Happy New Year!

OK, not quite.

I'm being sneaky, and I have a plan for Mr. M, but he reads this, too, so I'll have to update you later. Maybe with pics!


Today's Phenomenal Discovery

The Christian Alliance for Progress is a group of faithful people trying to bring about what I think of as moral values-- empowering the poor, granting equality to those without voices, and caring for creation.

Hooray, hooray, hooray to the woman who pointed me in this direction. Absolutely something to look into.

Brainstorming and Unifying

I posted the following questions to my nesties:

Liberal Christians- how do we change the image of Christianity in this country w/o becoming as obnoxious as our fundy counterparts?

(Please know that there are evangelical Christians whom I know to be respectful and intelligent.)

What are you involved in, and what sort of alternative "moral issues" are you vocal about (women's rights, the environment, peace)?

How do we make progress in the shadow of those who share the name, but represent ideas that are *not* what we believe?

They responded with some great things:

*I educate myself on issues and challenge fundies when I hear them making sweeping statements. I really try to keep abreast of the news, and I do my best not to speak in ignorance.

*I also plan on getting involved with the local Pride committe and volunteering/helping with gay pride events.

*But mostly I do my best not to be a sheep - I listen to BOTH sides of the story and then make my own opinions. And when I hear zealotry in action, I kindly point it out and present the other side.

*I guess to answer your question, Liberal Christians should exhibit more of a presence. Explaining why we are liberal in our beliefs and politics. The Bible says we should love everyone and not judge others. When I look at political issues and how I think the country should be run, I try to look at it as what is best for everyone, not what fits in with the beliefs of a particular religion.

*We choose to surround ourselves by positive/'safe' people, no matter their religion/race/age/etc - in doing this, we meet so many others that are loving/happy people and no longer think that the far-anything is the majority.

*I think the fundamentalist wing of Christianity has also co-opted the bible, and a lot of progressive/liberal Christians I know seem to have given up on the idea that there is a different - and authentic - way to read scripture which is not literalist. I want to engage all kinds of Christians, including myself, with a wider view of the scripture and what it says on any given topic, and, more importantly, what the bible is for and how we read it. I find a lot of people in my denomination (Lutheran) are intimidated by the sorts of Christians who take verses from here and there and put together some kind of patchwork theology based on unrelated texts. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. (Can you tell?) The accusation always seems to be that conservative Christians are heartless and liberal Christians don't care about the bible, and both of those are patently ridiculous. Since I tend to be on the liberal end, I try to keep scripture at the heart of discussions rather than just cave in to folks who can quote a verse out of Habbakuk and sound impressive doing it.

*What ever happened to "God loves ALL his creatures"... if I am not mistaken, the verbage doesn't read " God loves all his creatures, except for the ________ people....fill in with whatever term you like... but either way.

*I think if you really want to change your image, you need to be brave enough to attack the fundamentalists who are generating the image you don't want to be associated with.

*I'm an atheist and I hear again and again from people I know things like, "remember, not all Christians are like that," in reference to what Phil Graham has said, or evangelical groups' boycotts, or what have you. But you know what? The evangelicals have put a public face on Christianity. They hold press conferences and they announce to the world what God wants, where he is sending his wrath next, and who should be hated. They pour money into waging war against liberal causes.
As far as I can perceive, christians want to completely overturn Roe v. Wade, move statues of the 10 Commandments into every public building and courthouse in the nation, put prayer and creationism in schools, prevent access to birth control, and make homosexuality a publicly reviled concept. A lot of that doesn't make sense to me, as my rudimentary understanding of Christianity is that it is about loving others and doing good, but why shouldn't I believe it? I don't see anyone among the Christian leadership refuting any of it.
It's all well and good to do "behind the scenes" acts, but if you really want to change the image, you need to form a group strong enough to make a public showing that this is not what you stand for.

