Eve Meets Mary

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Lately, as I’ve made my way home from work here at the church, I can see the stars in the sky. And it’s not because I’m here until 10pm.

No, the days are growing shorter… the air colder…
This is the time of year when we are preparing ourselves for the longest night, the winter solstice, and while the daylight wanes, we are clinging to reminders that better days are ahead.

Right here, in the midst of this season of darkness, we remember that it is in the darkness that new life comes.
The bulb has to be planted within the cold, dark earth to bring forth its buds.
Babies grow and are formed in the dark warmth of the womb.
And in this “bleak midwinter” we set out our evergreens and yule logs to remember that resurrection and eternal life are ours.
We are waiting, you see, during this time of Advent for the birth of the child spoken of by prophets… the Savior, Messiah, Prince of Peace, Light of the World.
And… as people born on this side of his birth, life, death, and resurrection… we are still waiting.
Advent you see, is not only a season of remembrance. It is also a time to look forward. The fullness of that kin-dom that Christ came to bring has not yet fully been realized.
All we have to do is open the newspaper to know that God’s will has not been done on earth.
We are still waiting.

Earlier this week, I heard news reports that the Island of Puerto Rico still only has power for 46% of its residents. The devastation of Hurricane Maria was so severe that months after the winds and rain poured down, rural areas still do not have any access to resources.
But not only Maria… the impacts of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana are still being felt.
While it is not as present in the news, the continual onslaught of storms in Louisiana has had a doubled impact because of the simultaneous destruction of wetlands. The dead zone in the Gulf created by run-off farther up the Mississippi and the altering of the flow of the Mississippi for human habitation has devastated the area. The US Geological Survey now reports that nearly 1,900 square miles of land have disappeared in the last seventy years.
Sometimes, the sin and destruction and pain of this world is almost too much to bear.
Sometimes, it feels like we have been waiting too long.
Sometimes, it is hard to have any hope when we look out at reality.

Maybe that is why I find so much comfort in the words of The Archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput. He defines hope as a choice, “a self-imposed discipline to trust in God while judging ourselves and the world with unblinkered, unsentimental clarity.”
Those words remind me that hope is not a naïve sentiment or wishful thinking.
We can look out unfiltered at the world that surrounds us… and we find hope at the intersection of what we see and our faithful trust in God
Hope doesn’t shirk away from problems or difficulties, but enters into them, confident that God will be there and will bring order, life, and joy out of the chaos.
That hope is not only for you and me. It is for all of creation. This whole world is waiting with us.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we are reminded that “the whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice – it was the choice of the one who subjected it – but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.”

Whatever was intended for creation, with the tree of life and fertile land and those first humans holding dominion over it all, is not what we experience today.  When we read through those first chapters of Genesis, there is no mention of rainfall or storms, no death, no decay, only life, and life abundant.

Our faith explains the brokenness of creation – the cycles of destruction, natural disasters, violence, and death by pointing to a single moment: When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden (Genesis 3:6-7).
At that moment, everything changed.
That first sin, that first rejection of God’s intentions, had an impact on the entire world! God confronts Adam and Eve and there is not only punishment for the snake and the two humans, but as Genesis tells us, “cursed is the fertile ground because of you; in pain you will eat from it every day of your life. Weeds and thistles will grow for you, even as you eat the field’s plants; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread – until you return to the fertile land.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
We acknowledge this pain of creation even in the songs we sing this time of year. We proclaim how “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy”…. But we also sing about the groaning of the earth itself and its longing for redemption… “no more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.” (Isaac Watts, Joy to the World, UMH #246)

And as our Advent candle reading from Isaiah lifts up, it was not only the first sin of Adam and Eve that impacted creation, but as we continue to sin, the earth dries up and withers. (Isaiah 24:4-5)
Theologically, we are called to remember that our selfishness, our disobedience, our breaking of the covenant impacts the physical world around us. Because of our continued sin, the whole of creation is trapped in a cycle of death, enslaved by decay, and waiting to be set free.

