Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Today was the start of Holy Week. Had I not been attuned to it, and had been pondering it all week, it could have slid by unnoticed. The problem of missing a holy day isn't in where one worships and how "liturgical" the design of the worship is... the problem is that in our self-absorbed lives we can go happily along and just... forget.

As I think on this, I think it's a lack of understanding. What seems to "matter" is based on the perspective at the moment. What's urgent? What's most pressing? Rarely is the crisis at work really that urgent... unless you work in an E.R.! We lack understanding because we lack perspective. It's like viewing life in 2-D instead of 3-D.

In the time of Christ, this was part of the issue as well. They could not understand a rabbi who trashes all of their greatly loved traditions (not the Scriptures -- the traditions! there's a difference!) They puzzled over his condemnation of their attempts to be holy and to enforce holiness. They grumbled when he did not "respect" them and their learned teachings.

Yet... as I ponder it and I read the story of Christ's entry into Jerusalem, it hits me... The same crowds that yell "Hosanna! Here is the King!" will yell "Crucify him!" later in the story. They follow the loudest voices, the most urgent and strident ones. From the perspective "on the ground" this makes no sense. From the perspective of heaven, it works. There is a far bigger plan than we realize.

So much of life is like that.

We yammer. God works. We whine. God works. We browbeat. God works.

Many times in ways we don't expect. And many times, in spite of what we ask for and pray for.

My Hosannas today were offered as I saw the faces of transformed people. When I hugged a friend. When I  put a flower in someone's hand. When I sat with my family and enjoyed a day off from my studies. When I listened to the St. Matthew Passion and heard words of hope. And promise.

Christ IS our salvation. Christ IS our Lord. Despite my forgetting or ignoring this truth.. those facts don't change.

Tonight in my evening reading, I found these words...
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
[Zephaniah 9:12]

I could give you a big exegetical or historical explanation for those words... and that would be very scholarly of me. .But I think that would miss the real point. It's simply this -- I am a prisoner of HOPE. And that is where I want to live out my life.

It's messy. And frequently, I do it wrong. But God is indeed in it.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Five: Redo, Refresh, Restore

Songbird from RevGalBlogPals writes:

We're in the thick of it in church life as we approach the end of Lent. Palm Sunday and Holy Week await. In the midst of this busy-ness, I undertook a little redecorating here at RevGalBlogPals and found a new template for us.  [note from Deb - it looks great, Songbird!]

It's the sort of task I like in the middle of chaos, a chance to redo something, to refresh the way I feel, to restore some sense of order.

Please share with us five ways you redo or refresh or restore your body, your space, your blog, anything in your life that needs perking up this week.


I'm in dire need of some rest and remodeling, so this is a good way to think about what it is I need to do to refresh myself a little...

1. My Body: I did go get a pedicure this week. It was my first one in a LONG time. Now I understand why so many RevGals insist it is a necessary part of self-care! While it did tickle, it was also a nice way to be tended to instead of being the superintendent for so many things in my life. Reedy Girl and I decided that we will both go for a pedicure when it's closer to my graduation. The ultimate graduation gift: pretty feet!

2. My Home: Bearded Brewer and I have had several prints and paintings waiting for framing. This winter we finally got them framed and put up. I am enjoying the new vistas on my walls. 

3. My Hobbies: I have been making time for things that feed my heart. Music. Photography. Family. And if it ever stops being "mud season" -- my garden! I can drive myself to exhaustion. I'm learning that I need this Re-creational Space in my life.

4. My Study: When we did some remodeling and refinished our basement, there was a debate about where I should put my study. I need natural light to feel alive, so I really didn't want to be a cellar drudge! I ended up taking over the fourth bedroom/former playroom. It receives the afternoon sun, and I have a great view of part of the garden. One of the other aspects I love about it is that I have version of the Last Supper by Piasecki on one wall. (You can learn more about it here.) My study also has a window that looks out on the back garden. And it has LOTS of books. Here's a few photos... please pardon the piles on my desk!!

The view inward...

The view outside...

5. My Heart: I have discovered that I need a balance of activity and quiet. Yes, I definitely an extrovert, but the moments I can have with no demands on my time or attention are very precious. I'll be going to the next day silent retreat on Wednesday April 21st here.  Care to join me?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Just have to share this...

