"?

I'll take your answers off the air.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What Gave It Away?

I've been puzzling over something that happened to me at General Assembly last week. One morning I arose quite early to attend the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Breakfast. As it happened, the Presbyterians for Renewal Breakfast was happening at the same time in an adjoining ballroom. As it also happens, I have friends in both organizations and might well have attended both events if they had not been scheduled opposite each other. (For non-Presbys, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship would be considered a "lib'ral" affinity group within our denomination and PFR a conservative one.)

Access to both breakfasts was via an escalator to the sencond floor of a downtown hotel. At the top of the escalator, a woman from PFR was helping folks find the right event. As I stepped of the escalator, she smiled at me and said, "The Peace Breakfast is over there."

Okay. What gave it away? How did she reach such a quick decision about what event I was looking for? I was dressed modestly, I was wearing no T-shirts, buttons, scarves or anything else that would telegraph my theological or political leanings. I was wearing dangly earings, but not THAT dangly. No way am I well known enough in the denomination that people would recognize me on sight.

The only thing I can figure is that she must have seen me the day before hanging out at the Covenant Network booth in the Exhibit Hall talking to some friends who were hosting that booth at the time. From there, she made the inductive leap that since I have friends in the Covenant Network, I couldn't possibly be interested in spending a morning hearing what the PFR folks have to say.

Which is sad. Sadder because, if I had been in her place, I might have made similar assumptions. Saddest because, in scheduling what Breakfasts would happen when, the Master schedulers of the G.A. must also have assumed that it was safe to schedule these two events at the same time because folks who wanted to go to the PFR breakfast probably wouldn't want to go the the Peace breakfast and vice versa.

I hope we can all look forward to The Great Day when we will all sit at table in God's Kingdom.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Sharp Eyes

This morning my daughter was sitting next to me on the couch as I read an article about the top contenders for the VP slot on the two major party tickets.

"Who are all those people in the pictures?" she asked.

"Those are the people the newspaper thinks Barak Obama and John McCain are most likely to pick to be vice-president if they win."

"Oh." she replied.

Long Pause

"How come only one of them is a woman?"

That's my girl!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sighs and Snorts

As an observer at GA, one sits with folks who are not being as careful and guarded in their responses to what's being discussed as the comissioners who have to work together all week.

As I've sat through committee hearings and now in plenary, I'm discerning a great spiritual difference between sighs and snorts. When someone near me sighs deeply at something that just transpired, the prevailing feeling I get from them is lament or deep frustration--both of which can be prayerful responses to something. A sigh seems like something the Holy Spirit can enter into and shape for God's purposes.

But with a snort the sense that prevades the atmosphere is contempt. "I despise that person who just spoke and everything they stand for". Room for the Spirit? Not so much.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How Virtual should we be?

This morning at General Assembly I attended a confab for people who serve on Committees on Ministry in their Presbyteries. One of the topics for discussion was from folks working in very rural areas. When a small, rural church in a remote area is without a Pastor there may not be any pastors available to preside at sacraments or to moderate a congregational or session meeting or to install/ordain officers. A pastor from an urban area pointed out that this can also be true when a non-English speaking congregation is without a pastor. There may not be a pastor nearby who can do what needs to be done in the language of that congregation. What to do? Someone floated the idea that with the advances in technology that make such things as virtual meetings possible, an isolated or non-English speaking church could potentially "beam in" a pastor from somewhere else in the Presbytery who could do some of this stuff remotely. If the set up was completely interactive and the "distance" pastor could hear and speak to the people in the remote location would this be okay?

What do you think? I'm leaning toward thinking it would be okay for things like moderating a session meeting or some other administrative task, but that for the sacraments, you really ought to be physically present.

Monday, June 23, 2008


So I'm here at General Assembly. Last night I went out in search of dinner and ended up running into a guy I went to high school with. He recognized me right away. Which, after 25 years is certainly reassuring.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Apostolic Succession

If my grandmother were still alive, she would be turning 100 this week.

When she was 81, her pastor approached her about becoming an elder. The nominating committee wanted someone who would be a good representative and advocate for the oldest genertion of that congregation. She was surprised, but she agreed. She was ordained an elder about 9 months before I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.

