Monday, March 30, 2009

It's no wonder we've got a national weight problem!

I didn't watch TV for about 20 years. I didn't think I was missing all that much. In the last 18 months or so, I've become a TV fan again. We don't have anything flash like a Tivo or a DVR, so that means that we're watching all the TV. We get to watch the shows we like AND the commercials. We've got a thing for House, but other than that most of what we watch comes on the Food Network.

What we see on The Food Network are many food commercials. I've come to categorize them in two broad categories. First, there are the "food is dangerous and it must be resisted" commercials. Think here of all of the diet food commercials. They are the ones that try to push non-food low-cal fat-free alternatives on us. Then, there are the crazy "just indulge yourself" commercials. My least favorite one in this genre shows an Oreo truck driving through a city. It is chased by zillions of Oreo-crazed women, who finally overpower the truck, pull boxes of Oreos off the truck, and start bingeing on the oreos in the street.

Very few food commercials (though I'll admit, I've not taken the scientific method here) seem to be simply about food. Food is either something to be treated with suspicion or something to be consumed in immoderation. It's no wonder we've got a national weight problem.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sermon Ponderings, Lent 5

The Gospel John 12:20-33:
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-- `Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
This sermon could take two directions, and despite the fact that it's 10:48 on Saturday night, I'm still undecided about which direction to take. And, I fear that the ideas are too disparate to blend them into one sermon.

Whichever direction, the sermon ultimately takes, this introduction will work. It's important to note that some who have studied John's Gospel talk about it's having two distinct books or sections. The first section is the Book of Signs. It begins with the opening and then moves into the miracles. Those start with Jesus' changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana and it ends with the raising of Lazarus (with a bunch of other signs in between). The second section is the Book of Glory, which begins immediately after the raising of Lazarus in John 12. Mary anoints Jesus with nard (and makes Judas angry). The authorities plot to kill Lazarus. Jesus rides into Jerusalem in triumph. And then this passage. The Greeks come to see Jesus. And Jesus responds (as he often does in John's Gospel) with metaphorical language.

The first direction has to do with the Greeks who come looking for Jesus. There's much scholarly debate about who the Greeks are. The could be converts to Judaism who chose not to be circumcised. Or they could be a group called "The God-Fearers." Whoever they are - they are not Jews, they are not the usual followers of Jesus. And, they seem to be completely uncertain about how to proceed.

I wonder who comes to us, wanting to see Jesus? We've been reading
The Shack as part of our Lenten book study. One of the broader critiques of the book is that it doesn't treat the church, as institution, very kindly. In fact, if anything, it's pretty negative about "Church."

How do we show the people who come to us in this building, or the people we encounter in our lives, Jesus?

The other option could take the seed image and run with that. I learned today about a lesson in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (a Sunday School program) where you plant a series of seeds, with each planting being one week apart. At the end, you dig them all up. And what the kids see is that as the seeds germinate, and the plant develops, the seed literally vanishes. After all, one planted bean yields a plant on which many bean pod grows. It's the same with virtually every seed. One kernel of corn yiels many ears. One tomato seeds yields a plant with many tomatoes.

As followers of Jesus, we're called to die to our selves, so that we, like the seed, will yield much. That feels like one of those cliches that doesn't actually mean anything. It need some nice concrete examples to liven it up. And I am feeling fresh out of concrete examples.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Story Corps

I've been a Story Corps fan for years. For a long time, I had Story Corps podcasts on my iPod. But, when I stopped driving all over the UP, I just didn't have enough car time for all of my podcasts, so I deleted many of them, including Story Corps.

If you're not familiar with Story Corps, it's a huge oral history project. Pairs of people go into the booth and one interviews the other (or they interview each other) for 40 minutes. At the end of the interview, they get a CD of the interview. And, if they choose, they can sign a release that also gives a copy to the Library of Congress and gives NPR consent to broadcast a small segment in a Story Corps segment.

The mobile Story Corps booth is coming to Berlin. It's going to be in town from June 4-27. And, St. Barnabas gets to be a community partner. That means that the church will have a certain number of reserved appointments. And, I get to spend the next three months talking up Story Corps and encouraging people to tell their stories. I'm hoping I can talk my mom into going into the Story Corps booth with me. (I'd say it's a 50/50 chance, really!)

Today, I went to the community partners' planning meeting. I was such a fan. I totally chatted up the cute girl who works for New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) and the one who works for Story Corps. They were both great.

