Monday, October 31, 2011

A Little Halloween Treat for Y'all!

Happy Halloween!

Well, we are sitting in the living room surrounded by boxes.  As is the case with clergy folks, there is a large amount of boxes containing books.  But they are here and we are here and the apartment keys have been returned.

So we are in our new house.  I am sure in a short while it will feel like home.

I hope to find some kind of call.  I keep threatening to quit the whole church thing, but we all know that is not going to happen.  I do sometimes wish I could just be a pew jockey, but I know that I would not be happy for long with that.

One of the nice things about the new city we live in, it is a university town!  And the sight seeing have been nice!  College boys are just so pretty!

Have a great Halloween, y'all!

Quick Update

We are 99% moved.  I am currently sitting in a living room full of boxes; mostly boxes of books.  These need to go upstairs, but not quite yet.  We have some final cleaning and all the hanging clothes to bring back and then we turn in our keys and a HUGE check to the apartment complex.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Playing With Naked Men (NSFW)

 Well, I have been getting things boxed up to move.  But when I need to stop because I am getting frustrated with the process, I have been playing with my stained glass program.  I have said before that finding male nude stained glass patterns is neigh on impossible.  So I have decided to do it myself.
 It is fun to do!  And hopefully I will be able to actually be able to make some, if not all, of them.  They are all works in progress and are learning experiences as I try to figure where to put glass seams and how to use different colored glass (or same colored glass) to create effects.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Move Nears...

Well, this is the last week in the apartment.  We will be moving on Saturday.  It will be a good thing, we will be in a house, in a smaller city.  The metropolitan area is really getting to me.

Moving sucks.  There really isn't any other way to put it.  And trying to do it as cheaply as possible means we are going to be doing it ourselves.  We currently don't have a whole lot of help.

I am moving more and more in the direction of finding a secular job and doing supply as needed.  I kind of like the thought of being a pew jockey.  The thought of being able to go to church and leave and not have to worry about anything else is quite attractive.  Forget about the petty intrigues of the congregation.  Forget about being the "Resident Holy Dude."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Moving Begins (Again)

I really hate moving.  Not only the act of packing all of one's stuff up into boxes, but the process of winnowing down the "stuff."  The act of throwing the stuff away or giving it away or selling it is, in some ways, an act of death.  It is realizing that some of the dreams that were held for life are no longer going to happen.

And lately it seems, the deaths have outnumbered the new births.

I am packing up my glass stuff right now.  It just seems to remind me of pieces that I have not made that I want to make.  It reminds me of the things that have gotten broken in other moves and wondering what will get broken in this move.

Then there is the anger that the move has to happen at all.  That homophobia is still rampant in the world is just crazy.  But it is homophobia that is at the base of this move.  And it just seems as if no one really cares that it is there.

I feel paralyzed.  I am doing Sunday church wherever I can, but that doesn't bring in a whole lot of money.  I really cannot look for a job until we move, and that won't be for another two weeks or so.  And so I just sit here and try not to get overwhelmed.  So I guess I vent on the blog and hope that I don't scare too many of you away.

I have posted a couple of my latest projects.  I am quite proud of the angel.  I think the Santa is kind of fun too.  I hope the pictures make up for the bummer that this blog seems to have become.

I hate doing then "When I _____, then things will get better..." but I hope that after the move things will get better.  Hopefully things will not feel like they are in the constant state of limbo that they have been for the past 5 months.

Well, sleep well all.  Hug someone and tell them you love them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Do as I do

