Monday, July 26, 2010

Anniversaries and other things

Last Sunday we celebrated the 10th anniversary of my ordination.  All in all, it was a good thing.  They had a cake for me and we had a pot luck.  But with anniversaries, there also comes "THOSE" feelings. 

I have been thinking about all the excitement and dreams of that Ben, ten years ago.  Ten years ago, I was straight.  (Yeah, right!)  Ten years ago, I was going to be heading to Northern Michigan.  Ten years ago, I was ready to conquer the world!  Ten years ago I weighed 180 lbs!

If I knew what I was going to go through, would I do it?  Would I still have put my life on hold and go majorly in debt for this?  I wish I could say, "Sure!  I would do this!  I would do it all again with no questions asked."  But to be truthful, I would have to ask a lot of questions.  I would have to ask if it really is worth the frustration, pain, and anxiety.  And right now, I cannot say that the answer would be, "Yes." 

I am not sure the personal cost is worth it.  In other jobs, there is the ability to "go home" but when people can call at almost any hour, you can't really leave.  In other jobs you have a supervisor you have to answer to.  When everyone in your congregation feels like they are your boss, it makes for a ton of stress.

And then I hear that the ELCA is brining pastors back.  I would like to think that I am happy where I am and that I am happy to have gotten out, but I would be lying.  I miss the ELCA.  I miss the more laid-back attitude. that is there.  And although I am appreciative to have had the ECUSA take me in, I still miss the ELCA.  It is difficult.

I think another thing that gets in my way is I am an idealist.  And it is very hard to live in a world that you know will never live up to your vision of it.  It is difficult to know that the vision you see will only stay that.

The realist in me says I should just get over it and move on.  But the idealist doesn't want to let it  go.  A definite case where "The Perfect" is the enemy of "The Good."

Probably more later.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pentecost 9 Proper 12C We Pray So God Does What WE Want - NOT!

Luke 11:1-13

We really have been getting hit with the “Old Faithful” kind of readings the past couple of weeks. What I mean by that is that these are the readings that I generally have to only say the title and people say, “Oh, yeah! I know that one!” We had “The Good Samaritan,” and “The Story of Mary and Martha.” Now this week we have “The Lord’s Prayer.” I think this weeks reading may be even more scary to preach on than the previous two! The Lord’s Prayer is especially loaded with feelings, ideas, and assumptions that many of us have carried with us since childhood. So instead of taking on all of these preconceived notions, maybe we should just go off and play baseball or something.


Ok, guess I will say something about today’s reading. Actually, if we take a look at the whole reading, not just “The Lord’s Prayer” part, we might get some new insights into what Christ is asking of us and how, if we take Christ’s words to heart, we may grow as Christians.

The last three Sundays have really been dealing with very Gnostic concepts. You may remember we talked about Gnosticism back on Pentecost. Gnosticism is the belief that there is a certain set of words, or rituals that someone needs to do to gain the favor of God. If we do these things, then God is happy. If something is left out, even if everything else is done, then God is not happy. It is a very black and white kind of thing. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the question was, “Just how nice do I have to be to achieve eternal life?” In the story of Mary and Martha, the question was, “How much do I have to do to gain the Lord’s favor?” And in today’s reading, the underlying question is, “What do I have to say to insure God will grant my desire?” Truthfully, each of these are Gnostic thoughts; in each of these questions, the person is looking for a way to assure themselves that God is going to be with them, and more importantly, to assure themselves that God is going to do what they want God to do.

So in our gospel reading, Jesus responds to the question. But, in true Rabbi form, his response actually opens more questions. Jesus gives the disciples a prayer, but that prayer is truly open ended. That prayer is NOT, in any way, telling God what to do. This prayer that Jesus gives is not a formula for letting God know what we want. What it is, is a prayer that affirms that God is still in charge and God’s kingdom will come. It is also affirming our place as followers, reinforcing that God will give to us as God sees fit. It reminds us that God will provide for our needs through having us ask for our daily bread. This petition for daily bread would remind the disciples of the manna in the wilderness that was only good for the one day. Any extra that was kept would become wormy. And this should remind us that in God’s plan, things may seem to be falling short, but God will provide.