So where is the hope that Paul writes of in Romans? Where do we turn for hope as we look out at the groaning of creation today?

maryconsoleseven

One afternoon I stumbled upon an image that took my breath away.

It was drawn by Sister Grace Remington who is a member of the Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey here in Iowa. It depicts Eve, clad only in the flowing locks of her hair and clutching that forbidden piece of fruit. Her leg is entwined in the grip of a snake; her head hung in shame. Evil, sin, and death are her legacy. It is our legacy.
But with one arm, she reaches out and places her hand on Mary’s womb.

Mary stands there full of grace and mercy.
She gently touches the face of Eve as if to tell her it is okay. She holds her other hand over Eve’s and together they feel and experience the life of the one who was coming to redeem and restore all the creation.
There is hope.
When Paul writes about the groaning of creation and all of God’s children, he describes that pain as nothing compared with the “coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
And then in verse 22, he uses the Greek word synōdinō to portray this reality; a word used only once in scripture to describe the agony of childbirth.
Creation is suffering labor pains.
Something new is about to be born.

In this season of Advent, this image of Eve and Mary fills my heart with possibility and invites me to hear the words of Romans 8 in a different light.
So often, I hear the frustration and groaning of the text, instead of diving in to see the good news.
Yes, the world around us is groaning, but they are labor pains. Creation itself is about to be delivered, to be release, to be set free to become what God fully intends for it.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul keeps pointing back towards Adam, because in those first human beings, we see God’s ultimate intention for the human race.
Paul believes that in Christ, in that child that would be born of Mary, the human project finds it’s completion (Jospeh Sittler).
In the beginning, there was a part for humanity to play – tending the garden, carrying the image of God, helping all of creation to thrive.
And now, as Christ is born into our lives and we claim the Spirit of God that sets us free, it is our job to take up that role once again.
As this image conveys, in Christ, we find release from our temptations… that snake of sin that would bind us is being stomped on by Mary.
In Christ, we find forgiveness for past transgressions… the head hung in shame and guilt is gently touched, the hand is embraced.
The way we have lived on this world – using and abusing God’s gifts for our own intentions – doesn’t have to be the way that we move forward.

In fact, Paul tells the Romans that those who have been set free by the Spirit of Christ have an obligation to live as God’s sons and daughters right here and now.
Not for our sake.
Not for selfish reasons.
But because the whole earth is waiting for us to do so.
The love and mercy of Christ reaches out to us as the descendents of Adam and Eve and yes, we are offered forgiveness, but more than than, we are empowered by God’s Spirit to live differently.

Paul believed that God linked the restoration of creation with you and me, and so I find hope in this season of Advent in the possibility that people of faith can help to change the tides of decay.

All throughout this season, we will highlight some of those stories and ways we can make an impact, but these Christmas Trees here at the front of the church remind me of one…

 

In the midst of that loss of habitat and wetlands in the Louisiana delta, people are working to restore the wetlands and help mitigate the impact of storms by collecting used Christmas trees.
As they deposit them into threatened bayous, they become the basis for new marsh vegetation and they help to reverse erosion.

We have a choice of how to live on this earth and whether or not we will obey the call of God to care for all of creation.
Just like this image of Eve, may we be transformed by the birth of Christ into our lives, so that we might be the hope for the world.

 

NOTE:  This sermon is an adaptation from chapter one of my book, “All Earth Is Waiting.”

Social media, Artwork, and Annual Conference #iacartwork

First off, from our conference artist, Ted Lyndon Hatten:

My goal is always the same – dialogue. I think HyVee Hall works against that aim. It is not a space that lends itself to conversation. So, I’ve secured a room on the lower level and will be converting it into a gallery with dialogue-provoking images and installations dealing with hospitality and justice. It will be a place for conversation. Each piece will have a large post-it paper hanging near with idea that we could use it like fb posts. The conversation will accumulate over our time together. I’ve also made talk tags – think name tag, but instead of showing your name these tags show the issue(s) you’d like to talk about. I guess you could say that I’m asking the delegates to go trolling for conversation by wearing the bait. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he calls us to fish for people.