Proper 24 Year A        1 Thess 1:1-10             The Rev. Benton Quest

I have a confession to make: The last time I preached on this Sunday’s scripture, I had the best AND the worst reviews that I have ever received from a congregation. When I meet with former congregants, often, the conversation will get back to this sermon. They either comment that they still remember the sermon or they comment that they still cannot believe that I would ever have done such a thing. So with that in mind, I have decided to give preaching on this scripture another go and see what happens!
Last time I preached on the epistle reading, I was trying to come up with a way for the people of the congregation to directly experience the hypocrisy of one’s words and one’s actions. I was trying to impress upon them what it looks like and feels like when someone’s actions are in direct violation to their words.  How I demonstrated this was to stand up at the pulpit, light up a cigarette, and proceed to tell people about the evils of smoking. Needless to say, it made quite an impression. Many people understood the point I was trying to make. As I said, I was told that it was one of the best sermons they heard, but there were some who where so upset that I would even think of smoking in the pulpit! What kind of example was I setting! “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”  Some threatened to never come back.
But you know what? Even these people who got so upset about the whole incident demonstrated exactly the point I was trying to make: When our actions and our words are in conflict, people are far more likely to remember our actions rather than our words.
In our reading from First Thessalonians, Paul discusses what it means to model behavior for the people. He talks about how he and his companions went among the Thessalonians and how, now that they had been among them, the Thessalonians have begun to imitate the behavior they had seen. Paul and his companions went among the people of Thessalonica, acting in the name of Christ and showing the people what it meant to live as a Christian.
This reading represents one of the more difficult reading to preach: How do you preach about grace when the reading seems to be lifting up the wonder of works? Paul was telling the Thessalonians, and is telling us, that works are important. Works are what the world sees and what the world uses to judge us. Works are the fruit by which we will be known. As the song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Probably more accurately, “They will know we are Christians by the love they see us demonstrate.”
Now here lies the tension: We are told that we are saved by grace through faith, not works. So it is God’s good grace and pleasure to save us, not some form of repayment for the works we do. We don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. There is nothing we COULD ever do to earn God’s love. However, how we act effects how others perceive God and how others respond to God’s good gift of grace.
Just like it would be hard to believe a lecture on the hazards of smoking given by a person puffing on a cigarette, it is also hard to believe that God is important to some people when you look at their lives. When we claim to be Christian, people begin to look at our lives to see what difference being a Christian actually makes. When we claim to be Christian, our children and our grandchildren look to see if we are being true to our word.  Would the people we encounter on the freeways or in the grocery line know we are Christian by our interactions with them? Are we practicing what we preach or are we doing the Christian equivalent of telling them to not smoke while waving around a lit cigarette? If, to the world, our lives appear indistinguishable from the lives of anyone else, why should anyone consider being a Christian? I personally think it does make a difference and I hope that difference is evident in my life.
How does your Christianity play out in your life? As a seminary classmate of mine used to say, “If being a Christian were illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” When people look at your life, are they seeing God’s love as something that is important or are they seeing it as something to be used when necessary and forgotten when convenient?
For most of us, we learned our faith from those around us. We learned our faith by watching our parents, watching our grandparents, watching those who were close to us. It was through these people that we learned what it means to be people of faith and what it means to be Christians. It wasn’t through something that we read in a book. It wasn’t through some well thought out theological treatise; it was through the one-to-one interactions with other Christians that we came to faith and continue to grow in faith. And it is through interactions with US that others come to faith and grow in faith.
