Hospitality of Strangers

One of several strange and uplifting stories that came out of my trip to Montpelier and interview with the Montpelier and Plainfield churches. As with most strange (and stressful) stories, this involves my handful of a kid, Ari.

We arrived in the Montpelier area early on Thursday so that my husband could do some paperwork at the Department of Education and get his fingerprints taken at the Sheriff’s Department for his teaching job-hunt. Then we met up with his sister and brother in law for lunch at a great Thai restaurant (wait, wait, I’m moving to a town with a great Thai restaurant?!?!), and then to a coffee shop.

While at the coffee shop, my daughter took a little walk with her aunt and her papa, and got a little curious on one of Montpelier’s many bridges. Hoping to see some fish in the little river, she stuck her head between two of the metal rails on the Langdon Street bridge. And, of course, she couldn’t get it back out.

She was stuck for maybe five minutes. It felt like an eternity, but it was only about five minutes, I think. My husband ran (back) to the Sheriff’s station, and within half a minute, there was a cruiser on Langdon Street and sirens indicating the approach of the fire department and the ambulance.

In the mean time, however, something happened that I did not expect. Here in Albany, had something like this happened, I imagine a few passersby would have offered to call 911. That’s not how we roll in Vermont.

The shops on the street emptied.

Cooks came from their kitchens in their aprons, carrying tubs of butter and vats of cooking oil. Observers offered suggestions. One barefoot man, smelling of old beer, ran to a construction site on the next street and returned with four big construction workers and a crowbar. The construction workers, however, grabbed the bars from opposing sides, two above her head and two below, and pulled, creating just enough space for Ari to pull her head free.

A doctor stopped on his way by and examined the back of her head, and then the EMTs arrived and took her blood pressure and pulse and gave her a teddy bear.

Half an hour later, in a toy store a few streets away, a couple recognized us and asked if she was okay.

Ah, yes. This is (one of many reasons) why I think I’ll love Montpelier.

Announcements, anouncements

Having (tearfully) made the announcement in church this morning, I can now tell all of you that it is the intention of Bishop Hassinger and the Cabinet of Troy Conference to appoint me to Trinity United Methodist Church in Montpelier and Grace United Methodist Church in Plainfield, Vermont, effective September 1.

Clearly, there were a great number of tears this morning at the conclusion of the service, not a few of them my own.

Perhaps equally clearly (for anyone who knows me and/or Montpelier), I am very excited about this. My family and I are going to love living in Montpelier and I think there’s exciting ministry to be done there and in Plainfield. I’ll be closer to my mom and my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, and hopefully (soon) my sister and her husband will wind their way back, too.

I gave a kick-butt sermon, too, about something entirely different, but I don’t know that I could have been as honest without the freedom that comes from a tiny bit of exciting behavior.

Of course, not many people will remember the sermon (so listen online!), since I made The Announcement after that.

Sermon: Lessons in What Not to Do

“Lessons in What Not to Do”

( June 29, 2008 ) Does God give us permission to question, to debate, to dialogue about the words we believe come from God? I believe so. I believe God tells us this strange and disturbing story to teach us that we must always question words that condone violence, even– perhaps especially– if those words claim to be God’s. (Genesis 22:1-14)

Signs of life

Sorry about the dead air for a bit there. A few things going on that I will share soon.

A great story about hospitality that will have to wait a day or two.

A pondering: what to call this week’s sermon? I’m positive I’m the only person in the sanctuary who would have understood the title I thought of first: “parenting, ur doin it rong.” Instead, I went with “Lessons in What Not to Do,” at least, until I change it.

I could reflect on why it’s hard to title sermons and stories and such for me, but that might take some time.

For now, it’s about the most beautiful day ever, and my little girl wants to run outside. Who am I to argue with that?


Replying to my sister’s comment from my previous post, and still thinking about it, I got the nugget. I think I figured out not only my sermon, but how I can live with this text (and I didn’t even have to hunt down a copy of Leonard Sweet’s out-of-print book, although I still have a request in to the inter-library loan for it). All it took was wrestling with that passage long enough for the Spirit to bless me (even if I think my hip is a little out of joint!). I know I’ve found good inspiration when it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

So what bugs me about the passage is not the child sacrifice (actually pretty common in Abraham’s time and place), or even Abraham’s blind obedience, inconceivable as it is. What bothers me is the praise. This was the right thing to do, and I just can’t believe that.

What I want God to say to Abe is, “Good effort, and I appreciate your faithfulness, but you’ve missed the point of being faithful. Remember when you bantered with me for the sake of a city full of rude strangers? That’s true faith. Dialogue with Me. Relationship with Me. Not blind following. Have you become so overpowered by the blessings you’ve received from me that you’ve forgotten to engage your whole self– body, spirit and mind in your worship? This is what I ask of my faithful ones: that you talk with me, argue with me, use your whole being in service to me. Ask questions. Recoil from evil, even when it comes from my lips.”

That’s what I want. I want God to tell us that something in us should recoil from a God who asks us to kill our children. I want God to say, loud and clear, this should make you uncomfortable. This should make you doubt. Never be so complacent as to think that I demand mindless automatons (is that the right word? I never know. I can’t say it right).

