Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Seven Quick Takes

Clearly from the whining alone, its time for this lovely Christmas break to be over and for us to go back to school next week.
Gladys: But Moooommmmmmyyyyyy, I wanted to pick out my own shirt. But Mooooooommmmmyyyyy, Romulus is hurting my feelings. Etc. Etc.
The lone exception to all the whining is the baby who is so good natured, cheerful and funny we are having an increasingly hard time understanding how she came to be in our family. However, I'm sure when baby #6 comes along she will gain the full measure of bitterness, sarcasm and angst that all the other children have.
Elphine took her own money to the book store and bought a book about Helen Keller and then proceeded to read it herself (HUGE breakthrough) and then, to the delight of me, go around the house for a whole day with her eyes closed, crashing into things and then collapsing in laughter at herself.
Matt bought me a fancy little flip video camera for Christmas. Its so clever and cute and I'm SURE now I'll keep careful track of all the things going on in our lives (ha). He just videoed his "morning commute". What a trial it is for him to get to work in the morning.
The children are all going to play with their favorite person at church today and then their favorite babysitter is coming (early early ) this evening so we can go out to dinner, leaving an entire day where Matt and I will stare blankly at each other and contemplate the new year, or something. The sensible thing would be to wildly clean the house and take on some big organizing project. However, I think it would be psychologically healthier to go sit in a coffee shop and gaze out a window. Or something.
I'm not making any resolutions this year, other than to just try to get through it. Isn't that holy and grand. Of course I'd like to pray more and get skinny and be a better person, but none of those things are going to happen by me just resolving to do them. The only way I can get skinny is by first giving birth (something I have very little control over). The only way I can pray more is if I get enough sleep so that I can stay awake long enough to say something more than "O dear God" (again, hinges on giving birth and then getting the new baby to sleep herself).  And the only way I can be a better person is if I....get enough sleep which hinges on....oh never mind.
Rather than making resolutions, I took a few minutes to review 2009 which was given meaning, definition and purpose by "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" and 2010 which can be summed up in "God's strength is made perfect in my weakness" (of which there was much). I don't know what God is planning for 2011, but if he's looking for advice from me, I'd like it to be something like "And their numbers were added to daily" without a lifting of a finger from Anne who was allowed to sleep in every day and eat bonbons and watch Nigella every Saturday night on the fabulous TV.

Happy New Year! Go check out Jen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Matt tells me today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. I had to preach on this day a few years ago while being pregnant (but not this pregnant) and I must say it was really a rough experience.

On the whole, in the days since Christmas, since I didn't have any time to think before, and am now feeling the full effects of pushing through the week of Christmas on adrenalin, I've been thinking on and off about Mary. Particularly, I've been struck by the timing of her labor and delivery. Obviously, the whole thing was ordained and orchestrated by God--to fulfill the prophets, to have the Shepherds in the right place, etc. etc. But when I think how much time I spend fretting, this late in a pregnancy, about timing, I find it extraordinary that God would time things So Badly for his own mother. (I jest, but only a little.) The very idea of taking a long very uncomfortable trip and giving birth in a place absent all reasonable comfort without one's own mother and family around in support is terrible to me. And yet Mary went ahead and did it. And we can probably reasonably assume that she didn't fuss. And that she trusted God. I am so devoid of this lack of fussing and possession of trust that I can barely look at the picture of the nativity without shame and guilt.

Because from 36 weeks on my whole life is generally consumed with worry and anxiety about timing. There is no good moment to have a baby. You'll miss something--all the children at home will do something interesting that you'll miss, papers won't get graded, something at church will fall through the cracks. I would like to plan ahead for all these eventualities. I would like to be able to schedule and be in control. But the only thing I'm allowed to have control of, when the moment arrives, is the choice to give life, to give birth.

And for those who don't make it, who flinch in the face of this thing, I grieve and morn, and today I pray.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lessons and Carols

Tune in to Lessons and Carols at 10 on WSKG!!! Or if you don't plan to, DON'T CALL ME!!! I'll be listening and I won't answer the phone or the door.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas in my heart the whole year long

Still can't get over how weird The Christmas Carol is and the whole idea that we will all be saved from being ghosts if we just give to the poor.