So in answering the disciples’ question, Jesus really didn’t tell them anything. In effect, Jesus is saying that the disciples can pray to God, but God is going to do what God is going to do. And truthfully, that answer is not very comforting.

But it is into this discomfort that Jesus continues with some more teaching. Although this teaching is a bit on the odd side, if we look at it closely, we can hopefully take some comfort from it. However, before we can find comfort, Jesus wants to have us realize that our attempts to control are illusions. Jesus wants to take away our belief that we can control God. We are told to pray to God, we are told to ask God for those things that we want. But ultimately, we are told that we need to trust in God’s graciousness. And it is the next part that helps to reassure us that we can, in fact, relax into God’s graciousness.

I don’t know what an egg has to do with a scorpion or why someone would give a scorpion instead of an egg, but I guess that is the point here! We wouldn’t do that! We wouldn’t give our children things that would harm them; we would give our children good things. If we want to take this a bit farther, we would have to assume that if the child was indeed asking for something that was not good for the child, the parent would NOT give it to the child, even if the child were really persistent! We understand that children do not have as much experience with the world as the parent and that children may ask for things that are not good for them. The child may think something is a good thing, and may be angry when the parent says, “No,” but the loving parent will not give snakes or scorpions to their children, even if the child begs for them. And truthfully, that is a good thing!

And this is the realization that we must bring into our understanding of prayer: We will ask God for what we want; we may even beg God for something. We may even get all Gnostic and try to control God’s actions. But in the end, we must trust that God will give us what we need when we need it. God promises to give us daily bread, not our own bakery. God will not give us a scorpion or a snake even if in our short-sightedness that is what we ask for. What God gives us may not look like what we are asking for, but we need to have faith that in all ways God is looking out for our best interest.

Two things come to mind when I think about God giving us what we need; one is the old adage: “I asked God for patience and I ended up with children!” And the other is George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” In the first case, we may want God to zap us with patience, but instead we are given the greater gift, children which also generally teaches us patience. In the second case, George is asking for God to make his problems go way, and Clarence the Angle, second class, shows up. In both of these cases, the answers to the prayers were definitely not what the prayers had expected, but in both cases, God did answer the requests and gave even more!

I think the most difficult part of this whole reading is the kind of obscure reference about knocking on a friend’s door in the middle of the night. Taken on face value, it sounds like we are to badger God until God gives us what we want. Keep pounding long enough and God will finally give in just to make us shut-up! But that would ignore the fact that God is infinite in patience. Our whole life is but a moment to God. So there must be something else there.

To be persistent in prayer keeps us focused on God throughout our problems. Being persistent in prayer keeps us looking first toward God and then to the world for our solution. Being persistent in prayer continually reminds us that God is constantly looking out for us.

Prayer has the interesting trait of being both active and passive as the same time. We are active in prayer, we put effort into bringing our needs, wants, and praises, to God; but then we also have to be quite and listen. And it is this combination that helps to make us strong in our faith. We are to be active agents in the world, but also are to trust that God will look over us and give us what we need in due time. We are praying to remind ourselves that God will provide that daily bread, but only that daily bread! We want to control God, but God reminds us that we just need to trust and act in faith.

Here is where I am probably going to take the cheap way out. Prayer is so much bigger than we can discuss in a sermon, or a series of sermons. I am planning on having some adult classes before the 10:30 service this fall. One of the topics we will be discussing is Prayer. I would invite you to join and learn more about this important part of our faith.

In closing here, I will say that prayer is a gift that God gave to us. A way to help us navigate this complex thing we call life. And the better we understand it and the more practiced we become, the greater the benefits we receive.

Friday, July 23, 2010

More for Suzy

Light transmission.  (Finished product will have black lines.)
With flash
Without flash.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why Do We REALLY Do What We Do?

Well, the situation with the Stage Mom is STILL the gift that keeps on giving.  She is not even present and she is exerting pressure.  This one happened in a really weird way.

