Sunday, December 31, 2006

Santa Rant

SPOILER ALERT: If you don't already know about Santa, don't read any further!

I'm not going to tire everyone with yet another rant on the consumerism that surrounds Christmas - it's been done and most of you know where I stand by now. Another interesting thought around Christmas occurred to me this year - the Santa Conspiracy. Where does it come from? Why do we perpetuate it? I remember the year that I figured it out - and ever since then Christmas doesn't feel the same - the magic is gone and there's a cynicism that just kinds of pesters at me throughout the season. While I was at my mom's I watched some of the late night talk shows, which were all repeats of course, and caught this one intereview with an actress who was trying to be very careful about the way she talked about Santa Claus so as not to give anything away while she was talking about what she was doing for her family this Christmas. The host ended up making a comment that, if a child had been watching, would have given away "the big secret" and this actress was visibly upset that he did that after she had been trying so hard. Well watching this got me thinking about the things that we tell our kids - the lies that we work so hard to maintain. What is the purpose? We teach kids not to lie - that "honesty is the best policy" and "truth will set you free" and all of that - but we all lie all the time for a variety of reasons!

Due to the season, Santa is the most obvious example right now - we tell kids that it's his "helpers" that are working the malls and shopping meccas, or that "the elves are watching" their behavior to report back to Santa if they deserve gifts or coal. I've even known parents to go to great lengths to "prove" that Santa exists - leaving footprints, notes, and other evidence to be found the next morning. But let's not forget the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny and boogey man - just to name a few of the other characters we create for our children. Why do we do this? With Sants you can make a case that it's the magic of the season, the spirit of giving, blah blah blah... What about the actual magic of the season that this is when we remember that God made an effort to be in this world, this life with us. Why isn't that the magic of the season and the spirit of giving that we explain? Is it because we can talk about Santa in school and not Jesus - that Santa has given us a secular way of dealing with the holiday?

Why can't we find a way to teach our kids the holiday of love and giving without encouraging this belief that their behavior earns them toys? Why can't we be honest with them so that when they get old enough to figure it out they aren't disappointed or permanently suspicious of what grown ups tell them (of course, this happens anyway once they become teenagers anyway)? I love watching kids at Christmas - believing in magic, their innocence, the excitement, etc. - but I do wonder if that wouldn't all still be there without Santa Claus. And if it wouldn't be, what does that say about us??

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

NOT NOW I'm still at my mom's house in Rhode Island for the holidays but I wanted to start looking to the New Year and evaluating my commitments and priorities. One of my favorite "jobs" at seminary is being the co-chair of the Social Justice Committee. We're a group of students and staff who try to educate ourselves as well as the rest of the Saint Paul School of Theology community about any of a number of social justice issues, both in and outside of the church (although there's nothing that doesn't have a theological implication or perspective). To help keep ourselves focused, the SJC chooses two "focus issues" - particular topics that we commit to covering for that calendar year. The 2007 issues will be 1) to work on justice issues on our own campus and 2) the genocide in Darfur. To begin educating myself and getting the word out, I checked out this website and wanted to share it with all of you as well. I've noticed that there's an ad campaign on tv lately and hope that we can all work together to educate ourselves about what's been going on and work to move political leaders to find some kind of peaceful solution. has a post called "Educate Others" that's worth checking out...

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have responded to the suffering in Darfur by standing up and demanding that their governments take action to end the crisis. However, many individuals still have not heard about the genocide in Darfur. To build the political will necessary to…

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Breathing at Last

YAY!! Last night at 8:35 I finally finished my last class of the semester. This one's been really tough for me - not that the school work was really harder academically, but everything seemed harder emotionally with Angela being gone and talking about violence every week (for one of my classes). I've learned a lot, had great conversations with people, and seen some good friends finish their seminary careers (but they'll come back to walk in the May ceremony with me). Right now all I can say is that it feels good to be done and know that I have a little bit of room to breathe. I'm going to see my mom and her new husband for Christmas this year and I leave on Tuesday, not coming back until a few days after Christmas, so it's a good long change of scenery.

I've noticed a bit of spam on the comments (no the porn stuff is not anything I put up there - not that I don't have friends who would do that to my blog for fun!) so I'm putting the "eye test" password function back on. Sorry for those of you who think it's a hassle, but I'd rather have you type in some characters than have to clean out my comments all the time. Anyway, hope you're all in the Christmas spirit. I have a few days to finish getting gifts together to mail out before I fly east. If you don't have ideas for some people, I'd like to suggest you check out some of the links on the right side of my blog - there's a lot of sites and organizations that have somegreat sutff. If you shop through the Hunger Site, you also feed the hungry when you shop and a lot of stuff is fair trade! Ok, that's the only bit of preaching I'm doing today. Maybe more later...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rules, Laws and Bylaws

Tonight I had the fun task of sorting through Student Council bylaws. Sounds exciting doesn't it? It actually wasn't too bad, but it makes me wonder how anyone writes a law - there are always exceptions and circumstances that you don't foresee/can't plan for that make the rules a problem. Why do we fool ourselves into thinking there are absolutes?

Let me give you an example - we have a section about what to do if a class representative resigns her/his position. There are procedures to follow laid out, typical for bylaws of this type of organization. However, there isn't a definition of what constitutes a resignation and this semester we have a student representative who is graduating. The big ceremony isn't until May, but his credit hours are completed and he lives hours away and isn't going to commute back to Kansas City just to attend a student council meeting once a month. He's not even on campus to hear students' concerns in order to represent them. So does he resign or does he graduate? And if we say he resigns, we have these procedures to follow but now we're going to ask people to run to be student representative for only 3 1/2 months when they also have graduation?! It doesn't seem to make sense no matter how we do it.

This is a very particular situation, but that's kind of my point - there are always particulars to any situation that make it so that there aren't really absolutes. (How postmodern am I sounding right about now!?) We say you shouldn't kill anyone, but have all kinds of exceptions for cases of self defense, abortion, or capital punishment. We say everyone has to pay taxes, but there are all kinds of loop holes, incentives, breaks, etc. Even when people think they are writing a good law, there's someone else who will find a way to use that law to their advantage or do something that just barely doesn't break it even though it's clearly going against the original intention.

So what do we do? I don't claim to be a legal expert of any kind, but it seems to me that we have WAY too many laws out there. It also seems like several of them get written out of the particulars of a specific incident ("we have to make sure this never happens again") but don't necessarily think through the big picture or long term implications of what that law will mean. I don't think laws are a bad thing to have - far from it - but I think we need to evalaute what they really mean. Are they rules that can't be broken at all, or are they guidelines? Perhaps both? Neither? What do you think?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Advent sermon

I know I didn't post my first sermon, and I'm still not going to, but I do want to share this one. Don't ask me why this one and not the other one. I wrote this sermon for an ecumenical Advent candlelight service being held Sunday December 3rd, 6:30 pm at Unity Temple on the Plaza. It's open to the public, so if you're in the KC area, I hope you come!! My group, the Kansas City Coalition for Welcoming Ministries, is sponsoring the service and I will NOT be preaching this sermon then. Bill Tammeus, writer for the KC Star newspaper will be giving the meditation.

