January 21, 2015

30% Discount Code for Any Day a Beautiful Change

January 18, 2015

Things and Stuff and Other Miscellany

1. Juliette had her first piano lesson last week. Her teacher is a gem - well-recommended by about ten people in town. Thanks to choir and bells and a few lessons from Grandma, she was able to skip through much of the beginner book.

2. I'm taking Tsh Oxenreider's e-course, Upstream Field Guide. I'm a little behind on the actual journaling, but I'm enjoying the process anyway. It's especially fun that one of my old friends is taking it, too.

3. I had an incredibly vivid dream last night that I was negotiating a call to become the senior pastor of a Disciples of Christ congregation that was very far away. I know that it was far away because the dream involved a very long road trip for our relocation, and I know that it was a Disciples of Christ congregation because it felt so DoC. Anyone who's spent much time in different denominations knows that they each have their trademark "feel". I'm kind of proud of my subconscious for being able to so accurately conjure the Disciple ethos, lo these many years away from a DoC congregation. Anyway, the negotiations included a bit of wrangling over which office I would take; I wanted the one with all the windows, but it was adjacent to a room with moldy floors. Also, they claimed they didn't like to heat that part of the building. I woke up laughing. 

(Despite my dreamscape dalliance with the Search and Call process, I have absolutely no intention of leaving my church. For the record.)

4. Right after we moved into our house, a woman who'd grown up here stopped by to visit. She mentioned that there had been built-in bookshelves in the living room; given how gorgeous the guest room built-ins are, I've been shaking my fist ever since at whoever tore them out. I've also been pining for (and pinning pictures of) built-in bookshelves to replace them. We'd gotten a quote a few years ago and learned that this is, in fact, a project that requires a bit of saving up. We're finally in the position to do it, and I am so excited. This isn't quite how they'll look, but in the general ballpark. There will be a pull-out desktop on one side, and a shelf that goes along the top of the window. 

5. I've been a bit of a nervous wreck about my Christian Century cover essay. As I told some friends, it's a good thing one can't actually die of a vulnerability hangover. So far the response has been good, though. Greg Carey posted a different perspective at the Century blog, and I've received a few emails from people who've read it.  Normally I would not claim favorites, but I unabashedly favor the appreciative email that included a 42-year-old wedding picture. If what I write inspires people to send me their 42-year-old wedding photos, I'm doing something right. Happy Anniversary, F___ and S___!

6. We went to see Big Hero Six with our next-door neighbors today. It was a little bit scarier than I expected, but we all loved it. It was charming and funny and had my favorite quality in books or movies or music or TV: a strong moral center. I liked it as much or more than any other movie I've seen in the last year. 

7. I spent nearly an entire day cleaning my office and oh, do I like the results. (I'm in denial that every single thing has to be packed up and moved out next summer for the big asbestos abatement project.)

There are so many things pictured here that matter to me. The metal plate from Betty Carol, the Cloisters photograph from Carly, the plastic yarn work tissue box that my grandmother didn't make but nevertheless reminds me of her so perfectly, the stoles from Lisa and my installation, the collection of Saint John's Bibles, the photograph of Deacon. And that's just a few bits. 

8. This girl. She makes me crazy with her ongoing refusal to wear an actual winter coat (this is a spring jacket and it was so cold the schools were closed). But, she's just so stinking cute. 

9. I am reading Heidi out loud to Juliette. We are both enjoying it thoroughly. She laughed uncontrollably about the kittens meowing at Miss Rottenmeier, and tonight we read the scene where Heidi reads the story of the prodigal son to Grandfather, and Juliette was delighted to recognize the "God story." 

I think that's all for now!

January 12, 2015

Remember the Sabbath

 We're doing a sermon series on the Ten Commandments, and I was happy to have a chance to think and preach about Sabbath again. Naturally, I turned to my sabbath gurus, Eugene Peterson and MaryAnn McKibben Dana. And, thanks to the publication of Benjamin Dueholm's excellent piece on sabbath politics in the Christian Century a few months ago, I have a new sabbath guru.