I was at a meeting and one of the board members asked me if I went to visit anyone over the past month.  I had not.  (To my defense, I had not heard of anyone in the hospital (except Stage Grandmother and that was a month earlier) and I didn't know of any shut-ins nor could I find a list.)  The board member asked that I go visit a former priest from the church.  I said I would check into it.  (I must admit it felt like an odd request.)

I later asked the board member if the former priest asked for a visit and wanted a little more info.   I explained I didn't mind visiting the guy, I just was not sure why I was going.

The board member said that he just wanted me to go visit and if I wasn't going to visit the priest, at lest I should have visited Stage Grandmother!  I almost went ballistic!  (This man is not realted to Stage Grandmother.)  Unfortunately, I get defensive, saying I would have visited if I would have known!  To which the board member said, "Hit a nerve, huh?"

I said something to the cong President, and his response was, "Oh, Stage Mom has talked to Former Secretary."  (Board Member's wife is Former Secretary.)

I couldn't believe the jump from visiting Former Priest to visiting Stage Grandmother!  If people are pissed, why don't they just say it!  People, just grow up!  And I can be sure that Board Member is pissed at me because I made it clear that I was NOT going to hire his wife back.  I said that I WOULD NOT hire from the congregation.  Playing catty games of "Blemish" is not going to make me more amenable to rehiring Former Secretary.  I really want to just sit the person down and say, "Do you realize you are just shooting yourself in the foot?"

I had forgotten about Eric Berne's book "Games People Play" until just that past paragraph.  But it does hold.  Blemish is a game where you just look for a flaw to exploit.  It is usually comes from soneone who feels like they have no power.

Well, I am going to start a program of having people give me an actual form for visitation.  Telling me when walking out of the church does not cut it.  It may have worked for other priests, but I am not the other priests.  If I don't get it in writing, it ain't gonna happen!

Mary and Martha (Pentecost 8C)

Our gospel reading for today can be somewhat confusing and quite often it can be downright offensive to the women in the congregation. On first glance, it would appear that Christ is saying that we should just allow the world to go down the tubes, doesn’t it? Martha is working in the kitchen doing those things that are important to keep a household running and doing those things that are important to make a guest feel welcome. She is taking care of the business of the home and she is doing it alone.

Now, Mary, on the other hand, is just sitting there, apparently doing nothing. She was not helping with the tasks of the home and was leaving her sister to do everything. And in the end, it appears that the person that Christ is praising is MARY! To many people, mothers especially, this can seem like quite the insult. It would appear that what they devote much of their time to is disregarded by Jesus.

In our world, and throughout most of history, it usually falls upon the women in the home to get the kids ready for school, or practice, or rehearsal, or church, or whatever… In many households, it is the mother who keeps things running smoothly. But in the usual interpretation of this story, it is the women who do all the “behind the scene” tasks that seems to be getting the short end of the stick. It is the one who makes things run smoothly that seems to be getting told to just relax! And for those who keep the gears of life greased, that can feel like a slap in the face! If no one took care of the minutia of life, we would be surrounded by dirty dishes, garbage, dirty litter boxes, and stacks of mail! We need to take care of the hum-drum of life, but it would seem that Jesus is telling us to forget about these things.

Truthfully, I think this is a misinterpretation of this scripture reading. It is an understandable misinterpretation, but a misinterpretation all the same. I do not think Jesus is telling us all to do nothing. But I also do not think Jesus is telling us all to get so caught up in the detail of life that we miss all the things that are happening around us. No, I do not think the story is about Mary, nor do I think the story is about Martha. I truly feel the story is about my mom.

My mom used to embarrass me in church when I was a kid. I am kind of ashamed to say that, but she did. You can probably guess from the way my voice carries, that it is an inherited that trait. And you would be right. I inherited that from my mom. And to top it all off, my mom’s voice carried even more than mine. Now also, my mom is a short person so the way we would find her in a crowd was to listen for her voice and navigate our way to her. We really didn’t have much of a problem. We could always find mom by just listening for her voice.

