Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Be Quiet

Tonight, after the rain, could you hear the crickets? It was so beautiful. We turned off the A/C, and opened a few windows. Nora was asleep and Marcus had gone to the grocery store. I finished the dinner dishes and made some phone calls. Then I lit a couple of candles and just sat and listened to the crickets.

I don't do that enough. I mean, who really has time most days to just sit around and enjoy the sounds, the smells?

Be still, the voice says, and know that I am God.
But it's the being still part that's so hard for me.
I sit down and immediately all I can think of ten things that I should be doing.

In our staff meeting yesterday, I shared this poem called Let it Heal by Ruth Foreman.
It begins...

Listen to the song and let it tell you how
be quiet be quiet be still
let the angels put their hands on where it hurts and
smooth be quiet be still
ask for prayers around you and bathe in song
be quiet be quiet be still
sit in children's laughter twice a day
be quiet be quiet be still
leave your thoughts for another time
wrap yourself in daylight
knit yourself a friend tighter than you imagined
let good people close to you
move away from those that suck from you
be safe be quiet be still

Be quiet. Be still.
Be still and know that I am God.
Tonight, after the rain, could you hear the crickets?

Katrina Revisited

By the Waters of the Levee
(Inspired by Psalm 137)
by Lyne Stull-Lipps

By the waters of the levee we sit and weep
as we remembered our homes.
Having lost our accordions, our fiddles,
our family pictures, our journals where we recorded the stories of our lives…
we huddle in arenas
waiting for food and water to arrive.

Our rescuers ask us to be patient,
help is on its way,
sing a song to bide the time.
But how can we sing songs,
when all we have,
our past and our future,
is buried in the deluge?

How can we play our Zydeco and our Jazz,
when around us lie the dead and the dying?
Let our hearts sorrow…
in time they will be healed.

We will remember our cities;
we will honor our towns;
we will rebuild our neighborhoods.
And one day, when the crisis has passed,
we will tell again the stories,
and play once more the music of our city.

This was beautifully read as part of our Katrina rememberance service on Sunday by Katie Whitley. Katie is originally from New Orleans, and she took in her brother and sister-in-law, Bill and Evelyn Porter, and Evelyn's daughter and family after Katrina. We heard from Evelyn and from Hildebrand Ebanks, who evacuated from New Orleans and has become part of our church family. We also took up and offering for the United Methodist Committee on Relief for their rebuilding efforts in the Gulf region.

We must not forget the suffering, the need, the injustices. And we also celebrate the stories of hope and healing that have come out of the disaster of Hurricane Katrina this past year.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"The View From the Top of the Mountain"

The most recent Newsweek has a beautiful article about the aging Billy Graham and how time and life and the nearness of death have changed his perspective on many things theological and political. The article is a very brief retrospective on this evangelical icon, but it doesn't shy away from reflecting on his failures as well as his incredible contributions. "Graham's tranquil voice, though growing fainter, has rarely been more relevant." How true that is--and how I wish that there were more religious leaders committed to a message of grace, truth, love and mystery.

One quote from the article that I love:
"It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be [in heaven] and who won't. [God] gave his son for the whole world and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have."

As Jews and Muslims struggle violently in the Middle East, as terrorists misuse Islam to justify hatred and violence, as fundamentalists of every faith seek to define God by their own narrow view--what a powerful idea that is. Yes, the world needs more Christians like Billy Graham.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sports Hero?

Note to self: be careful who your positive examples are in any and all sermons. And be extra cautious when using examples from the world of sports.

A few weeks ago, in a sermon on strengths and weaknesses, (for which the text was 2 Corinthians 12:2-10) I talked about the then-favorite to win the Tour de France, American rider Floyd Landis. I had read a really good article about him in the paper that talked about his Mennonite background, how hard-working and disciplined he was, and what an all-around good guy he seemed to be. I was particularly impressed with this part:

Says Phonak team member Robert Hunter: "In many instances he hasn't been prepared to totally waste the team for his own benefit. . . . He's always thinking of the team's consideration before thinking of himself. Then that makes us say, 'Don't think about us.' " But there's an upside: "A lot of the time the guys end up sacrificing more for him." Still, Landis seems uncomfortable with aiming for his own achievement at the expense of his teammates.

I thought this was a really great illustration for the point I was trying to make--that sometimes the things that seem like weaknesses can sometimes be an opportunity for God to do great things. And sometimes what our culture defines as weakness (humility, sacrifice, service...) is actually where God can make us strong.

Now, in general I stay away from talking about sports in sermons for two reasons:

1) I basically think that our national obession with sports is ridiculous, a waste of time, and a terrible wast of money.

2) Barry Bonds, Kobe Bryant, OJ I need to go on?

But this guy seemed different. A selfless, team player, and a Christian (or at least raised as one). Well, things aren't as they seem I guess. Because last week Landis tested positive for doping and on Saturday it was announced that his second sample also came back positive.