All of you who are parents and grandparents, the faith you leave to your children and grandchildren has so much more to do with what you do than what you say. Your children and grandchildren are watching WHERE you place God in your lives. They are watching the prominence or lack of prominence you give to your faith. Just as the Thessalonians watched Paul, our children and grandchildren are watching us. They notice if and when we go to church. They notice if and when we pray before meals. They observe how we handle our finances or what we say about people when those people are out of earshot.
Even if our children are long gone, we still continue to teach by example. I remember things older people in my church did as I grew. I remember which people seemed nice, and which to avoid. There were people who were just nice to be around and others who seemed to be constantly scowling. In this way, in the way these people conducted themselves during something as simple as coffee hour, these people also taught me about faith and about what it means to live one’s faith.
Are we committed to our faith? Do we live out this commitment in our lives? Do we hold our faith out proudly or do we hide it away? Do we say one thing in Church and something totally different on Monday morning? If Paul were writing to us today, to the Floradians, would we be commended on our risking persecution to live out our faith? Would we be commended for being a model for other people?  I would venture that these could be some tough questions to answer. But, I think that if we delved into why the questions are hard to answer, we might learn some things about our person faith.
I think the extent to which we are uncomfortable living our faith is the extent to which we have forgotten God’s love. We forget that our worth has already been established. We are free to model love because we have first been loved and we have been loved totally. When we forget this love, it is then, that we begin to model behaviors we would rather not have those around us copy.  When we forget that Christ loves us so much that he would die for us, it is then that our behavior can take some embarrassing turns.
We, as followers of Christ, are to pattern our lives after Christ, and that means we are to live a life of service. Although we don’t earn our salvation through our actions, our actions are a reflection of the salvation we have already received. We are role models to our children, our grandchildren, our families, our co-workers, and those around us. How we live out Christ’s love in our lives can greatly effect how those around us live out the love of Christ in their lives. As Paul explained, we look to Christ as an example, but others are looking to us.
Now this could weigh very heavily on us. We could walk away from this whole thing feeling like it is our fault if people don’t fully experience the love of God. We could feel like our ever action is under a microscope. But that kind of overly self-conscious existence is not what a loving God would want for us.
The life of example is really not that difficult. When we bring the love of Christ deeply into our lives, we can’t help but have that love show through. It is not some kind of show we have to put on, it is a way of living our lives as a celebration of extravagant love God has for us. It is a way to celebrate the gift of life we have been given. This gift of love is freely given to us; how we live this love is our gift back to God. How we live it is our gift to our family, friends, our congregation, and our world.
Our example is our legacy. How we live our lives is our gift to our children, our grandchildren, and those around us. The example we set will stay with the people we encounter, especially with our children, for the rest of their lives. But we are not alone. We also have our role models. We have Christ as our mode. We have the Bible to lead us! And we have each other to support us along the way.  We do not earn salvation through our actions, but our actions tell the world the story of Christ. 
As individuals, what story are you telling?  Are you telling the story of love and forgiveness?  Or are you telling the story of grudge and judgment?  As a congregation are you spreading the truth of Christ to those in the world?  Or are you maintaining a safe distance from those around?  I know you to be a very kind and considerate congregation.  I have been luck to experience your hospitality on many occasions.  I just pray that your kindness and caring is being released into a world that needs to experience Christ’s love!
Well, no cigarettes this time through, but I hope that we can see that we, when we call ourselves Christian, represent Christ to a world looking for truth.  And it is through our actions that the love of Christ is spread, throughout the community and from generation to generation.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Rejoice in the Lord