Eh, maybe not exactly what Jesus had in mind… but what a good idea!

In addition to the face-to-face interaction, gallery dialogues, and conversations around our tables at our annual conference, I am attempting to help foster some electronic dialogue through social media.

It begins through facebook and twitter, the hashtag #iacartwork (Iowa Annual Conference Artwork)

By attaching #iacartwork to your posts, you will help us compile all of the thoughts floating around out there into one central location.

I imagine that this social media component will help us to focus on hospitality and justice through this artwork… even as we are sitting down around the tables in that HUGE room.

When your mind starts to wonder, think about what you have seen in the art gallery… think about what moves you… and instead of playing solitaire or doodling in your conference notebook or making snarky comments on facebook – share your thoughts with others.

Post from your cell phone.

Post from your laptop or Ipad or Kindle.

Post from whatever.

Just engage in the conversation.

Help us to keep hospitality and justice at the center of all that we do, say, think, and feel this Annual Conference.

it causes me to tremble…

Day two of our annual conference has completed.  We have voted on exactly 7 items of legislation. And we have celebrated and praised and prayed and remembered and sung and danced and ate and hugged and sat and walked and listened.

Some brief highlights for me so far:

  • “Hi, I’m Fred.”  Our “priest” for the conference introduced himself and welcomed us into a spirit of worshipful work and I truly have felt this particular time of conference has felt different because of it.
  • advocating for young adults at our legislative section and dreaming up possibilities for community college ministries
  • Rev. Doug Ruffle’s challenges to be a sign, a foretaste, and an instrument of the Kingdom of God…
  • crazy fast and delicious dinner at A Dong
  • even though clergy session was inhumanely long – it had a wonderful spirit to it as we gathered to worship (thanks clergy band!) and celebrate the ministry we share… and have good conversation about itinerancy
  • ordination!!!!!!  being surrounded by family and church members and friends, the weight of all of those hands upon me, the feeling of the bible underneath my fingers, singing with joy
  • the reminders throughout the day of the gift of the scriptures:  Bishop Kulah talking about Jesus expounding the scriptures; Barbara Lundblad’s take on radical love enfleshed in John’s gospel (love that bends down, that reaches beyond, that puts people before rules, that is here in this moment, that renews itself as soon as you think it has ended); Bishop Job sharing what a day, a year, a decade’s worth of living in the word can do for our lives; a friend’s amazing rendition of a song from the musical Philemon during prayer;
  • the Rethink Rock video
  • the voices of young adults who stood to speak out of love for what they care about on the floor.
  • sharing deeply with one another truths about things that have hurt us… so that we might give them over to God.
  • our conference artist’s work… and the poetic description of what God is sharing with us through it. The idea of being baptised into the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ being symbolized by a font filled with shards of glass… of chairs of hospitality inviting us to take our seat… the challenge that being radically hospitible brings… of the chair on the cross being an invocation – asking for God to enter our lives. 

ancestors and language

Part of the reason I have been conspicuously absent lately is that I was getting ready for and now being invigorated by the Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa pageant and Houby Days.

I was invited to be a judge at this year’s competition and I was honored to do so. For those of you who aren’t aware – I was Iowa’s first ever (official) Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa and was sandwiched between two amazing women who not only represented Iowa, but were also national queens. So, this was a great chance to reconnect with something I have been away from for oh, about 7 years, but it also was a good opportunity to get back in Czech Village after all of the flooding last spring that devasted the Avenue.

Can I just say first of all how much I love kolaches?! I had 3 by the time it was 10am. Seriously – they are good… go get yourself one!