Now what made my mom embarrassing was that mom loved attending church. This in itself is not embarrassing, but she was always a half a beat ahead of the congregation in the responses. And when mom is in church, she responds with much gusto, and she often gets the words wrong. And we won’t talk about her singing. As a kid, this was embarrassing! I always wanted to say, “Mom, could you tone it down a little?” But even if the words are wrong, or the notes are not quite right, my mom is not a shrinking violet. When she is at worship, she is totally present! She is in the moment. She prays, she responds, she sings! And if the way she does it is not quite perfect, well, she believes God loves it anyway! When mom worships God, she does it with her whole being! When mom worships, there is nothing else going on. For that time, it is just her and God.

It took me a while to realize what a wonderful gift my mom had given me. When I finally got over the embarrassment of having the loudest parent in the church, I began to realize the wonder and the gift that I was witnessing ever Sunday. Mom was demonstrating to me, and to whomever else who took the time to understand, what life with Christ could actually look like.

When mom finally goes to meet Jesus face-to-face, I am going to miss her voice, I am going to miss her gusto, I am going to miss her enthusiasm. She is a hard worker and has done a lot for those around her. But what I am going to miss is the way she would give herself over to the experience of being in the presence of Christ each Sunday. When mom is at church, nothing else gets in the way!

I think this is what Jesus means when he says Mary has chosen the “better part.” It is not that she is doing nothing, but she has weighed the options and chose to totally immerse herself into the presence of Jesus. She had decided that “the dishes can wait and the floor will get swept,” and decided to allow the teaching of Jesus to enter into her heart without the cares of life blocking the way.

I think we all need to be reminded of this. We need to be reminded that our life in Christ is not to be drudgery; it is to be a joy! So often we get so caught up in the worry of the proper words or the proper tunes that we stop praying or we stop singing! We get so caught up in making sure everything is perfect that we forget why we are preparing things. Christ wasn’t telling Martha to NOT clean up the kitchen, he was telling her that maybe she should just let it wait until later!

I think we so often get so caught up in the things of life that we forget that we are in the presence of Christ. We get so busy running here and there that we forget to look at the wonders of the world around us. We are so consumed with doing the busywork of life that we don’t really live life. It is not that we are bad people, far from it! Martha was not a bad person, she was trying to do the things the world was telling her were important. But what Christ was asking was for Martha to slow down and to listen to what was truly important. Christ knew there would be times for cleaning and times for doing the dishes, but there were also times for just being in the presence of God. Christ is letting us know that we are to take time from the busy-ness of the world to just let our souls sing out!

The work will get done, but how much more energy will we have when we first rest in Christ. Christ calls us into his presence and then sends us out. But while in Christ presence, Christ doesn’t want to share us with the world. Christ wants our whole being. Christ wants us to be fully present. Christ wants us to celebrate with all the gusto we have.

There will be time to make the coffee. There will be time to pay the bills. There will be time to get things ready. That is important, but to take the time and be fully present with Christ, that is the better part.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Note for Suzy

(click on photo to embiggen)

Well, all the pieces are cut out!  Now there is grinding, taping, and soldering to do.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Cynic is Here!

I am feeling cynical today.  So if you don't want to hear it, then move on to another blog.  Sorry, that is just the way it is.

I so want to be a humanist.  I want to believe that we all can just be good people.  The problem is:  Just wanting that does not make it happen.  I can want people to just act like adults, but that does not stop people from acting like children.  And it seems that the children dressed as adults are so much more prevalent in the world.  Not saying that I am the paragon of maturity, but sometimes I feel downright Sagacious.

I hate watching the news anymore.  "I want my country back!"  No, you want a country that is nothing like what was planned.  You want a country where self-serving priests send down edicts from on high and no one is ever supposed to question them.  You want a country where the rights only belong to the majority and that majority will slowly (or not so slowly) get torn down to the point where only the elite have anything that might resemble rights.

Gay marriage will destroy marriage?  The Hets' are doing a pretty good job of destroying it themselves.  We don't have to do too much more, if anything.

People, pay attention to your own life and when you get that figured out, then you can stick your nose into everyone else's business.  The word for today is boundaries, let's practice the word. 

And, of course, this all comes back to, "You are just no good, Ben.  How dare you think you could ever lead these people!"  I think I have the potential to be a good leader, I just don't think I have the fortitude to do it.