Still, had a very nice day out yesterday buying five of a lot of things to fill out stockings and other matters. Look like a crazy woman, putting five of everything in my cart--five large oranges, five chocolate Santas, five enormous candy canes, five tiny flashlights, five little puzzles, five boxes of chocolate biscuits, four pens and note books and one tiny doll.

"I have a lot of kids" I said apologetically to the checkout lady as she tried to look uninterested (but I know she was interested).
"When are you due?" She asked in gentle horror.
"In about a month."
"Well, good luck" she admonished.

Luck is not what I need. But I said thank you "in the spirit of Christmas". Today, "in the spirit of Christmas" I'm going to make Persimmon pudding for Christmas dinner and help each child try to secretly make something for some other child. They drew names again this year and they're all obsessed with painting bird houses.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas

My favorite Christmas music ever.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My sermon from this morning: Colossians 1:18-20

A few weeks ago the country of Cote d’Ivoire held presidential elections. RCI is afflicted by that which ails many countries in Africa—strong ethnic groups divided geographically, in this case north and south complicated by a history of strong dictatorships with a good dose of corruption. When Matt came to Africa to meet my parents for the first time RCI dazzled the world by having a coup which eventually devolved into an all out civil war. My mom and dad, at that point living in Abidjan were evacuated three different times before they gave up
and moved to Kenya. Fast forward ten years to these recent elections. The leader of the northern opposition, Ouattara, in that first conflict ran for president this time and won a little over 50% of the vote. Not surprisingly, the incumbent president, Gbagbo, from the south, nullified the election results and had himself sworn in as president again, taking up residence in one section of Abidjan. Ouattara responded by also swearing himself in, selecting a government and taking up residence in the very nice Hotel du Golf—one of my preferred places to go swimming on earth. So RCI is distinguished  right this moment by having Two Presidents and so far 20 people, at current count, killed in various small conflicts across Abidjan and I just read this morning that there has been violence at Grand Bassam, my most preferred beach in the whole world.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a pretty vivid picture of a creation that is broke open, undone. I could certainly list more—small domestic brokenness, little break downs in communication or love that niggle in the back of the mind and are really tough to let go of; the brokenness of the body, of which half of Binghamton experienced this week in the form of a horrendous stomach flu; the breakdowns of the institutions of material life—like my shower door jumping off its hinges and smiting me on my foot. All of creation is broken. It is torn open, undone.

But wait!
Those of you who were here last week should be crying out—
hang on! all creation is For Christ.
He holds it all together.
He made it.
If he withdrew his sustaining loving power for one moment, as Matt said,
we would all shrivel up and disappear.
He is the source of our breath, our life, everything that we have.
How, on one hand, can we talk about the glorious supremacy of Christ, and on the other cope with the serious brokenness of life and creation and principalities and powers?

This cognitive experiential observable disconnect plants us right where we need to be in Colossians verses 18-20. I’d encourage you to have your Bible’s open.

Paul writes,
That is Jesus,
Is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in everything he might be preeminent.
For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
making peace by the blood of the cross.

Ok, so, first, before you protest that these few verses have nothing whatsoever to do with anything we have been talking about, we have to go back to the beginning, we have to be reminded of the nature and place of sin in creation.

Paul is strategically purposeful in his use of the word “firstborn”.
Just to remind you, firstborn can either mean born first, or representative.
So Emma is our firstborn, but Jacob was also firstborn even though he was born second, because he is the head of the House of Israel. Christ wasn’t born first, he is the head over all creation. In the same way Adam, though not born, but created first, is representative or head over all of humanity, that’s us. 

It is hard to understand in our western autonomous individualism that anyone would represent or be head over the entire scope of human beings from the beginning all the way to the end, but it wouldn’t have been hard for Paul. For most of the world, and certainly in the first century, identity is given to you at birth by the group into which you are born and we are all born into Adam’s group. 

