Friday, April 10, 2020

Pastoral Life in the Age of Coronavirus

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction."
Proverbs 1:7 

Way back in the early 1980's, I was teaching my very first class of elementary school students.  I had done a good job working through the elementary education courses in college, but I was woefully unprepared for the job.  I was stubborn enough to hang in there and work on getting better.  Yet it took about three weeks of teaching before I quit telling myself, "Boy!  They sure didn't teach me this stuff in teacher school!"

Over the 29 years that I taught, it became a regular joke that I would share with my students whenever we ran into a situation in which we didn't really know what to do - other than to just plow ahead and see if we could figure things out.

I am finding myself thinking similar thoughts as I confront how to be a faithful pastor to my church as all of us are self-quarantined at home, as our church services are all done completely on-line using my computer, some pretty clever software, and a hand-held Canon video camera.  Each time I become frustrated with our current situation, and I cannot think of anything to make it easier, smoother, or more successful, I almost cry out to God: "They didn't teach me this stuff in seminary!" 

And yet...

I am finding that my past technology training is coming in very handy:
  • Who knew that the Lord had prepared me for this work way back in the 1990's when I learned video-editing software?
  • Who knew that when I learned to produce closed-circuit TV shows at the schools where I taught I would one day apply that knowledge to my current ministry?
  • Who knew that although I didn't learn this stuff in "minister school" God made sure I learned it somewhere?
So, I have stopped complaining and lamenting...mostly.  I am now thanking God every day for the training I have and the successes we are having.  I also ask Him to bless those other pastors who don't have the same training to hang in there and do the best they can - shaky cameras, poor lighting, and a message that was never purposely intended to be put out there this way...God is blessing those messages anyway!

Perhaps all this is God's way of forcing us to look at our work in brand new ways.

Alleluia!  Amen!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"...But I Don't Want to Ask St. Anthony To Help Me!"

"Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."  Psalm 1:15

"We do not adore, worship, or pray to the saints in heaven."  PCUSA Book of Confession, Second Helvetic Confession 5.025

"Please St. Anthony, TELL GOD I NEED MY KEYS!"  George Carlin

I lost my keys the other day...and I was truly stuck!

I was at the church office, and I was about to leave.  I had worked hard and it was time to go home.  But I could not find my keys.  I looked everywhere for them, including going outside to see if I had dropped them there (which was impossible...or else, how did I get into the office?).  I was growing desperate.  I finally phoned my son and asked him if he could come and get me.  I had a second set of keys at home (20 miles away), but it was the best I could do.

At this point, my old Catholic training started to creep in, and I wondered if I should pray to St. Anthony.

Any Catholic raised before the 1960's knew all about St. Anthony.  He was the saint you prayed to if you lost something.  And when you did, you were also supposed to say the little prayer that is listed in the picture above.  And sometimes it worked!

Or it seemed to...

Today, to my Presbyterian way of thinking, perhaps faith is a better way of doing things.  I agree with the great reformers - we don't need anyone to intercede on our behalf.  We can pray directly to Jesus himself and he will hear our prayers.  As for finding those lost things, perhaps in that little prayer, we calmed ourselves a little and were able to see more clearly.

And yes, I did find my keys before my son left his house to come and rescue me.  They were stuck in a drawer's lock that can sometimes be a little tricky; I was jiggling the key when the phone rang, and I forgot about them.

I just needed to calm down a little and see them.

I also asked Jesus for help.

And I giggled occasionally when I remembered my favorite comedian, George Carlin, saying, "Please St. Anthony TELL GOD I NEED MY KEYS!"


Thursday, May 23, 2019

My Favorite Theologian

"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." James 2:26

When I was almost ready to become an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I had to endure the final step: examination!  During this time, a panel of pastors and elders quizzed me on every conceivable question that a good candidate for ministry should be able to answer.  I was quite nervous and (probably) spoke too fast and too much.

One question stands out from that process: "Who is your favorite theologian and why?"

My answer, said with a relaxed smile, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer."

I went on to explain that Bonhoeffer believed that without good works, faith was "cheap."  It was still faith, it was still worthy, but it was hollow or cheap.  I completely agree with Dr. Bonhoeffer.

During Bonhoeffer's life, he became involved in many things in Germany that would ultimately bring him to death at the hand of Hitler and his Nazi thugs.  Bonhoeffer had spoken out clearly and forcefully against Hitler early in his rise to power, and Bonhoeffer's life was in danger for many years.  He managed to escape to America in the later part of World War II, but he also returned to do what he could to help his country.  

When he arrived, he was promptly arrested and jailed.

Two weeks before the end of the war, Bonhoeffer was hanged in a concentration camp where he spent his final days.

Reading his various statements and books reinforces that Bonhoeffer's ideas are clear, easy-to-understand (despite his reputation of preaching WAY over his congregation's heads), and believable.  They also have the added emphasis of reminding me that Bonhoeffer died for what he did and believed.  Few modern theologians have met a similar fate.