Imagine a beautifully wrapped gift, tied with a gold satin bow. The gift tag bears your name, written in that perfect Palmer script they don’t even teach anymore. It’s the kind of gift that looks so lovely you can’t help but get a little thrill at the thought of what it might be. Perhaps it will be precisely what you wanted, what you hoped to receive. Or better yet, it could be something you haven’t yet imagined. A delightful surprise.

You tug on the ribbon and the bow unfurls. The paper makes a delicious ripping noise as you tear it away from the box. The suspense is sweet; you feel like a kid on Christmas morning. You take a deep breath and open the the box.

It is a sweater. It is a hand knit sweater. And, let’s just be honest. It is an ugly handknit sweater. It is not ironically ugly - if you haven’t heard, these days it’s actually pretty hip to wear ugly sweaters.

But this sweater is lumpy and outdated, and as you pull it on, your skin protests as it is accosted by the remarkably scratchy fibers. Your great-aunt, whom you should have known by the handwriting was the bearer of this particular gift, is grinning at you with the pride of a hobby knitter. She is so pleased to see the fruits of her labor - hours and hours bent over her cable needles, creating this beautiful gift for you.

You smile and thank her with as much enthusiasm as you can muster, all the while thinking to yourself that you will never be caught dead wearing this abomination in public ever again.

It dawned on me that the fourth commandment is a bit like an ugly, scratchy, handknit sweater. The metaphor only goes so far before it unravels, of course.

But the commandment to honor the sabbath, the mandate to rest on the seventh day of the week - this is supposed to be a gift to us. An invitation to simply be, to lazily enjoy the beauty of creation, to step away from the relentless chaos of the world - just one day out of every seven. It seems like it would be a perfectly wonderful gift to receive, especially since it doesn’t take much to realize just how very much work went into it.

God worked for days straight to make the world, you know, toiling away like Great Aunt Ida with her knitting needles. And then, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, exhausted from all that effort, sank into his Lazy-boy chair and sighed. “Hey, you should hang out with me for awhile. In fact, this is so great let’s do this again. How about the same time next week?”

And just as we offer up gracious yet insincere gratitude to Aunt Ida for the sweater, we have this tendency to make fake plans with God.

You know, when you say “Yes, we totally should get together again. Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” And then, well, you know how it goes. You conveniently forget to follow through. When you run into God unexpectedly at the grocery store, it’s a little bit awkward, but you toss out the line that is everyone’s favorite excuse because it always works - “I’ve just been so busy.”

I admit I’m being a bit silly here, but I actually think sabbath keeping is a really big deal.

Not that I do a great job obeying the fourth commandment - I don’t. Just last night, I got a reminder of my failure to rest regularly. My husband took my older daughter out to dinner before the big Suzy Snowflake dance. They had Chinese food, which of course meant they had fortune cookies for dessert. Ben’s fortune read, “Take some needed time to relax in the next few days.” Juliette immediately said, “Oh, you should give that one to Mama! She needs it.”


I suspect that I’m not alone. I wouldn’t be surprised if the fourth commandment is one of the most frequently broken of the ten; people who would never kill or steal don’t give a second thought to treating Sunday like any other day of the week.

But Sunday, as the say that Christians have traditionally observed the Sabbath, is not like any other day of the week. Not at all.

For a number of reasons, most people don’t think of the fourth commandment as a gift. At least, not a desirable gift. Most people probably don’t think about it much at all. Last week Rich mentioned that there’s something sort of old-fashioned about talking about the ten commandments, and there is perhaps no commandment with a more stodgy reputation than the fourth one.

I’m sure several of you have memories of an earlier time in which observing the sabbath was more strictly enforced, and I’m sure at least some of your memories involve being bored out of your mind.

I think part of the problem is that we just don’t have the foggiest idea what the commandment actually commands us to do. Whatever does it mean to “remember the sabbath and keep it holy?”

The last time I asked that question in this pulpit was several years ago, the summer we moved to Western Springs. And I still haven’t found a better definition for sabbath than the one crafted by the Reverend Eugene Peterson. He says it’s not about what you do, it’s about what you don’t do. He writes, “Sabbath means quit. Stop. Take a break. Cool it. The word itself has nothing devout or holy in it. It’s a word about time, denoting our nonuse of it, what we usually call wasting time.”

