Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Some Favorite Photos

In the spirit of being lazy (and because I have a few ideas that need some fleshing out), I submit for your viewing pleasure some favorite photographs of mine that I have taken over the years:

I captured this on Easter morning, 2005. I skipped the sunrise service because I slept in a bit, so I wandered down to the shore (i.e., I barely left my backyard) to take a few photos. Actually, the image on the header of this blog comes from that same morning.

This one comes from the Prague cathedral in the Prague Castle, taken Spring Break 2005.

From the same trip, only in St. Peter's in Vienna.

This is one of the foliage pictures I took this past fall, just around the Drew campus.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

For today, I decided to post my sermon that I preached on the 18th of February. My reasons for doing so are (a) I do want to share it with you all (b) I have a lot of reading left for the evening and (c) if I were to do a post it would be all about how much I hate living at Drew, and I'd rather be in a better frame of mind to reflect meaningfully on the situation rather than wanting to kneecap everyone in Facilities, Housing, and Residence Life for placing me in an apartment afflicted by carbon monoxide. So, in the interest of my own psychological well-being, we have: "With Our Faces Unveiled"

I can only imagine what it must have been like for Peter, James and John up on that mountain with Jesus. Everything seems normal, and then all of a sudden something incredible happens. Jesus changes, out of nowhere, Moses and Elijah appear! Now to the disciples, this would have been a big deal. Moses and Elijah weren’t just ordinary biblical characters, but foundational figures of the Jewish faith. It would be like a modern day baseball fan meeting Babe Ruth, or a classical music fanatic seeing Beethoven appear right in front of their eyes. Moses and Elijah to them were the stuff of legends. And on top of seeing Judaism’s spiritual dynamic duo, a cloud breaks forth, and God’s voice booms out over the mountain top. Now, what I wouldn’t give to hear God’s voice speaking to me!

We hear these kinds of stories all the time: stories about people who have had intense spiritual experiences. There are stories from the mystics, from our spiritual mothers and fathers, and from people who have had near death experiences, to name a few, and all of them in some way express their own personal encounter with Christ. One example comes from Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century Christian mystic who recorded the visions that she received. I want to share with you one of her visions which comes from her first collection of visions:

“I saw a great mountain the color of iron, and enthroned on it One of such great glory that it blinded my sight. On each side of him there extended a soft shadow, like a wing of wondrous breadth and length. Before him, at the foot of the mountain, stood an image full of eyes on all sides, in which, because of those eyes, I could discern no human form. In front of this image stood another, a child wearing a tunic of subdued color but white shoes, upon whose head such glory descended from the One enthroned upon that mountain that I could not look at its face. But from the One who sat enthroned upon that mountain many living sparks sprang forth, which flew very sweetly around the images. Also, I perceived in this mountain many little windows, in which appeared human heads, some of subdued colors and some white.”

Now, we all probably haven’t had experiences exactly like this one or times where the clouds break forth, angels descend, and we hear the voice of God speaking directly to us, but in some way we’ve likely had our own “mountain top experiences” – times when we have felt so close to God and energized by that presence that we felt as if Jesus was standing right there beside us. As Celtic Christians understood it, these are times when the veil between this world and the next seems thin, and communication happens between heaven and earth. In these moments, we get glimpses of the glory of God. We may feel this way during or after a spiritual retreat. It may be at the birth of a child. It may be after a deep conversation with a friend or a parent. We may even feel this way sometimes out in nature, or during a particularly moving worship service. Regardless of where and how, these “mountain top experiences” are times when we feel God with us. We feel, in some sense, “on top of the world.” We feel exhilarated. Enlivened. Invigorated. At peace. Refreshed.