The only disappointment for me that day was that I did not have a kroj to wear. Kroje are the traditional costumes worn for festivals and special occasions and I have one that I wore as the Czech Princess in high school and then another I wore as Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa. (you can’t see it in this picture – but I’m third from the left… pictured with the other contestants in Wilbur, NE at Nationals and our “little sisters”).
Unfortunately, neither of them fit. And I haven’t had enough time to do the proper alterations. And I need to find the time to get it done – it just wasn’t going to be in this last month. So, I was kroj-less.
BUT – with all that went on, with all the beautiful kroje worn by men and women all day long, I really wanted to think about making another one. One that more accurately represents where I am now, as a married woman, and as someone who also wants to learn more about her history.
I was so inspired in fact by this weekend that I’m looking into taking a Czech language class this summer (although right now, it appears the class is full) AND I immediately hopped online to do research about my ancestors. I have discovered that unlike what I previously thought, my ancestors on both sides (at least the ones I have found information for) are from Bohemia, not Bohemia and Moravia (although there is a Moravia connection there also). I have even discovered a few little villages where some of family is from!!! From another woman’s family tree (if we are indeed connected like it appears) the Benes family that I am descended from has roots in Krasolesi, Bohemia – a village kind of half-way between Prague and Brno. On the Ziskovsky side, Cathrina Toman was born in Litomysl, Bohemia – with her father being from Jevisovice in current South Moravia.
I am sooooooo interested in finding more about these people and where they lived and what the local kroj are like. I would love to design one that represents a married woman’s kroj for that area.

accountable.

So. I’m going back and forth over whether or not to post what my lenten discipline will be. I was all for it, and then I got to thinking about the whole “do it in secret” call of Matthew’s gospel… the appointed reading for Ash Wednesday.

At the same time however, discipline needs accountability. With no one else to check in on me, or watch over my shoulder and gently nudge… “hey katie…” will I keep with it?

Also… I’m only like 75% about what my actual lenten discipline will be. I like to abstain from one thing and take on one thing – and I can’t figure out what I’m going to take on. (which is kind of important, since, um, Lent started today)

So. I need the push to make a decision and having to post it and then follow through before heading to bed for the evening is important.

1) I will be abstaining from meat for Lent. This is something that I have done in the past, and now is a good time for my body to also be abstaining from the extra fats due to my upcoming surgery. Meat is a really tough thing for me because my families are such big meat eaters. Even in meals at home with Brandon, meat is always center stage. So having to think about other cooking options for myself, or eating less at a meal really is not a natural step for me. Everytime that I eat, I will be recalling this commitment to God I have made. And I love to eat. Meals now become this prayerful time of communion, rather than a hurry up and cook up some boring chicken and rice-a-roni. Not to mention the benefits on the planet (which God calls us to take care of) that a vegetarian diet entails.

2) My prayer life has been suffering lately. I’m just going to be honest. I have really struggled with what I need to boost that prayer life. Do I need to keep a prayer journal before bedtime? Maybe use art as an expression of prayer (like Jan Richardson) to try something new? I have a beautiful handmade paper journal that I haven’t used yet (thanks Jill!) and I’m going to bust it out this Lenten season. I’ll have it beside my bed with some colored pencils and chalk… and then maybe I can do both!

senseful worship

I am a strong believer in using all of our minds, bodies and souls in worship. And one of the primary ways that I try to encourage people to reach that place is by thinking of all of our five senses and the worship experience. What are the things we hear? What kinds of smells do the scriptures bring to mind? What does grace taste like? What does the gospel feel like? How can we use color and images to see God?

Now – all of that is much easier said than done. It takes so much work to craft worship experiences and to be honest, for the most part I stick to a basic liturgy and try to throw one of the senses we neglect in worship (taste, touch, smell) in every now and then.