But for preaching class, we have to have a context for the sermon, so this is what I wrote AS IF I was going to be preaching for the service. I'd love to hear feedback since this is only the second sermon I've ever written. Please keep in mind that while this is all written out, I never read a sermon exactly as I've written it out. I add things and reword things as I go. The scripture passages read before this sermon would be Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36 (which are 2 of the lectionary texts for that day).

Today we begin the season of Advent. It’s a time of anticipation, of watching and waiting. The kids are watching the days go by on their advent calendars, with great anticipation of the special visitor on Christmas Eve and all the presents he’ll bring. Many of us have been watching and waiting for years, but not in anticipation of toys – in anticipation of God’s justice. We’ve been watching the church discriminate against certain types of people – whether it’s about getting ordained, or who can have their relationships blessed, or even who is welcome to become a member of a particular congregation. It could be because of sexual orientation, or it could be because of gender, or it could be because of race or skin color. Discrimination has been a part of our history for as long as the church has existed. We watch all of this, take it in and wonder what kind of a God, or rather, what kind of church does this to people? We watch and we wait.

Those of us who choose to remain in the church focus on the message of hope and justice that we know through the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ. God is not one to leave things alone when they are unjust. Bible stories make this point over and over again. In the Exodus, God delivered his people from unjust treatment in Egypt. The prophets through the Old Testament cry out for justice – hospitality towards the stranger, support of the widow and the orphan, feeding of the hungry, release of the prisoners. God has always been on the side of the outcast – the homeless, the poor, those of a certain race or gender, and the people of the LGBT community. We know that God is with us, that justice is the inevitable outcome as it has been promised for thousands of years. So we wait for God’s justice. We watch the church and we wait.

In today’s passage from Jeremiah we hear the words of the prophet speaking to the Israelite people in exile. Their lives have been decimated, conquered and humiliated by the armies of Babylon – but not just a random act of war. Jeremiah had been warning the people that they had been unfaithful to God’s wishes and that Babylon was an agent for God’s judgment – not unlike the way AIDS was proposed to be God’s judgment on the gay population in the 1980’s. Whether this is theologically sound is a big debate among Christians – does God really cause that kind of suffering? Who gets to name what is God’s judgment and what is simply human hatred? Pastors like Jerry Falwell used the AIDS epidemic as a tool to increase bigotry and condemn those that needed grace and healing the most. A couple of days ago, on December 1st, we had World AIDS Day – a day to remember those people who have fought and lost the battle with that virus. And we remember that there are millions more people with the virus today all around the globe – and that most of them don’t even know they are infected. They go about their lives spreading the disease to others, and more and more people die. Children are left without relatives because they’ve all gotten sick, and people in poor countries are refused medicines that are known to work because governments or cultural taboos won’t allow for education and health care to work. We watch and we wait.
But Jeremiah doesn’t leave God’s people in despair. He now brings a word of comfort because judgment is not God’s last word. Yes, there are certain things that we can and perhaps should be doing. Yes, God is unhappy with us when we push ourselves away from the path of righteousness, but God’s grace and love is always present – judgment is not the last word. Just as the GLBT community rallied together and continues to work for the healing and comforting of those with HIV/AIDS, God and Jeremiah gather in the people and tell them that the judgment is not the end – they will be ok. God’s love is still present, life will go on, and things will be good once again. There is new research every day and new developments make medicines that work better and cost less. Our churches send medical mission teams and open orphanages to take care of lost children. Programs have been developed from within communities struck by AIDS – in Africa, India, and yes, here in the poor urban communities of the US, people are coming together to talk about this disease and work against the fear and taboos that have allowed it to be spread so covertly. We have faith that God’s justice will ultimately prevail. So we watch and we wait.

In the gospel of Luke we read about the signs of the coming kingdom of God. Jesus promises that redemption is drawing near and there are signs all around us as it approaches. Where are these signs? you might ask. Just as Jesus uses the example of the fig tree and points out that the leaves tell us that spring is already upon us, if we look around us now there are signs that the kingdom of God is already among us as well. Fifty years ago, women were just starting to be allowed to get ordained in our church, but we now have multiple women bishops. Forty years ago people with different colored skin had to sit in different parts of a bus or a restaurant. Now figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X are raised up as heroes and great leaders from our past. MLK is even getting a memorial on the national mall in Washington DC. Twenty years ago we were just discovering a virus and disease now known as HIV and AIDS – now we have drugs that allow people to live long lives while still infected; mothers can go through childbirth without getting their children sick. Ten years ago there was no such thing as a civil union or same sex marriage, and now there are states where such things are possible and more soon to happen. In the wake of 9-11, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Tsunamis in Asia, people have come together around the globe to reach out to one another and help lift up those who were desperate and tired. But the tricky thing about this kingdom of God – it’s here already, working among us, and yet, it is not yet fully known. The kingdom has been shared with us, glimpses shining through a grungy window, in the life of Jesus the Christ. While we can see through spots, the window is very large and very dirty – even when we clean a spot, it gets dusty again. We’re still waiting for a woman or person of color to be the elected leader of this country. We’re still waiting for a cure. We’re still waiting for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to be allowed to practice the ministry they have been called by God to do in the church. We watch and we wait.

There will come a day when the window will shine, clean and clear – our faith tells us that - but it is not anything that we can bring about on our own. This is God’s work. Jesus tells us that he will come back “in a cloud” with power and glory, and we as Christians look forward to that day. That will be the day that God’s justice will truly reign. Jesus also tells us in this passage today, that we must be on guard and not let this day of redemption come on us unexpectedly. There are so many things that can get us bogged down in this life, but we must remember that there is much more. God’s kingdom may show at any time, and we need to be alert and ready. This Advent season I encourage you to be more observant of those little glimpses of the kingdom that are all around us. Yes, there are gifts to buy and parties to attend, families to visit and politics to debate – this life goes on and this season can be hectic, but there are glimpses all around us. While we wait for Christmas, and the birth of our savior, we have the privilege of knowing that in one sense Jesus has already come and started to bring about great things. Now we watch and wait for the rest.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Brief Update

I just wanted to share with you all that I got an A- on my paper about Genesis 19. It's the best grade I've ever gotten on one of these biblical papers, and I didn't feel like I came to a real strong conclusion, but I guess it worked!

Things are really busy with classes right now - papers due every week for the rest of the semester so there probably won't be many posts for a little while. I just didn't want you to get worried. :) In the meantime, discuss amongst yourselves - I'll give you a topic.... Madonna's adoption of an African boy - for the child's benefit or Madonna's??

Hope everyone had a safe, non-diabetic coma Happy Halloween!!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wedding Weekend

This last weekend my mom got married. I had no idea what to feel about the whole thing other than being nervous since I was going to be the Matron of Honor AND be singing in the service. I haven't sung for real in about 10 years (changed my major in my junior year of college and never looked back) and my mom's new husband was a semi-professional singer around the Boston area so he was going to notice when my breathing was off. I was too busy with school stuff to really be able to practice and get back into shape the way I wanted to, so I was worried. I didn't need to be.