*I think it IS important that we take back Christianity. I always say, "Jesus was a liberal and a dissident." I don't think that if he were alive today he'd be a member of a mega-church or supporting Pat Robertson's bigoted agenda.
What can we do though? I'm a member of the Christian Alliance for Progress (christianalliance.org), a group that is trying to reclaim Christianity from FOF and the AFA. I think it's a good start - progressive, liberal Christians need to start becoming as vocal as the conservative fundamentalists.
That, and I make sure to write FOF and the AFA whenever I feel the need to call them out on something. The responses I get back are always fun. ;-)


Kicked Out of the Nest.

Under normal circumstances, my priest tends to overcommit himself. This fall/winter, he's part of our diocese's bishop search committee (our current bishop is retiring). Also, his mother died in August. These are not normal circumstances.

SO, I can appreciate that he's not as available as he used to be. It's getting harder to work with him, though, because I don't feel as supported right now.

Not that it's his job to spread sunshine all over.

I used to feel fairly close to him, and now we email very blue moon when there's business to take care of, or a meeting to schedule. I think he's busy and running himself ragged, but it also feels like I've lost a friend. When I do see him, he doesn't have time to do a whole lot of listening (of course, he's really more of a talker to start with...)

On the up side, I still have Tom Davis and my wonderful discernment committee.

Still, I miss the Fr.

Sermon for Advent 4

(On Luke 1:26-38)

We have a surprising God.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (before there were cars, or ballpoint pens, or power tools) there was a tiny rural village, nestled at the bottom of mighty mountains, and it was called Nazareth. In 2,000 years, the way city people talk about little towns hasn’t changed much—city folks thought Nazareth was pretty simple and it’s people pretty rough around the edges.

It was a Jewish village—for hundreds of years, only Jews lived there. Everyone who lived there lived according to Hebrew law, remembered Hebrew prophecy, and shared stories of God’s love and promises to His people.

Someone’s daughter lived in that village, a teenage girl named Mary. If she lived with us here, we might see her studying for an algebra test, playing sports, or babysitting the kids next door. Instead, she was getting ready for her wedding. Still, she was an ordinary young girl.

One day Mary got a lot less ordinary. She was at home, cleaning or weaving or spinning, when an angel walked in.

An angel.

Gabriel, in fact. Mary might not have known it was Gabriel, but this is the messenger sent to Daniel, who just 6 months before had visited Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. This is an angel with some extraordinary messages.

And Gabriel said, “You have nothing to fear. God loves you. The Almighty Creator of the Universe is on your side, and thinks you’re wonderful.”

That’d be a pretty unusual introduction, even if it wasn’t coming from an angel. As it was, Mary was mesmerized and confused all at once.

“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t think I follow.”

So Gabriel tells her: You’re going to have a baby.

“I’m going to have a what?”

A son. Mary is going to have a son. Mary is going to have a baby boy who will grow up to rule Israel forever, a king whose reign will never end. Mary is going to carry the Messiah that Israel has waited and waited for. Mary knows that everyone is waiting for a Savior. She is hoping with them for someone to come and heal their nation, and a messenger from God has just told her that the Messiah is coming through her.

An awful lot of people want kids they can brag about, but this had to be overwhelming.

“How can we do this?” Mary asked how she could possibly become pregnant, but she wondered who would take care of her if she did, too. It can be pretty hard to be a single mom now, but then it was fatal. As explanations go, “an angel came” is pretty weak when you’re up against a group who could stone you for getting pregnant.

What’s her fiancé, Joseph, going to say? What will her parents say? Her priest? How can this work? Will Joseph still marry her? Will anyone believe her?

What will the baby be like? Will a Messiah be like the other babies she’s seen? Will she be a good mom? Can Joseph love this baby that isn’t his? Is there anything special she should be doing?

Is she going to have the money to feed him? Should the child Messiah go to special schools?

