Monday, September 29, 2008

mercy, justice & preaching

Every once in a while (with long whiles in between) I get this crazy idea in my head that I could preach the message for a certain topic (we plan worship around themes, not the lectionary - more about that later). To make matters worse, I've got this crazy pastor who actually lets me. So that's how I found myself preaching this past weekend.

Practicing the Faith: Taking the First Step
Micah 6:1-8
Matthew 12:15-21
Philippians 4:8-9

Litany of problems.

[these are places we have relationships with globally and where we live locally]
The current orphan population in India is equal to the inhabitants of the state of Texas. (the miracle foundation)

Nearly half the population in Togo, West Africa is less than 15 years old and child trafficking is a big problem there. (PlanTogo)

50% of Hondurans live in poverty and 25% of people in Honduras live in extreme poverty. (povertynet)

The death toll in Haiti from Hurricane Ike is over 600 with over 1 million people made homeless.

20% of Albemarle County citizens live below the "self-sufficiency" standard.

320 children became homeless in Albemarle county in 2006/2007.

70 students at Hollymead could not afford basic school supplies this year.

Our response - the fear factor.
Some of you have tuned me out - really you are no longer listening, maybe you are working on your to do list or possibly napping. HELLO - you can listen now; I've stopped with the scary list. Others of you are feeling kind of anxious. You may feel tense, worried and overwhelmed. This is MY group. My mind overloads and I attempt to shut it down, unable to get beyond a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. I get so wrapped up in feeling that the problems of this world are just too overwhelming to deal with on my own, that it paralyzes me. Finally the rest of you want to get out and do something, NOW! You may be angry and frustrated. You want to find a solution and you don't understand why everybody isn't on board with reckless abandon to put an end to the problems.

Bob Sitze, ELCA Director for Hunger Education, says that often when we try and educate about serious problems facing our world, we face the FEAR FACTOR - our brain's natural defense mechanism. What our brain tries to do is to tag this unpleasant information as fearsome or dangerous and then our natural instinct of flight, fight or freeze automatically kicks in. Not exactly the kind of response presenters of this type of information are going for.

Feet of a servant.
So, how do we get beyond the statistics and the fear factor? As followers of Christ, we understand that pursuing mercy & justice is our God-given call. We know that there are serious problems locally and globally. We NOW know that just talking about the problems - hoping to motivate some action is not the best way to go about solving problems. How then do we best respond?

I like how Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians. "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you." I think we need an attitude adjustment. First, we need to look and find where there is good, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, and excellent work being done in the world and think about that. Next, we need to do the things that we have learned, received, heard and seen from people doing this work. I think our feet of a servant discipleship mark points to a great way to start.

Here's what worked for me - start with one step and do it with others. At Peace, we are blessed to have many opportunities to serve with and for others. My first step started with PACEM where we've welcomed local homeless men and women into this "house" as honored guests. With PACEM there are so many different ways to serve and so many other people to serve with. Serving definitely took me out of my comfort zone, but knowing I didn't have to do it alone helped me through the fear. At PACEM, I learned from one of the guests about the serious lack of affordable housing in the area. I started to feel passionate about this issue. A few months later Pastor John hooked me up with the coordinator of IMPACT (interfaith movement promoting action by congregations together) and before I knew it, I had taken another step. I attended the very first IMPACT meeting with 25 other people from Peace where we voted on what issues to address that year and affordable housing became one of the first issues. Since then I've taken a few more steps, some with confidence and others on legs of jelly, but always in the company of others, who help push away my fears and provide the example I need to take the next step.

There are many of other examples of people at Peace using their servant feet and they all started by taking a first step. Here are a few more stories.

[I put a video together where 3 other people from Peace talk about their first step, a handy way to shorten my talk time and it worked out really well.]

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

take back the _____ (fill in the blank)

Seems like everybody wants to take something back these days and not in the "I'm sorry I said or did that, I wish I could take it back" way, but in the "we need to take back control of the _____" way. One way or another we want to take back the country, the presidency, the congress, the banks, the schools, the streets, the neighborhood...