We need to raise money.  Where are we going to get it?  We need to increase attendance, where are the people going to come from?  We need to reach out into the community but no one sees it as their responsibility.  We have become content to be our own little social club.  And I am sure this is not a unique situation here.

I feel like humanity is a failed experiment rushing toward explosion.  Maybe extinction would be a blessing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Color Choice for Suzy

Suzy, these are the colors I am thinking about.  I bit of a change but I cannot find a red that will give me the light/shadow effect I want.  The top picture is with light shining through the glass, the bottom is with reflected light.  To go to red, I would need to go red/pink.  If this is ok, great.  If you want the red/pink, we can try that.  If you have another color let me know.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What about the Innkeeper?

(Ok, this is mostly Nick's work.  I did help somewhat in the formulation, but he did most of the writing.  I think it is quite a new, refreshing way to look at the Good Samaritan story!)

How many of you have ever heard a sermon based on the parable of the Good Samaritan? Usually, the response to that question is that every hand in the church goes up. “Good Samaritan” has survived 2,000 years of history to mean someone who goes out of his or her way to aid another. We have Good Samaritan Hospitals, Good Samaritan laws, and even the Good Sam Camping organization. One of the problems with such familiarity with a Biblical parable or event is complacency. We think we know it so well that, when it comes up, we tend to preach it, teach it, discuss it, or think about it the way we always have – without giving it a chance to reveal new or different meaning in our lives. The reality for preachers is that these very familiar passages are more challenging than the obscure. That being said, let’s dive into the story and see what it teaches us.

The story that Jesus tells in this passage comes as part of an exchange with a Pharisee. This religious leader wanted to test Jesus to see how learned he was. So he asked a question that has been repeated down through the ages – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, being wise, asked the Pharisee, “What do the scriptures say?” Obviously, the religious man quoted the passage, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul and heart and strength and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus complimented the man on his knowledge and told him to go and do what the text says.

But the Pharisee, not wanting to be sent away so easily, pressed Jesus further, “But who is my neighbor?” That also is a question that has survived the ages. What he was really asking ever so politely, was, “What is the least I can do and still get in?”

People and, sadly, some churches, spend much more time debating salvation and what it means to be a Christian than they do living salvation and being Christian. The religious right of today talks about being Christian, but they so often spend more time judging and excluding people for one reason or another than they do spreading the inclusive love that Jesus lived, taught, and expects of us.

Now, Jesus was not going to let this guy off so easily. Jesus responds to the Pharisee’s with what we now know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. But as we look at the story, I want to look at the various characters and see how they relate to us as the people of God, both as the church and individually as believers.

The first character we encounter is the traveler who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by bandits. This guy was robbed, beaten, and left in the ditch for dead. In this traveler I think we can see much of the world. We have all been robbed of our joy, beaten by the trials and troubles of life, attacked on all sides, and often can be found bleeding and broken in the ditches along the road of life. You can probably see what I am driving at here – the world, by and large, is suffering and many people have been overlooked and, in essence, left for dead. We will come back to the traveler in a bit, but for now let’s look at how others responded.

Let’s see how the rest of the folks responded to encountering a broken and bleeding brother or sister in need. First, along came a priest hurrying on his way to be about his priestly duties. When he saw the wounded traveler, he crossed to the other side to avoid him. There are a couple of reasons for this reaction. First, there was probably some concern that by stopping to help, he might suffer the same fate. So, partly out of fear, he hurried on his way. How often do we – the church – fail to respond to those in need out of fear? If we speak out against the injustices we see in the world, someone might paint us with the same brush and cast us out. You know, that whole guilt by association thing. Sometimes our fear is that we might succumb to whatever caused those others to be in need. Will getting down in the dirt with those in need makes us dirty too?

There was also a ritual reason for his unwillingness to help. If the traveler were indeed dead, which was possible, any contact would make the priest “unclean” and unable to perform his priestly duties. Likewise, if we stop to help, we might not have the time or resources left for the ‘important’ work of BEING the church.