Evelyn posted this video. I felt like it was a hug of encouragement and peace around my shoulders... so I'm reposting it...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is it REALLY that simple?

I had an excellent conversation with a woman today. ("Excellent" because it made me think. And because she has her finger on the pulse of what has bothered me, from time to time, with some contemporary teachings of Scripture.)

She was upset that someone suggested that the Bible could "easily" solve all of her problems.

"It is NOT that simple," she said. "Why would anyone think that?"

I suggested that she consider the source. How much had the person studied the Bible themselves. Were they just mouthing off some platitude? Had they sat down and struggled through Job? Did they even know the word "theodicy"?

"I don't think that they've really had to deal with pain," she said. "But then -- I don't know that for certain. And I don't want to wag a judgmental finger in his face when his judgmentalism bugs ME so much!"

We are going to hang out, have coffee and talk some more... I suggested reading and talking through C.S. Lewis' book The Problem of Pain. One of his quotes is on my desk blotter, because it helps me keep perspective:

"Everyone feels benevolent if nothing
happens to be annoying them at the moment."

I promised her I had no pat answers. God's not a "button pusher" and just reading the Bible doesn't make it simpler. BUT - - knowing I have the Creator of the Universe beside me and with me in any difficulty I face means that I face my struggles with a little more confidence. No immediate answers, perhaps. But confidence.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's officially spring...

Time for the first colors of spring... and my first pedicure in a long, LONG time. (I know that thrills you.) However, I decided that when we can afford it, I am going to exercise what we RevGals call a little "self care" and get the toesies done.

The color is Midnight Plum.  That's in case you cared.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Slogging on...

It's a dark, rainy Monday morning after a bright and beautiful weekend. I'm finding it hard to get motivated on school stuff this morning...

The Johnnie is back on campus after a two week spring break. I drove her back yesterday. She's acclimated well, studying hard, and facing her own coursework with determination and focus. I'm so proud of her! But when she leaves after being around for a while, I miss her.

Reedy Girl is back after a great band tour to Nashville. She survived the 14 hour, overnight bus ride (UGH!) and managed to get a major project finished before she fell into bed last night. She works really hard and keeps herself organized and focused. There's a bright future for her as well.

Bearded Brewer enjoyed the time with the kids around (and their friends), and has kept pace with the full calendar. It's not his favorite thing to have so many events cranking at once, yet he helped keep the flow of errands and chores from backing up.

I still have several major projects to finish before I can have a short breather before graduation. Everything is due in the next four weeks...
6 papers... 4 major, 2 minor
various posts, essays and projects

I should be excited... but I'm just so tired. And the sudden change from fun, noise, activity and people to quiet and just the cats and my studies is a bit of a shock.

I have so many things to be thankful for, and I'm trying to focus on those...

- great, flexible, caring husband
- healthy, bright, loving daughters
- good friends
- and a faithful God

Slogging on - the next assignment - the next textbook...


Friday, March 19, 2010


It's so quiet on these late night writing sessions. The house is silent. Even the cats are sleeping! Tonight I cracked my window on one of the warmest spring nights yet, just to hear the sound of life outside. After 1 a.m. even this busy metro area is pretty quiet.

And then, the more I listen I hear how it is far from "silent"!!

My family and friends know I am not a "silent" type. Some are amused at my jaunts to a silent retreat. But even those four hours of not talking are a place for God to speak -- loudly. In fact, it is in the absence of the usual sights and sounds that God speaks the loudest.

When I was on a short-term trip to Nigeria (a lifetime ago!) we had frequent power interruptions. One of my favorite things to do when that happened was to sit out on the steps of our apartment, slap mosquitos and enjoy the dark night sky. The air was humid and still. But looking up, there were layers upon layers of stars. The heavens were never so "deep" to my naked eye then they were after an hour or so of gazing upwards.

An astronomer friend told me later that it takes several minutes for the human eye to adjust to darkness. Eventually we can see, even in starlight. It just takes patience and time.

Seems to me that hearing God in the silence is pretty much the same thing...