I just heard Snow Patrol's new single, Take Back the City, last night on my way to The Heart of Christianity book study. Maybe I was just in that "churchy" mode, but I started replacing "the city" with "the church" - not as catchy, but it really resonated with me. Here you try:

It's a mess
It's a start
It's a flowing work of art
Your city, your call
Every crack, every wall
Can't decide, pick a fight
but get your epitaph right
You can sing till you drop
Cause the fun just never stops

I love this city tonight
I love this city always
It bares its teeth like a light
And spits me out after days
But we're all gluttons for it
We know it's wrong and it's right
For every time it's been hit
Take back the city tonight
- Take Back the City by Snow Patrol

A part of me so wants to take back the church. I want to take it back from the literalists, the dogmatists and those who want me to believe six impossible things before breakfast. But then what would I do with it? One of the reasons I love Borg's book is that it does such a great job of reminding me that I am not alone in my views (emerging paradigm) and that my views are not alone (earlier paradigm).
"The issue isn't that one of these visions of Christianity is right and the other wrong. Rather, the issue is functionality, whether a paradigm works or gets in the way. For millions, the earlier paradigm still works. And if it works for you - if it hasn't become an obstacle and if it genuinely nourishes your life with God and produces growth in compassion with you - there's no reason for you to change. Being Christian isn't about getting our beliefs (or our paradigms) right." The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg, pg. 18

So I guess the issue isn't about taking back the church, the issue is about everyone being included. What a wonderful mess that would be!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

all you do to me is talk, talk

Talk talk talk talk. Sometimes I think that's all the emerging crowd does. Talk about theology, talk about words, talk about talking, talk about inviting others to talk.

I too can get caught in this mode, so I was ambivalent about starting a book study to talk about The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg. What's the point? Where's all this talking going to lead?

The thing is, this book has already had a profound impact on my life. Every chapter I've read has blown my mind and I literally have to take a break to let the words sink into my bones. Like this gem:

"I don't think that Jesus literally died for our sins. I don't think he thought of his life and purpose that way; I don't think he thought of that as his divinely given vocation. But I do have faith in the cross as a trustworthy disclosure of the evil of domination systems, as the exposure of the defeat of the powers, as the revelation of the way or path of transformation... as the proclamation of radical grace." - pg. 96

Borg seems to be taking head on many issues I have with the creeds and the modern baggage they carry as well as dismantling the facade of American Christianity, exposing a center I long to embrace.

So I haven't even finished reading the book yet because once I knew I was doing the book study, I wanted to wait and share my thoughts with others. I guess that is ultimately why we talk - to share - to know and be known by others - to develop relationships. At the end of the conversation - when we're finally ready to ask "what do we do now?" - I just hope that all this talk eventually leads to action.

"Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." - Ben in Return of the Jedi

Saturday, September 13, 2008

flickr meme

1. after eating olallieberry pie, 2. Pasta Flower, 3. Guadalupe High School, Seguin, Texas, 4. Purple Euphoria, 5. Dr Horrible, 6. Dr. Pepper & Friends, 7. 20050815-vs-0110, 8. Chocolate Chips, 9. Released to Public: Sinai Penninsula and Dead Sea from Space Shuttle Columbia, March 2002 (NASA), 10. Call of the Raven (formerly Nature's Special Effects), 11. splash!, 12. splurge

Found this meme at brother maynard's. I like messing around with flickr and the flickr toys at big huge labs, so I thought I'd try it out. If you want to play along, instructions are below.

a. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
b. Using only the first page of search results, pick an image.
c. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into mosaic maker.

The questions:

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you go to?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. Favorite drink?
7. Dream vacation?
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. One Word to describe you.
12. Your flickr name.

sources: subversive influence & ravine of light

Friday, September 12, 2008

quest for fame

I took my middle school students on a short trip down my memory lane. My purpose was to provide a glimpse into the time line of technology during my lifetime, to give a few examples of IT jobs and frankly, to show off my part in the Quest for Fame.

When I was in middle school, my glasses were way too big and I didn't have a computer to use at home or school or anywhere. I did get to lug around this big cello though.

In high school, I learned to type on a typewriter. I loved math. My dad bought a new fangled gadget called a microcomputer, the TRS-80, affectionately known as the "trash 80". It had a whooping 16K (16,384 bytes) of memory and a highly unreliable tape cassette drive for storing programs. Compare that with computers sold today that usually come with at least 1G of memory or 1,073,741,824 bytes and huge, reliable hard drives.