The second traveler to come along was a Levite, one of the “chosen” people, someone who was important (more likely SELF important). To help this wounded traveler was beneath him. The second traveler wouldn’t associate with “THOSE PEOPLE”. Have any of us ever met people or even churches like that? The love of God and neighbor has no room for divisions that label anyone among “THOSE PEOPLE.” But sadly the divisions exist – whether the divisions are racial, sexual, gender, or economic, whether they are the addicted or those suffering mental illness or some physical challenge. How often do churches and people cross to the other side of the road just to avoid reaching out to “THOSE PEOPLE”? You know, quite often I think that WE are often among “THOSE PEOPLE!”

Now we come to the Samaritan! He was one of “THOSE PEOPLE” too. He knew the pain and hurt and hopelessness of the world. He and his people were Samaritans!!! They were despised, even loathed, by the Jews. He truly knew what it meant to be left for dead. He had a heart of compassion because of his own experience. How many of us know the pain of rejection, even hatred and loathing? I am sure many of us have felt that pain and I would hope that we can use that experience to energize us to be like the Samaritan, to transcend our fears, our privilege, and our need to be right, I would hope that the total love of God would empower us to go out and spread that love that we have found to those we encounter.

Then there is also the innkeeper. You know, he often gets overlooked in the story because we tend to focus on the three people who pass by. But imagine his confusion and surprise when this Samaritan showed up with a half dead traveler. The Samaritan passed over a few coins and instructed the innkeeper to care for the man, and promised to pay if the cost exceeded those coins.

Would we be willing to be as trusting? Would we be willing to get involved even when a total stranger presents us with such an odd situation? As I thought about the innkeeper’s role in all this, I realized that, while we all have traits of the three travelers, in reality we are the innkeepers! It is Jesus who is the Samaritan – Jesus was oppressed and rejected by the religious institutions of the day. It is Jesus who rescued the world two thousand years ago, and entrusted its healing and ongoing care to us. And it was Jesus also promised to return. In the meantime, we are called to be about continuing his work, WE are called to be the ones caring for a world that is suffering. We are the ones who are called to take care of the world that has, in so many ways, has been left for dead.

We need to be careful not allow ourselves to become like the Pharisee who tried to trap Jesus with the questions that brought about this parable, and we need to be careful to avoid the fear and worry of the priest or the pompous self importance of the Levite. What we are called to do is to embrace the love and presence of Christ evidenced in the Samaritan and to fulfill our destiny as the innkeepers until Christ’s return.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Message for Suzy

(Note to my regular readers, I am putting this here because a friend wants to purchas a gift.  However, I cannot send it to the person direct.  So you all get to evesdrop a bit on the surprise!)

The first is the plain pattern.  The second is a possible color scheme.


Perseveration is a term that some may be familiar with (Dr. Spo!) and some may not be familiar.  It is defined as "Uncontrollable repetition of a particular response, such as a word, phrase, or gesture, despite the absence or cessation of a stimulus."

What I hate, I get cognitive perseveration, or maybe a more common way to say it is that I tend to ruminate on things.  I keep playing scenerios over and over in my head trying to come up with a different or better way to respond to them.  I look for where I may have been at fault and then look for ways to change the fault.

And what is the worst part of the whole thing, I can see that this behavior is not normal or beneficial but trying to stop it tends to lead to even more perseveration.  It is kind of like telling people to stop thinking of yellow Volkswagen.  (Now you all are visualizing a yellow Volkswagen, probably a VW "Bug."  And if you weren't imagining the "Bug" before, you are now!)  But then there is the worry about trying to stop the whole thing and so on...

Part of the thing that I can see is that, in my eyes, the stimulus has not ceased.  It is still open ended.  And as long as there is not "closure" (I really HATE that word) to the situation, the possibility of attack is still there.

Then I fall into the unhealthy pit of "being flawed" and "unworthy of."  The being flawed is pretty self-explanatory, and the "unworthy of" follows that if I am flawed, then I am unworthy of whatever I may have, be it home, job, partner, or life itself.  To see it typed shows how absurd this is, but some of this stuff is beyond logic.

Nick reminds me that we are all flawed as people, but that does not mean we are fatally flawed.

