Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Five: What's on your shelf?

Deb has proposed a very timely FF for me.

You probably have, like me, a study full of books. Maybe they spill into another room. They go with you in the car to appointments when you might have some dead space in your schedule. In my study, the books are double-stacked and in somewhat precarious piles. I've always dreamed of a study that looked like this:

Recently I decided to re-organize my study and put books of like topic and purpose together. (Of course, they don't stay that way -- but that's another matter!) I also culled out some books which I hesitated to even donate to the library book sale because they were either extremely outdated or had content that I didn't want the unexamined mind to read. (Not quite as bad as "The Total Woman" but... you get my drift!)

SOooo... with that in mind, let's talk about the books in your life!  

We moved last month so I am still in boxes up to my ears.  The problem with having 2 clerics in the same house is that we have books ad nauseum.  This house does not have much book space so we are making more space with foldable bookshelves.  But we really don't have that much wall space either.  And now that we are retired we are beginning to divest of all that stuff we have accumulated over the past 40 years of study.  Add to the professional library, then there are whole collections of various mystery writers.  This FF is quite timely because I am trying to choose what I am going to be using from here on out and what to give to various locals (library, parish, friends, second hand book, etc.)

1. STUDYING: What is your favorite book or series for sermon prep or study? Or have you moved from books to on-line tools for your personal study?

For the most part, I have gone to online materials for sermon prep.  Jenee keeps me well prepared.  But when I am trying to teach, I really like a book to work from.  I have found Sagrada Pagina (which I do not have but borrow from a colleague) is a great series on NT.  OT series come from either Fox's Torah and the Anchor Bible.  We have the New Interpreters Bible but so far it hasn't gotten unpacked.  I don't use it often but J. does.

2. IN THE QUEUE: Do you have a queue of books you are longing to read or do you read in bits and pieces over several books at a time? What's in the queue?

I am presently reading Diarmaid McCullougha's Christianity: the last 3,000 years.  I have been corresponding with him for a couple of years on an Anglican Communion issue so I thought I should read his stuff.  I have been rather awed by it.  I have it on Kindle but need the book because my Kindle doesn't allow sticking my finger in and looking back at what I read.

3. FAVORITE OF ALL TIME: What's one book that you have to have in your study? Is it professional, personal, fun or artistic? (For instance, I have a copy of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It just helps sometimes.)

The IDB, The International Dictionary of the Bible.  I refer to that all the time.  But Wikipedia is beginning to replace it.  But I have often found that Dag Hammarskjold's Markings is still my go-to when I just need to think on things.  Also Writing the Natural Way is helpful when I am blocked in my writing.  Just for fun, are mysteries.  I also have a couple of picture books I use for meditation:  One is a photo book of artist renderings of Christ and another is a book of Icons.

4. KINDLE OR PRINT? or both? Is there a trend in your recent purchases?

For novels, I have moved to a Kindle.  Mine is a first generation so I find it hard to study from.  It is cheaper to get new novels for and I can use a larger print which was really great when I was getting cataracts removed.  I still buy books but my trips to Barnes and Noble have diminished over the past few years.  For study I really still like books.  I have only recently started to read things on my phone.  I kind of like that but the print is soooo tiny!

5. DISCARDS: I regularly cruise the "FREE BOOKS" rack at our local library. (I know, I know. It's a bad habit!) When's the last time you went through your books and gave some away (or threw some away?) Do you remember what made the discard pile?

As I post I have 4 boxes of books to go to half price books.  I must have at least 20 boxes of books still in the garage to sift through and figure out how to either get rid of them or find a place on the wall for them.  This morning's chore is to open at least one more box and deal with it.
BONUS: Post a picture of the present state of your study! Just in the interests of full disclosure, here's mine! :)

Full disclosure, my hat!  You just want to out the messiest of us, Deb!  But I just can't work when there isn't clutter--too neat is sterile! 

I'm looking forward to reading your responses!


Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Five: Politics or Stewardship?

Jan has posted an interesting Friday Five:

Churches of different denominations are working towards having Consecration Sunday for tithing commitments to be made. As these are being planned in various churches, our local community is opening up national voting for early voters before Election Day. All this seems to be coming at the same time as we all ponder WHO to vote for!

So for today's Friday Five, share about your struggles about this time of church and/or political time of the U.S. nation: Think of five aspects of either or both that you want to bring up!

1.  Episcopalians are fairly unaware of Consecration Sunday.  Fall is always Stewardship time.  And for the past few weeks we have had a short talk (dare an Episcopalian ever WITNESS?) from lay members of the parish about tithing or their own practice of giving.  They have all been quite good and from all ages.  I think we wind up this week.  So there is not a specific date.