So, I've been a giddy fan-girl all day. But, I'm such a nerd that I am a Story Corps fan-girl.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesdays: The most fun day in my week

Wednesdays rock.

St. Barnabas has a 10AM midweek Eucharist on Wednesdays. It's a small group; they are faithful and very engaged. We often sit for 30-40 minutes after the service and discuss the saint of the day, the readings, and what message we each heard. Ken, who is 85, sometimes tells WWII stories. Some of the other folks, mostly life-long Berlin residents, tell stories from their earlier years.

Eventually, some of the ladies head off to deal with all of the altar guild stuff. They clear up the chapel from the Wednesday service and they set up in the main sanctuary for the Sunday service. I wander around, get in the way, and make them laugh.

Then, a group of us go out to lunch. At lunch, we continue to visit and tell stories. I hear how people are. They update me on health concerns and life events. I learn about children and grandchildren (and even in some cases, great grandchildren). G and L bicker back and forth, much to our amusement (because we all know they really love each other). I learn more St. Barnabas history. I learn about the old days of Berlin. We laugh, we tease, we eat from a communal vat of onion rings. Today, G stole baked beans off my plate, while I ate Little Betty's potato chips.

Wednesdays aren't the most productive of my days. But they are so much fun. I love the conversation, the companionship, the playfulness. And, I love the way Wednesdays have helped me to deepen my relationship with a wonderful group of folks.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I hate being sick

When I was a kid, I was sick all the time. I think some of it came from having a seriously overprotective mom. If I sniffed once, I'd stay home from school for days. I'd camp out on the couch, read books, watch TV, and get snacks like pudding, saltines, and ginger ale. In Junior High, as the overweight, unpopular, nerdy kid, school was a misery. I think I missed close to 90 days in 8th grade - and still got great grades. All I had to do was say that I wasn't feeling well, and I got to stay home.

High school was better, and I got sick way less, but certainly some. Every year in college I got a horrific case of bronchitis that lasted for weeks each spring.

Somehow, as I got older, I got healthier. In recent years, I have rarely been sick. I hardly ever took a sick day at the bookstore. And, I don't remember really being sick at all during seminary. In fact, the only recent illnesses I remember are getting a killer cold in the summer of 2005 in New Zealand, and something that was probably food poisoning on a cruise in 2007.

Last week's cold was certainly not the worst cold of my life. In fact, as colds go, it was pretty mild. (It did prove to be seriously contagious - I know that I passed it on to at least three other folks - I am so sorry!) The worst part of this cold was the way that it sapped my energy. All I wanted to do for more than a week was sleep. I didn't run. I didn't write in my blog. I worked, I read, I slept. That's it.

I'm still feeling more tired than I am used to - and watching Michelle, who is about a week behind me in this cold, I can see that it's affecting her the same way. So, I'm being good about going to bed earlier than usual, and trying to take care of myself.

It feels good to be back.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

3 Things Meme

1. Fran
2. Frannie
3. 'Cesca [This is the diminutive of Francesca (which is not, by the way, my legal name!), adopted by my college roommate Christine, aka Chrissie]

1. Bookseller (and Bookstore Manager)
2. Priest
3. Kindergarten Teacher [the worst two years of my life]

1. Greenfield, MA
2. Alexandria, VA
3. Ontonagon, MI [I knew I'd actually made Onto home when I could spell it without having to stop and think about it.]

1. Iron Chef America
2. House
3. Chopped

1. The UP
2. New Zealand
3. The National Parks of the American Southwest

1. Yellowstone
2. Rome
3. Paris

1. Anything Thai
2. Sushi
3. Enchiladas made with soy cheese, black beans, quinoa, and spinach

1. being part of the Cohorting group for Ministry Developers
2. planting our garden
3. running a 1oK sometime this summer

1. clean the house
2. deal with paperwork
3. throw up

1. Facebook
2. play videogames
3. daydream

1. Elton John at the Worcester Centrum (back in the mid-to-late 1980s)
2. The Newport Folk Festival in 1991 or 1992 - I believe that it was the first time that the Indigo Girls and Joan Baez appeared on stage together
3. Cris Williamson in Provincetown - we met her the next day in the parking lot of the Post Office immediately after my girlfriend locked our keys in the car.

