Friday, December 28, 2007
One of my birthday gifts from God last night was that a couple I met nearly choked on their appetizers when I told them I am a pastor and their eyes got even wider when I answered their question of "how long" by answering "Eleven years." She commented "you have a very young face."
Thanks be to God.
I must say I am totally surprised at the fact that I am struggling with this age thing. I was raised by parents who both look younger than their years and never paid lots of attention to age. My favorite story about my Dad is the year he turned 50. I was backpacking in Europe with college friends. We had a rotation system for calling home, with each of us taking a turn calling our family, and then the families doing a round robing check in using much cheaper phone rates. On the Friday before my Dad's birthday, it was my turn to call. As I signed off, I said "OK Dad, I'll talk to you on Monday." My mother reported that all weekend, my Dad was muttering "why is she calling on Monday?" When my mother wished him a Happy Birthday on Monday morning, his reply was "THAT'S why Amy is calling again today."
I had always thought I would age in the same way. But I am finding that much of my identity was wrapped up in being "young." I went from being a "young adult" to being "young clergy." Now, I don't qualify for any of those categories... and 40 sounds soooo much younger than it used to! So the adjustment for me has been to shift my own sense of identity, and to embrace who I am now.
And honestly, I am enjoying the adventure. I think now that I have gotten beyond the adjustment to being 35, I can handle things for at least the next handful of years. I am finding that I enjoy adulthood (with no qualifications) quite a bit.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
This has left me with something of a passion for being intentional about sharing methods of prayer. There are so many. I find it is common in the church for the subject of prayer to have a lot of assumptions surrounding it, the boldest assumption being that everyone already knows how to pray.
So I cannot remember how I came across this method, but I find it is mysteriously wonderful. For a long while, several years ago, I was in the habit taking time in silent prayer in which I would ask God "who do I need to pray for?" Very often, the most random of people would come to mind, and I would pray for them.
Here's one of the things I have discovered about prayer: I get bored with the same way of praying. So I change forms to avoid boredom; if I get bored, I will simply stop praying.
The really interesting thing is that this is one technique God has not let me stop using. By that I mean I have learned to trust that when people pop into my mind out of the blue, I pray for them.
And over the course of the past 2 months, on five different Sundays as I have been sitting in silence to prepare for worship, God has brought someone to mind. In each case, that person has been in worship that morning, very often someone who has been away for some reason.
Prayer is indeed a mysterious thing.
Friday, December 21, 2007
The Mary Randall Center, at 401 North St. in Elkton, was purchased by Meeting Ground (by the grace of God). It is commercially zoned, centrally located, and was made possible by a large donation in memory of its namesake. The mission of the Mary Randall Center is to provide a space during the day for people experiencing homelessness or on the brink of becoming homeless, offering life-skills workshops, Bible study, and resources to help people. It would get people off of the streets during the day, and give them the opportunity to put their lives together. It is a gift from God.
However, the Town of Elkton does not seem to agree. Despite the Meeting Ground's careful attention to buying a commercially zoned property, they have ruled that a special variance is required. They have denied all building and occupancy permits. This means that not even a bathroom facility can be completed, and thus the house cannot even be used for office space for Meeting Ground staff.
It looked to me as though more than 100 people turned out for the rally and march. I was especially proud to be pastor of this church family, because at least 15 members of our community of faith were there, including three children (2 mine), two teenagers, and two people who dedicate their vocational life to this mission by working full time for Meeting Ground. People shared testimony. We walked through Elkton. We even had the blessing of a police escort to stop traffic at intersections. We broke bread together at the Community Kitchen.
I don't know what this road ahead will look like, but I am confident of the outcome. God will not let this injustice stand. I am buoyed not only by faith, but by knowledge of the past. Every time Meeting Ground has purchased a facility in Cecil County, they have had to fight in court in order to open. Every time, Meeting Ground has won. (If I were a town of Elkton tax payer, I would be none too happy that my tax dollars might get wasted on a futile effort)
I have sent email letters to the mayor and three of four town council members (one does not appear to have email) I encourage you to do the same. Regardless of where you live, express your opinion as someone who lives in Elkton, shops in Elkton, or as a person in the world beyond Elkton to let them know this is an issue that carries far beyond the boundaries of the town. (Of course, actual town residents who vote will have the most sway... so if you are one, please write)
Mayor Fisona: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Charles Givens: email@example.com
Mrs. MaryJo Jablonksi: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Earl Piner: email@example.com
As I looked around the circle of closing prayer today, I saw God's people, from all walks of life and of varying beliefs, gathered in sacred community. I am grateful to God to be able to witness this, and to be able to share this with my children.
In the Spirit of Advent I say "Come, Lord Jesus."