I don't want to die for what I believe in, but if I do - I have Bonhoeffer's example to show me how to do it.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

70 X 7

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18: 21-22)

Image result for forgiving 70 x 7

Long ago, before I arrived at my current and first call, this church suffered a terrible schism.  I doubt that there has ever been a GOOD schism, but this one was particularly bad.

Our church was one of the first to split over the proposal to ordain gay people as church officers.  The pastor at that time - and many in the church - strongly disagreed with this, and began to make plans to leave our denomination.  Much was said, done, written, and ultimately forgotten.  And more than ten years later, our church survives with good ministry and faithful people,  But it is at least 1/5 the size that it used to be before the schism.

In the years since I've been here, I have held people as they grieved, cried, and shouted about what happened.  I tried to meet the pastor who was involved in the original problems - which did not work out for either of us.  I ignored snide remarks from other pastors in this immediate area and instead reached out to others who became my sisters and brothers in faith.  I also ignored so-called well-meaning remarks from people in my own presbytery who told me to my face that I had NO business coming to this church for my first call.

It's been quite a load to carry.  I am tired.  I think I'll put it down.

When it comes to dealing with the old hurts from the schism, I am claiming the Scripture verse above from this time forward and forever.

When it comes to helping this church move forward and begin to try some brand new ideas, I am claiming the Scripture again because sometimes I think the past holds us back.

When it comes to helping other churches who experience similar things to ours, I will show them the value and the strength and especially the peace of mind in claiming the Scripture above.

Carrying a grudge is exhausting.

I think I'll put it down.

I have other things I'd rather carry!


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Irony Always Makes Me Laugh

It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened."  1st Kings 18:27

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Genesis 3:19b

Irony always makes me laugh.  This is true whether it is cleverly revealed in a story, in a show, and especially when it happens in real life.

Irony is often a little tricky to clearly define and explain to young writers, but once they have it, they will begin seeing it all around them.

I enjoy irony...and I even enjoy when it occurs at my own expense.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  This is a time when all of us should be reflecting on our behavior, our habits, our faith, and how we can do a little better in our walk of faith.  Living our faith is extremely important to me, even though I am often guilty of not practicing what I preach.

But today it made me laugh!

Here is what happened: I was standing in line at a store waiting to make my snack purchase.  I noticed that a family of Muslims was standing right behind me.  Two of the children were very small and adorable.  I was facing toward the register when I suddenly heard a loud FLOP right behind me and felt something very cold on my pants legs.  I turned around and saw that one of the little girls had dropped her vanilla shake, which exploded all over the floor and all over my nice, black pants.

Now let's could this scene have progressed from here?

1.  I could have turned around and given a big SIGH and then made my way to the paper napkins to clean off my pants.
2.  I could have given the little kids my old "teacher look" which would have frozen them in their spots.
3.  I could have muttered something nasty about little kids - or worse, little Muslims kids! - and I could have used the usual racist garbage that we all hear so much of today.
4.  I could have ignored the obviously embarrassed father who was running to get the napkins to help me clean up.  I could have acted pious and cool...and stuffy.

Instead, I just said, "Whoops!" to the little girl and assured her and her mother with a big smile that it was okay.  When I met the father at the napkin dispenser, he began apologizing profusely, but I just smiled again and told him it was okay.  Then I showed him how easily it came off my pants and shoes.

Finally, when I went back to the counter, everyone seemed to melt out of my way.  I just ordered my stuff, paid for it, and left.  I made sure no one thought it was any big deal from my point of view.

In my car, I began to laugh when I realized how many times in my life I might have reacted with one of the options I listed above.  I have done and said some pretty stupid things in my life, but I try to live what I believe.  That means trying my best, even when it is a little tricky, even when I'm tired or cranky or in a hurry - or embarrassed...

Especially when it's Ash Wednesday, aren't we all supposed to be thinking about how to make ourselves a little better?


Sunday, October 7, 2018

All in the Family

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" Psalm 133:1

Image result for arguing

Lately, it would seem that everywhere we turn - especially on social media! - we are a country that is full of people arguing about everything.  The ideal that an on-line community would bring has been horribly, HORRIBLY realized.  Everyone can now engage everyone else with just the click of a computer mouse, and the results can be infuriating, frustrating, and overly-emotional.

What has happened to us?

This is hardly the first time in our country's history that we have had large segments of our population disagreeing over so many things and becoming so emotional about it.  The years preceding the Civil War saw congressmen and senators literally coming to blows on the floor of Congress.  One southerner beat a northerner with his cane until the northerner was unconscious on the floor; worse still, when it was reported that his cane was broken during the attack, hundreds of people sent new canes to the southerner to replace the one he broke assaulting his colleague.  

President Andrew Jackson threatened several political opponents with either a beating or a duel; of course, no one ever took Jackson up on the offer - probably because it was widely known that Jackson had a fierce temper and was a crack shot with a dueling pistol.

Oh yes, we have been this angry before.