The song went fin, but my mom and her groom, Rob, were both so happy just to be there getting married to each other, I'm not sure how much they noticed about what went on around them. :) They were very cute, smiling constantly and all that typical newlywed glowing stuff. The wedding itself was very formal, my mom in a hat, gloves and a long ivory gown. Rob was in tails and I wore a floor length strapless red gown, also with gloves. I don't dress up a lot, so it was kind of fun! Plus the wedding was in Connecticut so I got to see New England's fall colors and they did not disappoint. Everything was beautiful and it seemed like everyone had a good time - there was dinner, dancing, open bar and a live band at the reception. Very fun. And while it was strange to hear people talking about my dad at times, all in all I think it's very cool that my mom gets to have a second chance at marriage and love.

I know more and more people are having multiple marriages, but my parents always believed marriage was forever. When my dad died, my mom was lost in many ways. At one point I was worried about her taking her own life, and she seemed too afraid to do anything to move on. Seeing her this happy was something I never dreamed was possible, let alone probable. Way to go, Mom. And many thanks to Rob for showing her what is possible and that it's never too late.... May you take care of each other and make each other happy for many, many years.

Biblical Incest

Continuing from my previous post, I changed the direction of my paper for class and ended up working on a totally different passage, although alluding to Leviticus 18 at one point. I focused on Genesis 19:30-38 instead. It's the story of Lot (Abraham's nephew) after he has fled Sodom as it was being destroyed. His wife, you may remember from Sunday School classes, looked behind her after being told not to turn back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot runs to a small village called Zoar to escape the destruction, but gets scared to stay there and flees with his 2 daughters to a cave in the hills. While there, the daughters decide to get him drunk and sleep with him so that they can have children. They each end up having sons, one named Moab (explained to be the ancestor of the Moabites) and the other named Ben-ammi or Ammon (depending on which version you read), explained to be the ancestor of the Ammonites. The Moabites and Ammonites were 2 tribes with whom Israel generally didn't play nicely.

What the heck?!?!?!?!?! I was NEVER told this Bible story growing up - or ever. What is this passage trying to tell us? That incest is okay if you get pushed to desperation? I have A LOT of questions about this one.... Why do the daughters have to have children so badly? My guess is that was what women were for - if they don't have kids, they aren't living up to their potential. of course, if they both have sons and there aren't any more kids around, then what? Why do they have to have sex with dad? Why can't they go back to the village to find men to have sex with? Was there something in the village that scared them, as it had their father in the first place? What was Lot's reaction after he realized what had happened? The text says he had no idea when they lay down or when they got up, but surely he noticed their pregnancies. We never hear anything else about Lot - don't know how/when/where he dies, nothing. So was he mad, happy, did he help raise the kids? Who knows.

So what on earth do we do with this? Big Unit - I'm dying to hear your explanation of this one. To be honest, even after reading a lot of commentaries and writing a paper on it, I'm still not sure what to do with it. There are several main theories:
1. This passage was written to explain why the Moabites and Ammonites were "wrong" or "abnormal" and Israel was justified in the way they treated them. They were children of incest and therefore "unclean."
2. This story is written to show how far Lot had fallen. After he chose to live in Sodom in the first place, he had chances to show his righteousness but didn't quite live up to the exmaple in his uncle, Abraham. Before Sodom is destroyed, two angels from God go to check out the situation. Abraham offered them hospitality with great enthusiasm and generosity, but Lot only showed them the bare minimum of hospitality. He then questions the 2 visitors when they tell him to run for the hills, bargaining to go to the village of Zoar instead. Getting drunk and engaging in sexual impurity is the bottom of Lot's barrel.
3. The feminist interpreters see this as a story of empowerment of the daughters (although I would greatly questions this one). While the 2 angels are in Lot's house prior to Sodom's destruction, the men of the town of Sodom come and knock on the door asking for the 2 visitors to be brought to them that they might "know" them, i.e. have sex or rape them. Lot calls the townsmen "brothers" (rather than getting upset) and offers them his daughters instead. So after he had offered up his daughters for sexual misconduct, they turn to the tables on him and make him the object of sexual misconduct instead. Plus they get their sons, making them remembered as determined mothers in the ancestral line.

I honestly don't know what to do with this, so any input or additional insight you can offer would be most appreciated....

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Biblical Authority??

I need to be writing a paper right now but I'm stuck. I'm writing a paper on Leviticus 18 - a chapter dealing with laws of sexual behavior, particularly prohibiting various types of incest. On the one hand, these laws don't seem at all problematic. Our society today has no problems saying incest is wrong (although we don't talk about how often it happens in real life....), but then where is the "interesting twist" for my paper??? I question the Bible's authority in general and yet in this case, I want to go right along with what the words say. Of course, this isn't the only passage where I like what the words say - there are tons, particularly in the gospels.

The problems are more where I don't like what the Bible has to say - such as "eye for an eye" or passages condemning women in positions of authority ove men, or condemning homosexuality. I've learned in several classes, undergrad and seminary, about the ways that the Bible was written (beginning as oral tradition passed down in a lot of cases) and then was compiled much later in history, really only becoming an agreed upon "canon" in the second century. The writers are thought to be a variety of people in various time periods of the history of Israel, the chosen people of God, but these people were all men and were writing for specific audiences and situations. What can a bunch of Jewish men from the ancient near east have to say to a contemporary woman in a same sex relationship??? Many times I think "not a heck of a lot!"

There are many times when I want to write off the Bible as a collection of myths and stories that were deemed important by the writers and some of the their readers, but to which I don't have to ascribe the same level of authority. But the fact remains that I do ascribe the Bible some authority - my sermon was filled with references to Bible passages! I refer to scripture when it suits me, but write it off when it doesn't. One of the biggest values I hold is integrity, and I question whether or not I have any when it comes to the way I read and use the Bible. Does it have authority, or doesn't it?

I don't want this post to come off as too much of a confession (bite your tongue now, BigUnit!) because I know that I'm not the only one who struggles with this. We ALL take some passages as being "more authoritative" than others (for example, do you tend to follow "an eye for an eye" or "turn the other cheek"??). We all choose our own "cannon within the cannon" but the question is DO WE KNOW WHY?? What basis do you use for highlighting certain texts and writing off others? Can we know which texts were "inspired by God" as opposed to written by men serving a specific purpose? Can we know which ones are still valid and applicable today and which ones are bound to the time and place in which they were constructed? This class that I'm in is asking me to figure that out and state it explicitly and I'm don't know the answer yet, but I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on this....

Friday, October 13, 2006

Rocky Mountain High

Last weekend I had a last minute trip to Denver, Colorado. My apologies for the lack of entries lately, but this was an important trip to support a friend who had a funeral to attend. Of course, bonus for me that while supporting a friend, I got to go to a place I'd never seen before, and I have to say that I REALLY like the Rocky Mountains. I'm not sure that I could choose them over the ocean, but let's just say that I truly appreciate the magnificence in many facets of God's great creation.

