Saturday, December 29, 2012

India Bound

I depart on Wednesday to fulfill one of my last seminary requirements...an inter-cultural immersion. All along, I expected to be doing this immersion domestically, but God heard my prayers and thanks to the support of my PMM congregation and my loving family, I depart for India on January 2. Up to this point, my most adventurous international travel has included camping in Canada's lake country and a very tame and corporate trip to the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg...where I understood where the term ugly Americans surfaces. Nothing like traveling with drunken sales reps!

I digress. In India I will visit New Delhi, Agra, and Kolkata. With 15 other students and 2 professors, we will meet with religious and NGO leaders and explore how this ancient society has flourished with such diversity. I am not really sure what to expect. In fact, I am trying to empty myself of expectation. My hope is that I can share my journey along the way here on my blog. I pray that I can capture those things I need to capture in words and pictures and memories. I ask for your prayers for the journey. It is hard to leave life behind. I will miss a lot of Brook's winter break. I will miss processing each day with Matt. I will miss Emma's curiosity about local norms, justice and Eco-systems. I will miss Paige's eye for color and composition and her fashion sense. I hope I can bring back experiences for everyone.

I ask for your prayers for our group, our hosts, the families we leave behind, our opening and experiencing hospitality, grace and wonder.

Namaste.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Not So Ordinary Time


The church marks time on the calendar differently than “the rest” of the world.  It’s not about the school year or Tax Day or even really the meteorological seasons.  It’s God’s time.  When we live into the rhythm of the church year, it can remind us that as Christians we are called to live in and not of the world…it can help us remember that Christ shared good news for all people – and that we are not solely subject to the political world, the economic world, the educational world…we are people of God who can choose to mark time as people of God.

The “new year” begins with the first Sunday in Advent, usually in late November or the very first Sunday in December.  We proceed from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany…then depending on where Easter lands (a date dependent upon the lunar calendar), there are a few weeks of “season after Epiphany” or “ordinary time” when there is nothing specific that we wait for or watch for.  Then Lent comes, followed by Easter (which includes multiple Sundays) followed by a big celebration called Pentecost, which usually lands in May.  And then there is this very, very, very, very, very long stretch of “ordinary time” that takes us across the summer, into the fall and ends at Christ the King Sunday in November…back to Advent.

So…this long stretch of “ordinary time”…  What do we do with it?  I know that I am hardwired to anticipate what’s next, to look forward to something.  In the midst of the Christian year, there can be roughly 34 weeks that are “ordinary,” weeks that instead call me to be in the moment, right there in the place of life I find myself day in and day out, a beloved child of God just bumping along the wilderness road most of the time.

A lot of churches (protestant and Catholic) structure their worshiping and devotional lives around a prescribed schedule of readings – a three year cycle known as a lectionary – perhaps the most common being the “revised common lectionary” (visit a good resource here:  http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/).  The lectionary provides a way of structuring the study of scripture through seasons of the Christian year.  Some people talk about it getting boring – but some others really appreciate the cycle of revisiting texts every several years as they have experienced life and bring something new to the text each time they read it (so Abram’s call may look different to me in year 1, 4, 7, etc..because I’ve changed jobs, experienced a death or a birth, moved to a new town, experienced inevitable growth because I am human and that’s what I do).  Another benefit to the cycle is that so many churches use it.  You may find yourself at lunch saying to a friend, “So, during my devotion time today, I read this fascinating scripture about [fill in the blank] and I was so struck by blah, blah, blah.” And lo and behold, your friend says, “No way! I read the same story.  I hadn’t thought about it that way, but here’s what I took from it...”  (OK, I work at a seminary and I realize not everyone has those conversations…but you could. You really, really could…)  At the very least, when you follow the lectionary, you will discover folks around you who have talked about the same scripture in church on Sunday. 

Back to ordinary time:  in the revised common lectionary, ordinary time is time when we learn the history of Israel or study the every day teachings of Jesus, or learn about the “heroes of faith.”  Mostly it is time to “be.”  Sometimes it’s called a green growing season (a reference to how it aligns with the Western agricultural calendar). 

It’s that point in “ordinary time” for me when the demands of the “rest of the world” are starting to heat up.  My calendar begins to fill with commitments for the kids’ schools, church, my own education and career, my husband’s school dates and evening meetings driven by the academic calendar because we both work in higher educational institutions.  The church is beginning to look toward the more active seasons of the Christian year with planning underway for Advent and Christmas.  It is really easy in roughly week 16 – 21 of ordinary time to be caught up in looking to other things…forgetting to just be….forgetting to mark time right now and give thanks for where God has me TODAY.