1. Chloe - my first adult pet, a tiger cat from the Greenfield Area Animal Shelter
2. Sam - my current cat
3. Birdie, our dog

1. Martha
2. Margret
3. Michelle

Sunday, March 15, 2009

No Sermon for Lent 3

I didn't have to preach today. Sr. Monique visited St. Barnabas and preached for us. She was wonderful. Her sermon focused on Jesus' cleansing of the temple. She did a great job of getting us all there in the temple with stories about growing up with farm animals and doves. We could all imagine the smells and sounds by the time she was done. She also talked about her immigrant parents helping to build the church of her childhood and talked about the immigrants who built St. Barnabas stone by stone. Then, she encouraged us to honor the temple by carrying on their work of being the presence of Christ in the community of Berlin.

It was also fun to share Sunday morning with Monique. She's such a joy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Technology and Religion/Prayer/Spirituality

My friend Lisa pointed me to an article online about Twittering in church. Another online discussion I observed recently discussed whether using an online site for the Daily Office (my favorite is at Mission St. Clare) was really prayer.

These two stories share a common kernel, which seems to me to be: What is the role of technology in the life of faith?

I'm less concerned about whether Twittering is "appropriate" in church than I am about whether Twittering in church promotes or blocks community. I watched the Inaugural Events through Facebook's CNN link - and was able to live chat about what I was seeing with my friends who were online. So, despite the fact that I was alone in my office in Berlin, I was connected, virtually, with friends from around the country and from various walks of my life. That was the ultimate technology promoting community. But, Twittering in church might not do the same thing. It seems like Twittering in church might do the opposite. Rather than interacting with one another, we might start interacting with the technology.

Online sites for prayer seem to be an entirely different animal. If I am praying the Daily Office, chances are I am doing it on my own. I'm either alone in my office, or alone in my car (using my iPod and a podcast of the daily office - which, I realize, is yet another technological adaptation!) or alone in my living room. What I appreciate about the online sites is that they gather all of the things I need for praying the Daily Office in one spot. Rather than needing a bible, and a book of the saints of the day, and a prayerbook, everything is right there. I can enter into a prayerful attitude just as easily using a computer screen as I can using a book. And, the computer keeps me from having to flip around from book to book to book.

What are your thoughts? Can you see technology enhancing community? Enhancing Prayer? Or does it seem as though that's not the case?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Some Random Bits about Me

Here's another one that started out as a Facebook note. I'll admit that I'm still feeling a bit lousy, and so not high on creativity. I did think these were fun topics.

1) What is your salad dressing of choice?
Oil and vinegar

2) What is your favorite sit-down restaurant?
The Blue Heron in Sunderland, MA and The Northland Dairy Bar in Berlin, NH

3) What food could you eat for 2 weeks straight and not get sick of it?

4) What are your pizza toppings of choice?
Bacon, fresh garlic, and spinach, with no cheese

5) What do you like to put on your toast?
I don't love toast, but peanut butter on English Muffins is a deep favorite. I add honey if I am feeling decadent.

6) How many televisions are in your house?

7) What color cell phone do you have?

8) Are you right-handed or left-handed?
I can only write with my right hand, but there are a number of tasks that I do lefty - perhaps the legacy of a lefty mom.

9) Have you ever had anything removed from your body?
Three of my four wisdom teeth and my uterus.

10) What is the last heavy item you lifted?
The extension ladder. It wasn't so much heavy as awkward - it was snowy and we were carrying it up a snowbank to get the snow off the roof.

11) Have you ever been knocked unconscious?
Sort of. When I was in Junior high (or maybe high school), I fell down some stairs at the mall, on our way to the movies (we were on our way to see the Jazz Singer). I thought everything was fine, and then I passed out in the lobby of the theater. Then, I got up and we went to watch the movie.

12) If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die?

13) If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
I would legally change my name to Fran (as opposed to my legal it-must-not-be-used name) in a heartbeat, and will do so when my mom is no longer living (may that be a long time from now).

14) Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1000?
I doubt it.

15) How many pairs of flip flops do you own?

16) What's your goal for the year?
To run a 10K (10 min/mile pace)

17) Last person you talked to?
My wife.

18) Last person you hugged?
My cold has stopped me hugging for the last number of days. Probably Michelle.

9) Favorite Season?

20) Favorite Holiday?

21) Favorite day of the week?
Sundays and Mondays

22) Favorite Month?
February (my birthday month and Valentine's Day!)