But now it is a constant thing, and we seem to ramp up our collective anger each and every time any item of news hits us, whether that news item is trivial or important.  We can no longer have any rational or civil conversation.  We are all slaves to our emotions.

We still have the power to vote our way to change if we so choose.  But we cannot seem to accept that power responsibly.  Instead, it is constantly revealed that no matter which side wins, the other side is plotting and sharpening their long knives for the next fight.

There is a better way, and all Christians are called to it.

When Jesus walked the earth, there was not a single person he would not engage in conversation.  When he did this, he was often blunt-spoken and direct, but he was never mean or hateful.  
  • I strongly believe that he calls us to be the quiet, dignified voice in the conversations.
  • I strongly believe that there are things going on that need our voices and our support.
  • I strongly believe that no matter what our opinions may be, we have a responsibility to come together whenever possible; and when we cannot, we have a GREATER responsibility to be respectful and to turn the other cheek if necessary.
When we act as Jesus would have us act, we disarm the negative and overly-emotional responses by our love.

To do otherwise is to continue to be part of the problem.  And when we do this, believe that Satan and his imps are dancing for joy.

Believe it!  Amen!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Books Books Books and MORE Books!

I was a public school teacher for 29 years.  During that time, I probably read hundreds of books to my students or with my students.  I also read to my own two children, and I now read to my grandson.  

I just love books!

I was raised to read and to enjoy it.  My great aunt, my grandmother, and my mother were all librarians, so I always had good books to read in my house.

When I was a reading teacher, I kept a LONG list of books that I recommended on my teacher web page.  I would add a new title to it from time to time, but every single book on that list had been personally read by me before it was added (no fair taking someone else's word for it!).  I was very proud of that list, and I used it for several years.

During this month of August 2018, I decided to recommend a book each day on my Facebook page.  The books are for children (and possibly other readers too) with lots of details included such as title, author, recommended reading age, brief description, and ISBN number to help in ordering.  You might also notice that most of the books I recommend were not published recently; since I am out of the classroom now, my easy access to new titles and authors is somewhat limited.

So, here is the list (without all the descriptions):

August 1: Wilfred by Ryan Higgins, published 2013, ISBN number 978-0-8037-3732-7

August 2: While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away by Mary Nash, published 1958. ISBN# 978-0590045148

August 3: Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians by Mary Nash, published in 1961, ISBN #978-0316598095

August 4: Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban, published 2016, ISBN #978-1-4521-3260-0

August 5: The Snake Who Was Afraid of People, by Louis Polisar, published 1994, ISBN #978-0938663164

August 6: The World of Pooh by A.A. Milne, published 1957, originally published as two books in 1926 and 1928, ISBN# 978-0525444527 (there are SEVERAL different volumes)

August 7: Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, first book published 1997 (multiple books, multiple printings, even multiple sets of books)

August 8: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, first published in 1939, ISBN# 0-395-16961-5

August 9: The Dress I'll Wear to the Party by Shirley Neitzel, published 1992, ISBN# 978-0590474764

August 10: Company's Coming by Arthur Yorinks, Illustrated by David Small, published 1988, ISBN# 0-517-56751-2

August 11: Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, published 1994, ISBN# 978-0-399-23003-5

August 12: Alexander, and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, published 1987, ISBN# 978-0689711732

August 13: And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss, first published in 1937 (his first book!), ISBN# 978-0394844947

August 14: Frankenstein Moved In On The Fourth Floor by Elizabeth Levy, published 1994, ISBN# 978-0064401227

August 15: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, first published in 1955, ISBN# 978-0064430227

August 16: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, published 1985, ISBN# 0-395-38949-6

August 17: A Wish For Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story by Berkeley Breathed, published 1991, ISBN# 0-590-46368-3

August 18: Where's Waldo? by Martin Handford, first published 1987, ISBN# 978-0763645250 (multiple versions and books)

August 19: Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, first published in 1964, ISBN# 978-0394912417 (41 books in series)

August 20: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, published 2003, ISBN# 978-0060521226

August 21: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, published 1988, ISBN# 978-1416936473 (first in a series)

August 22: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, published 1960, ISBN# 978-0547328614

August 23: Island of the Skog by Steven Kellogg, published 1973, ISBN# 0-8037-4122-7

August 24: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, published 2011, ISBN# 978-1442419810

August 25: If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff, published 1991, ISBN# 978-0060244057

August 26: Hank the Cow Dog by John Erickson, originally published 1982, ISBN# 9781591881018 (71 books in the series)

August 27: Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall, published 1985, ISBN# 978-0395401460

August 28: A Chocolate Moose For Dinner by Fred Gwynne, published 1988, ISBN# 9780671667412 (three books in the series)

August 29: Stellaluna by Janelle Cannon, published 1993, ISBN# 978-0152802172

August 30: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, originally published 1967, ISBN# 978-0370007724.

August 31: Nobody Listens to Andrew by Elizabeth Guilfoile, published 1957, ISBN# 978-0695363451

Pastoral Life in the Age of Coronavirus

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." Proverbs 1:7  Way back ...