I encourage you as the world begins to press in and speed up, coming off something of a summer lull, to resist the temptation to be pulled forward into things that seem more exciting than this day that the Lord has made.  It’s really hard.  It’s hard with the calendar filling up to remember that today, this ordinary day, is the Lord’s day and there is meaning and purpose.  But try.  Really try. Consider pouring yourself a tall glass of water, a cup of tea or coffee, a glass of wine at the right point in the day and breathe deeply.  Feel the earth solid beneath your feet.  Remember that creation is an amazing and multifaceted thing.  Think on where God was present with you today.  And give thanks.  Or cry out in pain.  Or ask for what you need.  But be in the ordinariness of the day. 

Grace and peace go with you today…and every day.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B


  • 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 and Psalm 130 •
  • Ephesians 4:25-5:2 •
  • John 6:35, 41-51
  •  
    For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This is Newton's work.  His third law of motion.  Science.
     
    You reap what you sow.
     
    We are strangely connected and affected by our choices, well past their implementation.  Sometimes the connection between action and reaction is separated by so much time and distance that we cannot really see the connection between the two.  It is lost in our history somewhere. 
     
    But our actions always (always!) have consequences.  Some consequences are "positive," others not so much. Sometimes we go through life completely unaware of a chain of events in which we were participants. Knowing this - being aware that all of our choices affect others - has the power to ground us in something bigger. 

    Are there filters through which you would like all of your choices to pass? Are there times when you need to sort back through the chapters of your life to see how things are connected?  Are you able to be graceful with yourself when you realize that some choices cause harm?

    We are in a season when all you hear in the media is the discord among political groups as they grapple with what is best...and best for what or whom is often debatable.  And in the heat of that, it's easy to start casting your own stones, stating things in strong ways, making choices for or against people and ideas. Regardless of the outcome of any one election or the vote on any one bill, we all end up having to live with one another, with the consequences of our choices in the process, with the words that we have said and the choices we have made along the way.  How then do we guard our hearts and our tongues so that we are able to reach out to one another as beloved children of God - no matter what happens next?

    In our Hebrew scripture for this week, King David asks his military leader Joab to deal gently with Absalom.  David's family story is better than any daytime soap opera written. Absalom has fled his father's wrath after killing his brother Amnon, a murder committed in rage that Amnon raped Absalom's sister Tamar. But David later forgave Absalom and brought him back to the kingdom but would not speak to him.  (Did you follow all of that?  It's complicated.  And sort of feels like the fall out from David's poor life choices earlier...and each bad choice by each family member keeps digging a deeper pit of despair for the whole clan).  Joab has had a bitter falling out with Absalom in previous chapters.  Absalom encounters Joab and his armor bearers in the forest, and as he is trying to flee, Absalom is "hung" when he is caught up on a branch.  Joab orders one of his men to kill Absalom, and the man refuses, having heard King David order Joab to deal gently with Absalom.  Joab takes matters into his own hands and uses three spears to pierce Absalom's heart.  WOW.  It's like a bad shoot-em-up mafia flick.  Here is a whole group of people who have gotten so wrapped up in personal passion and power that they cannot even begin to untangle the knot back to the first offense!  And it is the downfall of an entire Kingdom in many, many ways. 

    Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus includes advice for living in harmony together.  Juxtaposed against the chaotic saga of David's clan, it feels like a reminder of what is good and true and right.  Deal gently, speak the truth, do not go to bed on your Anger but work it out.  But it's hard.  It's hard to get caught up in the emotion of whatever is going on to remember the big picture.  It's hard in politics, it's hard in church leadership, it's hard in our families.  How often are we able to stop as the emotion starts to take over, to take that breath and remember that those we are dealing with are precious in God's sight (regardless of how we think of them in that moment).

    Jesus, in John's gospel, is offering himself as the very bread of life.  Compared to Manna, he has something to offer that nourishes beyond bodily need.  Jesus is invoking God's covenant, that one made with Israel, and extending it to all who will follow.  Not just the Jew.  Not just the gentile.  Not excluding the sinner or the tax collector or the Roman.  It's as if Jesus is reminding them that they can get wrapped up in their differences, or they can remember that all shall be taught by God.

    Sometimes we think that the choices we make are life and death choices.  But surrounding every choice is a web of relationships and beings affected.  Is the choice the thing? Or the surrounding relationships?  In a season of polarized debate, hateful language, absolutes, are we willing to sacrifice our common humanity to be "right?"