That meant that at the point in the ordination service when they call all ministers and elders forward for the laying on of hands, my grandmother's hand was there among the others.

Which is all the apostolic succession I need.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Spanish Influence

My children are taking a summer Spanish class. It started yesterday. One of their first activities was to choose a Spanish name for themselves. My eight-year-old daughter's choice?


Time to put the blender away, maybe???

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sales Calls

In spite of working with a competent Office Administrator and a team of savvy office volunteers, I occassionaly find myself speaking on the phone to a sales representative of some sort. My husband is in sales, so I feel justified in offering this polite critique to a few of his "colleagues" out there:

1. If you have introduced yourself saying, "Hi this is (your first name). Just calling to check in with (my first name)this moring," you may have successfully duped our office volunteer into thinking you are someone I know well and want to talk to, but I now consider you to be a slick huckster and I don't trust you or like you. Well done. BTW if any of you big insurance,copier or computer companies are actually training your sales force to use this tactic, STOP IT. NOW. It's rude, dishonest and counter-productive.

2.If the next words out of your mouth are: "I've been researching your company's insurance/copier/computer needs and . . ." I immediately know that you have done no research at all or you wouldn't be calling our church a "company". You are reading a script and haven't bothered to nuance your language to fit the kind of organization you are calling.

3. If I tell you I am not knowledgable enough about the intricacies of our employee insurance plan,copier contract or computer system to be the one to evaluate the new product or service you want to sell us, please take my word for it. Trying to fake-compliment me by saying it is important that you deal with "a decision-maker like yourself" just reinforces my idea that you are clueless. There are very few churches in which the pastor can make executive decisions about stuff like this. If I say you need to talk to the chair of our property committee or our finance team, I'm trying to help you, not pass you off to some flunky.

Really. Don't call us, we'll call you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

To Kill A Mockingbird . . .

. . .Would be a service to the wider community, to my way of thinking.

Mr. and Mrs. Mockingbird have a nest in a tree in my backyard. Everytime I set paw outside they squwack and holler and hurl the vilest obscenities at me. They even get the Mockingbirds from neighboring territories into the act. They all dive bomb me at once.

Yesterday I had to hide in the bushes where they couldn't get at me. I didn't know how I was going to get back to the house safely. Luckily, Elizabeth, who usually ignores me or hisses at me, came to my aid. She charged the birds so they scattered just long enough for me to make a dash for the garage.

Thanks friend. You can have my portion of greenies today.

Balrog the Cat

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Cats and Dogs

Oy. We have two key leaders in our church who really need to work well together to make some important things happen. Unfortunately, it is like trying to get a Jack Russel terrier and a Siamese cat to form an effective partnership.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ashes to Ashes logistics

So yesterday we dedicated our new Memorial Garden. It's lovely and peaceful and ready to be used. In fact, we have several families who have been hanging on to the ashes of their loved ones until the Garden was complete and they are now calling to schedule dates for interment or scattering. (We have places for both.)

Now here is the thing. There are any number of liturgies for the committal or scattering of ashes, so the WORDS aren't a problem. But none of these liturgies cover the actual hands-on logistics of the thing. Do I place the urn in the pre-dug hole? Do I designate a deacon to do this? Or a member of the deceased's family? Do we put the dirt back over the hole while the family is still present? And if so, who does that? And what about scattering? Do we dump straight from the box? Or scatter by the handful? Or start with a symbolic handful and then dump straight from the box? And who scatters? Up till now, my experiences with ashes were either at a funeral home or cemetary where their staff "took care" of things--or the family was planning to scatter the ashes in a lake or ocean or mountain top somewhere and I wasn't involved in that bit.

What do you all do?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Signs of Aging

My spouse will be 43 on Monday. Yesterday the eye doctor told him he really needs to start thinking about bifocals.

My colleague and his wife just had a beautiful new baby girl. Another pastor, gushing about how wonderful this is, nudged me and said,"And this will give you a chance to practice your grandmotherly skills."

OUCH! I know, rationally, that at not-quite 44 it is perfectly possible for me to be a grandmother, even with no teen pregnancy involved. But please---since my own kids are still in elementary school, at least allow me the pleasant delusion that people won't be thinking "Pastor Rebel" and "Grandmotherly" at the same time for at least another decade.