23) First place you went this morning?
The living room

24) What's the last movie you saw?
Slumdog Millionaire

25) Do you smile often?
very often

26) Do you always answer your phone?

27) It's four in the morning and you get a text message, who is it?
I never get texts at 4am.

28) If you could change your eye color what would it be?
I would NEVER change my eye color. I have my dad's eyes, and I really like them. They are green.

29) What flavor drink do you get at Sonic?
Have never been to Sonic (though we think it looks like fun when the commercials run on the telly)

30) Have you ever had a pet fish?
No, but my wife has a tank, and keeps promising.

31) Favorite Christmas song?
Odetta singing Go Tell it on the Mountain

32) What's on your wish list for your birthday?
I tend to like surprises, rather than making a wish list. This year, I got a box of fab gourmet popcorn and a great new pair of running shorts.

33) Can you do push-ups?

34) Can you do a chin up?
I haven't tried in a very long time. I used to be unable to do so. I have my doubts.

35) Does the future make you more nervous or excited?

36) Do you have any saved texts?
Not on this phone. But I had several saved texts from Michelle on my old phone.

37) Ever been in a car wreck?
More than my share. And several I had no right to walk away from. I'm a lucky woman.

38) Do you have an accent?
It comes and goes. When I was younger I had a very strong Woostah/Boston accent. It's really diminished as I have gotten older. Oddly, now that I am back in New England, it crops up occasionally. I have no control over what comes out of my mouth.

39) What is the last song to make you cry?
The same three things on my iPod ALWAYS make me cry: the spoken poem Seventh-Grade Viking Warrior by Taylor Mali, and Denmark 1943 and Scott and Jamie - both by Fred Small.

40) Plans tonight?
Diocesan Council from 4-6, 2.5 hour ride home with a stop at the evil Wal-Mart.

41) Have you ever felt like you hit rock bottom?

42) Name 3 things you bought yesterday.
I bought nothing yesterday, but today I bought hair elastics, soy milk, and breakfast sausages.

43) Have you ever been given roses?

44) Current hate right now?
Hate is a very strong word. But I am profoundly distressed by the way the religious right presumes to speak for all Christians. They do not represent Christianity to me and THEY DO NOT SPEAK FOR ME.

45) Met someone who changed your life?
Many times.

46) How did you bring in the New Year?
In Rudyard with the in-laws. We all stayed up, but it wasn't very lively.

47) What song represents you?
I'm not sure it represents me, but my favorite song to run to these days is Come on Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners. It's been a fave ever since it first came out, and the beat is perfectly matched to my cadence.

48) What were you doing 12am last night (or is it this morning?)?
I think the Nyquil had finally kicked in and I was asleep.

49) What was the first thing you thought of this morning?
“Ugh. I still feel like shit.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sacrificial Love

We've been reading The Shack at St. Barnabas for Lent. There are two groups going - one is meeting on Friday afternoons and the other on Tuesday nights. There are issues with the book, of course. It's a novel, for one thing - though there are those who are trying to make it theological reality. There are other folks getting all bent out of shape because they think the author is trying to make a theological case, forgetting the magical word NOVEL.

But that's not really my point, here.

Early in The Shack, the author tells the story of a Native American legend of an Princess who throws herself off a cliff to save her people. (You can read it here: It's the origin story for Multnomah Falls in Oregon.) This causes another character to draw a parallel between the Indian Princess and Jesus. Tonight, in our discussion, we talked about that kind of sacrificial love. It can be a hard concept to get our head around.

Then, I got home from church tonight and started watching House reruns with Michelle. (House is our new TV addiction, these days. Despite the name, which gives nothing away, it's another medical drama.) In one of tonight's episodes, a nine year old girl with terminal cancer develops some odd symptoms and the team spends a great deal of time trying to sort out what the underlying problem is.

This kid is plucky. She speaks the medical lingo. She likes her chemo port because it saves her all the needle sticks (her words). Whatever piece of grim news comes down the pike, she takes it totally in stride. She talks about the fact that she will likely die young without showing much emotion. At one point, the doctors decide that her lack of fear is one of her symptoms.