These moments can be powerful. I’ve mentioned before how the SEARCH retreat that I went on earlier this year was a mountain-top experience for me, and I believe that others who were there that weekend would describe their experience similarly. It’s difficult to put it into words, except to say that God was truly present with us as we met at the retreat center (which, incidentally, was on the top of a mountain). Christ met us as we were gathered there to worship, to learn, to fellowship and to grow in our Christian faith. It was amazing to watch how a room of complete strangers came together and became Christ to one another through times of difficult sharing, times of worship, and times of laughter. God worked in very tangible ways that weekend. There was power in our encounter with Christ, but the real power was in the transformation that occurred as a result of that experience, which was youth and adults alike recommitting themselves to their spiritual lives.

There are other characters in the Bible who have had encounters with God that could be termed “mountain top experiences.” One such story is that of Moses as he came down from Mount Sinai in the 34th chapter of Exodus that we read today. Moses had been up on this mountain speaking with God, and God had been giving him some of the laws for the Israelites to follow. Moses was up on that mountain with God for 40 days and 40 nights, without eating or drinking anything. When Moses finally came down the mountain, he was carrying two stone tablets with the 10 commandments inscribed on them. What’s more, however, was that Moses’ face was glowing as he came down the mountain. But Aaron and the Israelites, instead of being happy that their leader had just returned, were afraid of him, which makes me think that Moses’ makeover wasn’t just the result of a new skin care product, or just because he just had a really great time chatting with God. No…I imagine it looked more like Moses had a radioactive accident up on that mountain – that his skin was literally glowing. His face shone because he had been up on the mountain with God, and he radiated with the residue of the shining brilliance of God’s glory. This change in Moses’ complexion frightened his brother Aaron and all the Israelites, so much so that they were afraid to get close to him and that Moses had to walk around with a veil over his face. He would take this veil off whenever he went to talk to God, but when he was out in public, that veil went right back on.

As this story suggests to us, there is something tangibly different about those who have encountered the glory of God, and who have allowed that encounter to transform their lives. It doesn’t matter if the experience was brilliant, like Moses coming down off the mountain, or something more subtle, like a night star-gazing with friends or holding a child as they fall asleep in your arms. What truly matters is how those encounters get under our skin; how we, in those moments, let Christ enter in. This change shouldn’t merely happen inside of us, but be noticeable to those around us.

Contrast Moses’ visible, physical sign of transformation with Peter, James, and John, who went up the mountain with Jesus and witnessed him in all his glory. As if watching Jesus’ face change wasn’t dramatic enough, they too had God speak directly to them, saying “This is my Son, My Chosen, Listen to him!” Peter even wanted to stay up on that mountain indefinitely by asking to put up tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah; he wanted to bask in the glory of that moment. And yet, when they came down the mountain, nothing about them had changed. The disciples were no different than they were before. They couldn’t even cast out the spirit from the afflicted boy – Jesus had to do it for them. The people down on the ground were astounded by this miracle, and yet the three disciples had just witnessed something that was far greater…and it didn’t affect them. What could have been a transforming experience for the disciples became just another ordinary event. Their encounter with Christ didn’t change them at all.

Change, understandably, can be scary and unsettling. For instance, take the Israelites’ reaction to Moses. They were afraid of his physical transformation. But why? Were they afraid that it was more than just Moses’ face that had changed? Were they worried that somehow, Moses was a different person? And why did Moses accommodate that fear by wearing a veil around them?

I think we ask these same questions of ourselves when we come face to face with Christ. As Christians, we are called to live changed lives, but what does this change mean? Does this mean we are different people? That we are no longer ourselves? Who are we once we experience God’s glory? Do we, like Moses, wear a veil to shield others from the effects of the change within us?

Paul gives an answer to this question in 2 Corinthians. He says in 3:18: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” Let me say them again: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Allowing ourselves to be changed by encountering God means that, far from becoming different people, we are being transformed into people God created us to be. We are being transformed into the image of Christ. We are still ourselves; we are still the same people. The difference comes as we grow into the people God indented us to be: people with unveiled faces. With our unveiled faces, we are able to experience the fullness of God’s glory and reflect that glory to others. But if we keep our veils on, other people around us cannot see that glory.