Just to fly off on a tangent, I think that’s why its so hard for us, in the west,
to understand political conflicts in Africa where group ethnic language identity is so defining, so basic, so fundamental to individual identity. In this worldview, then, Adam, in his capacity as our representative or head, sinned.
He made the road down which we all go.
He broke his relationship with God,
with his wife Eve,
with creation,
with the cosmos itself
and we all walk in his way by going ahead and sinning ourselves.
As a result we live fragmented overwrought, sick, broken lives—trying always to put all the pieces back together but never quite managing. Something is always out of order.

I belabor this because God’s sovereign will over creation, made perfect in Jesus, is to fix this problem, is to put everything back together. That’s what’s going on here. To establish the authority and power of Christ first only lets us know that the problem was always in hand. There was never a time, even in the first second of Adam’s sin that God didn’t know what to do.

So, how is he fixing the problem?
If you have your Bible’s open, notice that we’ve gone from very big to smaller.
We’ve gone from the immensity of God—because trust me, God is bigger than his creation—to the rather enormous nature of creation, the earth, the skies, the seas and all that in them dwell; to the very big nature of the principalities and powers of this world—imagine living in Abj. at this point and how insurmountable the problem of having two presidents would be--all the way down to verse 18—the body of the church, which, as we sit in this enormous building seems the smallest and most powerless of anything on this list so far.
And yet, here is the church at the end of the list, 
led up to,
left till last like that’s what we’ve all been waiting for.

Shocking, I know, in a world where even the church is looking for something other than the church. The Body of Christ is so out of fashion these days. But we can’t understand the rest of the verse unless we start there. Now, of course, when I use the word ‘church’ I don’t just mean this building. Paul uses the word ‘body’—a living organism, a living breathing alive group of people who have Christ as their head, who love him and are found in him,
who do what he  wants and look more and more like him every day.

The church is made up specifically of people who were once dead in sin, who could not have a relationship with God because they were dead,
who had broken relationships with each other,
who had left creation in disarray--
so far I could be talking about everybody in the whole world, right?
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God—
but then it narrows down.
The church is those whom God has brought back to life.

We watched the Princess Bride the other night. Wesley, if you remember,
was mostly dead, and, to be mostly dead is to be partly alive, and therefore, all he needed was a chocolate coated pill to come back to life.  I think most of us think of our lives in Christ that way. Yeah, I am mostly dead in sin, but not completely. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
If once you sin, which we call do, you are completely unplugged from the source of all life, God. You may go on breathing in and out because God is gracious, but you are spiritually not alive at all. Paul lays this out most completely in Ephesians 2:1.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ

No pill,
no magic incantation,
no breathing machine,
no medical intervention could bring us to life.
Only the work of God himself who accomplished it in a peculiar way.

Look again at verse 18 in Colossians—
is the firstborn from among the dead.
Here is where language is so lovely and Paul is so clever.
Here he means ‘born first’.
Jesus was the first to come back to life after also being completely dead. He was resurrected in his own though new and glorified body. And in so doing he actually destroyed death.

That is the church.
Those who were once dead are made alive in Christ. And having once been brought to life, all the brokenness begins to be reversed.

Well look at your text, in Jesus, the fullness of God is pleased to dwell. God is fully and completely there in Jesus—there’s no gap or bits missing, God is fully there.
And what is the church?
The body of Jesus.
So when you are found in Christ, when you are part of his body, the fullness of God is pleased to dwell in you through the Holy Spirit.
Your relationship with God is fully and completely restored.

It may not feel like it.
Heaven help me it very rarely feels like it. But depending on any feeling of God at all is like sticking your head up in the middle of a gun battle to see how everything is going. 

There you are, on the ground, with your gun and less ammunition that you’d like, peaking out between the bars of your shop window, ready to shoot and hoping to survive. Can that properly be called a vantage point from which to judge the nature of the battle? Who is winning? Who is in place? What’s going on? 
Me, standing in the middle of my kitchen trying to talk on the phone, make dinner, and mediate between warring children am not in the best position to judge the real nature of the presence of God in my life.