That's all.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Followed by . . . .

A message on my voicemail from "Skip" wondering if I'd perfrom a marriage between him and his dog.

What is fascinating to me is that I did NOT say I would be performing gay marriages or that my church would host them. I simply said we would be praying for gay couples as they made their personal decisions about marriage in light of the court's ruling.

But I guess any statement even mildly supportive of gay people means I'm evil, huh?

Anyone else in California getting this kind of stuff??

Hate Mail--Whoo Hoo!

Last week a reporter for a local community paper called for my reaction to the California Supreme Court's Gay Marriage decision. Specifically, they wanted to know what my congregation would be doing, if anything, to acknowledge the decision. I responded that we would be praying for gay couples, that God would guide them as they decided whether or not to make a comittment to marriage. This was quoted in an article on "Pastors' Responses to Gay Marriage Decision".

Today I got a lovely, unsigned letter describing in detail the torments of hell I will soon be enjoying, complete with fire and flesh eating worms as punishment for my perverted teaching. The writer then assured me that s/he is praying for my salvation.

Yup. Really convinces me of the my error.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Sixth stage of grief--micromanaging

I know, I know. Bereaved families often cope with the total loss of control that death represents by becoming hyper-controlling over the details of their loved one's memorial service.

Still not in the mood to deal with it today.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Preaching Dress

Our seminary intern preached this past Sunday. She was great. It took me back to my own seminary internship days. One memory that floated up was the memory of a burgundy dress my grandmother and I bought for me the summer before my middler year. My grandmother had noted that my wardrobe was a little light in the "nice dress" department. (Though it was just fine in the Indian cotton skirt and Birkenstocks department.) Anyway, I wore this nice dress my first Sunday preaching in my internship church. A few Sundays later, my next door neighbor in seminary housing was due to preach at HER internship church and asked if she could, per chance, borrow my nice dress. I agreed. Shortly thereafter, another friend made the same request and my nice burgundy dress became known as "The Preaching Dress" and was worn by several of us young not-quite-revgal preachers whose everyday wardrobes didn't run much in the nice dress direction.

About two years ago, one of us was in the running for A Very Big Job in her denomination and I felt like I ought to call and ask if I should ship her The Preaching Dress. (Though in truth, I had worn that dress until it practically disintegrated and that was a dozen or more years ago.) She didn't get the job and I'm not saying it was because The Preaching Dress was dead, but maybe.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Community Stimulus Package

Our Mission Comm. just presented an idea to our Session that I think could work just about everywhere. We are going to encourage our members to donate a portion (they decide what portion) of their coming economic stimulus tax rebate to local hunger fighting agencies. Without passing judgement on whether we think the economic stimulus package is a good idea or not, we are affirming that a healthy economy depends on healthy communities where the most economically vulnerable are noticed and cared for with compassion. One of the committee members came up with the idea of calling this our "Communitiy Stimulus Package."

I think it would be great if faith communities across the political and theological spectrums could take this up as a way to address the crisis of rising food costs.

Have you heard of other groups doing something like this?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hibachi Homiletics

We have trouble finding restaurants our whole family enjoys. This is mostly due to the fact that my son is the Pickiest Eater on the Planet and thus rejects most ethnic food. The rest of us are more adventurous. This past weekend, my husband came up with the idea of going to a Japanese steakhouse, hoping that the "performance" aspect of the meal would overcome our boy's initial resistance to "weird" food.

He was right. The hibachi guy whirled and twirled his knives, created small fire bombs on the grill, and tossed eggs into the air and cracked them spectacularly on the back of the chopping blade. Our son was mesmerized and enthusiastically requested that we make a return visit. However, I privately told my husband that I didn't think the food was very good, despite all the fireworks.

Which makes me think of a temptation in preaching--at least for me. There is always the temptation to make the text do all sorts of clever, flashy things--things that make people ooh and ah at your homiletical dexterity. But there is real danger that in the end, the food isn't really very good. Lord, have mercy.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ready for my Close-up?

Yikes. Long time no post. Something about the convergence of Little League, my spouse's work travel, my daughter's production of The Music Man and a nasty stomach virus that has been moving serially through our family.

Sorry to reappear only to rant but can I just say "Put the damn video cameras away already!!!!"