We were staying in a little suburb on the northwest side of Denver, so I didn't spend all of my time hanging out downtown or anything, but we did go to a fun bar with dueling pianos which was a lot of fun, and then we left ourselves one day to drive to Boulder and up to Estes Park. I was very excited to be in the mountains and we actually wentup to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park but didn't want to pay $20 just to drive through a little part of it in the one hour or so that we had. I know I'm going to have to plan a much longer trip back to the park for some serious camping and hiking. I did manage to get some great postcards to mail to the desert and a new sweatshirt for myself (I needed it with the changes in weather we experienced while we were there - 80's one day and 40's the next!), and took quite a few pictures.
Anyone up for a road trip???


I watched my sermon finally. I'm sorry to let you all know that I won't be posting it on the internet - for a couple of reasons. First, I really do worry about what someone else may do with it "out there" in the public realm. Second, what I typed out isn't really what I said anyway. I put a lot of work into this sermon - from the research into the text to the words on the page and than rehearsing those words on the page. I think it's interesting that when I finally got up to give the sermon, the words on the page were barely used.

It's a very surreal thing to watch yourself on camera - 10 punds or not, I know I'm way too big, and I can't believe how may times I adjusted my hair or gestured with my hands. And I speak faster than most preachers I've heard. Part of that is probably the fact that I talk fast most of the time (NJ upbringing) but I'd like to be more understandable next time. I would also like to know where the hick accent came from - I swear I don't sound like that normally! :)

So now that I've done this sermon and I survived, what do I do now? I had to think about everything that was told to me that day I preached - the compliments and suggestions that this is something I might actually like and should make aregular part of my ministry. At one point I was mad that my teacher/D.S. would tell me that I should reconsider my call - easy for him to say since it's my livelihood on the line! But now I think I'm coming to terms with this. Okay, I preached better than I expected myself to, and better than I really wanted to. I didn't want to be good at it - and I don't know that it wasn't beginner's luck - but the fact is that it went well. This doesn't really change anything. I still do not see myself being a pastor - I don't have the patience or desire. My call hasn't changed. No matter what I end up doing, people will ask me to preach on occasion, and I would have run away screaming before, but now I know that I don't have to do that. I can preach - and that's fine. As long as I don't have to do it every Sunday to the same group of people. :)

I was amazed at how emotionally worn out it made me and I wonder if others have that same experience. When I got done, my legs were wobbly and tears came to my eyes. A big part of that was relief, yes, but there was something more.... I don't really know how to describe it. I just know that it took a lot more for me than it seems to take my peers who di it every week. Perhaps it gets easier with practice (God, I hope so) or perhaps I go about it in a different way, but at least I know I'm capable when the situation arises. One sermon down, one more to go to complete the class...

Saturday, September 30, 2006


I'm writing my first ever sermon right now - I have to give it for my preaching class Monday afternoon. Most of the people in my class are pastors of churches already and preach sermons every Sunday - I've never been and don't see myself ever being a pastor and have never preached at all. Growing up Catholic, I never had a "youth Sunday" where I got to help plan a service or anything - preaching was certainly not an option. I remember the first time I went to a United Methodist church and saw a woman preaching and how strange that was for me - not good or bad, but very different. Pastors and priests had never seemed all that different before then, but suddenly options that hadn't ever been considered became real possibilities.

When I changed my major to religion (from vocal music) in college, I really didn't know what I was going to do with it. There was no reason why, other than I knew I wasn't happy in the music department and when I went on my first mission trip I had an amazing spritual/emotional/gut reaction. I consider it to be my call to ministry of some kind. I knew that the work I was doing and the people I was doing it with were special and there was more that I could be doing with my life. I don't know that I've gotten much beyond that point wiht my call - I don't see myself as a pastor but there's no reason that whatever we do in life can't be considered a minstry if we have that intention. That being said, I'm in seminary and have chosen to get an MDiv (Masters of Divinity) - the same degree that pastors receive. Which means I have to learn how to preach. I don't know what I'm going to do with this degree (it's not required to be commissioned as a deaconess) but I've loved seminary until this class. This I'm dreading. Wish me luck and there will be reflections next week...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I was always find it interesting to see what the Today show considers to be "news" and this morning they intrigued me with a piece about confessions and the way some groups are reaching out using the internet. There's an evangelical megachurch in Edmond, OK (near my former residence) called Life Church which is using the internet as a way to do outreach and one of their ministries is online confessions. People can remain anonymous and type out their confessions online where they get posted for all to see. There are people who confess drug addiction, adultery, pornographic longings, etc. - and it's all right there for anyone to read. My personal favorite is the "sexuality section" where people confess they have had homosexual experiences or currently feel attracted to members of the same sex but want prayers to overcome their sinful ways. I'm not even going to begin on that one.... Once posted, the confession goes up with no information about the author, and they get categorized (by "sin" I guess) - and this is just out there for anyone to look at 24/7. They do have a statement that the site shouldn't be viewed by anyone under 18 as it contains adult content, but still...

The Today show actually talked about that bit on their show several months ago, but this morning's story was a follow up with a response from "other churches" - which actually was only a response from Catholics (no other protestant churches were mentioned or asked for their opinion). Big surprise - the Catholics aren't keen on the idea of online confessions. However, there was no mention about the differences in theology between these two denominations. For Catholics, confession and reconciliation is a sacrament - something sacred and intimately done between an individual and the preist (who represents/mediates for God). Protestants, evangelical or not, simply don't have this kind of belief. Confession is still something that is a part of many traditions, but it's not considered a sacrament, and is often done more as a group than as individuals. Nowhere was this mentioned. They just sensationalized the fact that Life Church, as well as other groups and websites, are offering places on line for people to tell their innermost, darkest secrets and that several Catholics think it's wrong or a bad idea. Yippee.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, what do you think about the concept of online confession? Is it helpful to tell your secret, knowing you'll be anonymous but that anyone can read it? I can understand the need to tell, to get it out rather than bottling it up, but how do you know anyone is listening? Where does reconciliation come in? Is this an acceptable way to reach the unchurched population? If so, what does that say about our culture?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Living Wage vs. Minimum Wage

I've noticed a lot of talk lately about wages in the US. Whether it's WalMart employees that can't afford their own healthcare, or the overty line not moving in the last 10 years, there is a problem in this country with the buying power of the lowest paid. And of course, it's an election year so politicians are more likely to raise the minimum wage to win votes, but I wonder if raising the minimum wage is the solution to this problem.