    God,
    may the words of our hearts
    and the meditations of our hearts
    together
    be holy and acceptable
    to You,
    for you are
    our Rock and
    our Redeemer.
    Amen.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

    Trinity Sunday, Year B

     
    If you hang with us long enough talking about church-type-things, you will come to know that we have difficulty with a popular responsive declaration:
    God is good (all the time).
    All the time (God is good).

    It's one of those things that some folks love to say and hear.  And we believe that our human ability to comprehend God is far too limited to say those words aloud without profound discussion about their Truth. We are aware of the many folks sitting in the average worship service who have no ability to affirm such an idea. (Our discomfort with this phrase is connected to the phrase "everything happens for a reason" when people attribute it to God.....thus implying murders, earthquakes, and cancer are intentional movements of God....some shit just happens...but that is for another discussion).

    When we profess that God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, somewhere in there, we have to acknowledge that we cannot even begin to understand God.  Describing God as Good falls short if we do not share the breadth of understanding of how our human minds limit that descriptor.

    This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, a "feast day" of the church.  As protestants, we're not very good at observing feast days...but if we pause and reflect, this might be one of those days, like Pentecost, to pause and let out a little bit of an astonished gasp.  God is pretty amazing - more complicated than we can fully understand.  Last week we celebrated the "birth of the church," as the Holy Spirit came crashing into Jerusalem igniting believers.  On Trinity Sunday, we reflect on the complexity of God - the interrelated balance of a God in three "forms" - Father, Spirit, Son; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Goodness, Love, Wisdom.  Our very humanness limits our ability to describe this God and our work, in many ways it is to know in our core even what we cannot begin to describe.

    Our readings this week open up this question about God's nature.  In the Hebrew scripture, Isaiah describes an experience of call with God.  The prophet sees an amazing vision of God on a throne, attended by Seraphs.  Isaiah hears the praise offered by the Seraphs, confesses his unworthiness, experiences a ritual cleansing as his mouth is touched by hot coals, and receives a call to be sent out in God's name.  This is a form that our worship can take on Sunday mornings.  Here on Trinity Sunday, pay special attention to the words that the prophet uses to describe his experience.  Amazing, unfamiliar, astounding beasts attend to the LORD whose hem literally fills the Temple.  The very vision highlights the prophet's own smallness, unworthiness.  And yet, he is called.  Even though he cannot begin to understand all that he sees, he recognizes his role when he is called.  Have you received such a call?

    The Psalmist describes an awesome God above all things--words like glory, strength, splendor, majesty.  This is praise for a truly awe-inspiring God.

    In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul encourages the community to live according the the Spirit, not the flesh.  In our rational, logical world, this can feel like a call to accept the limits of rational thinking. But Paul alludes to those moments in our life when no human power will pull us out of the depths and we cry out to God.  Has that happened to you?  In those moments, we are relying on our deepest soul-beliefs. Do we have the commitment to live in that deep soul-belief when we are not in crisis?

    Finally, John's gospel describes an encounter by the cover of night a meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus.  Nicodemus is a pharisee...and it seems that he is intrigued by evidence of Jesus' divinity.  He seems to "know" at a cellular level that there is something remarkable about this "man."  But Nicodemus' earthly understanding is limiting his ability to accept that a "man" can be "divine."  He's really befuddled by this notion of being "born" again.  Get out of your head, Nicodemus!  Jesus isn't talking about the physical birth that we can all access in our rational rolodex.  Nope - this is a different kind of birth. And Jesus tries to explain how God has sent him into the world out of love for that very world.  Hard stuff to wrap our minds around.

    We're not suggesting that we check our brains at the door when we consider God.  But we do need to confess the limits of our humanity if we embrace the full divinity of God - embodied in the three in one. We need to fully engage our minds and spirits as we consider who we are and who God might be.

    God, protect us from ourselves.
    Forgive us when we make mindless statements.
    Forgive us when we claim to know more than we do.
    Guide us away from wounding others with our less than thoughtful beliefs.
    Help us as we attempt to be present with who we are and what we really know.
    Help us to trust that we are loved and we are enough just as we are.
    Amen.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org  - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask thatyou let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    A Change of Heart...



    Jeremiah 31:31 – 34

    The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.


    It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt--a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.


    But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.


    No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

    Since it appeared in the lectionary a few weeks ago, this verse has stuck with me, as has the idea Pastor Jeff preached about our hearts being changed.


    That Sunday, there was much buzz on Facebook about Trayvon Martin and what would be said about his shooting in church that Sunday.  Nothing specifically about this young man and the situation was said in our church.  And I have pondered that throughout the last several weeks.  Nothing was said either about human trafficking or civil unrest in Africa or about domestic violence or about road rage or bullying.  Not specifically. 