I pretty much get doing videos at weddings: it's an extension of the long-standing tradition of wedding photography. But lately more and more people have been requesting videos of memorial services. I can sort of understand why the deceased's loved ones find comfort in replaying the service, especially the testimonials by their loved ones' friends and colleagues--but it still seems sort of, well, macabre to me. Maybe I'll discover I feel differently when it is my loved one, but I don't know. Do I wish I had a video of the funerals of my grandparents who died before this was technically possible? I can't say that I do.

And yesterday--we baptized a young man, a high school senior. Seeking baptism at 17 takes some guts and initiative, so the congregation was excited about this. So were his family who turned out by the dozens to attend worship. Just as the Prelude was winding up, his mom waved to me from one of the front pews. She was holding a digital video camera and mouthed the words, "Can we tape the baptism?" There was no time to speak pastorally about the sanctity of worship or the distraction the camera would pose to the congregation. I just firmly shook my head, "NO!" She looked disappointed and stowed the camera under the pew.

I felt a bit badly. She's been through some drama with this son, and she is also very fragile right now due to her mother's diagnosis with cancer. Still--WTF? I'm used to having the "appropriate and inappropriate times for cameras" discussion with brides and grooms--but I guess the time has come when this conversation has to happen with anyone having any kind of significant ceremony in worship.

My Mom says her church handles this by doing "re-poses" of the baptisms after the service is over, like with weddings. Better than having family members crawling around the font with cameras during the actual sacrament, I guess.

What do you all do?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Do you know the way to San Jose?

I missed the RGBP big event--so I'm hoping at least to meet up with some of the Presby RGBPs at General Assembly in June.

Who's going? Can we set a time and place for a meet-up?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Luther Hears a Who?

So--my daughter and I went to see Horton Hears a Who tonight. Since my brain was still partially in sermon writing mode, it struck me that the character of Horton the Elephant bears more than a passing resemblance to Martin Luther. In spite of fierce pressure to "recant" his belief that there are small people on the dust speck, he boldly proclaims, "Here I stand. I can do no other!"

Think I'm losing it??

Well, an archived Village Voice article notes that:

Theodor Seuss Geisel was the son of a respectable Massachusetts German Lutheran family. . .

Crazy like a fox.

Friday, March 28, 2008

O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

Sadness at Chez Rebel. Peanut the Hamster died unexpectedly yesterday from unknown causes. He was fine in the morning, but dead when the kids returned from school.

My daughter, especially, was heartbroken. Yet she wanted to hold Peanut and stroke his fur, wanted to be the one to put him in the old business card box we selected as a hamster casket, wanted to be the one to put the box in the hole in the garden her Dad dug this morning.

Which makes me think--absent certain elements of the funeral industry and/or church stepping in to declare what is proper procedure, the natural human instinct is to care for our dead fairly directly and to walk with them to the very end of their earthly journey.

R.I.P. Peanut. You were a good friend.

P.S. No cats have been implicated in this unfortunate incident. The door to the room was closed and there were no indications the cage had been disturbed. Furthermore, the body bore no signs of foul play.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

99 to 1

They even look a lot alike. Same hair cut and color, similar body types, similar timbre in their voices.

Besides these similarities, they share this. They are haunting examples of times that, as a pastor, I chose the 99 over the 1.

"Sid" was a teenager. Smart, but angry. He pushed the limits during every youth group gathering. Some kids quit coming and told me it was because of Sid. There was pressure from some parents to kick him out of the group. I stood up to this and maintained that church should not be in the business of "kicking out" those who were obviously struggling. Finally, though, he did something so outrageous and violent that we had no choice. For the safety and continued viablity of the group, we had to say, "You blew it. We care about you, but you can't come back."

Fast forward 15 years.

"Bruce" is a bona fide adult. A former fundamentalist, when I met him he was already at the fringes of "traditional Christianity" even by my rather generous definition of what that term means. Within a year, he had moved beyond the fringes. LIke-- Marcus Borg was too conservative for him. This wouldn't necessarily have been a problem for me or the session--better to hold him close and continue the conversation than reject him in a way that might make a temporary trajectory over the fence a permanent alienation. But he wasn't content to be in conversation. He was right and we were wrong and anyone who couldn't see that traditional Christianity was bankrupt and over was a fool. Finally, in a small group he became verbally abusive. We weren't going to kick him out of the church, but we asked him not to return to that particular group and said that kind of behavior was not acceptable anywhere. He asked to be removed from the rolls.

