Reading the News Without Caffeine

When Heart Palpitations Make Sense

I come from a long line of coffee-drinkers. My parents drank coffee with every meal and frequently in between. At age 16 I started drinking it too, following my mother’s advice to forego any sweetener. Coffee-drinking is a lifetime activity so its best to fend off those spoons-full of sugar.

For decades the earthy aroma and flavor of coffee has provided my life a smell-track and taste-track. The activity of brewing and drinking coffee has provided a rhythm — as a waitress pouring at breakfast restaurants, as a pastor sipping at kitchen tables, as a writer with a cup perpetually cooling beside me. (more…)

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When Grief Sucks Us Dry

how to rehydrate creativity

My little church experienced two unexpected deaths in two weeks — fatal heart attacks of otherwise healthy persons. During that same period, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died within a month.

I did all the things a pastor does. I visited hospitals and put together funeral services and preached the resurrection. But I surely felt the toll of all that emotion, both my own grief and the grief of others. I felt sad and shriveled up.

I wondered how — and even if — I could replenish my well of creativity. I stumbled across one answer unexpectedly. Months ago I purchased tickets for the whole family to see a musical, “Fun Home.” It was to be an early Mothers Day celebration. Our daughters were excited about the show and that was enough for me. I like to experience a show with a blank slate, so I was glad I didn’t know much about it — only that it was a memoir set to music, and much of it takes place in a Funeral Home.

As life would have it, my friend’s memorial service was set to take place at noon on the Saturday of the show, in downtown DC. The matinee began at 2:00, just a few blocks away. I wondered if it would be better to sell the tickets and book something for another day. I worried that we might all experience emotional whiplash, going from a real funeral to a staged one.

In the end we decided to do both. The show was near the end of its run and rescheduling would be impossible. Besides, my friend who died, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Krehbiel, had been the type to live large. He would smile to know of our plans. So we attended the memorial service all together, at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. The sanctuary is gorgeous and historic and the service was a beautiful testimony to a life well-lived. We listened to every word, shed tears, sang the hymns, greeted a few people (far too few because of our rush), then got ourselves to the theater.

(more…)

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Blood is Thicker Than Water

A Reflection on John 19:26 "Woman, Behold Thy Son"

This is a guest post by my sister, the Rev. Susan Joy Huizenga. She preached this sermon on Good Friday (4/14/17) at the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center; Saginaw, MI. Some of you know Susan from an earlier post about being a living kidney donor.

 

One day when I was about twelve years old, my sister Beth demanded to know all about a conversation I had with a friend in the neighborhood. She thought I knew some sort of secret, and she demanded to know.

“She made me promise not to tell” I objected.

My sister persisted “Come on, Susan! Blood is thicker than water!”

To the best of my recollection, I never did cave into Beth’s demand. But I got the point. Blood is thicker than water.

In New Jersey, when I was growing up in the 1970s, the mafia was much in control of certain aspects of life. Also, we lived in an Italian neighborhood. The ideal of family and clan loyalty was strong. Later, while I was working in Trenton NJ, the students were discussing the TV series “The Sopranos” and one of the students stated emphatically “I cannot watch that. My friend’s father was killed by the mob. It hits too close to home.”

{Law Enforcement realized they could not keep up with the number of murders and mayhem that this mob crime situation presented to them. Lawmakers and law enforcement got together and passed a law RICO to take out the financing of the operation. It worked. So the mob is still there but much diminished in power and scope.}

Hearing this ancient story about what Jesus went through, reminds us that thinking ‘might makes right,” or the rule by those with swords, or the fear of protesters, or the incompetence of those in authority, or inadequate human systems … none of this is new!

(more…)

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“Thirsty? A sermon on the Samaritan Woman at the Well”
by Rev. Ruth Everhart

 

The text is John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman at the well in Sychar.

Thirst is real, and water is a justice issue. When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well, he implicitly challenged every cultural assumption about who is worthy of his time and conversation. But this shift has been slow to percolate through the cultural layers of church and society. Rev. Ruth Everhart considers the Samaritan woman’s story in tandem with her own, because gender still shapes a woman’s world. How did living water trickle through the layers of an oppressive church system and the horror of rape at gunpoint? Because the living water is still available, and still ever-fresh. (Year A, Lent 3)

Ask the Matriarch: A Church Visitor at a Small Church

I’m a member of the RevGalBlogPals, an online community that supports clergywoman. Because I’ve been in ministry for more than a decade (more than two decades, shhh) I bear the esteemed title of “matriarch.” Which I wear with pride! Today’s feature was an advice column that asked an interesting question about a church visitor. Any member or leader of a small church knows how exciting visitors can be! Click over to read the question and three answers. The answers vary tremendously. What would your response be? This one is tagged Leading the Small Church.

How to Wear History

choices for churches

Some churches wear their history like a feathered cape — with the past thrown lightly over the shoulders of the present. The past is color, context, and dramatic flair.

Some churches wear their history like a shroud — with the past draped heavily over the face of the present. The past is silencing, secretive, and corpse-like.

The cape-wearing churches tell stories with many actors, who have many foibles.

The shroud-wearing churches tell stories where one person is to blame.

The cape-wearing churches tell stories that happen all over the place — the sanctuary, but also the retreat setting, the party at so and so’s house, the time we went to Capitol Hill, the homeless shelter, stories told with gusto.

The shroud-wearing churches tell stories that happen in the room where Session meets, or in the parking lot afterward, stories told in whispers.

The cape-wearing churches sometimes organize events by email, or Facebook, and plans can change at the last moment.

The shroud-wearing churches stick to their administrative manual, which is thick. 

The cape-wearing churches are a pain to keep clean, what with the play-doh and streamers.

The shroud-wearing churches are clean, if you don’t mind the slight smell of stagnation.

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Church un-Cluttered

Two Church Closets: Before & After

Churches have a unique tendency to become cluttered, as I have blogged about before. But never underestimate the power of energetic volunteers!

The goals: 1) make items accessible;

2) create dedicated space for pulpit robe and worship materials.

BEFORE large closet

BEFORE small closet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFTER large closet

AFTER small closet

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Would Jesus Have Marched? Salt & Light

Lectionary Study on Matthew 5:13-20

I have a lectionary essay on the gospel text for February 5, over at Journey with Jesus.

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Church Clutter

New Year, Clean Slate!

Clutter-free spaces communicate hospitality. The hotel industry understands this. Unfortunately, many churches don’t.

I’m on my way to a “Clean Up Day” at my church. I’m still quite new there — since Labor Day — and the church basement is in reasonably good shape. Still, it’s always good to sift through the flotsam and jetsam. Cleaning up is a good way to learn the church’s history, both formal and informal. I’ll take some “before” pictures of closets, although I expect it will be weeks before I have “after” pictures.

Meanwhile, I’ll repost an article I wrote a few years ago — to draw the connection between clutter and hospitality in church settings, and why I prioritize uncluttering. (more…)

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Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.