What probably doesn't need to be said, but I will say it anyway, this is an extension of the whole "Ms Diva and Stage Mom" thing.

Seems Stage Mom's mother (Ms Diva's grandmother) went in and had a knee replacement.  Supposedly I was told this.  For the life of me, I can't remember it!  So now I am the big meany 'cause I didn't go visit or pray for Stage Grandma. 

Of course, Stage Grandma told me that it was ok becuse the former priest prayed for her.  (Now, this former priest was the person that Stage Mom said didn't give any pastoral care for the past four years!)  I just wish people would grow up.

Are we destined to be perpetual children?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Nick is Home!

Got Nick back in one piece!  It is so nice having him back! 

Life With(out) Ms Diva and Stage Mom

Well, I sent a letter to Ms Diva explaining how I did not feel we could work together with our current level of lack of trust and respect.  I said that this did not prevent us from ever working together, but allowing the girl to preach after the outburst would not be appropriate.

I heard that she had been angry with her father right before she came in and gave me all kinds of attitude, but that is no excuse.

Stage Mom called the Warden and yelled, saying I was punishing Ms Diva.  The Warden backed me up!  He told Stage Mom that she may want to contact me, either phone or e-mail, or something.  But you know, I still haven't heard from her.  Obviously this is not important enough for her to actually be proactive.  I don't think she wants to give up her victim status.

I will probably send a letter commenting about them not being at church for the past four weeks, but I am not going to be very excited about it.  Frankly, I would be happy if they went somewhere else.  Might drop the drama level in the congregation.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Pentecost 6 Porper 9C: We Aren't Perfect, Nor Are We Expected To Be

Pentecost 6 Year C    Luke 10:1-11, 16-20    July 4, 2010     The Rev. Benton Quest