“Mountain top experiences” aren’t something that we have every day, and we aren’t supposed to have them every day. We are called to live life off of the mountain. As soon as Jesus and his disciples climbed down the mountain, life went back to normal. He continued healing people, casting out demons, and his disciples continued to ask their questions. In the midst of mundane everyday life, these intense encounters with God tend to fade in our memories. So how do we live as people with our faces unveiled in the midst of everyday life? If these experiences lose their strength over time, how can we sustain ourselves?

Although Moses walked around with his veil on, his example points us in the right direction. He would take off his veil when he went to speak with God. It’s important that in God’s presence, we have our veils off. Even though life at times may cause us to wear a veil over our faces, we are completely free to be ourselves when we are before God, because God already knows us and loves us anyway! But just having our veils off before God isn’t enough. We also need to keep that regular communication with God: through prayer, through reading the Scriptures, through worship, and through fellowship with other Christians. These actions are all necessary to living life with our veils off our faces, because these encounters with God will also transform us into the image of Jesus Christ. The more often we do this, the easier it is to keep our veils off and the easier it is to live as a reflection of God’s glory.

As Christians, we are called to live our lives with unveiled faces. We are called to take those “mountain top experiences” – those sacred moments of our lives – and allow them to transform us into the image of Christ. We are called to live into the people who God created us to be. We are called to mirror the glory of Christ to those around us. This week I challenge all of us to keep the veil off of our faces, so that everyone might see Christ’s glory reflected in us. AMEN

Monday, February 26, 2007

My New Favorite Bible Verse

Psalm 58:8a: "Let [the wicked] be like the snail that dissolves into slime."

Great, isn't it? I stumbled across this beauty as part of my reading for my Psalms class. (This week's topic is Imagin/ing YHWH and Issues of Covenant.) But this one verse captured my attention. It's startlingly (and wonderfully) graphic. Don't you wish your enemies would dissolve into slime? Come on honest!

Just for fun, I turned to the United Methodist Hymnal to see (1) if it was in there and (2) if the liturgist or the congregation said it. Sadly, it's one of the psalms that got axed (though I don't know why, after all, we do say the end of Psalm 137, and that's not a pretty sight to think about!) I can just imagine someone proclaiming from a lectern, "Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime; like the untimely birth that never sees the sun." (The last half of that verse is just a little too harsh for my taste, though there are times when I wish my enemies had never been born).

We forget that these nasty little phrases sneak into our clean and pretty text. We also forget the Bible's little idiosyncrasies. Another favorite passage is Proverbs 26:11, which says "Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly." Fun, eh? Too bad we don't get these memory verses in Sunday School!

Anyone else have some favorite quirky passages?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

As the world turns...please don't let me fly off!

One of the blogs that I read on a consistent basis captured the state of my life in one simple sentence: "My life is again an emergency room that follows me wherever I go."

This woman gave me the words to articulate what I have been feeling for the past few weeks at the very least; it's a never-ending cycle of the pressing needs of the moment, and I am on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop, almost anticipating the mistimed juggle that causes the balls to fall, the one last card to topple the already tottering house of cards.

I dropped a job this week, which should help my gradual return to sanity, though it was a tough decision to make. I enjoyed making coffee for people, I enjoyed being hospitable, and I enjoyed the few hours it forced me to do work that needed to get done. Most of all, I enjoyed being around people for those seven hours in the Cafe each week. But I'm hoping the potential decrease in emotional stress of an introvert having to be "on" and the stress of just being somewhere at some designated time will dissipate and I can feel like my life is (somewhat) under control.

Not my control, of course, because I'm not really at the point of managing 12 credit hours (think a total of 48 hours combined work and classtime per week), church, planning a wedding, another (albeit limited) part-time job, life complications and so on and so forth in an efficient and effective manner (because this is only scratching the surface of life, the universe, and everything). I just can't do it; I'm barely clinging on to the world by my fingertips. Thank God for God. Not that God couldn't handle it with that extra job in there, but I was beginning to have my doubts. Unfortunately, I couldn't very well blame God for something I did to myself.

