God is Speaking!

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Last Saturday, Brandon and I cuddled up on our gigantic couch in the family room, turned on Netflix, and proceeded to binge watch an entire season of a new show.
There was no waiting to see what would happen next… the episode played automatically.
There were no spoilers, because the series, Altered Carbon, had just come out and there wasn’t any buzz about it yet.
We just curled up, stuffed our faces with popcorn, and had the opportunity to experience the entire wild ride.

That is very different from how we used to watch television.
I can still remember in seminary how obsessed I was with Grey’s Anatomy. On Fridays, a girlfriend and I would meet for coffee and we would recap the previous nights episode. There had been one particularly harrowing cliff-hanger and to spend an entire week waiting to see what would come next felt brutal. We spent most of our time debating whether or not we wanted to go online and glimpse at the spoilers on the fan sites to get a clue as to how the situation might turn out.
In the end, we decided we wouldn’t be able to concentrate on our class work if we didn’t know if the character lived or died… We were invested in the story, in the people… as ridiculous as it sounds, we needed some kind of hope, some glimpse that things were going to be okay. So we sought out every single spoiler alert we could find.

Over these past few weeks, we have ever so briefly followed the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In reality, we’ve only scratched the surface, living mainly in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. And already, we’ve encountered God, watched ordinary people become disciples, and have witnessed any number of miracles of healing.
The gospel of Mark moves so quickly from one moment to the next… just like those episodes on Netflix play automatically and keep you engaged for just one more…. In fact – I bet if you went home after worship today and opened your bible you’d find that reading through Mark is a breeze and it would be over before you realized it.
We find out Jesus has the power to not only cast out demons and heal, but to calm the waters and miraculously produce food out of crumbs. Like any great season of television, the energy is building towards triumph and freedom and release over the first eight chapters of Mark’s gospel.

And then we get to chapter 8.
As we reach the very end, Jesus begins to teach the disciples that the path towards victory and life and God’s salvation for all people was a journey through death.
He began to warn them about the suffering and rejection and brutal punishment that awaited.
And it was not an easy message to swallow. Peter even had the audacity to scold Jesus for saying such things.
Yet, this was the path before them.

Imagine, for just a moment, that you are in the very last episode of the season and THIS was the dialogue that was taking place.
You begin to realize that the next part of this story was going to look very different than the first. What was full of joy and celebration and miracles is going to be darker and more dangerous.
You are now invested in this journey, you’ve left everything you have to follow Jesus and now the path looks so different…
How are you going to make it through to the next season?
How are you going to manage the wait and the anxiety and the unknowing?

And so before this part of the story ends, Jesus shares with a few of the disciples a gigantic spoiler alert.
He takes them up the mountain and as they reach the summit, Jesus moves a few paces ahead and then turns around to face them.
And as he does – he changes before their eyes!
His whole body seems to radiate with an inexplicable glory and even his clothes shine brighter than the sun.
Just as the three disciples begin to adjust their eyes to this brilliance they see two figures appear beside their Master… two figures who could only be Moses and Elijah.
As Peter and James and John cower in fear and trembling before this amazing visage – the three figures have a conversation.
Now, if I’m Peter, if I have been learning at the feet of Jesus for a few months, if I have been a part miracles that have taken place, and if I’m led up to the top of a mountain where my teacher suddenly begins to glow and radiate glory… and if I am terrified to face a path of suffering and rejection… then I might grab a hold of this moment and think that THIS was what they had been preparing for.
He interrupts them, offers to build shrines and temples, essentially trying to re-direct the entire journey and turn season two of this story into a show on top of the mountain.

But that is NOT why they are there.
A cloud overshadowed the trio of disciples like a fog rolling in. The glory of Jesus, Moses and Elijah was concealed by the dense cloud and in a rumble of thunderous glory the voice of God spoke to their hearts: This is my Son, This is my Beloved! Listen to him!
Just as quickly as the cloud moved it, it dissipated, and the three bewildered and terrified disciples opened their eyes to find their teacher Jesus, standing before them alone. With hardly a word, apart from telling them not to talk about what they had seen until after the resurrection, Jesus leads them back down the mountain.