I admit that I tend to be more conservative when it come to financial matters, while liberal on social issues, but this issue overlaps those two catgories. If we raise the minimum wage, that will help a little bit in the short term, but eventually companies will raise everyone else's wages and costs comparably so that in essence, nothing changed. It will help with housing the most, I would imagine, but I also admit that I am not an economics expert - I only had one class in college and it's debatable how much was actually learned there. I think that people who are working should definitely be able to afford the necessities (meaning housing, food, healthcare, clothing) on that income, and right now that isn't happening. I also think that raising minimum wage isn't going to do that - just like it hasn't done that in the past. It's going to take a much more radical and sweeping change to accomplish that, and it's not one that I see most people being willing to do. It would mean that we'd all have to change the way we live and shop. Am I wrong? Would raising minimum wage do more than I think? I honestly don't know, so I look forward to your thoughts and explanations...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Diversity or Difference

Last night I had my class "Christian Ministry in a Violent World" and we got into a little bit of a debate about difference and diversity. We read an article that dealt a bit with the theme of ethnic purity that plays out in various Old Testament passages (yes, we really do refer to the bible in seminary), particularly in Deuteronomy where there are many laws about purity and practice of religion - espeically in differentiating the Israelites from "those nasty Canaanites." it got us into a discussion about how people tend to understand who they are - identity is formed by being the same as something/someone or by differentiating from something/someone. In this case in the OT, Israelites understood their identity as being different from the Canaanites. How do you understand your identity?? I had to think about it for a while, and I think I use both differentiation and similarities to understand who I am, but it's ever more complicated than that. Identity changes every day - my mood affects how I see myself and how I relate to those around me. Likewise, the Israelites relationship with the people around them changes throughout time and throughout the Bible. But we could go on there for a long time, so back to class...

After this conversation about identity, we had a conversation about how differences aren't necessarily a bad thing to establish identity; sometime we value those differences and choose to find people that are different in order to do things better (for example, looking at the Meyers Briggs personality profiles, we learn that we need to work with people who are different types so that things get done more efficiently). The questions I have is this: Where is the line between highlighting the differences that are good and those that are bad? Is it simply a question of which traits are seen as "good" although different, and "bad" and different?

To put this into some context, there is an email out there that keeps getting circulated that claims to have information on the Qur'an, that there is a verse 9:11 (note the numbers) which refers to an eagle (the national bird and symbol of the US) wiping out Mohammed. This claim is made along with other references to Muslims as being blood thirsty warriors who should know better than to take on the US, yadda yadda yadda... It makes a lot of generalizations about Islam, the Qur'an, and then the passage that it quotes isn't even real. The actual passage in surrah 9, paragraph 11 is talking about reconciliation and has no mention of an eagle anywhere. This email does a great job of making Muslims "other" - soemthing NOT us. The fact is that the email gets spread around all the time, and the only reason it keeps spreading is because people don't know any better and assume that it's true - if we knew more about Islam and the Qur'an, we would know it wasn't a valid message and it would get deleted. Where is the line?? Why are some differences valued while others get trumped up and played in politics?? And what about Muslims that live in this country - how are we treating them? Do we bother to get to know them or just make assumptions based on the generalizations we hear? Isn't this also part of what happens between races and political parties?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Do you know your potential?

I saw a movie today - the first in a while - that has me thinking. It was "Lady in the Water" by M. Night Shamylan and I really liked it. It's different than his previous movies - a lot more humor, almost poking fun at himself at times, and based on a bedtime story. Of course, his movies always have some bigger, "universal" themes to them, and this one dealt with people understanding who they are and living up to their potential. If you haven't seen it, I don't want to give anything away, but there are several characters who are challenged by things that they are asked to do, or we in the church might say, are "called" to do. The main character in particular doesn't see himself as much of anything but gets called upon to do great things that he think he is unable or unfit to perform. Likewise, the female lead doesn't believe she is able or brave enough to fulfill her role - she says that the others make fun of her because she's usually clumsy. I wonder how many of us feel that same way...

When I made the decision to come to seminary, it wasn't so much about the job I would be doing when I was done but about the experience of studying theology itself. I love seminary - the learning and conversations that wouldn't happen anywhere else. I thrive on it, but I have no idea what comes next. Am I being called to something great? Who knows?! Right now I'm just trying to complete classes and graduate in May, but there has to be something next. I need to find a job to be commissioned as a Deaconess in April, but I don't even know what kind of job I want. I keep saying that I don't want to preach, that I'm not meant to be a pastor, and the truth is I think I'd be horrible at being a pastor. I don't have enough patience or interest in the business side of things (to begin the list). However, I also have to admit that I'm terrified of preaching. I've never done it before, and my adamant denials that I'll preach probably come as much out of fear of success as they do from lack of experience. I don't want to be a good preacher - and yet it's not my choice. I'm in preaching class this semester, so we'll see what happens with it. I don't know if it means anything, whether I'm good or bad at it...
So what are you afraid of? What do you think you could have been had you not held yourself back? Do you think you are called to something beyond what you are now?

Sunday, September 10, 2006


I apologize for this, but I need to let this out and with Angela gone, you guys are who I have to talk to. This is not going to be an uplifting post - or even a rant.

We're inundated with 9/11 anniversary stuff - tv specials, news spots, radio, etc. I'm having a really hard time tonight and generally just try to ignore all the hype around me. There was a piece on tv tonight with Robert DeNiro hosting (I don't know which channel it was) - it began as a documentary of a probationary firefighter with the camera crews shooting in the firehouse that day so that it quickly turned into a documentary about 9-11 itself. I didn't intend to watch it, but had been looking for local news to see if the NCCJ Walk as One was on there (I walked with the SPST crew and there were a bunch of news cameras out) and I just got sucked in.

It was amazing - good and bad. To see so many firefighters afraid, freaked out, crying, puking, etc. was just unsettling. I used to work 911 dispatch and I couldn't help but imagine that they were any of my Midwest City guys, or even Angela's cousin who works for Oklahoma City FD. As much as the OKC bombing left an imprint on me, I know this was something so much more devastating in quantity, although perhaps not in emotional turmoil for those working the events themselves. My mom is a civil engineer and happened to work for a company hired by the Port Authrity of NY. She used to regularly attend meetings in the World Trade Center and even though she wasn't there that day, she could have been and knew plenty of people who were. I wonder how my mom is doing, but don't want to ask her about it. I'm not sure I want to hear it and I'm not sure I want to push her to talk about it.

A few months later, in December of 2001, we went to NJ for Christmas and spent a day in NYC. My family regularly made the 2 hour drive to see a Broadway show or do Christmas shopping and I remember very clearly gasping at the gap in the skyline as we came up to the city on the highway. Little did I know that our day in NYC would be the last full day I'd spend with my dad. He died in a motorcycle accident down the street from his home on December 23rd. It's strange that 9-11 and my dad's death get linked so closely together, when logically I know there was not connection.

5 years - it seems so long and like only yesterday. I had worked a night shift in dispatch the night before, so I got home around 7:30 am and went to bed. A phone call around 9:30 (10:30 Eastern) woke me up - a friend asking if Angela was being called up as part of her Search and Rescue group or the National Guard. We didn't know what she was talking about and turned on the tv to just stare in horrow for the next hour. Angela's birthday is September 12th and I had been planning a surprise birthday party for her that night (her 25th) - the party kind of fizzled out although a bunch of us did get together. Now we're at her 30th birthday and she's overseas in a war we never imagined back then. Who knows what another 5 years will bring....

To all those who lost their lives, their family and friends, their health (physical or mental), and their feeling of security, may God grant us all peace and comfort as we grieve and remember that horrifying day. May we also remember that there are people in the world who deal with that kind of fear and destruction every day...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Checking in...