In this case we rise up on the wings of Holy Scripture to see things as they really are. Gazing down from the comfortable words of this glorious hymn
we can see that the battle is already won.
There are not two presidents,
two equal parties in the conflict of good against evil,
God and Satan battling it out.
No, Christ is preeminent,
he is sovereign,
he holds all things together,
he has destroyed death,
the fullness of God dwells in him, and what is he doing?

Look at verse 20,
he is the agent by which God is reconciling all things to himself—that means putting them all back together, both on earth and in heaven. 
How? By the blood of the cross.

We’re about to celebrate the birth of Jesus, not his death.
And we’re going to have all the children dress up and show us a picture of this amazing moment when the fullness of God came to dwell in a baby, of all things. And not a cute six month old baby of celebrity parents who could provide everything and be wonderful—no, a shriveled up new baby that cries all night and gets horrible tummy aches and doesn’t smile for a long long time, at least 6 weeks, to parents who hadn’t had any other babies, so how were they to know, in a place Child Protective Services would be on in a second. The fullness of God came to dwell, and that baby grew up and walked his steady unrelenting way to the cross to fix this mess. That’s what we mean when we say that God is sovereign over all things—he is preeminent. Not like a megalomaniacal dictator who sees all the sin and evil in the world and doesn’t care, but a being who purposes, out of love, to reconcile all things to himself by becoming one of those things—those people—suffering and dying. And destroying death. Forever.
That’s the sweet poignant desperate joy of Christmas.
That’s the purpose of the cross.
That’s the end toward which we hope and long.
That the powerful all encompassing overwhelming love of Jesus
will overtake and remake the world.

So you can go ahead and fight the fight.
You can go on muddling through,
following Jesus and keeping your eyes fixed on him
and doing what he calls you to do.
Because he is making you alive.
He is your hope, your joy, your breath, your life.
You can trust him because he has it in hand,
he is holding it all together.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Very Quick Takes

Just as I opened this up to start writing my three year old positioned herself next to me to tell me that the "throw up is all out of her mouth". She was up three times during the night. Why am I blogging?
Probably the same reason I, in the last three sick hazed days, was compelled by some insane force to make three batches of fudge, pizza dough, hedgehog buns, and deep clean the upstairs. 
All the while laughing at the idiocy of that electric car's slogan:
"More car than electric!"
Can't stop laughing.
When not laughing have been fretting and praying about RCI (Ivory Coast). Deeply grateful that my parents are out, but worried about people I know who are there, expat or not, and hoping that God will intervene before the whole country goes up like a firework.
Also discovered who "Snookie" is this week. Wow. Obviously just a matter of time before America goes up like a firework too. This would be a good time, as Elphine said just before we said goodbye to Maggie, for Jesus to come back.
In the meantime, am facing a pile of vomit soaked laundry and a bunch of little kids who are begging for "school". Stupid children! Don't they know that sick days are supposed to be spent lying around watching Snookie, Yo Gaba Gaba (seriously, have any of you seen this monstrosity?) and trying not to throw up? Yesterday after reading about the Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by Pharaoh Menes Romulus burst in to tears when I said we couldn't go see the pyramids today, it just isn't going to happen so stop whining and don't bring it up again.
Also made four batches of Rice Krispie Treats. Ate a whole batch by myself in the kitchen.

Have a great weekend! Go check out Jen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

But you're still not our favorite

So its pretty horrible not having a dog. We're left with two cats that we're endeavoring to love but we realized, this week, that this has always been our attitude towards these cats:

Now that we've seen the reality of our sin we're trying to be nice to the cats, particularly Matt (they always come to me for milk at the very list and occasionally let me pet them), but its uphill going. Basically Elphine's cat, Frances, only likes her and Gladys. Gladys is allowed, by the cat, to drag her (the cat) around the house and pull her tail and sit on her without any repercussions. But if I happen to lightly pet her head at the wrong moment I get bit. And of course Bander, the miracle cat, is a neurotic mess. Actually he's been wandering around the house crying since Tuesday. It dawned on me in the middle of the night as I lay listening to him howl and cursing him silently, that perhaps he misses Maggie.