It wasn't until today that I resolved my squeamish reaction to the words "God never gives you more than you can handle." I know I've tried to use this as a rationalization for life in the past, but it has never quite sat right with me. It felt like a sweater that you desperately want to fit, but realize that you need to lose (or gain) a few pounds in just the right places for it to work. My pastor preached this Sunday on the "wilderness" and talked about the image of God up there doling out misery to people not working for him. Instead, God allows these experiences to happen (much like parents who see their children struggling but don't intervene so that they will learn) so that learning and growth can happen through spiritual struggling. God doesn't give us tough times, but God allows these times to happen for our benefit. As much as I would absolutely love God to take away the stresses and everything else that worries me (please, God?)...I know that won't happen. My task is to press on, pray a lot, learn to take it a bit easier on myself, and eat lots of chocolate. (Oh wait....darn Ben for giving up deserts for Lent....well, if chocolate becomes a meal, it isn't desert, right? :-) )

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Thanksgiving in February

Even though the tryptophan probably wore off several hours ago, I am still sleepy and drowsy after this evening's wonderfully successful Thanksgiving Dinner. Getting the turkey cooked was quite an adventure, primarily because... carbon monoxide detector went off. Again.

Now, this is the 5 billionth time this has happened (well, probably only the 6th). But this time, when the gentleman came over to take the reading, we got a definitive answer to our monoxide problem: it is the oven (not the stovetop!) that is generating lethal amounts of this gas. So we aren't supposed to use either the oven or the stove until Monday, when someone is going to come over and dismantle this thing to see what's wrong. Hopefully, I won't die before then (we aerated the place, so don't worry).

This posed a logistical problem in the turkey roasting, however. We were already an hour and a half into the cooking of this 20 lb. bird...and now we had to figure out where to finish it and how to get it there. We ended up at Ben's place for the afternoon, using a huge cardboard box to transport the thing in his car back to his place. Despite this mishap, we ended up with a gorgeous bird that was quite tasty. I'm looking forward to making turkey stock tomorrow.

In light of the exception I made in my Lenten Discipline for this community event...I'm not sure how veggie I really am going to be. We seriously have tons of leftover turkey, and we're planning on using the carcass for making broth...we probably have enough to make two crock pots full. Turkey soup, turkey sandwiches, turkey...everything. We will be eating turkey...for awhile. I am a vegetarian...minus the turkey.

The dinner was fun, and I enjoyed meeting a few friends of one of my friends who were visiting for the weekend. We hung out, cleaned, and played Apples to Apples! All in all, an enjoyable night. :-)

Friday, February 23, 2007

RevGalBlogPal Friday Five: Companions on the Way

Dante had Virgil as a guide. Before he had younger siblings, my oldest child had an imaginary friend named Patrick. Betsy had Tacy. Laura Ingalls depended on her brindle bulldog, Jack. All of them were companions on the way.

As we take the beginning steps of our journey through Lent, who would we take as a companion? Name five people, real or imaginary, you might like to have with you as guide or guardian or simply good friend.

Assuming God and Jesus and all that good stuff:

1) Ben, my fiancé. He's giving up meat with me, just as I'm doing some of his disciplines too.
2-3) There are a couple of friends here at seminary who are already some of my spiritual companions; I'd take them on my Lenten journey too.
4) Now this might sound a little silly, but I would take my dog Meyers with me. He's a St. Bernard who died a couple of years ago...
5) Anyone who would be willing to share my journey with me!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'm not late!

Technically, I haven't gone to bed yet, so this still counts as my daily blog post. :-)

The question then becomes: what of substance do I have to talk about? The answer: not much.