In the starlight I see
worlds and supernovas
created by your hand
as a sparkling touch of joy

In the silence I hear
words and simple questions
reminded by your voice
that I am yours and yours alone

In the silence
and in the starlight
you are there

This reminded me of a song that is among my favorite worship songs... as I crawl into bed, it's on my heart... thought I'd share it...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beware the Ide(a)s of March

I admit it. It was my fault. I was in a hurry. I brought it on myself.

Last week, I was trying to make a deadline for submitting an assignment, get a daughter to a job interview, be home for an appliance delivery, and meet a friend at the hospital whose family member was gravely ill. Oh, and I was also responding to an email from a friend that I had spent time with during my modular (intensive class) at seminary. There was also the usual - meals, laundry, enjoying time with family...  That all happened in a 24 hour period.

So I mindlessly responded to a request to install a plug-in by clicking "yes" when I visited a website suggested by my friend's email to me...  My distracted brain thought that because I had just updated my web browser, that I was missing this plug-in. My common sense brain which usually screams "CHECK THE URL!!!" was too far in the distance to get through... until it was too late.


Window after window launched. I started to try and close them, and then reached for my wireless antenna switch and moved it to OFF. Error message after error message loaded. My computer crashed.

 I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew that I had just introduced some kind of malware to my laptop. The laptop that has ALL of my coursework, files, projects and a flippin 20 page paper well along in the development process. (Yes I had an incremental back up. Please.)

Of course I ran my brand-name virus protection scan. It found nothing. It didn't flag the worm or virus when I clicked on it. (WHY? We don't know.) And it didn't stop it from inserting itself into my computer's registry. But the results were unmistakeable. Despite my virus scanner giving the laptop a clean bill of health, I couldn't connect to any websites which were malware-removal related. I couldn't update my own virus protection (fat lotta good it did, but...) and I found out that friends were getting messages from "me" inviting them to check out this website.

Like Paul Revere I posted a warning... hoped that I didn't catch anyone in my net of stupidity... and started reading.

Malware is meant to catch busy, distracted people. It mimics real, normal computer downloads. It looks close enough to the real thing that unless you are being attentive, you miss the subtle differences. And it works FAST! Its influence is felt almost immediately.

Where am I going with this?

So much of life we are busy. Doing. Listening. Helping. Playing. Reading. Writing papers (that's if you're in graduate school...) Exercising. Cooking. Cleaning. Driving. Parking. Shopping. (Fill in the blank.) We are distracted. We drive with the radio on, the wireless headset in our ear. We are miraculously skilled at gauging which grocery store line will be the fastest. (You know you do. I do too!) We are distracted.

This Lent I've been trying to slow down. To listen more, ponder more, be more available. To be fully present when I am with family or friends. I don't want to add any "relational malware" to anyone's life.

When I do -- I am so thankful that God has made a way. That forgiveness is real, and that I am blessed to have some pretty amazing friends and family. Thanks. Love you guys a lot. A LOT!!!!

Really. Thanks.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Five: Spiritual vs Religious

Mompriest from RevGals writes:
Yesterday I attended a conference led by Diana Butler Bass. She is presenting new ideas on the state of the church and why there is hope for Christianity. One of her premises is a Newsweek/Washington Post poll from 2005 that states that 55% of the people in this country describe themselves as religious AND spiritual.

Without going into detail about her understandings of religious and spiritual (you may want to attend one of her conferences, if you can) share with us five thoughts ideas or practices that you consider to be "religious." Then share with us five thoughts, ideas, or practices that you consider to be "spiritual."

For example one thought about religion might be that it is "salvation" Or an idea about religion might be that it it is an "institution" and a religious practice might be "going to church." An example of spiritual thought might be a phrase from a poem, a spiritual idea might be the inspiration for a piece of art and a spiritual practice might be meditation.

So, five thoughts, ideas, or practices that are religious....and then five thoughts, ideas or practices that are spiritual. OR are they the same thing to you?


This is a great question!

This week I am studying the John 4 passage which covers the Woman of Sychar and her encounter with Jesus. There's several themes in the text which remind me that she had lots of "religious" practices but was not very "spiritual." Jesus was very gentle, yet very direct with her. (...and me...) And considering the fact that this encounter is recorded right after a brouhaha with the Pharisees, it was all the more thought-provoking.