I know about the parable and all. But doesn't a good shepherd sometimes put the 99 first?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


You know you've gone over to the dark side of Easter chocolate addiction when your daughter says:

Mom! My Easter basket is not your personal buffet!!


Friday, March 21, 2008

Another Rabbit

So my 8 year old daughter has written and Easter story. In diary form, it chronicles the preparations of an Easter bunny as Easter Day approaches. Quite creative.

She asked me for suggestions for a title.

I couldn't help myself.

I suggested The Audacity of Hop

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Holy Week Visit from Your Half Jewish Subconcious

What does it mean when, during the wee-est hours of Maundy Thursday you have a dream in which you and your kids run into the Cantor from the local Synagogue at the local pet shop? He is there buying his kids a large brown and white bunny and four baby bunnies.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sunday School and Girl Scouts

A few months ago my daughter came home with a flyer about a new Brownie troop forming at her school. There will be an organizational meeting for interested families and blah blah blah ...

I sat with the flyer in my hand and remembered my own girlhood. I was a Brownie, then a Girl Scout for a few years. I enjoyed it for the most part. I hated selling cookies and there was one leader who definitely over-emphasized the crafts, (She's heading for the glue and Popsicle sticks again! Run for your lives!) But mostly it was good. I learned stuff. I made friends. I earned badges. I went to camp. My Girl Scout career ended when we moved to a new town and I never hooked up with a new troop. I recall my Mom asking at one point, "Should we look for a Girl Scout troop here?" I shrugged non-commitally and it never happened. Before long, I had gotten involved in other activities in our new city and the subject was dropped.

I sat with the flyer and thought about my family's life now. Two parents working full time. A pretty full slate of extra curricular activities for both kids already. Was this something we needed to pursue? Really?

"Are you interested in Brownies?" I asked my daughter. She shrugged non-commitally.

I let it ride.

Why am I telling you this? Because I have a big feeling this is the way an awful lot of parents feel about Sunday School. It was a pleasant part of their own childhood. They recall it without horror or revulsion or regret. But when it comes right down to it, they don't see it as something they really have to pass on to the next generation. They think the lessons and values they learned there can be learned pretty readily elsewhere. Given the business of their lives and all there is out there for kids to do, this one thing is not really essential.

I saw a bunch of cute little girls in green outfits doing a service project in one of the local parks the other day. I felt a twinge of guilt for not making the effort to give my daughter the opportunity to have that experience.

But I still let it ride.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Do you want guilt with that?

My spouse's work has been requiring an awful lot of travel recently. This week he left home late Sunday afternoon and won't be back till Thursday or Friday. We knew this was coming, so I'd been scratching my head about how I was going to manage the 4p.m. until 8pm Presbytery meeting tomorrow. I was pleased, therefore, when the e-mail that went out a couple of weeks ago from the Presbytery office regarding this meeting stated, "If you will need childcare during the Presbytery meeting, please make those reservations when you make your dinner reservation. Let us know the names and ages of your children." There is always supposed to be childcare available during our Presbytery meetings, but lately it's been kind of hit or miss whether the host church actually gets its act together to have a sitter available. So I was glad to see that there seemed to be renewed effort in this regard--even though I've only ever needed to bring my kids with me one other time since we moved here.

Today I got a personal e-mail from the people actually doing the childcare. In the course of asking if my kids had any food allergies or special needs they should be aware of, they managed to mention that I was the only person who had indicated a need for childcare. Maybe I'm being over sensitive--but it seems to me that bringing this up was a not-very-well-veiled hint that perhaps I should just get over myself and not put them through this bother.

What are things like where you are? Is there childcare for major regional denominational meetings that involve pastors and laypeople? Does its availability or lact thereof make a difference in who participates?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Middle Name Meme

Thanks, Kathryn, for tagging me with the middle name meme. I seem to have misplaced my blogging mojo lately, so I needed a little nudge.