How would God tell us this? Tell us that we should question even the things we think are God’s words when they tell us evil things?

God would tell us this by telling us a story. A story about someone who gets obedience right and faith wrong. A story that makes us so sick to our stomachs that we have to question whether it (and by extension, any other parts of the narrative that say God is a God of death and malice and evil) can be God’s Word.

Oh, and guess what. God did.

Lectionary woes

Really, seriously, what are we supposed to say about this?

What can we say about a God who asks a father to sacrifice his son? What can we say about a father who agrees? How do we not turn this into further violence by saying God later does the same thing to God’s own son, except without the providing-an-alternate-thing-to-slaughter bit?

Before I give up on this passage and decide to preach, er, Romans or something, I want to mull it over. Is there a word of grace here? Thoughts, people?

Murphy’s Law Sunday

Well, I posted my most recent sermon, Handful of Sparrows. Sermons are now in 64kb, which means longer download time for anyone on dialup, but a more standard podcast quality. Which of course means you can hear my mic feedback at a higher quality now. Yeah, sorry about that.

Some Sundays the world just seems not to want things to go well. Microphone problems and PowerPoint problems were in full force. I felt distracted and out of sorts, and still a bit mopey. Maybe it was the weather, because a tremendous thunderstorm erupted about a third of the way into the sermon.

I’m never sure. Should one interpret thunder claps as applause or dissent when one is preaching?

I’m bloody exhausted.Thankyou thankyou thankyou for Sabbath Mondays.

Where two or three are gathered…

I was asked to officiate an odd funeral today.

I didn’t know the woman who had died, or her friend who had made the arrangements. That’s not odd. What was odd was that the man who made the arrangements ended up being the only person who came.

The deceased had been born, lived most of her life, and passed away in Georgia, but had told her family and her friends (including the friend who made the arrangements) that she wanted her ashes buried in here in Schodack. She passed away nearly a year ago, and there were memorial services for her down South with her many relatives. At this time, the family was ready to have her final requests honored, and so her dear friend brought her ashes to Schodack. And we did a burial service (me attired, of course, in my funeral suit, which, as I’ve said earlier, makes me look a little like a character from The Matrix).

Just him. And the funeral director. And me.

And a gentle breeze through the still-damp grass, and the birds chirping pleasantly in a counterpoint to the prayers, and a view of the Hudson, meandering its way south.

It may have been one of the sweetest, most Spirit-filled memorial services I’ve been privileged to do. There was something so honest and gentle about it.

When was the last time you were surprised by a quiet moment of grace?

Friend and fellow blogger Jeremy has a great post today about the meaning of the Incarnation in a virtual world.

One of the tenets of Christianity is that Jesus is God-with-us, Emmanuel, human. How do we preach the Incarnation in a world where we can craft virtual space so easily and completely?

I won’t try to re-state, as he says it very well, but it’s related to the question I asked Dr. Bryan Stone after his keynote address and the post I wrote about why I blog. I will, however, reorganize and re-post what I replied.

I don’t have any answers about the role (if any) the virtual world can play in spirituality or evangelism or the experience of Christ, but I have some ideas.

I think Jeremy’s right that it has to do with process. We are unfinished people, and we experience Christ as a living, ongoing part of our lives. This means that in the ongoing journey that is a game, or a blog, or an online interaction with eight million lil’ green patch requests to respond to, we can relate to the idea of Christ’s interaction with us being ongoing and unfinished too.

I think it’s about praying without ceasing, making our lives and our actions– all of them, acts of worship and service. My former District Superintendent spoke of prayer as something he did all day; he said “Dear God,” when he got up in the morning and “Amen” when he went to bed at night, and everything in between was an act of prayer. Can we prayerfully blog? Can we carve out sacred virtual space?

i think that it’s about communication. That’s evangelism, anyway, the good news. In as much as avatars and blogs and facebook profiles are attempts at self-expression, they are a part of the narrative we tell. For those pre-industrial agrarian types, the language and medium of a book was radical (you mean we can take God outside the one Temple?). This is the next place where the narrative of God’s love is unfolding. It is of course more than a medium, and that’s sort of the question as always, how not to get the message caught up in the medium, but it’s also a good place to begin our understanding.

I think it’s about understanding what relationship is– and isn’t. There are friends I’ve never met who are dear sisters and brothers in faith to me. I’m not saying that takes the place of the people I can touch and hug and smile at. Those emoticons don’t really convey the love I want to share. :-/ But I can hear from loved ones I can’t be near, and encourage and be encouraged by them. I can reach out to ones I haven’t met yet, and maybe touch and be touched by them.

We are not the first generation to do this.

Imagine, just for a moment, that Paul, rather than writing letters, blogged. That his epistles were blog entries: “@church of corinth: enough with the fighting already! love you guys still, and so does God.” That’s kind of where I’m going with that.

And with that, I have a giggly image of some sort of journalling RPG community recreating the early church and Paul’s epistles in blog form.

Care to weigh in?