And more than anything: why me? Why not someone wealthy, powerful, or at least more experienced? Surely there’s someone kinder/smarter/holier that prays more/keeps house better/would know what to do with a baby.

But this young girl, this teenager, put aside her questions and fears and worries and doubts and said, “Yes. Let’s do this.”

She trusted God, and she began to obey without asking what God’s 10-year plan was. In the midst of angels and Messiahs and virgin births, that might be the most miraculous part of the story. She trusted, and she didn’t need all the answers in order to obey.

But Gabriel wasn’t done telling Mary about God’s unbelievable new beginnings.

Her cousin Elizabeth couldn’t have children. Some of us don’t choose to have children, but Elizabeth really wanted to be a mother, and wasn’t able to. She’d dealt with this for years. Her mother wanting grandchildren. Her girlfriends pestering her about when she would have a family. Other people who weren’t as kind, whispering about how sad it was that Zechariah didn’t have any sons to carry on the name, about how Elizabeth wasn’t a very valuable wife. It certainly couldn’t have been easy for her.

But Gabriel told Mary that she wouldn’t be pregnant alone, that her cousin has had a miracle, too. Because with God, all things are possible.

All this was a lot to take in. Mary couldn’t believe her ears—would you? Would you believe God picked you, specifically you, to do wonderful things? To fulfill a central part of a centuries-old promise? Do you feel to young, or too old to be picked by God? Too poor, or too comfortable where you are? Do you feel too slow or shy to be loved and chosen by God? What about the person next to you? Are they too pushy or too wishy-washy? Too smelly or too fancy?

Writer and priest Barbara Cawthorne Crafton said this about Jesus’ return: “The first time around, nothing was as expected. What makes us think the second will be predictable?” God in Christ is meeting us in our lives every day, but never predictably.

Let yourself watch God moving around you- in yourself, in others, in nature. We have such a surprising God. When we trust the God of Mary, the God of Elizabeth, our God, we’re expecting astonishing solutions. In this Advent season, let’s wait. And watch. And expect God to work through people and circumstances that we would never think to choose. Let’s look for the stories around us. On the way to work, in the grocery store, when we gather with our families, let’s try to see the story beginning. Once upon a time there was a man with no home. Once upon a time there was a girl who couldn’t walk, a boy no one likes very much, a woman addicted to drugs. And with God nothing was impossible. God does use each of us to fulfill promises. You have nothing to fear. God loves you. The almighty Creator of the Universe is on your side, and thinks you’re wonderful. Let’s welcome God’s surprises.


I've pissed off another parishioner.

Not intentionally, of course (is it ever?). No, I don't think I've been making too many of them mad, but this one certainly was.

This morning the bishop visited our parish. This happens a little less than once a year (maybe once every 18 months?), and we pull out all the bells and whistles. The choir, the praise band, the junior choir, the bell choir, the torchbearers, the crucifer, another acolyte, two eucharistic ministers, and two priests. (Partridges were conspicuously absent from our pear tree.)

15 minutes before the service, I was in the sacristy (little room behind the alter) with two priests and a bishop (and a lot of other people) wondering where our little torchbearers were. Well, they were out singing with the praise band. I let them know that they needed to get into their little robes and get ready. After the service, the leader of the praise band came into the sacristy, told me in no uncertain terms that he was very angry with me, that I'd had no right to do what I did, and we were going to discuss this in greater depth later.

If I (or anyone else) had known that these kids were in the band, we'd have had them get vested earlier, and there wouldn't have been a problem. I could have waited until the end of the song, but I had no idea how long it would last, and I had a bishop and two priests ready to go, wondering where everyone was.

So I've called and left him a message, apologizing again, telling him I'd like to discuss what happened this morning, and how we can prevent it from happening again.

As my rector said, Welcome to Reality.

I remember thinking a while back, "I wonder how he does it." How, week after week, he climbs into the pulpit when a good number of the congregation are upset with him.

Well, next week I'll preach. And I guess I'll find out.