And why not. Maggie was a solid matronly glue that kept us all sane. Plus she ate all the food all the children drop on the floor at every meal. So I'm trying to manipulate Matt in every way I can think of to let us have another dog. I'm open to suggestions because, in spite of what he thinks, not everything I do is designed gain some predetermined result.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

week in review

Today is a day of getting Elphine to a birthday party, painting Christmas ornaments and doing laundry. I'm also going to watch the Muppets Christmas Carol, a movie I have long (about 3 weeks now, since I first heard about it) desired to see.

I finished reading A Christmas Carol with my class yesterday. Reading it this time has helped put so many cultural Christmas things in their place for me. I've never been a big fan of Christmas. My temperament is more suited to the sorrow and solemnity of Lent and Advent. I relish a bare austere Advent altar and a house during the "Christmas"season with no decorations at all. We put up our tree this year to see if it still worked after being soaked in the flood (NOW! That's the miracle of Christmas!!! Unfolding a perfectly shaped prelit plastic tree with no crying children, no cold, no exhausted trip to a tree orchard with hysterical infants who can't walk and who have had too much sugar and missed their naps, plugging it in and finding it lights up like magic!) but we haven't decorated it and probably won't until after the last Sunday of Advent, for religious reasons, of course, not because we're blinking lazy.

This preference, according to Dickens, makes me exactly like Scrooge. I don't "keep Christmas in my heart" all year. What does that even mean? Is that like having the Holy Spirit? I have Christmas and Jesus, side by side, making me give to the poor and eat too much stuffing, all  year.

I tried to articulate this to Matt and experienced one of those tragic moments in marriage when you realize you have bound yourself in love and devotion to someone who now sees that parts of your character are reprehensibly evil. We both fled to the safety of grieving over Maggie because at least we Agree that grief is good and should be done in an orderly and complete way.

So I'm going to go try and "get in the spirit" whatever that means, by watching the Muppets and painting ornaments. Matt is undertaking to bake Christmas cookies (again, what a big disappointment in marriage--9 years together and never once have I made Christmas cookies) because I keep burning my tummy on the stove.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


I should be getting ready for school, but I wanted to offer a grief and tribute to our dog, Maggie, who died on Tuesday. She was 16 and spry until the weekend when she suddenly stopped eating.

I figured out this week that Matt found Maggie about a year before he devoted his life to Jesus. I came on the scene a few years after that. Certainly she's been here to greet and welcome each of our children as we've had them. Her absence is everywhere in this house and we are all wretched in grief.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I can't really blog because

I have a rich and bubbly cold and can't think very far about anything except the fact that I'm profoundly unready for school tomorrow. Not only do I have nothing to say but I haven't been reading anything either
for Simcha Fisher
who is so funny I have just spent the last ten minutes weeping real tears of laughter. I commend to you her latest post, but also her important and immortal thoughts about the Little Drummer Boy. In particular, point number six
"6.  What is it with this song?  “Little drummer boy?”  What little drummer boy?  You played your drums for a newborn?  Par-rum-pa-pum-what? What kind of drum makes that sound?  100% terrible!  There is nothing and no one that can make this song listenable.  My stars."
I read this moments before hearing Scott Simon (I think--the days are sewn seamlessly together) weeping first about the beauty and sacredness of I'm dreaming of a white Christmas (I kid you not) and then about his 'favorite' holiday song of all time...that's right, the Little Drummer Boy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Alien Joy--Thanksgiving Sermonette for the Southside Ecumenical Service

About a month ago, in the middle of grading a geography exam,  I was overcome by a wave of panic.
Not only was I profoundly and inexorably behind in my laundry mountain,
not only was I not on top of upcoming Christmas Pageant preparations,
not only was I not prepared for the next day of school—
either in having procured the right kind of snack to make everyone happy,
but more importantly in having made any lesson plans—
but in that moment of burden, I saw also a vision of the very few days before me slipping by So Fast that it would be mid-December and I would have made No Preparations for Christmas.
 And so, as usual, the moment I turned to the scriptures to begin preparation for this evening, there was a great deal that God could teach me.
Indeed, these Ecumenical Services, for me, over the past many years, have been God’s constant and consistent Emergency Spiritual Intervention before the beginning of Advent and the chaos and stress of Christmas.

