Monday, July 28, 2014

Ordinary Time - Week 7, Day 1: Dire Predictions Dismissed?

I wondered out loud to Keith recently why so many people our age seem not to take global warming seriously. Whenever the national news focuses on the latest violent weather or the melting of the ice caps, it makes us feel vaguely anxious, and we try to do our part to leave less of a “carbon footprint” – but what is that against everything else contributing to global warming?  I pointed out to Keith that we have spent our lives feeling vaguely anxious about things that never happened, and perhaps that is why many people do not take reports of global warming (or potential pandemics) seriously.

It got me to thinking about the Baby Boomer generation and how we grew up hearing dire predictions that never came to pass.

Doomsday Clock
(1)   The Doomsday Clock – remember it? It sat for years at mere minutes to midnight, when we were all going to be incinerated in a nuclear holocaust. Boomers grew up seeing yellow and black signs marking fall-out shelters – those places intended for shelter when the bombs started falling. Only, they never fell. We spent our childhoods feeling anxious that the world would end any minute in nuclear war, but it didn’t. Here’s something interesting I discovered today – the Doomsday Clock now indicates global warming, and it is set at five minutes to midnight. It’s closer to midnight today than it was in the 1960s!

(2)   Pollution – I remember reading a Weekly Reader article in elementary school that said if things continued the way they were going, that by the year 2000, we all would need to wear gas masks in order to breathe. This frightened the living daylights out of me. It said there would be no fresh water left; everything would be polluted and unusable. Fortunately, laws were passed that helped clean up the environment, but I wonder how accurate the predictions really were.

(3)   Extinctions – first would be the bald eagle, next would be alligators and sea turtles, then rhinos, and I don’t remember what-all was supposed to become extinct. Never did. Of course, again, laws were passed (ie, outlawing the use of DDT, which made eagle eggs too fragile to hatch).

(4)   Communists – my parents were convinced the Commies were trying to take over America. I remember being lectured about Communists, Vietnam, and the domino theory -- one country succumbs and then all the rest fall like dominoes, and that was why our country had to get involved in Vietnam. McCarthyism and the Vietnam War became symbols of what happens when the government gets it wrong.

(5)   Moral disintegration – we were told that wholesale divorce, legions of children born out of wedlock, working women, and out-of-the-closet gays would mean the end of the nuclear family by the 1980s or ‘90s. Last I looked, we’re still around.

(6)   Drugs – oh, my, didn’t we Boomers hear dire predictions about what drugs would do to us? I remember being astounded in my 20s when a perfectly sane friend told me he had experimented with LSD many times. He was normal, not a brain-damaged lunatic. I knew lots of people who smoked dope, who seemed to function just fine. No one told us that the real killers would turn out to be common-variety alcohol, tobacco, and junk food.

In retrospect, I think it comes as no surprise that many Boomers (and their children) still feel a vague sense of unease at dire predictions of the future, but little else. What will come of any of it, only time will tell.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ordinary Time: Week 6, Day 1 -- Maine

I took this photo last week on a woodland trail in Maine. Is God an artist, or what? It's now the background on my laptop.

It was a quick vacation for Keith and me, we two empty-nesters. Neither of us had ever visited Maine, and we found cheap round-trip airfare to Boston some months ago. So we flew, rented a car, and drove up to the Portland area – about two and a half hours – and we stayed with friends who live right on the water in Brunswick. I took this photo from their home.

 During the day, Keith and I went exploring, just the two of us. In the evenings and mornings, we shared fantastic meals and conversation with our hosts. One of these was an excellent home-cooked lobster (“lob-stah”) dinner with the main course caught that day and purchased right down the street.

When it rained one day, we shopped in some of the small, quaint towns, and Keith indulged me by driving around looking for United Methodist churches. We found one in Bath that was open, and one of the ladies who was at the church for a prayer meeting kindly gave us a tour of the building. I wish I could say this was an old, historic building, but it wasn't. It was a half-completed new building.

When the sun was shining, Keith and I stayed outdoors. One day, we drove to a nearby lighthouse and walked around on the rocky coast. These were wicked sharp, striated rocks -- granite, I'm told. Can you see the lighthouse in the background?

I love leisurely hiking, particularly when it isn’t beastly hot, and the temperature was in the 70s during the day. The day it rained, it was so chilly that we wore jackets. In general, I do not like to shop, but I must confess I enjoyed looking around the L.L. Bean complex in Freeport. I even bought a tennis skirt there.