I went to a small liberal arts college and majored in math. Then I took my first computer class and changed my major. I still didn't have a personal computer and had to go to the computer lab to work on all my assignments - I was afraid of crashing the mainframe computer.

I was lucky enough to be at Texas Lutheran College (it's now called a university, but it's not any bigger) for the one and probably only year that IBM came recruiting for co-ops. I became a tester for the System 36 in Austin, TX.

After graduating college I worked for IBM for 12 years starting as a tester for OS/2 LAN Server. A tester is someone who tries to think like an actual user of the product and to make sure the software operates as expected on all supported platforms. If I found a problem, I would write up a bug report. Then the developer who wrote the code and should fix the problem, would try to convince me that a customer would never actually DO THAT! Yes, it was fun times - it's where I met my developer husband. We still argue like this.

Next I tried technical writing because the manager of that group was looking to mentor a new manager and that's how I got on the fast track to management. I became a manager of people (writers & GUI developers) and products. From there I mysteriously went to the dark side - ISV support for DCE. If you don't know the acronyms, that's okay, I was speaking about it in front of lots of developers and I didn't really understand it either.

The highlight of my IBM career came as the test manager for Interactive Media, a short-lived multimedia publishing studio complete with it's own high-strung Hollywood producer. I really enjoyed setting up the test lab and working with a great bunch of young people. We tested and published one of the first voice-recognition games with JungleBook, the world-class Worldbook, many sporting event websites and my personal favorite, Quest for Fame - the precursor to Guitar Hero (and a lot less bulkier).

Monday, September 08, 2008


Somebody who I thought knew me pretty well, actually asked me where I stood on the political spectrum. They knew I was originally from Texas and assumed that would automagically put me in a certain "camp". My emphatic response - NO - I'm a hardcore liberal, can't you tell?

I thought it would be obvious that I've decided. What about the undecided? I keep hearing that this election will be decided by the undecided. How does that work? Why would anyone be undecided? What is the undecided voter looking for? Is it fact, substance, personality, experience, values, positions? What for that matter am I looking for? Am I blindly following the democratic party out of habit? How do you get beyond the rhetoric?

It seems there should be a few interesting ways to pierce the rhetoric these days:

what are they actually saying?
you know with out all the glitz, hype and adrenaline

- The Words They Used, New York Times, September 4
- i love wordles

who's been to their party?
to me, this seems really telling
- the democrats actually collect their stats and this was their most diverse party yet (including slightly more women than men and 24.5% African-Americans)
- the republicans may collect their stats, but they don't release them, according to this npr report (the lowest number of African-Americans in 40 years, 1.5%, and a 2-to-1 ratio of men-to-women)

what's their agenda?
I thought this would be pretty easy to figure out, just look up a comparison of Republican and Democratic National Platforms, right? I didn't have much luck. There are lots of individual stories about differences, but I could not find a comprehensive comparison. What's up press? It was also tricky just finding the platforms themselves:
- I could only find drafts of the Democratic Platform and then it looks like the high points morphed into this site.
- I found the Republican Platform here. What's strange is that when I tried to find the high points on the gop site - I kept finding President Bush's agenda, not McCain's?

So, after this little research project, I'm starting to understand why someone might still be undecided. Why decide when real content is lacking and indecision gets you more attention anyway?

p.s. I'm still so decided - the democratic party is not perfect and I worry that we may be putting Obama on a high, thin pedestal, but the party and Obama best represent my hopes and dreams for the country and beyond.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

are you a Colbert Report fan?

I'm a Daily Show junkie, but lately I've been giving up on Colbert. I find I just can't hang with his self-styled cult of personality or as he puts it, his reconstruction of "the news". So, it was nice to hear Stephen's real voice in this interview.

thanks for the find jonathan brink

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

discovering the mommy blogs

It looks like I've been blogging for almost 4 years now - times flies! I've tried a few blog make-overs in that time, but now that my sister-in-law has gotten in on the blog action, I'm finding that my blog is pretty blah. From her site, I found myself exploring a new whole world of mommy blogs, all very hip and chic. I'm not so ready to go chic, but I did try to add a little hip. Here are a few of the mommy blogs I explored:

Mom Blogs