2.  Since I am not the pastor, I don't call the shots re. politics.  And since I am not of the majority party in my parish, I don't make too many political comments.  I envy ( I know, I am a sinner) those rectors of decidedly one party parishes where they call pastors/priests because of their politics, but I have never been in parishes like that.  I have always been in the minority party from my parishioners.  That does not mean that I don't talk about politics.  I talk about the commonweal--what serves the whole of the community.  And if I get on my high horse (not uncommon) I always try to speak of the issues that are non-partisan.  I can speak of the intransigency  of Congress but not who I think is causing it.  I DO preach on the need for all Christians to vote.  It is part of our responsibility as citizens but NEVER do I support a candidate--not even when they are members of the parish.  In my mind that would violate our 501(c) tax status.

3.  I have often been the rector of parishes that are polling places.  But I have not seen the kind of political pandering that goes on in this state just outside the door of the church.  I was horrified to see trucks with big campaign signs and campaign signs littering the entrance to our parish parking lot for the primary races last spring.  I was told that the precinct 'rented' the space so campaigners could pass out their literature as long as it was 50 ft. away.  But TX always has to do it differently than anywhere else.  I complained to the precinct election officer but she told me that TX law allowed for this.  But I said that such campaigning could violate our 501(c) tax status.  She just shrugged and said it was TEXAS law as if Federal tax code didn't mean much here.  And come to think of it, I guess it probably doesn't!

4.  I am appalled by those denominations that support specific candidates.  In some Roman Catholic dioceses, priests encourage particular candidates because of their stand on abortion; some non-denominational churches will support a specific candidate because they are 'Christian' or support some specific platform that is in keeping with their political stance.  I was surprised by our presiding bishop supporting a specific candidate, but she made it clear that she was speaking for herself rather than the Church.  Most everyone in my parish knows what party I support.  

5.  I don't think that I personally must be non-partisan.  But I do need to make my church a place where all political views are welcome.  I still stand with the Elizabethan Settlement.  I do not care to have a 'window into people's souls'.  The Church needs to be a place where all are welcome, not just people who agree with me.  In fact I think that church would be a very dull place if we could not dialog about how we come to political decision through the lens of the Gospel.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

O Death, where is thy Sting?

I have been avoiding blogging.  Oh, I have done the Friday Five with Revgals but I have been unable to put my own ideas down for some weeks now.  Part of it has been due to the move and lots have been due to the accident.  The loss of a life in an accident in which you are part tends to change many things.  I can't say that I am experiencing depression due to the death of the motorcyclist who hit us while we were on vacation.  But it is sobering.

I want to be over this.  I want to be over the injury and the memories.   But I believe that such an incident stops much of the glibness of social comment.  It is truly a theological event.  Life and death always are theological events.  The loss of a young man's life is deeply sorrowful.  There is a temptation to blame in such an event.  Blame the foolishness of motorcycles or the idiocy of not wearing a helmet or driving too fast.  But blame is NOT a theological event.  Blame is what we do when we cannot deal with the theological event of death.  Blame or guilt is part of the process of grief.  It is part of the avoidance of dealing with death as a theological event.

Avoiding the relationship between God and humanity just serves to prolong the guilt/blame so that one does not come to resolution about the greatness of God and God's welcoming of the soul.  And I believe I have been trying to do that.  Looking into the abyss of death is scary.  It is the kind of mystery that cannot be explained away.  It can only be assuaged by being willing to stand at the edge of the chasm filled with sorrow without falling in.  Standing at the abyss and looking in or across, is being willing to appreciate my own humanity, salvation and my own faith without becoming triumphant.  It is being willing to know of the sorrow of others, the heartbreak of another's family.  But also it is to know deeply that life is worth living because of risk.

As I have said before I do not subscribe to the theology that God has a plan for me.  I do believe that God interacts with us and is a part of our lives but I do not believe that I am part of a playbook.  That is just too Calvinistic for this catholic girl.  I believe that the Incarnation means that I am able to reflect and find spiritual value in the things that happen.  So life in many cases is lived retrospectively.  I am constantly trying to make sense of what happens in my life so that I can find Christ in it.

Christ was certainly in this event.  The loving God was present to us in the helping hands of those who came to our aid.  The God of goodness was present even in our numbness and injury.  But the loving God I know also stood transporting the young man into that goodness that goes beyond life.

Now, I am messing with real theology.  Death and evil have always been linked together in theology.  And yet you can't get to heaven without death.  So what gives?  Is death good or evil?  I don't think it is either.  Death is a part of what it means to be human.  It is part of life that Christ came to sanctify and make holy.  So death is holy just as surely as birth.  But it is an event that those who are not dying must observe with reverence and awe.  Do I believe in heaven and hell?  Not really.  But I do believe in an afterlife.  I do believe that there is something beyond death simply because I believe the promises of God.  I don't care to meditate on that afterlife because I believe that it will be much more than I can even imagine.  But I also believe that God has sanctified humanity in Jesus and consequently all life is sacred in the sense that God made us.