Something that I have noticed in the world is that we really have a hang up about getting everything “right.” I am not talking about “Right” as in Republican, but “right” as in correct. I mean, let’s face it, we have to get things right in our world or we get sued. Am I wrong? Braking systems don’t work right, boom! We sue! Medications don’t work right and suddenly there are commercials for class-action law suits EVERYWHERE! We seem to live in a world where perfection is the standard that is set and nothing short of perfection will be tolerated.
And, I have to admit, when it comes to things like the breaking system on my car, or the side-effects of the drugs I take, or the air worthiness of the planes I fly on, I don’t want a whole lot of mistakes there! But I think this whole focus on perfection has not necessarily served us well. I heard something on the radio the other morning that I think sums up our situation. In our world today, so often The Perfect is the enemy of The Good.
You may have heard that phrase before, but have you really thought about it? So often when we search for the “perfect,” we loose all the wonderfully good things that we may have passed by. Granted, there are things that we want to be perfect, or at least as close to perfect as we can get. Like I said, I kind of like it when my car stops. But does everything in our world have to be perfect? I think we carry this perfection to the point where it gets in our way. We strive so much for The Perfect that we may find ourselves trapped doing nothing.
I just finished a piece of stained glass. I was not pleased with it. It was a difficult pattern and some things just did not go together the way I wanted them to. I fussed and fumed about it. I came really close to throwing the thing off the balcony. But others who saw it, liked it. And the person who was buying it like it. And the person who received it as a gift REALLY liked it. No, it was not perfect, but that didn’t matter. It was what the person wanted and it was what was needed in the situation. If I would have waited until it was perfect, a piece of glass would not have been made, and a gift would not have been given, an anniversary would not have been celebrated.
In our faith life, I think we can get caught in the same kind of dilemmas; we can get so worried about being the PERFECT Christian or being the Perfect Episcopalian. We try our darndest to do the right things, to get the rite right, to be perfect. Or we do the opposite; we figure that since perfection is not possible, we should never try at all. Since no matter how hard we try we are going to come up short, we may figure that we might as well not try at all. And the truth about both of these reactions, striving for perfection or slipping into apathy, is that they point out how messed up this idea of having to have everything Perfect really is and how far from reality we can wander when we don’t keep a foot in reality and don’t keep looking around us.
Last week, we talked about how God can use us all; even those that society may call unclean or abominations. And we discussed how God can work with us to help form us into creations that have the potential of being so much more than we ever expected. But as I was saying, in our world we expect perfection from ourselves and others right away. The problem with this is if you have EVER tried to learn anything new, there is a lot of trial and error, there are a lot of mistakes made, until you even get anything CLOSE to perfection. We know this, we know that there will be mistakes; we know that we are going to fall and that we are going to drop the ball. And even though we know this, somehow we have difficulty giving ourselves and others the gift of patience and forgiveness.
Now one thing that I don’t like to make is “PROCLAMATIONS ON HIGH” from the pulpit, but this is one proclamation that I can make with no hesitation: God knows we are not going to be perfect and God is OK with that! And how can I be so sure about this? Well, we have proof right in today’s gospel reading.
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus is telling his followers to go out into the world and preach the Good News. Now, Jesus tells the disciples what to do when they come into a home and how to treat the people who are present. This is good stuff to remember for being a good guest. (We think about being a good host, but there is also something to being a good guest!) But Jesus explains to the disciples how they are to treat the people whom they encounter and how to graciously accept hospitality.
Now, if Jesus was expecting the disciples to be perfect, this would be the end of the lesson: We would meet people and share the message and they would invite us in and all would be well with the world. If we were expected to be perfect, there would be no need for a contingency plan because all of Christ’s followers would be spreading the message perfectly. But that is not what happens in the gospel reading. Jesus DOES give the disciples a contingency plan. Jesus gives the disciples a plan for what to do if the members of the household do not hear the Gospel message. In simple words, Jesus gives the disciples a plan in case they fail.
Jesus knows that the disciples will, in fact, at some point, fail. But the fact that they will fail does not mean that they are not sent out into the world. Even knowing that they will fail, Jesus still sends them out to spread the news. Just because the disciples will not be batting 100% does not mean they are pulled out of the game. Jesus does expect the disciples to be out in the world and to work to bring the Good News to the people, but Jesus is also a realist, he knows that not everyone will be open to the message and knows that not every attempt to spread the message will be perfect.
I was frustrated a while ago about things just not going well in life. I was bellowing about not being a good enough priest and not being able to spread the message and on and on. Basically, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and hoping that God would hear and make everything better. It was at this time that a friend of mine told me something that gave me a bit of a shake: He said, “You know Ben, even Jesus didn’t hit 100%.” He said, “When you think about it, Jesus didn’t get the message through to both of the criminals at the crucifixion. He spoke the message to both but only one heard and believed. So you are expecting to be PERFECT when Jesus was only 50% from the cross!” WOW! I had forgotten about that! Even when the SON OF GOD brought the message to the people, not everyone heard it or understood it! To the eyes of the world, even Jesus had failed!
If our Savior, the Son of God, the one we follow, did not get it “perfect” by the world’s standards, then that should tell us something about the world’s expectations. If, according to the world Christ did not hit 100%, then why are we all so scared of not hitting 100%? Christ knows there will be times when our attempts will fall short, but we are to try anyway! Christ knows that our attempts my look to the world like a total failure, but Christ sends us out there anyway! We may not feel ready for the challenge, but Christ sends us out into the world to bring the Good News to those who will hear, and in some cases to plant the word in those who are not yet ready to hear. Just like the disciples in Biblical times, Christ prepares us and then sends us. And as we are out in the world, Christ begs us to spread the word, but Christ also reminds us to be gentle with ourselves when things do not appear to go as planned.
I think we fear change because with change comes the fear of possible failure. And, frankly, failure is not a comfortable thing. If we don’t go out and try, we will not fail, but we also will not make any new discoveries! Teflon was discovered through what was, at first, thought to be a failed experiment! Humanity can, at times, look like a failed experiment. And Christ knows that we all have our short comings, we discussed that last week! But we are called to move beyond our fears and our anxieties and trust in the God who made us, who calls us, who saves us! We are called to take the love and forgiveness we find at the table and spread it to all we encounter! We are called to bring the message to the world! And it is guaranteed that not everyone will respond when we share that love, but that is not ours to worry about. Our Lord shared his life even when he knew it would be rejected. All he asks of us is for us to share our hearts.