Friday, December 14, 2007
The news that he has cancer of the esophagus and liver has been with us now for several weeks. Most of the conversations I have with folks in our church family involve tears...mine and theirs. As you would expect from a man of deep faith and discipleship, he is both fully in touch with his mortality and his faith. He keeps hearing the Lord tell him "just trust me" which makes me cry all over again in awe of this trust.
When I first got the news, my reaction was shock. That was almost immediately followed by spending a morning in a tearful heap. Now that has given way to a deeper understanding of the "peace that passes all understanding" from the verses I love so much in Philippians 4:4-7. I really do believe that God will carry us through all of the pain, change, and joy that lies ahead.
Bud has been through one chemo treatment, and has had a port put in. He tolerated the first treatment well, and he is hopeful for the future. It may be stage 4 cancer, but he is not going anywhere soon. I find I am buoyed by his hope.
I just keep thinking about all of the ways he blesses so many in our community...both within the church and beyond. Just today I was talking (and crying) with another woman in the church. She told me a story I had never heard- when she was in financial straits a few years ago, Bud knew she was trying to get a loan to pay off the medical and other bills. He asked her how things were going, and she shared that she had been declined for the loan. His response? He went immediately to the bank and co-signed for her.
I could tell dozens more stories of how Bud has followed Jesus in tangible ways. And I have only known him for 4 1/2 years. His hospital visitation and service as treasurer for administering funds for folks in crisis create stories every week. As time goes on, I expect that I will hear an avalanche of stories of how Bud has blessed person after person in our community and beyond.
I think the most precious gift a pastor receives is the gift of serving in meaningful relationship with folks in the church... folks who give themselves over completely to living the gospel. Bud is such a person. I am so grateful for him, perhaps now more than ever.
It is official. My baking desires have taken over. I love to bake. I have baked cookies Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night this week. I have made sugar cookies; they are in my freezer waiting to be frosted. I have made white chocolate chip shortbread cookies; they are going fast. Last night I had a sudden craving for these cookies (while I was taking a yoga class...I don't think that says good things about my meditative practices...)
Since this is what has been on my mind this week, I am sharing the recipe I made last night. (I don't have the other ones handy at the moment...perhaps I will share those later) I don't use very impressive recipes. I got this from the internet. The white chocolate came from the Toll House bag... you get the idea. I just enjoy baking.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal No Bake Cookies:
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups oatmeal
Mix the sugar and cocoa in a heavy saucepan. Add the butter and milk. Bring to a boil, but do not boil longer than one minute.
Add vanilla, peanut butter and oatmeal. Stir till completely mixed.
Before the mixture cools down, quickly drop spoonfuls on waxed paper to set.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
I read an article a few years ago about this phrase. It made two interesting points. First, it is impossible to find the "saint" in Christian history who supposedly coined the phrase. Second, that this appears no place in Scripture.
The author of the article literally tracked through dozens of books and publications, tracing their footnotes, looking for the original source of this phrase. It had been credited to everyone from St. Augustine of the 5th Century, to John Wesley, the 18th Century founder of Methodism, to John Wesley's mother. All told, the writer found more than 20 different citations citing as many sources for this phrase, none of which turned out to be true!
The author went on to note that a survey of the average American walking down the street would probably be nearly certain that this phrase appears somewhere in the Bible. It does not.
He went on to make an excellent point: if anything, the opposite truth is found in Scripture. God helps those who rely on God. God helps those who cry out for help. God helps those who need grace. I think this is why the writer could not find "God helps those who help themselves" in any writings of saints. They all know that the opposite is true.
I was sharing this in a sermon two weeks ago. There is a family in our community of faith who have been doing amazing things with their elementary school age kids. They are teaching them how to get into worship in a traditional setting. They have begun reading and singing the hymns, and saying the prayers, and listening to the sermon, and even talking about the sermon later. (As you can imagine, this warms my heart and gives me great hope.)
So imagine my joy today when the mother emailed me to say that her daughter came home flustered from having a substitute teacher that day in school. Apparently, her regular teacher encourages students to help one another. (I think this is fabulous. What a great way to encourage team work, shared learning, and generally looking out for one another.) The substitute was not accustomed to this type of goings on in the classroom, and was fussing at one of the students for being helpful. The substitute used the phrase"God helps those who help themselves" in her admonishment.
The daughter came home and said "but Mommy, Pastor Amy said that is not true, didn't she?" And it opened the way for another conversation on the topic.
I visited with a grieving family today. I shared my thoughts on the importance of feeling emotions, and of teaching our children (especially our boys) that it is OK to cry, to feel bad and sad and angry and guilty and all of the things that accompany things like an untimely death. How much better would the world be if we stopped pretending that we humans have no vulnerabilities, that "God helps those who help themselves" and instead live in the truth that God helps those who cry out for help?