As I ponder this, I have come to the conclusion that I don't necessarily think that "religious" = "spiritual" thoughts, ideas, or practices.

Sometimes a "religious" habit can be "spiritual," and many times it can be devoid of any spiritual meaning at all. Likewise, some of the most "spiritual" moments in my life have had nothing to do with "religious" activities and had EVERYTHING to do with a mighty God at work. I just happened to be there to participate and be a part of it; (one such example, for instance, would be childbirth...)

Here's my attempt at articulating the difference...

RELIGIOUS: Praying because it's "that time of day" or "that place in the liturgy where we always pray."

SPIRITUAL: Praying because it is part of my ongoing conversation with God throughout the day.

2. Worship
RELIGIOUS: Going to a service at church with others, and oh yeah, it's about God.

SPIRITUAL: Going to encounter the Presence of Christ -- not necessarily a service, in a building, or with other people.

3. Giving
RELIGIOUS: Because it's a cause, person, political party or habit.

SPIRITUAL: Because God keeps 10% of what I earn, and I want it spent for heavenly purposes. And there's no litmus test on what that means.

4. Journaling
RELIGIOUS: Because all the cool leaders talk about the importance of doing it -- and because it's great fodder for my next book!

SPIRITUAL: Because without stopping to pray, reflect and articulate the swirl of activity that is "life," I miss the meta-messages from the Holy Spirit

5. Fasting

RELIGIOUS: I need to deprive myself of habitual eating in order to "deny my flesh" and prepare for Holy Week.

SPIRITUAL: I need to remember that all of my compulsions are under God's supernatural control; fasting is a way to reflect and return even the simple practice of consuming food to God.


In some respects, I found today's topic hard... I don't want to fall in a Pharasaical habit of thinking I'm doing better than some other "spiritual" leader I know. I'm surely not. I want to be clear that I wobble all the time between "religious" and "spiritual" -- and it is my prayer that I not be included in the heavenly list of Pharisees - by God's grace...  The Lord knows there are enough "religious" people in the news and on the internet these days!
"Everything they do is done for people to see..."  
- Jesus, about the Pharisees, Matthew 23:5a

Like it or not, the "Church Lady" from Saturday Night Live epitomizes a face of Christianity that is too common and too engrained in our culture. And, quite honestly, in me.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Restless Irritation...

I have a restless irritation with the Church (capital "C" - not any one "c"hurch in particular!) As I read the front page of my newspaper and then my Bible, it doesn't seem to me that those of us in the "C"hurch are doing a stellar job at relating the two. Oh, there's the front page loonies (pick your own) to be sure, protesting this or that, or sending mass emails predicting the end of the world as we know it.

But that is exactly the point. The end of the world as WE know it.

Perhaps my restlessness is due to an impending change of seasons in my life -- from full-time student to student chaplain.  Perhaps it is because I want ALL of the snow in my yard to be gone (and it isn't!)  Perhaps it is because I am tired of having to explain my faith when it is depicted so poorly in the popular press. ("No... that's not what I believe about God either.") And perhaps it is because I think we are SUPPOSED to be restless.

I'm reading Leonard Sweet's So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life AND the Church and the quotes are just spilling onto my notebook pages...

Your thoughts, your intentions can change the world. But your connections can change the world even more (p. 95)

"CAWKI" - "The Church As We Know It" - has too often been selling a philosophy called Christianity or marketing a product called Church rather than lifting up Christ. (p. 106)

The two highest compliments you can pay Christians: 1) they are one of a king human beings 2) when you read their lives, you can hear and see and smell and taste and touch Jesus (p 107)

God does not offer "final answers, the manacles of modernity, but binding relationships" (p. 116)

Relationships come more to us like an abused package from the post office: ripped, torn, its guts spilling out, the contents often broken" (p. 138)

...and the concept that Christians must have " atonal identity that disturbs the world at the same time it exposes the world for what it is: shattered and in need of salvation" (p. 176)

But wait, there's more! (cheesy grin)

I have never been at ease with anything that is sold to me as the "latest best thing ever" -- as I tell my friends, "my hinky meter goes off!"