This week has been full and busy, with preaching my sermon on Sunday (thus all the work I normally would have done last Thursday/Friday/Saturday had to get done on Sunday/Monday. I can tell you, 3 does not go into 2 very well, especially when one of them is technically your Sabbath. So this week has not been a very restful one; I don't think I have gotten 8 hours of sleep each night. I try very hard to always get 8 hours in because I find I function a lot better if I get enough shut-eye. Ben (and others) appreciate it because I'm not so cranky, yet I've had a couple people say to me that they like the tired me. Who knows? The tired me usually has too much caffeine in her system to be of much use.

Looking ahead, life looks complicated. Children's sermon, reading and writing, youth Bible study, wedding planning...and I'm good for 6.5 tonight (I am not looking forward to getting up at 6:30 tomorrow morning, though sadly it is my last day at the Cyber Cafe *tear* :-( ). I just have to keep on keepin' on through the end of this week, and pray that I can scrape enough together so that I can truly rest on Monday.

Self care? What's that?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Megachurches and multicultural worship

Last link, I's about how megachurches are "desegregating" worship.

The Britney tell-all TV confessional: Who will get it?

I have prided myself on ignoring this stupid Britney affair. But I was intrigued as to how she would look like with her shaved head. In the process of searching for the photos, I found this article off of, speculating as to who will get the TV confessional. It's an amusing article, worth a look.


Registration is now open for emergingumc: a gathering. Hop on board! I'm definitely hoping to be there...

My Lenten Discipline

I'm finally taking the plunge.

No, I'm got getting a body piercing or a tattoo (though from time to time I ponder a nose piercing). I'm not going bungee jumping or skydiving, or anything dangerous like that. For Lent, I am giving up...meat. That's right. For 40 days (plus some change), I'm becoming a veggie.

Tonight, that was a big deal because for class we had dinner at a pub in Morristown. An Irish pub, no less. I kept staring and staring at that corned beef and cabbage line on the menu thinking, What in the world have I done to myself??? Day one: sorely tempted. But I managed to gather myself together and order one of the (very) few meatless items on the menu: fresh mozzarella and tomato salad. At an Irish pub. (sighs)

For as long as I can remember I've given up something for Lent - usually soda, candy, chocolate, ice cream...things of that nature. For the past couple of years I've added something as well: praying for 30 minutes every day, praying the offices, etc...something like that.

I don't think I've ever done given up something that has challenged me like this before. It's going to be one long season ('s not even total, because there's a 20 lb. turkey that is going to be eaten on Saturday. So it'll be a vegetarian some turkey).

Anyhow, because blogging has become somewhat of a spiritual discipline for me (at least, some of the more serious posts), I will be posting every day (not necessarily on this site. I might wander back into my livejournal for some friend-locked posts that are more sensitive). I have a feeling that this is going to be another challenging Lent activity.

Third and final Lenten discipline: 20 minutes of silent meditation everyday. Another challenge for me.

I pray that this Lent isn't going to kick my butt, but I pray that it will stretch and push me in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"I like big Bibles and I cannot lie..."

For those fans of Baby Got Back, you might want to check this out. (And, even if you aren't a fan, you still need to take a look!)

Friday, February 16, 2007

More Wisdom from Mutts

Oh how true...

The Misplaced Mystic

You know you're a seminarian when you freak out over misplacing a copy of Hildegard of Bingen's Scivias that you were going to use as a sermon illustration...

...only to find out that your fiancé has it in his safekeeping.

Friday, February 09, 2007

RevGalBlogPal Friday Five: American Idol Edition

1) If I could sing like anyone, it would be ... Norah Jones. I love her voice; it's so expressive. I don't think I could pull this off (not in a million years) but it's fun to dream anyway.

2) I would love to sing the song ... "Don't Know Why." She does a fantastic job of it on her first album. Actually, if I had tried out for the a capella group I wanted to my senior year of college, that would have been the song.

3) It would be really cool to sing at ... oh, I don't know. Not in front of lots of people (though if I had a voice like hers, I suppose it wouldn't be a problem)!

4) If I could sing a dream duet it would be with ... I have two: Tony Bennett, or Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay.