The Middle Name Meme
1. You have to post the rules before you give your answers.
2. You must list one fact about yourself beginning with each letter of your middle name. (If you don't have a middle name, use your maiden name or your mother's maiden name).
3. At the end of your blog post, you need to tag one person for each letter of your middle name. (Be sure to leave them a comment telling them they've been tagged.)

Christian. Purechristianithink is a literal translation of my full name. "Christine" is the Christian part.

Humorous--although my son has taken to responding to my quips, puns and jokes lately by looking askance and saying, "You're NOT funny, Mom"

Reader. Even in a family of readers, my fondness for books is seen as excessive.

Introvert. I'm near the middle of the Introvert/Extrovert spectrum, so I can go quite awhile before my extroversion energy tank runs out, but it DOES run out.

Scatterbrained. I lost my keys three times yesterday. Only for a few minutes each time, but still.

Thoughtful. But thoughtful isn't always a synonym for "kind".


Not neat. Or tidy. Even though I told my spouse this when we first met, he still keeps thinking I'll snap out of it.

Ebullent. My colleague remarked the other day that there seemed to be an awful lot of music and laughter coming from my office.

I have to tag nine people? Let's make it eight since one of the letters in my middle name repeats itself. Okay: the nine people who commented on my last post.

Friday, February 15, 2008


I had a dream about the Archangel Michael last night. You'll be happy to know that he is very handsome in a rugged, Middle-eastern kind of way and he has an Alaskan Husky that he walks by a lake filled with clouds.

No wings, though. At least not in my dream.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A writing challenge

The pipe organ at our church is going to be included on a tour of fine pipe organs in our town. One of the members of our congregation is part of the planning team for this tour and asked me to be sure to include an announcement in this week's bulletin highlighting this tour and the fact that it is open to the public.

Ahem. Do you realize how tricky it is to compose a paragraph including the words "organ" "member" "largest" "demonstration" and "tour" and make it sound like something that belongs in a church bulletin rather than, say, an e-mail spam offer??

I'm just sayin. . . .

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A New Era Begins

Well--"era" may be too dramatic a word for it. But this week our new,called Associate Pastor begins his work with us and our Interim Associate wraps up loose ends and departs for new things. Good stuff, but as with any transition there will be some twists and turns to negoitiate.

Here is where you all could be helpful in sharing your wisdom--around two of those twists particularly:

1) So far, both the Associates I've worked with here have been female and older than me. Our new Associate is male and younger. There isn't a lot of collective wisdom out there yet about the female head of staff/ younger male associate relationship. Any of you worked in that model in either role? What wisdom would you pass along?

2)Our new Associate is coming to us after having been a solo pastor for a while. I know Besomami and Listing Straight have recently made that move--maybe some of the rest of you as well. Again--any wisdom to share on how to make that transistion a good one?

Also, be aware that after the great blog discovery controversy,I shared my own blogging identity with my new colleague, so there's a good chance we'll both be reading your responses!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Justice, Grace and Meatballs

The phone rang while we were eating dinner Saturday night.

"Pastor Rebel? This is Martha. I'm here at church. In the kitchen. We're getting the food ready for the reception after tonight's concert."

Uh huh.. .

"Well, Norm and Nancy made some meatballs and brought them down here this morning because they can't be here tonight."

Uh huh . . .

"And the League of Women Voters was here this afternoon making the food for their event tonight and now they are gone and the meatballs are missing."

Ah!!! You think they may have taken our meatballs by mistake?

"Yes! I'm sure they did! Do you know where they were taking their food?"

No. Not exactly. I just remember that they wanted to use our kitchen because the place they are having their event tonight only allows their official caterer to use their kitchen to prepare food.

(At this point I can hear animated conversation in the background . . .)

"Thanks! Jean knows where that is. We'll figure this out. Bye!"

Thirty minutes later, I arrive at church myself. I check in with the folks in the kitchen to see what has transpired vis a vis the meatballs.

"We've got them! Martha went up to Special Events House and grabbed them out of the warming oven. And look! The pan even had this note taped to it! (For Concert Reception 2/9) How could they have missed that?????"

My kids and I beat a hasty retreat from the kitchen to the church courtyard where we bust out laughing.

"Mom," says my son. "You have to work this into your sermon tomorrow."

Well, I don't know . . .