One day, we toured the Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Most of the visitors stayed in the formal gardens, and you can see why.

However, the Botanical Gardens also had a large wooded section with trails, and this was our favorite part. The air smelled fresh and fragrant with – what? Balsam, maybe? The woods were a thousand shades of green, and the play of sunlight and shadow among the ferns and trees took away my breath.

There were LOTS of ferns.

Maine also has bogs, and one of our hikes was mostly on wooden walkways, elevated above the soggy ground. We made a quick side trip to a drug store for bug spray after this hike.

On one of our walks in the woods, Keith spotted a pair of pileated woodpeckers, and as luck would have it, I had my camera with me. They are incredibly large woodpeckers and make a loud racket with their banging on tree trunks, searching for bugs. 

 All in all, it was an excellent time of rest and refreshment. It was good to get away, but always good to come home, too.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ordinary Time: Week Four, Day Four

There is an interesting theological situation brewing at our church. We have, among our constituents, a life-long conservative Lutheran, age 90-something, who lately has come to live with her daughter and son-in-law, who are members of Union Grove. The adjustment to worshiping among the Methodists has been a bit difficult, but Mom has made the transition with a remarkable amount of grace.

Mom herself is amazed that she likes the pastor, despite the fact that the pastor is female and would never be ordained by conservatives of most any stripe. Daughter shared this information with me, but I already knew it.

Mom participates in bible study at Union Grove, where her rigid beliefs about everything from atonement to what clothing to wear to church get challenged on a regular basis. Even our worship time of 5 p.m. is taxing to someone who thinks church ought to be on Sundays at 11 a.m.

This week, our ministerial intern and I visited mother and daughter in their home. I needed to discuss church stuff with the daughter, and so our intern, who is a female Mennonite studying to be a pastor, visited with Mom. During a lull in conversation, I overheard Mom telling the intern why she believes Communion should use real wine and unleavened bread.

Daughter told me: Mom doesn’t think it’s real Communion unless we use wine and wafers, plus she thinks we should drink the wine from a common cup.

This was interesting to me. Union Grove kneels at the Communion rail to receive the elements, and despite her age, Mom insists on kneeling. Her face is always upturned with a look of joy, and she seems to receive joyfully what is always leavened bread dipped into unfermented grape juice.

I laughed, and asked Daughter if she could imagine the germ-a-phobes in our congregation drinking from a common cup.

Then I asked, “Would your mom feel more comfortable if we provided wine and wafers for her?”

Is that possible?, she asked.

“It might be... Does it have to be red wine?” I asked.

Of course!, she laughed.

We extended the conversation to Mom and intern. I reiterated the explanation I already had heard our intern give, about why we use grape juice rather than wine – we don’t want to be a stumbling block to any alcoholics, plus children are invited to receive. It didn’t matter: Mom’s beliefs are fairly set in stone.

The common cup would never work, but I asked her: Would you like us to provide wine in one of those tiny cups (I fondly call them “thimbles”), and unleavened bread for you?

Would I be the only one receiving that way?, she worried, turning to her daughter and asking if she would be willing to receive Communion the same way. That would be fine, Daughter replied.

Mom turned to me and asked: Would the pastor be willing to receive the same way? Uh, no.

So the conversation ended, and I went home and diligently searched the 2012 Discipline for guidance. Indexed under "Lord's Supper," were paragraphs 104 and 340.2b(1). Paragraph 104 is actually Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules, including Article XVI -- "Of the Sacraments," which doesn't say anything about juice vs. wine, only that the elements are not to be "gazed upon" or "carried about." I could not locate the confusing 340.2b(1). What I did find in paragraph 340 is that the pastor's job is to administer the sacraments of baptism and the Supper of the Lord, and to explain the meaning of the Lord's Supper and "to encourage regular participation as a means of grace to grow in faith and holiness."   

So yesterday, I located a stack of the plastic thimbles, and I suppose we will provide wine and wafers for two in our congregation on the first Sunday in August.  I think – I hope! – God is smiling.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Trinity Sunday, re-visited

Yesterday, churches experienced the convergence of a liturgical special day with a secular special day – Trinity Sunday collided with Father’s Day.  