Rejoice in the Lord always,’ writes Paul. And, for you stubborn anxiety laden members of Jesus’ Body who are already making an excuse for why joy is impossible, who are trying to tune me out altogether, ‘I will say it again’, says Paul, ‘Rejoice!’
 And if that wasn't unrealistic enough, Paul goes on.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. Do not be anxious. In everything, by prayer and thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’
 Did anyone notice what I left out?
Exactly, verse five—“Let your gentleness be evident to all.’
Because the Lord is near.’
This is the hinge of the whole passage.
Rejoice, be gentle, and do not be anxious but pray are linked together by The Lord is near.
What does that mean? Near like next door? Near like right at your elbow?
Paul means something very specific.
First, he's specifically talking to those who are in Christ--who know Jesus and who are known by him. If you know Jesus and love him and he knows you, and you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you, than, the Lord is near. He is so near He is in your heart and in your mind. He is not distant, watching you wrestle with your turkey and fret about whether everyone will get along around your dinner table or if anyone will have their feelings hurt or if you got the right kind of tokenary Christmas present for your boss that says not too much nor too little also, and if your children are making the right kind of decisions and marrying the right people, and will you ever get that stain out of your favorite sweater that you’d like to wear at Christmas but the way it  is now there is no way you’ll be able to…
The Lord is near! He is living inside of you through the power of the Holy Spirit so that you are never ever alone. There is never a moment when you cannot go before the very throne of God for help with whatever it is, and God, Jesus, can hear you, see you, console you and help you.
Therefore, on one hand you can be gentle.
Gentle with yourself in setting reasonable expectations for the outcome of your days and your relationships.
Gentle, most especially, with other people. Letting those around you off the hook, being very very quick to forgive, not ever taking offense even when it seems like the only reasonable thing to do.
And then, on the other hand, putting away anxiety.
Its interesting to me that Paul doesn’t start with putting away anxiety. In my human reasoning, I would think, well,
If I’m free from anxiety, then I would be able to be gentle, and then, because life was so pleasant and ordered, I would be able to be joyful—it would be natural bi-product of a well lived life.
But this is not the order Paul gives us and his order says something great and big about joy and rejoicing.
First of all, it’s a command, and therefore, to some degree a decision of the will.
Its a decision we have to make. I'm going to thank God right now instead of panicking. I'm going to pray about this and trust that God is working all things for my good rather than flying in and making a stupid decision. I'm going to forgive this person quickly and completely rather than holding on to my hurt, because I am commanded to rejoice and not to be anxious.
But like every command, everything that God requires us to do, this command is in many ways completely beyond us. I may struggle and try to have joy just as I may struggle to do good works and save myself, but ultimately, because I am a sinner, because I am small, because my mind and heart are cloudy, I will fail. I cannot save myself, I cannot just Rejoice!. I cannot always quickly forgive. Sometimes anxiety overtakes me like a wave. 
No, this command to rejoice, to choose joy, like grace, like salvation itself is ultimately an alien joy, a foreign joy, a great great gift given to us when we give ourselves to Jesus.
 It is the necessary mark of a person’s relationship with Jesus. It has to be there. It is both something that we struggle and strive and pray for, and, when we come down to brass tacks, it is the simple and overwhelming gift that God gives when we place our full and complete trust in him.
 Are you anxious about many things? Give them to Jesus.
Is the weariness of work and family bowing you down? Offer your family and work in thanksgiving to Jesus.
Are you holding a grudge? Put that down and forgive.
The Lord is near, he is in your heart and in your mind and he loves you and he can handle everything—the tiniest most distressing details of life are within his ability to provide for and solve. Put yourself in his hands and take up his Joy.