I can vividly remember pouring over still images on websites with my friend, trying to guess what was going to happen next in our favorite show based on a few glimpses. We would speculate based on the characters or where they were standing or what else was present in the background and try to make meaning out of the signs so we had something to hold on to.

In many ways, this brief moment on the mountaintop was that kind of spoiler alert, giving the disciples something to hang on to.
The voice of God rang out, shaking them to their very core, and reminded them that God’s power and purpose was present in their teacher, Jesus.
The presence of Moses and Elijah, affirmed that the law and the prophets were being fulfilled in the ministry of the Son of God. Everything they had been taught and believed about the restoration of Israel… of all creation… would come to pass.
And, it was a reminder that even though the next part of this story would look different, they had a glimpse of the light and the glory that would give them hope on dark days.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus has now set his face towards Jerusalem. They were leaving behind the healing and the teaching and were heading straight towards the seat of power… not to be a force that would overthrow it violently, but through a display of righteous love.
They didn’t quite understand what the resurrection meant… but they saw a glimpse, a spoiler, of the things to come, that they could hold on to when the going got tough.

We were never called to build tents and tabernacles to enshrine these moments forever.
This story is not yet finished.
We have to keep working.
We have to keep seeing what changes need to be made.
We have to keep hearing the voice of God speaking into our lives.
And that means coming down from the mountain, rolling up our sleeves, and getting to work.

After all, that is what Jesus did.
The light of glory revealed on the mountaintop was meant for the world.
And Jesus knew that for that light to dwell within each of us, he was going to have to shine even in the darkest places of the world.
He was going to have to confront evil powers.
He was going to have to withstand betrayal and abuse.
He was going to have to carry his cross and enter the grave of death.
But he did it all so that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God could shine on us.

Unlike the disciples, we know how this next part of the story ends. We’ve seen our way through Jerusalem, through the cross, and have watched countless generations listen to God’s call to let their light shine.
What we sometimes forget is that we can’t stay on the mountaintop either.
This is not simply a story we curl up on our couches to experience.
Our season, our part of this journey is still being written.
And God is still speaking and still calling us to follow Jesus.

So as we enter the season of Lent, we, too, will set our faces towards Jerusalem.
This Wednesday, we will remember our mortality and our own journey through death with a cross of ashes on our foreheads.
We will once again have the opportunity to redefine ourselves in the light of the one who came to save us.
Over these coming weeks, we’ll explore what it means for Christ to be our hero and our savior and perhaps we will discover all over again what it means to be a disciple.
Friends, let us come down from the mountain where we have tried to wrap up our faith with a neat and tidy bow. A whole new season is beginning and this time you are ones God is calling to let your light shine.

The Harper Avery

I have been catching back up on last season’s episodes of Grey’s Anatomy as I prepare for the upcoming season. While there were a number of interesting themes this past season, the idea of competition really jumped out at me in the last few episodes I watched.

In some ways, it began when Harper Avery himself was checked into Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital.  He’s the man behind the award which isgiven to prestigious surgeons who have done extraordinary things.
In episodes 6:16 – “Perfect Little Accident”, 6:17 – “Push” and 6:21 – “How Insensitive” there runs the idea that without competition, without a striving for greatness and collegial recognition surgeons will become lazy, fail to take risks, and medicine as a whole suffers.
Recently, there have been a number of articles written about the faith of young people. They talk about the need for parents to be more involved in the religious development of their kids, the commitment levels of teens, and ways for the church to be more welcoming.
But one tidbit of information caught my eye: If you want to reach the boys, and not just the girls—you have to make sure there is some friendly competition.
In my own experience, for our youth group, game nights are the most popular events for the guys. There is a sense of personal investment in the activity when there is a competition. It doesn’t matter if the prize is an ice cream treat or a break from doing the dishes—having an incentive makes all the difference in the world.
Friendly competition is healthy and exciting. Whether you yell, “last one to the top of the hill is a rotten egg,” or challenge a buddy to lose weight with you—having someone to encourage you, to push you, and to challenge you to succeed is important.
So, I wonder what the place is for competition in the life of our religious communities. Does God like competition?  Can it help us to be more faithful disciples?
I’m of two minds on this issue. There are those pesky verses in scripture that remind us the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
But I also think adults crave the chance to belong to a team, to work together, to push themselves to do better, as much as kids do. I think adults need that sense of accomplishment just as much as young people do.
I’ve been thinking about Romans 12 in this context.  For some reason, I remember verse 12:10 saying something about “outdoing one another in love.”  In my memory, it was always this urging to make love the most important thing, to honor and respect others, and to always push yourself to be more humble, more serving, more faithful than the next gal.  It felt like friendly competition to me.
But the New Living Translation says: Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
The Contemporary English Version translates the passage: Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself.
The Message reads: Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

I found my memory jogged with the Wuest traslation : In the sphere of brotherly love have a family affection for one another, vying with one another in showing honor.