Dr. House goes to talk to her - and discovers that she is not unafraid. She is deeply tired of being sick and afraid of dying. BUT, she loves her mom (who raised the kid alone; the dad left when he found out the mom was pregnant). Turns out that the whole plucky demeanor was a front, designed to protect her mom. In the moment when the kid broke down and admitted how deeply afraid she was and stated clearly that she was going to do it anyway because she loved her mom, it hit me that I was looking at another picture of sacrificial love.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Laziest Day

There are a number of culprits. It could be the time change, or the feeling that I might be coming down with a cold, or the fact that I missed my day off last week. Whatever it was, something flattened me today. I just didn't feel like moving.

The good news is, that lack of physical energy allowed me to accomplish a thing I wanted to do. I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix again. I was sent the audios of all the HP novels, except Book 5 - Order of the Phoenix. I've been screaming through the audios at a pretty impressive rate (though three-four trips to Concord per month will accomplish that pretty easily).

My plan was to make my way through the audios of books 1-7, one right after the other. I've never done that. When I started Book 4 (Goblet of Fire), I discovered that while I'd read books 1-3 repeatedly, that wasn't the case for the later books.

So, if I were really going to "do" books 1-7, in order, then I would have to read Book 5. I started on Saturday, and got about 150 pages in. And when I got up this am and saw the snow falling at a really good clip and my throat was a little scratchy, I knew that I could do it. I could have a read-only day. And so, I did. I plowed through my last 700 pages of Order of the Phoenix.

The good news (beyond the fact that Book 6, Half-Blood Prince is now queued up on my iPod and ready to go) is that I feel more rested and ready to face another busy week.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sermon Lent 2

One of the assigned passages for the day is Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16. I added 8-10, because it seems relevant.

1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.’ 9 God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 15 God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

In this passage, God makes a covenant with Abram. When Abram is 99, God appears to him, tells him to walk before God and be blameless. God also says that He (God) will offer him offspring more numerous than can be counted. In another version of this conversation, God (referred to in Hebrew as El Shaddai, which could mean God of the Mountains - how cool is that?) offers offspring as numerous as the grains of sand and stars that can be seen, land, and blessings. And then, to seal the deal, Abram (and all other males now and in the future) must be circumcised to show loyalty to God. And God, who has ultimate power, renames Abram. From this day forward, Abram willl be known and Abraham, and Sarai as Sarah.

There are several astonishing things about this interaction. First, it is astonishing that God enters into this covenant in the first place. God clearly desires relationship with humanity. This is not an equal relationship. What's in it for God? The whole trajectory of the Hebrew Scripture seems to be about God's ongoing desire to be in relationship with the people God created.

Secondly, this passage reveals God's absolutely extravagant nature. God makes unbelievable promises. God tells a 99 year old wandering nomad with a 90 year old wife that they will have land, offspring, and blessing. How impossible is that? How very very unlikely? And while Abraham's response is to laugh, God lives up to God's end of the deal - and delivers (and, apparently, so does Abraham).

Thirdly, the covenant required that Abraham and his progeny to walk before God and be blameless. I'm not a total Hebrew expert, but it appears that the phrase walk before God and be blameless could also be translated as live your life with integrity.

The final interesting thing about this story has to do with when scholars believe it was recorded. As with what seems like a great deal of the written record of Israel's history, scholars believe that this story was written down during the Babylonian captivity. So, when things looked like the absolute worst for the people of Israel, when they were away from their land, when they no longer believed themselves to be favored by God, when things looked blackest, one of their number put down in writing a story they had probably been telling forever. A story of how God promised them some extraordinary things. Crazy things. Unbelievably abundant things. And then came through with God's end of the bargain.

We might, at this time in history, be living in our own version of the Babylonian captivity. Words like financial meltdown and economic crisis drop into every conversation. We watch our retirement accounts dwindle. Businesses fail. And we wonder what will become of us. How do we hear this story of extravagant abundance? Can we believe it? And, if we continue to be covenant partners with God, what does it look like for us to live our lives with integrity? What does faithful living look like today?

I think that the first step might be to continually remember the extraordinary abundance of God. God continually does the unexpected and does it in really big ways. Land for nomads?
Check. Children for old people? Check. Hope in exile. Check.

And then, I think we need to remember that abundance when we are most inclined to forget it. Fear blocks our capacity to see possibilities. Fear takes away our creativity. So, just as it very likely did for the people of Israel, telling this story is part of the solution. When we tell the story of God's crazy abundance, we live with integrity, and send our fears packing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Great Day

I spent today visiting with a friend. He's a colleague and has some experience here in the North Country. We met to do some planning for the upcoming Mill Town Ministry Internship and to work on planning his youth group's mission trip here this summer.