What does that mean when we face death or see death?  Should we be matter-of-fact in the face of death?  That doesn't make sense either.  Death is more of a portal--a point of awe.  Does the release of that remarkable gift of humanity into the realm of the Everlasting demand our attention?  Yes!  It is that unique moment in every person's life when encountering the Divine without the obscurities of living happens.  The abyss becomes not a hole into which we fall, but that incredible moment when we fly as we have dreamed all our lives.  

At times in my pastoral life I have been present when people have died.  There is a sense of release always--the struggle to live is given up and the human body surrenders. Muslims understand that moment as the final Islam--the final surrender to Allah.  But as a Christian I recognize death as that stepping into the Unknown and the Unknowable. The abyss is crossed and the soul or whatever you want to call that life force enters that Unknown  It is a holy moment.  It is not necessarily a lovely moment, but it is a sacred moment in which one who is observing can almost feel the change.  And ultimately there is a sense of awe for those who have witnessed this change.  Those who witness this change are also changed.  It is impossible not to be changed.  The reaction to this being changed is often not what we expect--we deny, we are angry, we bargain, we are depressed.  All of those stages that Kubler-Ross said were about grief.  But it isn't grief necessarily that we are experiencing--it is the traumatic experience of awe--of standing before the greatest Power of the Universe.  It is a fierce experience of the Holy that we would rather not meet and yet must for our experience of God to be more than just pablum.  The God that I know is more powerful than Death and consequently to see that power at work is traumatic.

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul chastises the Gentiles for not seeing the God of Israel in nature where the acts of God can be seen.  Yes, humanity is often moved by the phenomenon Nature.  I do not deny the beauty of the Earth or the Universe as being evidence of God.  But it is the rawness of death that makes us wonder about the theological nature of death.  Is it of God?  I think so.  Death is the encounter with the Holy in such a way that truly takes the breath away.  And leaves observers humbled about their own mortality.

But writing about Death seems to be so disrespectful.  What we observe on this side of the Death/Life continuum is paltry.  And yet if I do not write of it, how can I honor it and the power the fear of it has for us?  I can dance around theological questions but am never able to come to any decision in this case.  It is the Unknowable that I fear and yet must place in the care of the God who created me.  I do not know the day or time--nor does anyone.  I do not know what it will mean.  I hope--and therein lies my faith that the God who creates is also the God of the death that I will one day experience.  And while I fear that Unknown, I do not fear the God I already know in the breaking of the bread.

Friday Five: Whoopsie

Karla has posted the Friday Five:

Wow, how is it that it is the second Friday of October, already??
I don't know about you, but this fall has been incredibly FULL, and time is flying faster than I can keep track of it!

So, first things first.  
Take a moment, and take 5 deep slow breaths...

Well, I feel more centered now.
So, let's get on with a Random Friday Five.

1. Tell us a moment of blessing that you have experienced in the past week.

We finally hired a professional organizer.  It may cost us the moon, but at least we can find the couch!  Having just moved to a new home and with me being limited due to a shoulder injury, I could not stand to live out of boxes anymore.  So I went online and Debbie not only answered me, she said she could come over within the hour.  She works about 1/2 day with us (that is about all we can do) and puts boxes in front of us and helps us sort.  She has even taken many of Judy's papers home to organize so that our financial and historic papers are put in order.  

2. Share the first thing/story that comes to mind when you read "When I was a child..."

I try not to think of "When I was a child..." because it is too easy to mouth the words of my mom or dad.  It is a part of my life that I do not want to repeat.  And it is just too easy to repeat the patterns of my parents when I drop into that "when I was a child..." motif.  So when I get that brain message beginning on my lips, I try to stop myself and demand of myself a different way of approaching something.

But there are some things I do remember about childhood that I loved...playing in the street with the other kids on the block.  I do not see that here.  Children do not play stickball or street hockey or baseball or even kick the can.  Children in the neighborhood don't play together and I think that is a shame.  My favorite childhood memories were playing with the kids on the block.

3, 4, and 5. If you were the host of a t.v. talk show, what three people would you like to interview on your first show, and what would you ask them.

3.  Whoopie Goldberg--and I would ask her about her childhood.  I would love to know how she was able to make it into the Color Purple and how she was able to come up through the comedy ranks.  What her hopes for her life are at this point.

4.  Karen Armstrong-- I want to know more of her convent years and now her years since her autobiography.  What is her hope for religion based upon spiritual relationship rather than doctrine.

5.  President Obama--what's it REALLY like to be POTUS.  What is his vision for helping the world learn respect for one another. And what we can really do with the tax code.

I would like to know what the real war we are fighting in American politics--the war for our souls and how we can help him win it.