I have been thinking a lot about wanting to pick this practice back up again for Lent – even if I focus on just one sense each week. The scriptures for Lent 1B include the promise of God to Noah in the rainbow, and two years ago, we used that scripture in our emerging worship service in Nashville to literally paint a rainbow among the congregation. We had six canvases set up around the worship space and people were invited to travel among them and write/paint images, words, colors that expressed their understanding of promise and covenant.

I would LOVE to do that with my congregation. It would incorporate touch, color, movement, engage our minds etc.

I’m having more troubles thinking of what to do with the next week and the Lent 2B scriptures. Our theme is “Challenge” and the focus is on taking the leap of faith to trust in God’s promises – using Romans 4:20-22 and Mark 8:34-35

Untitled

A Mosaic project…

images correspond to the following answers:

What is your first name? Katie
What is your favorite food? Lobster ravioli
What high school did you attend? Prairie High School
What is your favorite color? Indigo
Who is your celebrity crush? Sean Connery
What is your favorite drink? Cosmopolitan
Where would you go on your dream vacation? Maui
What is your favorite dessert? Strawberry Jell-o Cake
What do you want to be when you grow up? A Preacher
What do you love most in life? Brandon
Choose one word to describe you? Absentminded
Your Flickr name? amomono

clearing away brush… planting new seeds

there are so many things happening in the church and in our lives! And I really should have been here sharing all of it!

I’m making a list and maybe I’ll get back and update sometime today.

Church
1) Be the Church Sunday
2) Garage Sale Success
3) So many funerals
4) 5 baptisms in one sunday!
5) art project – genesis reading

Home
1) Birthdays and more birthdays
2) finally getting the lawn mowed
3) starting my garden!!! (and clearing out the weeds)
4) got the grill, got the outdoor furniture, ready to bbq!
5) tasks that have been put off for a while finally getting done (insurance, wedding pictures, hanging pictures on the wall)
6) finally reading for pleasure again! (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Water for Elephants)

Things are really falling into place right now and everything feels good. now if I just had more time in the day!

… … … … …

Finally back around to update a few things.

1) Be the Church Sunday: Our church organized an afternoon of community service and outreach to our homebound and nursing home residents. We used the quote “don’t go to church, be the church” to kick off our event and even made t-shirts that have come in handy for other service projects as well. It was a great success – we helped quite a few people, brought the church to many who haven’t been able to come for a while, and I think really came together as a church as well.

2) Garage Sale Success: The city wide garage sale was the last week in April, and we joined in. We made quite a bit of money with the items that were donated, but we also went through the church and did some spring cleaning. The biggest surprise: we found fourteen old greyhound bus travel posters in a storage room, and found out they were worth quite a lot! We ended up selling them to an art dealer in California for $100 a piece! We are using the money to jumpstart our building fund – an emergency repair and upkeep fund so that we aren’t always taking money from our ministries to pay for the building.

3) So many funerals – I had 3 funerals in two weeks! And they were very very different, including my first funeral for a child – an infant really who was born with heart problems. It was extremely moving and quite a powerful experience.

4) 5 baptisms in one sunday! – Memorial Day weekend we baptized 5 great-grandbabies of congregation members! I was kind of torn because all but one of them were not members of the congregation, not even Methodist, and probably would never be. But this church is important for their families… its the space where they have celebrated important moments and together experience God. And as a former pastor said, we Methodists are the ones who “hatch, match, and dispatch” – ie: baptize, marry and bury when no one else will… or for those who don’t have a faith home. I talked a lot throughout the service about the importance of making promises and nurturing these children, and how as a congregation, we are making those promises too. I think the message got across, and I look forward to keeping up with these families.

5) art project – genesis reading – this was something that was done at my last church. as we read the passage from Genesis 1, there was an artist who made a mural painting of what was happening verse by verse. So when the text came up again this year, I went for it. I got a very large piece of black foamboard and as the liturgist read the passage, I painted it. People really enjoyed it and I’m hoping to do more art with them (more interactive stuff for them to participate in) in the future. I think it will be one of those ways I can start to edge into more emerging practices.