There has been an interesting thing floating around Facebook the past week.  It was a sign that read, “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”
A friend of mine responded that she would be a lot skinnier!
Yah, I would be a lot skinnier, too, but I also would be sitting on the floor, or maybe even on the grass.  I would be twiddling my thumbs being totally bored.  Or maybe I wouldn’t even have thumbs to twiddle.  I would be walking everywhere, barefooted.  But I would have a parking place at Meijer, near the door, to park my non-existent car!
Part of our problem as people in America is that we forget how truly blessed we are.  We bemoan our situation while talking to our friends and family around the world as we sit in our kitchens drinking our coffee from Brazil.  We get so used to having the miraculous around us that we forget that each of these people and each of these things are a real gift.
As I said, one of the downfalls of being so richly blessed is that we forget what we have and we begin to look for more.  We begin to look at the blessings of others and want those blessings for ourselves.  But the problem is that when we look at the blessings of others, we stop rejoicing in the blessings that have been given specifically to us.
Probably most of you know that I have had some trouble rejoicing the past few weeks and months.  My former congregation closed.  An opportunity for a congregation fell through due to bigoted thoughts on their side.  Nick’s daughter has had some major medical problems which entailed trips to Tampa.  Now we are looking at moving, again, which is always so much fun.  And in the midst of all this “Yuck” stuff, Paul, in the epistle reading, is telling me to “rejoice.”  And to make the situation worse, not just to rejoice, but to “rejoice always!”  In the midst of moving and family hardships, I am supposed to rejoice.
I look at Facebook posts from friends and see pictures of their trips to Italy.  I hear about seminary classmates with thriving congregations.  I hear from former congregants about how wonderfully the congregation is doing.  All these things come into my life and seem to point out how I have failed, not how I should be rejoicing.  But even with the world showing me my failures, Paul is telling me that I need to REJOICE!  And Paul is not just telling me, Paul is telling us all!
Being part of a small congregation can also have that feeling.  We hear how good the large churches are doing.  We hear how these large congregations have all kinds of programs and all kinds of people.  We hear how they have building funds and too many kids for the Sunday School program.  We hear these things and then we look around as see the remnant gathered here and wonder how we should rejoice.  We gather here and wonder why we should rejoice.
But like I said, rejoicing is a tricky thing!  We are so often surrounded by so many things to celebrate that we become complacent.  We forget that, for us, this congregation IS the right size.  We forget that we have gifts to offer that larger congregations do not.  We offer care and support at a level that is not possible in a larger group.  When someone is gone, it does not take a couple of weeks to notice!  We are able to respond quickly and we are able to respond with our whole heart.
The world tells us that “bigger is better,” but Jesus seemed to like the smaller, more intimate groups.  He surrounded himself with his twelve friends and this small group changed the world.  Jesus did not go out and build a mega-church with a professional choir and a youth program staffed by child psychologists, he worked with the people who were around him and helped each use their gifts for the glory of God!  He taught them to truly rejoice in what they have received.  He helped his followers to find the blessing in what was there, and then helped them to work toward God’s vision of the Kingdom.
In my former congregation, I kept hearing people bemoan the fact that “we are too old.”  Which was quickly followed by, “We need young people.”  We were being the church with the older people, and we were doing okay.  We were not doing “Mega-Church wonderful” but we were surviving.  But, in terms of the Facebook post I mentioned earlier, we were not thanking God for the gifts we had.  We were not rejoicing in the Lord!  We had something there that the world needed!  It may not have been all the new and improved gadgets.  It may not have been a ton of kids running up and down the aisle.  (Although a few people would have had a stroke if that happened!)  It was not the Mega-Church model that is lifted up as the way things are supposed to be.  But what we did have is what I called “Grandparently Wisdom.”  We had a view of community that is becoming more and more rare.  We had something that we could provide to the world; something that the world was sorely lacking.
Here at St. Swithin's, we also have “Grandparently Wisdom!”  And that is something that we can share.  We are exactly what God wants us to be.  We need to rejoice in that!  We have a loving community that supports each other.  In a world where indifference and self-service is the norm, we can show those around us a different way.  We can rejoice in our small congregation!
But we need to NOT get caught in the opposite trap; we need to rejoice in what we have and in what we are, but we need to remember that God is not done with us yet!  We also need to be rejoicing in what we are becoming!  We can be given the gift of a guitar, and we can rejoice in that gift, but unless we spend time practicing, the gift is not going to come of much.  We can enjoy our own music, but it is in sharing that music that the gift grows and the rejoicing is spread!
That is the balance point we need to find:  We need to rejoice in what we have and what we are, but we also need to rejoice in what we are becoming!  We need to learn, daily it seems, to rejoice in the giftedness that we are while waiting in anticipation of what God has in store.  Will I ever be Howard Hughes rich?  Probably not.  But I am also not starving.  Will I ever be Robert Schuler famous?  (Just a side note, how famous is Robert Schuler?  The computer did has his name in its dictionary.  My last name it claims is misspelled.)  Probably not, but I have good folks who tell me that I have touched their lives.  Will St. Swithin’s ever be a Mount Hope Church?  Probably not, but would you really want to?  Will St. Swithin’s ever be St. Peter’s downtown, again probably not.  However, we are not called to be those things. We are called to be St. Swithin’s and to be the best St. Swithin’s we can.  We are called to pray; to pray for ways of bring the gift that is the congregation of St. Swithin’s to the community.  Paul tells us, “if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Focus on the great gifts we have been given!  It is in celebrating our giftedness that we spread Christ’s love to the world.  And it is in seeing our rejoicing that attracts the attention of the world.  Our society is craving joy.  It has bought the idea that joy comes from money or power, but Christ tells us that true joy comes from love; God’s love for us and our love for one another.  This is a gift we can give, no matter what our age, no matter what our financial situation.  Loving is something that we all can do and something that we can all strengthen.
Rejoicing in the Lord becomes self-reinforcing.  The more we rejoice, the more things we find to rejoice in!  The more we rejoice in the wonder of the world, the more wonder we find.  As we thank God for the gifts in our lives, the more gifts we find waiting!  We can look at others and long for the gifts they have, but we then lose sight of our own giftedness.  I am about to break into a scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life” here.  “You see George; you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?”  When we long for what is not, we neglect what is here.  When we forget to rejoice in the Lord, we miss the great love that surrounds us.
We are lucky that God continues to bless us, even when we don’t rejoice in our giftedness.  God continues to shower us with gifts, even when we long for the gifts of others.  But know that as people and as a congregation, God is here and God is at work!  You are exactly what you are to be, but thankfully you are not all that you will be!  We can rejoice in the lives that we have and with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, we can let our requests be made known to God.  