It was a bit of a drive - 2.5 hours or so each way. But, the weather was lovely, I had great music (and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) on my iPod, and no "weather" to contend with. So, that all made it a great day to start.

But more than all of that, I had the joy of spending time with a guy who is funny, tremendously wise, a good listener, and a great colleague. I didn't want to leave. Our few hours of work turned into much conversation. A later afternoon departure morphed into a drink and apps, and (not surprisingly to those who know me!) a great Thai dinner. I arrived home around 11.

Even though this was a long day (I left home this am at 6:30 to put in some time at the gym before heading out) I came home less tired than I have felt in some time. Tonight, I am grateful.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Meme for Booklovers

This meme first appeared as a Facebook MeMe. I've edited it a bit, because I found it a bit snotty in it's original form.

1. Your favorite novel when you were in elementary school: The Little House on the Prairie series. I read them again and again.

2. Your favorite novel when you were in Middle School (or grades 6-9): Roots - I read Roots in 6th grade as a special project for a history class - and fell in love with it.

3. Your favorite novel when you were in high school: Wuthering Heights

4. Favorite novel from college: The Handmaid's Tale - I don't actually remember reading many novels in college - I had so many other things to read for classes. But, I know I read this in or around college.

5. Your all-time favorite novel: I can't pick just one - The Poisonwood Bible, Gone to Soldiers

6. Your favorite novelist: Once again, I can't pick just one: Marge Piercy and Barbara Kingsolver

7. The best novel you've read that you think others may not have read: Gone to Soldiers - This is an historical novel by Marge Piercy told with a variety of voices. It's well written and engaging.

8. The funniest book you’ve read: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson wins hands down. I read it first on a plane and kept getting odd looks because I was laughing out loud.

9. The longest novel you’ve read: This is hard to say. Candidates include: Moby Dick, Roots, The Stand by Stephen King, any of the novels by Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin, and Pillars of the Earth and World Without End by Ken Follett.

10. The most influential book you read in college: The Redemption of God: A Theology of Mutual Relationship by L. Carter Heyward. I still go back to this book periodically for some thoughts about God and God's relationship with humanity.

11. The most influential academic book you read in a master’s program: In my MAT program, I read a book about the practice of tracking students based on ability that changed my views about this practice forever. In my MDiv, there were a number, but I was particularly moved by Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature by Sallie McFague. Also A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez.

12. The most influential non-fiction book you have read recently: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan has had a huge impact on my life and my food choices.

13. Your current favorite book on religion/spirituality: The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg and God has a Dream by Desmond Tutu.

14. Your favorite autobiography: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Zami: A New Spelling of my Name by Audrey Lourde

15. Your favorite biography: I'm surprised to discover that I don't have any biographies on my list. I found even more autobiographies when I went hunting for biographies! I'd add Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Animal Vegetable Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver.

16. Your favorite science-fiction/fantasy: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

17. What's on your to-be-read pile at the moment? Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass, The Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing, Brisingr by Christopher Paolini.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sermon Thoughts, Lent 1

I don't write my sermons down. I preach them from memory. But here are the building blocks for my sermon for Lent 1 (March 1st).

Mark 1:9-15
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

If this lesson sounds familiar, it is because we've heard it recently. We heard it during Advent, and we heard it again on the Sunday that Natanya was baptized. The shapers of our lectionary clearly see Jesus' baptism as a central motif - one of great importance - because they point to it again and again.

The one difference between this Sunday's reading, and the previous readings, is the bit about Jesus' 40 day journey into the wilderness. Both the number 40 and the concept of wilderness have biblical significance. 40 is a sort of biblical shorthand for a really long time. Remember that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights; the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Additionally, the wilderness is a place where people go and they meet God. There are countless examples, like Sarai's slave girl Hagar and Moses and the burning bush.

I think it's significant that we heard this particular lesson on the first Sunday in Lent. It calls us to enter our own 40 day period of being in the wilderness.

My experience of listening to people talk about Lent is that it often comes to be about "giving up" stuff. Folks can get deeply into the sacrifice, and lost track of the why of it all.

Based on the readings on Ash Wednesday, I invited folks to the observance of a Holy Lent that might (a) change the world and/or (b) be counter-cultural. This morning's lesson adds a third component. Whatever we do for Lent ought to point us to and bring us into proximity with God.