Sabbath is the opposite of a task. It is time that meanders, time that is free – or more precisely, time that bears witness to your freedom. My friend Ben is a pastor who has written not only about the practice of sabbath, but also the politics of sabbath. He writes, “Idleness is sacred in the Bible because it identifies the world with a living God whose greatest gift is rest and who rescued the people from slavery in a land where no rest was allowed.”

You can only observe the sabbath if you are free to do so. Ben argues that many people do not have that freedom; that our economy wages a sort of “war on leisure”. After all, a person working forty hours a week earning the federal minimum wage will make fifteen thousand dollars and some change… which means if they have rent to pay - or a family to support - they will be working two or three jobs to make ends meet. There is no sabbath in that life - no day set aside to rest and play and worship and pass time with loved ones.

There is only clocking in and clocking out and catching a few hours of sleep before reporting for the next shift.

It pains me that the fourth commandment - meant for all people, in every walk of life - has become a privilege of the wealthy. This injustice pains me even more than our tendency to ignore the commandment altogether. I don’t know what to do about it.

My friend Ben says we need “sabbath advocacy” - that those with power, with voice, with privilege - should pray and work for public policies that honor the sanctity of life and the holiness of time. I reckon this sort of “Sabbath advocacy” might well be in the tradition that Jesus himself started. You may recall that Jesus was constantly getting into hot water with the religious authorities about the Sabbath. He bent the rules, time and again. You might even say he broke the Sabbath. But I think it’s more accurate to say that he subverted the Sabbath. He saw that the tradition had become rigid and legalistic. He saw that the Sabbath was being used as an excuse to let people suffer, rather than as an excuse to release people from their suffering. He saw that there was injustice in the system. So, he pushed back with love and compassion and humor. He turned the conventional wisdom upside down, reminding the Pharisees that the people do not serve the Sabbath; the Sabbath serves the people.

Just as we might be called to pray and work for the sanctity of life and holiness of time for those who toil in the margins of our economy, we also might be called to pray and work for these things in our own days. Or rather, we might pray and not work for these things in our own lives.

My friend MaryAnn McKibben Dana leads retreats about Sabbath; I’ve been lucky enough to attend one myself.

One of the things she empowers people to do is work out for themselves what it means to honor the sabbath and keep it holy. Identify your own sabbath principles and parameters so that you can find rest and peace in your own life. The ten principles she’s identified for her own family make for a pretty lovely jumping off point.

"Avoid technology. Connect with loved ones. Nurture your health. Get outside. Avoid commerce. Light candles. Drink wine. Eat bread. Find silence. Give back."

Each of these principles seem to ultimately be about the pursuit of joy and love and peace. They also gently encourage the practice of paying attention.

As one of the great modern mystics pronounced, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” (And, just in case anyone actually recognized that quote, yes, it was Ferris Bueller who said it - on his infamous day off, of course.) [Quoted in Sabbath in the Suburbs by MaryAnn McKibben Dana]

Maybe you never do wear that ugly handknit sweater in public. Maybe it sits in the back of your closet for awhile, unwanted, seemingly unneeded.

But then one day you’re cold and tired and you reach for it, and as it turns out it’s not too itchy if it’s layered just right, and you think to yourself that it might actually be the coziest thing you own. It’s not merely comfortable; it’s comforting. It reminds you of Aunt Ida, and you know now that she didn’t mean to oppress you with this lovely gift. She meant to delight you. And though it’s taken you time to realize it, you are delighted.

Quietly delighted, because when you pull it on it means you’re going to make a cup of tea and drink it, quietly, looking out the window and praying a prayer you overheard one time: “What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.”

It was a great gift after all.


January 9, 2015

A Long Obedience

It is strange to think of a particular person as the person with whom I did not have an affair. There are, in fact, many people with whom I have not had an affair. Billions. I have never slept with the mailman, or kissed my ex-boyfriend, or flirted with a stranger (at least not on purpose—sometimes I can’t contain my natural charm). Since I’ve never been unfaithful to my husband, there are a remarkable number of people with whom I have not committed adultery.

... continue reading online at the Christian Century, or in the January 21, 2015 print edition.

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