Either we are supposed to always put others first and let them win… or we are supposed to push one another in humility and honor… I’m still confused and my greek isn’t very good.  If I infer correctly, the second part of the verse: te time allelous proegoumenoi  – that last word really is telling us to take the lead in putting others first.  Be first in being last… that’s just as confusing as Jesus!

But really… that is the spirit of all of Romans 12. Don’t think of yourself highly, but realize you are a part of a team designed to be Christ’s body.  Figure out what you do well, and do it to the best of your ability. Be zealous, be joyful, give and love to everyone – no matter who they are.

This is our task to do together.  And if we need a little encouragement along the way, if we need a friendly little shove in the right direction – perhaps that is part of what it means to be a team player. Perhaps without that extra little oomphf, then we like the surgeons will become lazy, fail to take risks in the faith and the kingdom will suffer as a result.

In my church, I’m proposing, therefore, a challenge.

We are kicking off a mission project for Heifer International the day after the big Iowa/Iowa State football game… and I know how many die-hard fans we have for both of these great teams.
So, I’m encouraging my church to put that spirit of competition to work. I’m inviting them to come dressed in theirblack and red and gold on that Sunday… and to bring their change and dollar bills.  For the rest of the month, we are going to fill up jars for our favorite teams and at the beginning of October, which ever team has collected the most funds for Heifer International—the other group has to don the winning team colors at church.
We are encouraging one another to share with God’s people in need.  We are working to live in harmony with one another, but adding a little bit of spiritual fervor there, too.  And we’ll see just how far we can push one another through this challenge – we’ll see how deep people are willing to dig.  And just to up the ante a bit… I promised that if we were able to raise $2500 for Heifer International – I would dye my hair!


Today at our county ministerial alliance we talked about the multiple vocations that people have in their lives.  The conversation sprang from a book we are reading together and a scene in which a Catholic priest approaches his bishop to let him know that he has fallen in love.  The priest both feels called to the ministry and called to love and marry this woman that he has met. 

Good old Wikipedia shares that vocation is: an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained or qualified.  While being a wife wouldn’t always be considered an occupation… it is work.  And parenthood falls under the same consideration.  As do our hobbies and livlihoods. And potentially our jobs. As we talked, we became more and more aware of the multiple vocations that have an influence on our lives. 

In my own life, I am called to my husband, to my family, I am called to ministry as an elder in the UMC, and I’m sure that there are many others. In seminary I wrote often about a deep calling to rootedness… part of which comes from being a Midwesterner and the daughter of a farmer.  It is a calling that I am currently living out both by attempting to build deep relationships in my community and with gardening.

The problem comes however, when these various callings that God has placed within our lives don’t always neatly fit together.  The conflicts can be painful. How do we divide up our time and our resources and our energy?  What takes priority on what days?  These is a complex dance that is stepped between these obligations and loves. Not always do we make the right choices and not always is there a “right choice” to make.

Recently, the juggling has been more difficult in my life. And try as I may to give myself fully to my husband and my church work and return the phone calls of my parents and tend to those pesky weeds sprouting up in the garden, there are also the distractions that somehow sneak in and ruin the delicate balance that we create. I spent far too much time this past week reading Grey’s Anatomy fanfiction.  No lie. It’s embarassing really. And over the weekend, as I prepare for Annual Conference, I’m struggling with how I can possibly spend time with the family who are coming into town, while at the same time I have obligations for rehearsals and plenary sessions. I struggle to balance how long I stay after church on a Sunday and heading out to the river to be with my in-laws and my neice and nephews. I struggle with what to do on my Fridays off with my husband when a special meeting is called in Des Moines. I struggle with finding time to get the sermon written when a funeral comes up and find myself taking time away from sleep to get it accomplished. The pull between these vocations is intense!