I felt duped. And sad. I had bought the whole Floyd Landis package about him being the next Lance Armstrong and making us proud as a country because he was a great cyclist and a great person, too, but I guess he's just another competitive athlete who will do anything to win, even if it means cheating. He still denys that he did anything illegal, but even if he is able to prove his innocence, his career is over.

And I felt foolish for ever bringing his name into a sermon as an example of someone we might want to look up to.

Upon further reflection, however, I think that the message still stands. In fact, maybe Floyd Landis is an even better example now. You see, when we allow God to enter into our weakness, God's power can be seen more clearly, and the more we try and use our own power to achieve success or glory, the more humbling it will be when we fail. (Particularly if we are in the international limelight when it happens.) People are essentially human--we mess up and let each other down and make mistakes and look foolish. And that's where God comes in. God makes us stronger in our weaknesses, and sometimes humbles us so we can remember the source of our strength, the purpose of our being. And that's equally true whether we are cyclists or preachers.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Life-Raft Friends

This past week, one of my best friends in the world came through town and stayed with us. I first met Erik at an interview weekend for a fellowship at Candler School of Theology--that means that we were competitors for a coveteted chunk of scholarship money. (As it turns out, we both got one, so it was OK.) But from the moment I met Erik, his warmth, faith, passion, even his gross sense of humor made me adore him.

During our first year of seminary we lived just a couple of doors down from each other so we (and our roomates, Amy-Ellen and Jimmy) were practically inseparable. Through Old Testament classes, new romances, break-ups, and Contextual Education, these were the friends that I laughed, cried and sang karaoke with in order to stay sane.

Since we graduated, I got married, became a pastor and had a child, and I guess I have gotten somewhat settled. But Erik had to do two more years of seminary training in New Jersey and then Philadelphia, moved to Atlanta to be with his love and searched for work, broke up with love and moved to DC for a job, moved back to Atlanta and is about to embark on an exciting new journey (finally--yipee!!) pastoring a church in Chicago. During that time we have been lucky to have seen a good bit of Erik when he's in town.

This last visit, he got to our new house late Saturday night and was telling us about his trip. Along the way, he said, the thought came to him: Rachel and Marcus are my life-raft friends. Because when the storms of his life have raged, Erik has often sought, and found, refuge with us.
It's a privilege to be a life-raft for a dear friend, because keeping them afloat brings you up, too. And Erik certainly has been a life-raft friend for me, too. The best thing of all is knowing that you have people like that in your life--people you can depend on, crash with, cry to, laugh with, pray with. Thanks Erik. And thank you, God, for friends like that.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Painting Party

We sold our house this week.

I guess I am supposed to feel happy about that, but it was a very bittersweet thing, actually. While we were sitting at this table in the settlement office with the young, newlywed couple who bought our house, as well as our giddy real estate agents, and some other official people taking their cut of the deal and signing piles of papers, Marcus and I both said, at least 3 or 4 times, "we really loved this house--we hope you will, too" or "it's a great neighborhood, we hope you'll enjoy living there." It was probably kind of annoying for them, but we were feeling nostalgic and sad and a little bit like we were leaving our hip, carefree urban life to be older, mature, responsible parents who have moved to the suburbs (sigh).

We asked them when they were planning to move in and the woman of the couple told us: "In a couple of weeks. This weekend we are going to have a painting party with my parents--they like to do that kind of thing. Oh, and sorry...the clouds are going to be the first thing to go."

You see, when we turned our study into a crib room for Nora, I had Marcus paint the ceiling a bright sky blue. Then I made clouds with white paint and a sponge. It was so cute. But of course I didn't expect that the new owners would necessarily want to keep the clouds. I also knew that they probably wouldn't keep the bright yellow rubber ducky bathroom, and they might even want to change the purple and green bedrooms. It's their house now, and they can and should do whatever they want. But I don't want to hear about it!

Here I was feeling kind of sad and nostalgic and homesick and this chick was talking about how she was going to redecorate MY HOUSE!

The next day--after I had thought about it for a while--it occured to me that it might be a message from God. Maybe it was God's not-so-subtle way of giving me a word of caution about how and when to inititate changes in this new place where I am living. And I don't mean the parsonage--I mean the church.

Lots of people have told me that they are looking forward to changes, and most people, I think, are supportive of change, because some change can be a really good thing. But the key is in the timing and approach. I hope that I am being sensitive to any grief that people may have about the change in leadership at Woodside, and that as we talk about things that may be different in the future I am building support for those changes and not just busting in and redecorating.

I think there will be some "rooms to repaint" at Woodside, but I am not buying the house--I'm moving in! So I hope it will be a painting party that everyone will want to be a part of. I sure wouldn't want to try and do it alone! do you feel about the color red?