"No, really. What are you preaching about?"

The story about how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.

"Perfect! Those ladies were tempted to take our meatballs!!!"

No--they weren't tempted. They just made a mistake. They thought the meatballs belonged to them.

"Well. Okay. But I still think you could use it."

Actually, if I were ever to use this story in a sermon, I would use it as an illustration of the difference between justice and grace. The just thing to do was march down to the community center and demand our meatballs back. The gracious thing to do would have been to let the League ladies enjoy them with our blessing.

AFter hearing me re-tell this story to my colleague Sunday morning, my daughter observed, "Mom--you really have to blog about this."

Now THAT I can do.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Brushes with Fame

I've lived in southern California for nearly two years now, but had never been to Hollywood. My sister's visit provided the excuse, so last Thursday I took the day off work and we set out. We booked ourselves a walking tour of the Hollywood district, but arrived an hour early due to some really lucky breaks with Metrolink and MTA. We decided to amble down Hollywood Boulevard and look for place to have coffee.

As approached Fredericks of Hollywood, we noted that people were gathering at barricades set up in front of the store. There was a platform with a microphone set up near the entrance. We bellied up to the barricade and asked the guy standing near us, "So--what are we waiting for?"

"Suzanne Pleshette is getting a star on the Walk of Fame," he answered. Sure enough, as we stood and waited people began arriving on the OTHER side of the barricade. Marcia Wallace, who played Carol the receptionist on the Bob Newheart Show, Peter Bonerez, who played Jerry the orthodontist, Jack Riley, who played one of Bob Hartley's regular clients--and other folks not connected to the show, but who must have been friends of the late Ms. Pleshette: Arte Johnson, Tina Sinatra, Peter Marshall, and Dick Van Dyke. There were some other folks who looked vaguely familiar but who we couldn't name right off. (Those of you who've been reading a while may remember that this is my second encounter with Dick Van Dyke in less than 12 months. It's because he's Presbyterian, I'm sure. That Calvinist vibe draws him into my orbit.)

"Why isn't Bob Newheart here?" my sister wondered.
"Oh--I'll bet he'll swoop in with a big flourish right before the ceremony," I answered.

Yup. In due course a shiny car drove up and out popped the Big Guy himself. We had to sneak away just after the ceremony began because it was time for us to meet our tour.

During the walking tour, which was mildly interesting, we couldn't help but notice that there was a Big Commotion going on in front of the Kodak Theater.

"Oh yeah! The debates! Are those today?" we asked each other.

They sure were! We planted ourselves on a balconly two floors above street level and watched the festivities for nearly two hours. We had a great view of the CNN tent and watched Wolf Blizter chat with just about everybody, including the mayor of Los Angeles. We were hoping, hoping that maybe Barak and Hillary themselves might show up, but they must have sneaked them in a secret door somewhere. When we saw the barracades going down and the police leaving, we figured those two must already be safe inside the building--so we went home.

So, that was my brush with fame for the year. Whew!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

And the Winners Are . . .

First Hymn-- O Sing to the Lord/Cantad al Senor

Response to Forgiveness--Celtic Alleluia

Second Hymn-- Hashiveinu, taught to us by the Cantor from the Temple

Traditional Doxology Substitute: first verse of Now Thanks We All Our God

Closing Hymn--When A Poor One, (#407 in the Presbyterian Hymnal)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


While I was home grabbing a quick sandwich at lunchtime, my kids' school called. My son was throwing up. Could I please come get him?

Luckily, my sister is visiting. I picked him up and brought him home. He didn't seem too sick. A little shaky. No fever. I tucked him into bed and went back to work, telling my sister to call me if things took a downward turn.

While I was gone, my sister used her crack Aunt detective skills to produce this confession:

"Well . . . my friends and I were having a contest to see who could eat their lunch the fastest . . ."

Would that all problems were that easy to diagnose.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Next week is our annual pulpit exchange with the Temple. The Rabbi preaches here Sunday, I preach there Friday. The choirs combine for both services. I'm working on the liturgy and finding hymn/song selection challenging. Can't be all Jesus-y. No Trinitarian stuff. Trying to avoid hymns that lean heavily toward Zion/Israel/Promised Land imagery as that plays really differently in an interfaith crowd. We've got some Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian Christians who attend our church that get a little queasy about the Temple exchange anyway without adding that layer of potential misunderstanding.