I didn't want anyone to think I went away or anything. The fact that Big Unit has the last comment on the previous post has not gone unnoticed. :) With the school year starting up again, my partner leaving the country, allergies and a killer cold, and the upcoming wedding of my mother (in October) things have been a little hectic. Of course, life is often hectic so I'm putting in this brief word to let you all know that I'm ok and to remind each of us to take the time we need for ourselves and those things that are most important to us. If I happen to be home in the afternoon, I like to watch the Ellen DeGeneres show and she's been doing something really neat for the kickoff of her 4th season. She has this thing called a Lifelist - things that people want to do before they die. Why do we wait until we think death may be near? What things would you put on your life list? I'll have to think some more but off the top of my head - parasailing and travelling to Jerusalem and the Great Pyramids. Can't wait to see what else you guys come up with...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

KS Flag Update

As many of you know, Trouble is leaving for the next 5 months, so I'm trying to spend the weekend as best as we can before the big D. Since she's in the middle of her own things right now, I'm taking a moment to fill you all in on an update from the Meade, KS situation. There was a little blurb in a local KC publication (not online unfortunately) that had a story about the rainbow flag from the bed and breakfast in Meade (see 2 posts ago) that had gotten stolen. Apparently a couple of school kids took the offending flag, but their parents made them confess and apologize and agree to replace it. Unfortunately, around the same time that the flag was stolen, a window was broken at the inn (a brick with the word "fag" on it was thrown through it). Nobody has confessed to that part of the crime and that's the one that costs the most money. "Proud to be an American" my butt. Right now I'm ready to move to Canada.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

To buy or not to buy...

I recently saw RENT out at Starlight Theater here in Kansas City. I absolutely love this show (I've seen it before, own the soundtrack and saw the movie, although it wasn't the same) and recommend it to anyone. It's basically a modern retelling of the plot from La Boheme. For you non-opera folks, it's about a group of friends living in the East Village of NYC in the early 90's. They're artists and "fringe" personalties trying to figure out how to survive, namely pay their rent. The music is a little more rock and roll than your usual Broadway musical, but it's also very moving. AIDS plays a big part of the story line, as does sexuality, relationships in general and figuring out what is really important versus what society tells us is important. I've listened to the soundtrack a thousand times (no exaggeration) and for some reason something struck me this time that I hadn't really caught before. Near the end of the show is a song entitled "What you Own" in which two of the main characters talk about their personal struggles with the direction their lives have taken. One of them has "sold out," giving up on his own film making to be a director for a sleazy tv show. The words to the song that grabbed me
Your living in America at the end of the millenium
Your living in America, leave your conscience at the tone
And when you're living in America at the end of the millenium
You're what you own

Now, the concept of consumerism and "buy, buy, buy" mentality isn't new - and I've even touched on the subject in my blog before, but this is different. I'm thinking about buying a house in the next year or two, and for some reason this time watching the show made me wonder if that's a good idea. These characters don't own much of anything in the show - not even their emotions (which is another line in the song) - and I constantly struggle with discerning where the line is between survival and extravagance in how much I own. I have food to eat and a roof over my head, but I'm renting my house. There's nothing wrong with that, but I feel like owning my own home will somehow mark success in my life. Why is this the thing that means I "made it" and am now a responsible grown up? Do you think this is just me or is this a common idea in our society? Is it meaningful or just another mark of consumerism? Should I pursue home ownership or just keep renting? The thoughts continue to tumble...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Standing Ground in Kansas

I got a link to this story in one of my email newsletters and thought it was just too funny (and disturbing) not to share. There are actually two versions of the story - one from a local news channel and one on PlanetOut. Feel free to click on the links and read them for yourselves.

In summary, the story is about a guy and his wife who run a small restaurant and Bed & Breakfast in Meade, KS (between Dodge City and Liberal) and the fallout they're facing for hanging a rainbow flag outside their establishment. The local newspaper ran a story (without talking to them about it first) explaining to people that the flag is a symbol of gay pride, so now the town is boycotting. He had a radio station threaten to pull his ads from the air and a pastor tell him it was like putting a pair of women's underwear on a pole - huh?!?!?!

What makes this story so funny is that the flag wasn't put up to convey any kind of political or social message. It was a gift from the guy's son who got it at the Wizard of Oz museum because it reminded him of the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I don't know how old the son is, and if there weren't other meanings in the gift, but I think it's hilarious that something that could be so benign is causing so much of a ruckus. Ah, small town America. The other funny thing is the way in which this guy is responding. He told the pastor he would consider his suggestion (the women's underpants) and has told people that when this flag wears out, he'll buy another one and continue to replace it like he would his American flag (which is also hung proudly outside the building). He can't believe how much this has affected people and refuses to cave in to their overreactions. Good for him!!

I think the one comment that got me the most was one of the neighbors who said (paraphrased) that hanging the rainbow flag in their conservative town was like hanging the Nazi flag in a Jewish neighborhood. Whoa. I have to think about that. This is America and we all have freedom of speech, so the guy can say whatever he wants, but is it really THAT dramatic?! Most of the townspeople didn't seem to know what the flag meant (or could mean to some people) before the newspaper article. It makes me wonder what will happen when someone in the town comes out of the closet - or if that will ever happen now. Anyway, it sounds like the guy's business has lost a lot of local people but is still doing okay thanks to out of town guests. Perhaps someday we'll take a mini-vacation to Meade, KS....

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ft. Lauderdale pictures

Well, since these didn't make it into the previous post, here are some of our pics from Florida.

This was the sunrise on our first morning - we watched it all from our hotel room balcony!

This is the view of the hotel grounds from our balcony. It's a private beach for hotel guests with their own rentals for all kinds of beach equipment. We didn't try anything more adventurous (or expensive) than the boogie boards.

My Uncle Tony (my dad's older brother) "singing" at my grandmother's party. It was not pretty.

Photographic evidence of the cake tester's swipe from my grandmother's cake. I just don't believe some people!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"They say America's got talent.... but it sure ain't here!"

Well, we just had an incredible weekend. I don't mean to rub it in (well, maybe a little bit) but we went to Fort Lauderdale. My grandmother lives down there and was celebrating her 90th birthday last week so the family decided we would all go see her and throw her a party. Of course, this was also our big vacation of the summer (even if it was only for a weekend) so we were staying in a nice hotel on the beach - absolutely gorgeous!! (see picture) We had an ocean view, looking out over the courtyard around the pool, and spent as much time as we could out on the beach. I miss the ocean - there's something spiritual about it for me with the waves and vastness of all that water supporting all that life.

Anyway, Grandma's party was the most interesting part of the weekend - she had said she didn't want one at all and then once we said we wanted to do it, she tried to take over. Gotta love family. She ate up all the attention while we struggled to have conversations with people we didn't know and will likely never see again. It was great to see my relatives - many of them I hadn't seen since my dad's funeral almost 5 years ago - but the strange thing about family (at least mine) is that the relationships seem to work better via long distance. It's like we don't know what to do when we're actually all with each other. Anyway, there were a lot of gifts, much to my grandmother's joy. We girls from the family all pitched in and took her to a spa to get her a massage (a first for her) and pedicure the day before. She probably won't ever do the spa thing again - she admitted she's never go by herself, but I think she had fun in spite of her misgivings about getting undressed and touched by a man. :) Aside from watching my grandmother, there were a couple of significantly funny things from the party.