As I sat down to think about this idea of multiple vocations, my mind drifts to the saints who have walked before us. What biblical characters struggled with these demands?  Which founders of our faith successfully navigated these waters?  My mind draws blanks.  I think about the ones who didn’t…. Paul’s urging of those who were unmarried to stay that way.  John Wesley’s failed relationships. Even Moses left his wife and children with his father-in-law, Jethro, for a time (Exodus 18)… and I’m not sure that when they came back they came back to stay. I’m hoping others can point me to some better role models!

Modern brain science has taught us that we really cannot do more than one thing at a time.  When we believe we are multi-tasking, we are really just switching incredibly quickly between one task and another, giving each full attention… even if just for micro-seconds. But it leaves us fragmented and tired, even though our brains are quickly adapting and getting better at this dance.

What are we to do?  What is the right balance?  And if it comes down to it, what will be our first priority?

television favorites

I just got to watch the first episode of a new season of Bones. And it just makes me happy! There is something about this unlikely match between Bones and Booth, the scientist/rationalist and the person of faith/instinct that really resonates with the way I view myself and my husband. Only we are opposite the pairing =) I’m the person who goes with her gut and trusts in things I can’t see. And half the time my husband and I can’t understand one another – and yet it works!

That and then you thrown in the mystery of the crime and the little things that make me laugh and the slight element of danger… it’s a great show =)

I’m also looking forward to Fringe – which is next on my “to watch” list. I know I said I’m not the scientist, but really I’m not the rationalist. I love the para-scientific elements of the show. I like the mystery involved in what might be possible. I love Walter and his slightly off view of the world and Olivia and her quest for something stable and her super inquisitive drive.

And then there is Grey’s. Which begins next week. I have high hopes tempered by disappointment from two… maybe two and a half seasons… of slight disappointment. I’m really upset that George is dead. And I’m not digging the fact that there are so many story lines going right now that I get to see about 5 minutes of each one in each episode. I’m hoping for a more cohesive focused direction this season. With humor, wit, love, angst and all of that good stuff thrown in. I want something that will match the caliber of the bomb episodes… and the normal everyday conversations about breakfast and the SUBTLE background about feminism and can we have it all and sex and relationships… not all the in your face let’s make a big deal and have a whole episode about it type of thing. My fingers are crossed – but I’m holding my breath.

just to prove how rediculous I am..

I’ve been reading this symbolism thread on the ABC Grey’s Anatomy page, and ever since the end of S4, when this boy was encased in concrete and Bailey whipped out this whole Han Solo narrative to comfort him, there has been this discussion about symbolic links between grey’s storylines and star wars.

The latest:

Richard is totally Darth Vader IMO. This is why I love him. And remember thay Han Solo was FROZEN for a good portion of the story. Han Solo is Derek of course. Leia was the Jedi that never realized her powers. Mer is totally a Jedi.

The thing is, I am really expecting a point at which we see and feel Mer to be innundated with FAMILY. In the same way the little girl who had the army of family behind her we will see Mer to have assembled her own family. Its because she is GIVING. She brings something to the relationships she makes. She doesnt simply take. So if there is a long lost Luke Skywalker who turns out to be Mer’s twin brother, then wonderful! lol.

I’m a total nerd. and I love it!

out of the loop

Alright, I’ve been avoiding the blog… well, not avoiding it, but i’ve been distracted by other things. namely – grey’s anatomy. Sometimes I’m embarassed about how much I’m into the show… and how excited I am for it to start back up.

But I’ve also been legitimately busy at church. The week before last I had two funerals, and we are in full out meeting season right now – getting ready for charge conference.

I am desperately trying to get myself back in shape and keep falling off of that wagon – but I did get out and run yesterday for the first time in… oh wow, like 3 weeks.

Our kitties are getting along much better now that Tiki’s ears are cleared up (he had an infection) and so we are (sort of) enjoying their frolicing around the house… (it gets a little annoying at 3am, when the little one is trying to eat my glasses and the big one is biting him around the middle and they are both yelping and making all sorts of crazy noise).