So--what to sing? Also, it has to work musically and be especially singer friendly given all the guests that will be here.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Amie tags Elizabeth

Amie over at Red Heeler Ranch has tagged Elizabeth for a meme. She's happy to oblige. The stated rules were:

Link to the person that tagged you.
- Post the rules on your blog.
- Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
- Tag six people and at the end of your post, link to their blogs.
- Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Hi everyone--Elizabeth here.

Six quirks about me:

I prefer sliced or diced wet food to paste. I only eat the paste so that pest Balrog won't get something I didn't.

I think lizards are delicious.

I have a plan for eventually getting my paws on Peanut the Hampster, but for now I am feigning disinterest.

The Dad of this house, is my favorite person.

If you put Gold Bond lotion on your hands, I will lick them.

I like to loll by the neighbor's pool and pretend I am a lion at my waterin hole on the savannah.

I'm kind of late to this meme, so I'll tag any creature who would like to play.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Worship Planning--Solo or Team Sport?

At the end of my annual week with my lectionary study group, I'm always dashing back home as quickly as possible to the family that has been fending for themselves during my absence. Some of my buds, though, extend their stay at whatever retreat center or seminary we are at that year in order to spend a few days working on worship plans for the coming year. This year one of them said he was hoping to go home with liturgies for the Sundays through Easter fairly fully formed and the rest of the year sketched out as to text, theme and hymn ideas.

I always feel a mixture of admiration and suspicion when I hear from pastors who work this way. Admiration for their dedication, organization and far-sightedness; suspicion of a worship planning process that seems totally pastor-centered.

Two experiences early in my ministry years contributed to this suspicion, I think. The first Senior Pastor I worked with expected that if it was my Sunday to preach, I was also responsible for the rest of the liturgy. That was a one-year gig. At my next church, my first time to preach I handed in all my bulletin info to the secretary on Wednesday morning and she looked confused. "But Pastor has already given me everything but the sermon text and title!" Ooops. I talked to the Senior Pastor right away. He was very clear that planning worship was his job. I was welcome to give him suggestions for responses, prayers, hymns, etc., but ultimately he would plan each week's liturgy. That was hard to get used to.

Another time, I overheard a pastor I already did not have a very high opinion of telling another pastor how productive he had been on his study leave. He had chosen all the scripture texts and written all the liturgies for the next six months. He would now give that info to the rest of his staff so they could carry these themes forward in terms of church music, Christian Ed, etc. When the other pastor asked him if the staff would get a chance to give feedback on those plans, Pastor "I'm the Decider" said, no they prefered and expected him to make those plans and would resent wasting their time trying to plan by committee. Now, I happened to know the Associate Pastor at that church and she couldn't stand his "top-down" worship planning system. So I vowed I would never plan that way.

And yet--I have to admit that, absent me going to the mountaintop and returning with stone worship plans, my colleagues and I do get caught short sometimes and end up flying by the seat of our collaborative, collective pants.

What about you all?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Defining Your Terms

Phew! Back from a week at my annual lectionary-study-hob-nob-with-my-fellow-wizards group. A good week. I thought we all seemed tired this year, though. Not sure what's up with that.

Anyway, spent some time at dinner tonight catching up with the family, who did very well in my absence. My husband was remarking that it has been a deep joy to him in the past year to begin singing with our church choir and take voice lessons. He has never done either one before in his life, so this is a mid-life "new discovery" for him. He is very happy to discover, he said, that he is more than just a mediocre tenor.

"What is mediocre?" my son asked. "Just average," I answered. "Not absolutely awful, not amazingly great. Just kind of 'eh'".

Twenty minutes later our daughter showed me a picture she had drawn and asked, "Do you think this is yolky motor?"


"Yolky Motor. You know, what you and Dad were talking about earlier."

I shook my head. I had NO idea what she was talking about.

"You know. Not that good. Just okay. What was that word? Yolky Motor? Meaty Ogre?"

"You mean mediocre?" I asked.

"Yes! That's it! Mediocre!"

Her picture was better than that, but my sermon won't be unless I get back to work.

Good to be back!