    But we did talk about what it means to have God written upon our hearts. 

    I want to dream about the practical reality of that with you, just a bit.

    I heard a heart-breaking series of stories this week on the radio about bullying among children.  I was bullied.  In my adult life, I have to catch myself from using my power to bully others.  My children have been bullied and have bullied in return.  What change of heart do I need to experience as a human, as a parent, as someone who works with kids to truly make a difference in the way children see, encounter and treat one another?  Lord, change my heart.

    I am overwhelmed by the debate about healthcare in the United States. While politicians and accountants are tied up in questions of cost and equitability and who shoulders what burdens, I long to hear someone answer this question, “Why is it ok for any human to go without the basic healthcare they need?”  Lord, change our hearts.

    I operate in a denominational system where there are many layers – layers of approval and vetting and review and paperwork…all to determine someone’s worthiness to respond to a call they believe God has placed on their lives.  I understand that due diligence prevents people from getting hurt.  But I also understand that layers upon layers make it easier for us to hide behind the rules and the processes.  It makes it easier to forget that we are sitting with another human with a heart for God, with a life to live for the good of the Kingdom.  And our actions in response to one another in that system have ripple effects.  Lord, change our hearts.

    I sit in meetings where we debate about furniture, job descriptions, curriculum and budget lines.  Those are important things, but we get so locked in to our own understanding of what is right and what is wrong. What should be done and what should not be done.  We forget that the person “on the other side” of the issue is just that, a person.  Lord, change our hearts.

    In this season of Lent, I have been newly aware of the gift of grace in my life, of the movement of God all around me, and I am grateful for that.  Also in this season, I have become aware of what seems like a simple solution and I believe in a God that has the power to walk with us if only we choose to let our hearts be changed, if we choose to let God write on our hearts.  Jesus sat with the sick, the possessed and the outcast and named their pain, looked at their suffering and changed their hearts.  I confess I need the same.

    We are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and soul and strength.  Second we are called to love our neighbor.  Period. 

    Lord, in your mercy, change my heart.  And help me be someone who inspires and encourages and supports others as they seek to have their hearts changed.

    Amen.

    Friday, March 23, 2012

    Marking Time in the Christian Year - Lent Melting into Easter



    I'm beginning to roll out some basic "teaching" about the liturgical year with the congregation I serve.  It might be useful here as well!

    We mark times in a lot of ways – when I lived in the country, I marked time by the crops in the fields – I knew when the soy beans sprouted, when the corn tassled and when the soy beans turned yellow.  Maybe you mark time by the traditional events of the school year – back to school, grading quarters, Spring Break, graduation season.  And we all know “someone” who marks time by sports season – football play-offs, March Madness, the baseball boys of summer.

    With a different kind of calendar, the worldwide church marks time through seasons of watching, waiting, renewal, growth and celebration.  Technically, the church year “begins” in the first week of Advent as we await Christ’s entry as light of the world.  After Advent and Christmas, we observe the Epiphany, a season of revelation.  Our attention turns for a few short weeks to something called “Ordinary Time” and then Lent begins.

    Like waking from the dark, damp rest of winter, we emerge from the season of Lent into new life.  Lent marks the 40 days that lead up to Easter, and during that time, the church remembers Jesus’ life, ministry and most especially, the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion.  During Lent, many churches use the color purple to cover the altar or the pulpit.  There might be times of fasting or prayers and services of healing.  Perhaps there is a Wednesday night meal and study for the church community.  Lent ends with three days that mark a single act of worship when we, with our brothers and sisters in Christ worldwide, observe and remember the last hours of Jesus’ life – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.

    Just as spring erupts with sudden bursts of bloom, we rise on “Easter Sunday” embracing the miracle of life after death.  Dead places are made new, and in the church we’ll see altar coverings change to white.  Perhaps where altars have been unadorned, there will be flowers galore.  Some churches even “bury the Alleluia” during the season of Lent but return to joyful shouts of Alleluia in Easter.

    Eastertide is its own season of the year, not just a single Sunday on the calendar, but 8 Sundays that lead to Pentecost.  In some churches, baptisms or confirmation happen as part of Eastertide celebrations.  The season unfolds as we explore what it means to recognize a living Christ.  Perhaps we don’t have all the hoopla as the single Sunday we’ve come to recognize as “Easter Sunday,” but each Sunday in the season is a celebration of the risen Christ.  As Spring as a season for planting and new growth, Eastertide is a season that sets the stage for the rest of our year.