First, was the cake taster. This one guy was trying to be coy while admiring the cake, but was caught swiping a big piece of frosting off of the cake!! I took a picture and we couldn't believe how big a chuck he took - not even off the corner where it might not be so noticeable!! We took it as a sign that it was time to serve the cake, and moved on to do just that.

Then there was the sing-along. Someone (probably my grandmother, but I don't really know who) compiled a song sheet of about 25 songs from the 30's-ish era. I didn't know most of them, but most of the crowd was older and seemed to enjoy the trip down memory lane - if only of them could sing!! There was a woman with a microphone trying to lead it, but she was horrible - and the people sitting around the room had no qualms about saying anything about it. She then tried to put the mic up to other people as they were singing (such as my Uncle in the picture), but for some reason there was a great shortage of people who could actually find a pitch and rhythm at the same time. Several relatives tried to get me to take over, but I didn't even know the songs so what could I do? An older woman sitting behind me was cracking me up with her commentary on the party in general when I heard her say the line which has now become the title of this post. "They say America's got talent, but it sure ain't here!" I did end up on the mic when they sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and a couple of people thanked me, which I thought was interesting.

Other than the party and going out to dinner, our weekend was spent at the hotel and airports. We tried boogie boarding from the hotel beach rentals (a first for me and A LOT of fun, as you can see in the pics), swam in the pool, sat in the sauna and hot tub, and had breakfast on our sundeck off the hotel room. The hotel room scenario itself was interesting, but now isn't the time to get into it. We had a great time, got sun, watched the sunrise both mornings we were there, and got to spend some good time with my mom and each other before everything changes at the end of the month. Hope you like the pictures...

P.S. I'm having a hard time with the pictures, but this post has been sitting for 2 days, so I'm just posting the text and will get the pictures up ASAP. In the meantime, thanks for the great discussion on my previous post!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Church & Politics

I know - these are two things dangerous to mix, but let's be honest - we all do it all the time. The U.S. separation of church and state works on a governmental level (i.e. we are not a theocracy) but not on a personal one - we all have our beliefs and morals affected by our faith, and those in turn affect how we vote.

I was watching a news show on PBS the other day and they had a segment about the growth of evangelical megachurches around the country. I'm not a fan of the megachurch model, but I understand how some people are drawn to them. The story showed several congregations around the country who were very proud to show people what they had to offer - including snippets of conservative preachers blasting same-sex marriage and abortion. I don't understand why these are the big issues to preach on, but they are the stereotypical positions for these evangelical churches. So what? These churches are growing - the numbers of them and the numbers of members they have. I'll be honest - that scares me. Not just because they tend to be conservative and I'm not - I don't think they preach sound theology. And I didn't think there was an alternative until I read
this story in the July 30th NY Times.

The story talks with Rev. Gregory A Boyd, a pastor at one of these evangelical megachurches outside Minneapolis/St. Paul who did a preaching series putting down the churches who get too politically involved.

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said. [snip]

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.

This pastor is by no means a liberal (he admittedly doesn't approve of abortion or homosexuality) but he might really have something with this. I don't know though - maybe I'm just as bad as the conservative, evangelical stereotype but going to other way. I like when my pastor gives a sermon that talks about the reasons a Christian shouldn't be pro-war or why we should vote for certain people who have committed to working against poverty. Those are political choices based on faith values that fall on the liberal end of the spectrum. My faith also tells me that my sexual orientation isn't an issue for God (or Jesus) and I honestly don't know what to do with abortion (I'm fairly anti-abortion but also condemn bombing the clinics and men sticking women with the babies they helped create - it would be a whole different world if men got pregnant).

So, what do you think?? Is there a place for churches to get active in politics? Is this pastor correct in thinking the cross must remain separate to be true?? Is that possible in this day and age?? I recommend reading the whole news story - food for thought if nothing else.

Friday, July 28, 2006

More camp pics

I was having some techinical problems uploading the remaining pictures, so after some tweaking, here they are:

New for this year was canoeing!! Groups could go all together during small group time, or kids could go during their afternoon freetime. They proved to be very popular and I really hope they're back for next year...

This is the "big" creek, which is actually a fork off of the river that runs close by the camp. You can see the water is up to the campers' knees at this point, but it periodically runs even deeper and can get a strong current in flood years. We walk them out 1/3 mile or so to a little swimming area that gets about 8 feet deep. Don't worry - a lifeguard and our camp medic go along for the hike...

Speaking of our camp medic... Here's Angela bandaging a cut knee on the creek hike - which I think was the most major injury we had this year. And look at those white legs - good thing I had my sunglasses with me!

Reflections on Camp - part 2

After three weeks, I've finally had and taken the time to go through my pictures and find some suitable for posting. Hopefully this will help convey the camp experience and you'll begin to see why we love going back each year.

This is a fairly typical activity - playing in the creek! Kids bring shoes to wear in the water (although that's particularly for the "big creek" hike). This small creek runs all the way through the camp and has all kinds of crawdads, minnows, snakes, frogs, etc. which the kids can catch and turn in to the Discovery Center wet and dry aquariums. That way everyone can see what has been found, but the animals remain fairly safe and taken care of. All creatures get released every night, and this is explained to the kids so they start to understand this kind of respect for and care of the animals.

A couple of hours each day are spent in small groups. Activities vary (these kids are going in to the 6th grade so the attention spans are not all that long) and can be anything from games to bible study to crafts or a hike. This is a shot of my small group this year attempting to work together to untangle their knot. It's always questionable whether the kids at this age are ready for this kind of activity or not - some years they get it in a couple of minutes! This year it proved to be quite a challenge, but led to some great conversations afterward.

This is probably my favorite event of 6th grade camp - making our campfire dinner!! Each small group works together and the kids do everything (under supervision) for themselves. Each group gets a cooler with food (hamburger meat, potatoes, carrots, onion, yellow squash, green pepper), a bag of charcoal and aluminum foil. The kids then work together to make a charcoal fire, peel and cut the vegetables, and fill their sheet of foil to make a "hobo dinner" which is then cooked directly on the hot coals. For dessert, they make banana boats (bananas are cooked in foil on the coals with marshmallows, peanut butter chips and chocolate chips - very sweet and gooey and always a hit!) and then everyone helps clean up. It's always interesting to watch the group dynamics as they go through the whole meal. Sometimes the girls will take over tending the fire and the boys will do most of the food prep, while other years they fall into more "traditional" gender roles (although I encourage them to step out of those when possible). Sometimes the kids all whine about how "gross" everything is, and others, like this year, they will just be so excited about getting to do things for themselves and proud when they actually eat things they made.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I can't NOT speak up about all the stuff going on in the Middle East right now. Israel and the Palestinians have been fighting for generations - since biblical times - and the conflict with Lebanon is nothing new either, but things sure seem to be getting a lot worse very quickly. I had hoped that with the agreements over the Gaza strip a few months ago, there would be some easing of the violence, but it has been very short lived.