Life is too complicated, and yet simple. God is not boxed, yet at the root, is very clear. As Sweet says,the Gospel is not a franchise to be syndicated, or a pot to be replanted, but a seed to be scattered on human hearts.

Missional, Relational, Incarnational.

And I'm good with that.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Reflecting on the last weeks

These last two weeks have been a whirlwind...

I had back-to-back modulars, one on worship leading and one on spiritual formation. The time away from home was hard because I missed my family. BUT... the time spent with God was encouraging and rejuvenating. I'm still a bit scattered on exactly what I am learning and processing. A few things are clearer...

I am uniquely gifted in leadership and that means I must not compromise in terms of a ministry assignment.  As I talked and prayed with others, it became clear that I have come to a watershed moment. I have faced some prejudice. I have made mistakes. But I have also learned that some of the problems I have had were because I "settled" for something that was not a good ministry "fit" for my gift set.

I am reminding myself, again and again, that I am beloved and cared for by my Savior God. It is nothing I do -- it is everything God is and the relationship I have. For someone who gets a wee bit driven, this takes off the perfectionist lens and puts things in perspective. I do nothing to earn God's love. It is everything God IS that forms the love relationship between us.

Time is fleeting. The seasons are changing. Our girls are growing. Life based on circumstances is futile. Life based on God is eternal.

Transitions suck. There's no predictability. There's no clear path. All I know is that God is in the mix. And I truly can rest in that.

Here's a few photos from the last few days...  I think they shout of God's Presence and love...

Let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
 Psalm 96:12-13

Looking out towards the lake at the 4-H Wakefield center.

A little surprise snow shower frosted the ground.

The slow melt of snow with water droplets on the berries... so pretty!

The water in the swamp freezes in fern-like patterns. I have never seen that before!

I heard God say, "Come sit with Me awhile!"
 So I did...

Friday, March 05, 2010

Spiritual Spring Cleaning Friday Five

Sally from RevGalBlogPals writes:

I have been thinking about spring, although it is still very cold here the snow has almost gone and the sun is shining. Here and there spring bulbs are bravely pushing their way through the earth and Tim and I are thinking about planting the first of the years veggies in the garden!

Then I read:

The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We're Christ's representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God's work of making things right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you. (2 Corninthians 5: 17-20 The Message)

All this got me thinking that if we traditionally think of spring as a time for new life, then maybe a spiritual spring clean might not be a bad thing to clear the way for the new thing that God wants to do in us!

So with all of that in mind I offer you this Friday Five:

1. Is there a part of your spiritual life that is dry and dusty at the moment, something that could do with a good spring clean?
Funny you should ask... I am taking my final Spiritual Formation class for seminary and it has a 7-fold approach to a holistic Spiritual Formation (Personal Faith, Emotional, Relational, Vocational, Theological, Health and Wellness and Financial). The photographs don't lie. I need to be more serious about my Health and Wellness.

2. Spiritual disciplines- life-giving/ terrifying: discuss
If you use them as a sledge-hammering, guilt-inducing self-abuse, they will be terrifying. If you recognize you need them to work on your own personal growth, then they are life-giving. Actually, I think the most important concept to remember is that "one size doesn't fit all"!!!

3. Share a practice that keeps you spiritually alive that you think others might benefit from...
 Silent retreats - even a 4 hour day one does wonderful things! I get away at least once a quarter. I'm trying for monthly.

4.Alone or together, how do you pray best?
Alone. BUT... (having said that) there are many burdens that are best lifted to God together.

5.If your spiritual life were to burgeon and bloom into a spring flower what would it be and why?
I'm guessing a forsythia - I am fairly hardly, somewhat invasive (I am not a "shrinking violet!"), and I want to grow beyond last year's growth. In fact - the way that forsythias bloom is by setting buds on last year's growth. The overall effect of a forsythia is quite compelling, but even the individual flowers have a strong yellow color and a very gentle fragrance.

Bonus, a piece of music a picture or a prayer that speaks to you of new life....

This is one of my favorite pieces of "happy music" -- I love the percussion in it. I love the simply joyful lyrics. It's just FUN!