5) If I could sing on a TV or radio show, it would be ... not American Idol! (I wouldn't want to humiliate myself). If I was good, and a good dancer, and had a good stage presence, the new Grease show would be fun (though Grease isn't one of my favorite musicals).

EDIT: Reading Songbird's Friday Five made me realize that I, too, would love to sing with
Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Religion and the Social Process: An Introduction

It appears to me that for the time being, there are going to be two consistent threads running throughout most of my blog posts. On thread centers on the theological implications of Get Fuzzy. The other will be about thoughts from one of my classes this semester called "Church and Society 401: Religion and the Social Process." To give you an idea of the class, it's affectionately known around campus as...Oppression 101. And many white heterosexual males tremble at the thought!

However, I'm really looking forward to the experience (and I know white males who have come through unscathed and who truly enjoyed the class). We'll be dealing with a lot of "-isms" (sadly, not evangelism...though as my previous post suggests, even evangelism can be used to oppress people). We'll be talking about racism, sexism, ecumenism, ableism...the list goes on.

After only two classes, I have almost a full page of snippets of potential blog posts that strike me during lecture. Often I'll only have time to jot down a quote and a few accompanying thoughts, but hopefully I'll pick one or two and try to flesh them out a bit.

Honestly, right now I don't have the energy for it. I, like a good seminarian, am practicing self-care and going to bed. So much for finishing my reading on conflict management...who needs it anyway? It's not like there's ever any conflict in the church... ;-)

Truths from Get Fuzzy (First Installment)

I must admit, I am a relatively new reader to the comic strip Get Fuzzy. It wasn't in my paper growing up, although for the brief time we subscribed to the Boston Globe I read it. I truly became a fan my senior year in college, when a friend pointed it out to me. I immediately became an avid reader; one of the few strips that I make a point to read every single day.

These strips that always make me laugh, but more often than not I read a strip that also makes me think. Today's Get Fuzzy strip from my one-a-day calendar
falls into that category. So from time to time I will be posting strips that are thought-provoking for me (hence the "First Installment" in the title).

Unfortunately, I think that this characterization of door-to-door evangelists is all too often the truth. These folks might care about the people they are evangelizing (and given their context I'm sure they believe they do), but it seems that they are also after something more tangible: your money, or the confirmation that your soul is going to heaven and the commitment to attend their particular denomination's church. They aren't really there for your benefit; they're there to get something from you.

Door-to-door evangelism needs to be revived and renewed in the United Methodist Church. We should be out there, meeting individuals in our communities so that we can better serve our neighbors. We shouldn't be out there to beat the Bible over someone's head, or to ask them to pledge money for our new building, or to ask them "do you know where you will go?" We should be out there discovering what people need - talking to them to find out how we can serve them and not ourselves.

I think the other truth that this strip unveils is: in what people are placing their hope? Not God. Satchel's response to the question "do you believe in an infallible power?" ("You mean like Google?"), while funny, is revealing. Even we as Christians all too often place our hope and trust in other things above God: technology, popular culture, the media, the, alcohol, and other addictions, (and I know far too many Christians who inappropriately appeal to these three), and the list goes on from there.

So we need to remember first of all where our ultimate hope, trust, and faith lies - with God revealed in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Secondly, the Church needs to serve our communities as opposed to being self-serving. Through serving others (by actually asking what their needs are!) we are showing and sharing the love of Christ with our neighbors.

Friday, February 02, 2007

My 7 Villages Page

I have been playing around with the new United Methodist Church website. Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in the dialogue session open to UM bloggers, but here and there I've managed to pick up a few things about the site.

One of the more interesting features (at least to me and what I've seen so far) is the 7 Villages network. As Beth Quick points out, "it's certainly no myspace," but as far as I know, it's still in the beta stage. But I think something like this could revolutionize how our denomination communicates. Just seeing the connections happen over at The Methoblog, there is some serious potential for doing some really neat things.

Anyhow, I'm just going to plug my page: Stop on by!