The Trinity is not a popular preaching topic for congregations or pastors. On Father’s Day, some people come to church wanting and expecting a sermon about fathers, but Father’s Day is a secular holiday that many pastors would like to keep out of church.  I punted by assigning preaching duty to our Divinity student, Amy. She took the Matthew text and did a great job preaching on Jesus.

Father’s Day might have been an elephant in the room. Actually, Father’s Day is a much smaller elephant than Mother’s Day. Many churches probably go ahead and celebrate what are essentially secular holidays; in fact, our own United Methodist denomination, in an attempt to recognize Mother’s Day, I suppose, assigns the day the title: “Festival of the Christian Home.” 

I shy away from focusing on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day in church. Here is why.

In my first appointment, there was an elderly gentleman who never knew his father, and whose mother put him into foster care when he was toddler – he was shuffled from home to home and never saw her again. Every Mother’s Day in church, while others were wishing one another a happy day, he would weep. He never, ever got over the pain of losing his mother.

I also remember seeing a visitor cry uncontrollably while the congregation sang the hymn, “Happy the Home When God Is There” (Hymnal, #445) on Father’s Day.

In every congregation, there are women and men who wanted desperately to have children and couldn’t – or whose child or children died. There are those who lost a mother or father to illness, accident, suicide, crime, war, or prison. There are those whose parents were, at best, unaffectionate; and at worst, abusive. There are those who know they were unaffectionate or abusive with their own children. In fact, I think the “ideal” of Christians celebrating a mother and father who managed to raise happy, healthy, grateful children is just that – an ideal.

Some churches give “awards” to certain mothers and fathers. One of my previous appointments gave gifts to the oldest and the youngest mothers on Mother’s Day. One year, I suggested that we instead give a gift to the mother who had been the most faithful about bringing her children to church. This went over like a lead balloon.

So, on the special days, I offer up a pastoral prayer that includes “our mothers, our grandmothers, and all those women who have been like mothers to us,” and ditto with the fathers. At Union Grove, the congregation is invited each Sunday to light votive candles in honor or memory of loved ones who were instrumental in our faith formation – yesterday, I invited candles to be lit in honor or memory of the special men in our lives.

Nowadays, I even avoid sentimental hymns like “Happy the Home When God Is There.” Yesterday, for the hymn after the sermon, I chose “How Can We Name a Love” (Hymnal, #111, sung to the tune of “This Is My Father’s World”). I had only read the first verse when choosing the hymn, so I was a little surprised when we sang verse 2:

If we awoke to life built on a rock of care
That asked no great reward but firm, assured was simply there,
We can, with parents’ names, describe and thus adore,
Love unconfined, a father kind, a mother strong and sure.

Father’s Day managed to assert itself anyway, and maybe it was a God thing.

Now, if I can just get beyond Independence Day.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Post Pentecost

In secular time, today is Friday, the thirteenth day of June. I’m not sure how properly to describe it in liturgical time. How about this: Today is the fifth day after Pentecost. My colleagues are gathered at annual conference in Greenville; I am back home preparing for a wedding tonight at Union Grove.  

Who gets married on Friday the 13th? Unless you’re superstitious, which Christians are not,  then tonight is merely a Friday evening between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. The day has significance for the bride and groom based on birthdays; they told me what it was, but I wasn’t totally clear about it. 

The paraments are white, the pews are trimmed with white bows, the sanctuary is vacuumed, and the moon is full.
A previous wedding at Union Grove

This wedding is a little different in that the bride has invited the entire church, and she has requested that the choir, the Evening Doves, sing a hymn based on 1 Corinthians 13, during the ceremony. So I am going to read 1 Corinthians 13…If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… then I will preach a little homily on this passage about love that the apostle Paul intended for a church who was acting childishly, and then we will sing.

“We” would include the bride, the pastor, our Duke Divinity student, and the other members of the Evening Doves.

So, picture this in our very small sanctuary: As we prepare to sing, the attendants sit down, and the Doves stand. The bride (soprano) faces the groom, and they hold hands. The pastor (alto) is facing them, somewhat squashed between the Communion rail and the Communion table. The rest of the Doves are divided between the two sides of the sanctuary, one side trying not to stand on top of the pianist, and the other side trying not to catch on fire from the unity candle.

The pianist will play, and we will sing. The couple will tie the knot. One or two people will cry. We’ll go celebrate in the fellowship hall. What a beautiful moment in time for our little church on a late spring evening of full moon between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.