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Surgery Dilemma

I heard something on the radio a few weeks ago and it got me thinking:  What would you do if you knew you had to have a surgery that would save your life but would permanently diminish your intellectual capacity?

Sometime I wish I could have that surgery.  I would like to know what it feels like to consider a 12 pack and NASCAR a good weekend.  I would like to know how it feels to be able to get mine and walk away leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.  I would like to know what it was like to really not care at all what was happening in the world.  I would like to know what it was like to be content knowing that I am taken care of and that everyone else who is still struggling deserves it.  I wonder what it feels like to know that God loves me so I am going to heaven and the rest of you will rot in hell.

I long for some surety in life.  I long for things to be black and white.  I am sick of caring.

I think I would have the surgery.  Right now, I crave a simpler life.  I crave one where I just need to look out for Nick and I and that is it.

Oh the thoughts of a wide awake brain in a tired body.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Reply to a friend

This is a response to a VERY good friend asking me why I hate rich people.  I have not sent it to him yet, not because I think he is right, but I value his friendship too much.  But I figured I could post it here.  I might still send it, but I am going to let it sit for a while.

Why do I hate these people I do not know?  Well, I don’t hate them.  I am frustrated with them.  I am frustrated that no one will admit that George W. got us into a two wars that were not funded.  I am frustrated that we had a budget surplus and a temporary tax cut was given to the affluent and now we are deficit, but to return the temporary tax cut is called a tax increase.  I am frustrated that I cannot afford insurance.  I am frustrated that Nick has pains, aches, and all kinds of things but we cannot afford insurance for him.  I am angry that jobs are going over seas and none are being formed in the US.  I am angry that I hear, “You just need to work harder.”  I have 10 years of college and I have been working as hard as possible to stay employed.  I am not a slug.  Nick is not a slug.  To suggest that we are in the situation we are in because we are trying to leach off of society is offensive.

Compromise means that both sides will not get everything they want.  Yet, I hear the Republicans being the party of “No.”  If GOP does not get exactly what they want, then they say “No!” and blame it on the President.  When given something that might be good for the country, all we hear is “We don’t want to give the president a victory.”  It is not the president’s victory, it is a victory for the nation.

I hear politicians complaining that after they spend $200,000 on their family of 6 they only have $400,000 left.  $400,000 left for what?  I would gladly pay taxes on the $6 million the guy makes if it meant that when I was done I had $400,000 left over!  What do I have left over after all my taxes and payments?  I am farther in debt than before.  If getting $400,000 of disposable income means that I have to work harder, tell me what that job is.

The job creators out there are not creating jobs.  They are sending jobs to other countries.  Check out the graph I sent on FB, the Koch brothers are becoming richer and richer, but they are not adding jobs to the economy.  Places like HP are hiring temp jobs which don’t involve any kind of benefits, no kind of security.  It is impossible to even get a vacation, not that we could afford it.  While working temp, you try to take a vacation, you end up losing your job.  You have it nice.  You have a stable job.  You have benefits.  You have the luxury of looking at people like me and calling me lazy.  Whether you say it directly or not, to have the comment, “Why do you hate all of these people that you do not even know? Is it because they work hard and are successful?” appears to imply that those of us who are unemployed are not willing to working hard.  I have worked hard and I am still unemployed.

So when I hear the Tea Party talking like it is all my fault, I get angry.  When I hear people say that the unemployed are lazy, I get angry.  When I hear about rich people getting breaks because they are rich (i.e. capital gains tax rates) I get angry.  If the rich were actually making jobs, I would not get angry.  But when I hear about oil companies making record profits while taking tax breaks, I get angry.  And if you look at the crowds in Occupy Wall Street, I am not the only one who is angry.  I look at what is happening and can hear Marie Antoinette saying, “They have no bread? Well let them eat cake.”  It is easy when you have a stable, well paying, job to say that everyone else needs to work harder, but that is really not a fair statement.