I am very up front about the fact that I'm a pacifist - I don't think violence is the answer to anything, especially political battles. I believe that this is in line with being a Christian, as Jesus taught us to "turn the other cheek" and "pray for those that persecute you." However, most of the conflict in that area of the world seems to not involve Christians, but Jewish/Israelis and Muslims/Arabs. I will be the first to admit that I'm not near as familiar with those religious traditions as I am with my own and I don't understand the cultural dynamics that also play into these situaions, but I can't believe that God (assuming there is one God common to these religions) would want to see bloodshed and hostility between all of these people.

What's the U.S. role in all this?? Historically, we have always supported Israel and it appears that we are continuing to send military equipment and ammunition to them as they request it. I just don't understand why. With our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 5 years, the world, and especially the Arab world, has been watching us very carefully. Do we think they aren't going to react to our sending Israel more bombs?? It seems dangerously close to another world war to me, and I believe CNN said as much the other day as well. Quotes from W saying things like, "You're either with us or against us," aren't going to help anything either. I'm not even sure that WW3 is appropriate - maybe more like the Crusades part 2. Sadly, it appears that this is becoming more and more of a religious-ethnic divide and I don't see how anyone is going to "win." Many lives are already being lost and/or ruined. With Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan, and now Israel/Lebanon, how much can we expect this to spread? How much can the U.S. be involved in before it's spread too thin?

I'm not trying to prophecy gloom and doom for the U.S. or anyone else, but I am definitely getting nervous. So, what do you think? Are we headed for a bigger, more global kind of war? Does God choose sides? Is there room for patriotism in a globalized world??

Where has all the summer gone?

I can't believe it - I'm looking at the calendar and it's already the end of July!!

My apologies fo the gap in writing - between church camp recovery and another trip to Oklahoma City, I haven't been spending as much time on line the last couple of weeks. With summer quickly fading (less than 5 weeks until classes begin again!!), I'm looking over my summer activities and realize I've spent quite a bit of it visiting old friends, which is always nice, and reading fiction. For some of you, this may not be a big deal, but trust me - for me it's a huge thing to get to choose what I read at all, never mind really enjoying something as mindlessly entertaining as a mystery. :)

I've been sucked in this summer by the Stephanie Plum novels written by Janet Evanovich. She's a bounty hunter from Trenton, NJ and while I've always enjoyed mystery/action books I think these have really hit home for me because the lead character is a spunky female and I can relate to her background in many ways - NJ, Italian family, etc. Plus, these books are funny!! I have been amazed at how many times I have actually laughed out loud while reading.

With a little over a month to go, I've now read all 12 of the Stephanie Plum novels (12 just came out in the last month and is REALLY good, but that's all I'm going to say) and am looking for some "last fling" fiction. Anyone got any suggestions? I know there are those of you (Angela) who aren't really into the whole fiction thing, so I'll take recommendations for good non-fiction books as well. Just please, no theology or church history!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cool picture from space

I haven't had time to play around with the pictures and upload them (I'm doing this entry from work and the pics are on my home computer where the editing software resides), so for now, nothing more on church camp. Instead, I'm sharing this picture called "the eye of God" which was already on this computer for some unknown reason. I have no idea who to credit for the picture but it's cool and I'm fascinated with space stuff, particularly at this time when Discovery has successfully gone up to its mission at the international space station.

A lot of people talk about whether or not we should spend so much money on space exploration and why it is or isn't worth it. I have to admit that while I think there are much more pressing matters here on Earth that we could putting that money into, there is something fascinating and alluring about outer space. Some people might call is a big diversion from "real life" on Earth, but I think it's more profound than that. I think looking to outer space gets us in touch with nature and our Creator in a way nothing on Earth can do. It also instills a feeling of hope for the future - that there are so many things we haven't thought of yet, haven't discovered yet, that anything may be possible... What do you think?? Are we wasting our time and money with the space program?? What kinds of feelings does outer space instill in you?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Reflections on camp - part one

Well, I'm back from a week long church camp experience. Every year we try to go down to Tahlequah, Oklahoma for this one specific 6th grade camp. WHY?? Partly because we're crazy (but, hey, we like it that way!) and mostly because it's such a great camp. The staff is diverse, friendly, intelligent, and good at what they do. The 6th grade camp curriculum for the OK Conference is called "God in our Midst" and was put together very well - giving lots of ideas and plenty of room for flexibility (which if you've ever worked with 6th graders is a MUST).

I know after working this camp, that I was not cut out to be a teacher - but it is clear to me why some people would love to take that job. Watching kids figure things and learn how to do things for the first time is an incredible thing to witness, especially when they start putting things together about nature, God and life. By the end of the week, I was completely warn out and running low on patience (how do they manage to all ask the same questions over and over??) but satisfied that is was a week of vacation well spent. Most of the kids are from the burbs or the Tulsa metro area and haven't ever done a lot of stuff in the outdoors that isn't their back yards. Teaching them how to play in a creek and catch crawdads, or how to build a charcoal fire and prepare their own dinner is a major highlight in my year. I'll try to put up pictures in the next couple of days and form the rest of my thoughts into cohesive posts....

Saturday, July 01, 2006

You Might be a United Methodist

Many thanks to Rachel for passing on the following entertainment: (note the purple comments are my own thoughts)

You Might Be A United Methodist If
~you don't take Rolaids when your heart is strangely warmed
~you know that a circuit rider is not an electrical device
~The Upper Room is as essential to your bathroom as the toilet paper I think this is a generational thing... I've only seen it at old ladies' homes.
~you felt that the NCAA penalties against SMU football were too harsh or perhaps Duke basketball
~you've ever owned a pair of cross and flame boxer shorts how about a tattoo?
~you sit while singing "Stand up, stand up for Jesus"
~you've ever sung a gender-inclusive hymn and love it!!
~tithing is encouraged but widely ignored don't think this is different than any other denom
~half the people sitting in your pew lip-sync the words to the hymns
~the word apportionment sends a chill down your spine
~you realize pluralism isn't a communicable disease
~your pastor has a hyphenated last name
~names like Aldersgate, Asbury, and Epworth are vaguely familiar what about if they're more than vaguely familiar??
~you consider the monthly potluck a sacrament almost...
~the only church camp song you know by heart is "Kum ba yah" no way - there are tons of camp songs!!
~you've ever attended an Annual Conference and actually enjoyed it
~you have an unexplained yearning to visit Wesley's Chapel in London been there, done that
~your church is named for a geographical location rather than for a saint
~you've never heard a sermon on Hell and don't feel you're missing out
~you realize that VBS isn't a sexually transmitted disease
~your pastor moves every four or five years and you like it that way unless you're the pastor
~there's at least one person in every church meeting who says, "But we've never done it that way before"
~your congregation's Christmas pageant includes both boy and girl wise men
~you accept the fact that the hymn "O, for a thousand tongues to sing" has almost as many stanzas as tongues
~you know that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral isn't a trick football play involving four lateral passes
~you realize that the Book of Discipline is not a guide to getting your child to behave
~you understand that an "appointment" has nothing to do with keeping a lunch date
~you think "UMW" stands for United Methodist Women rather than the United Mine Workers
~you know the difference between a "diagonal" minister and a "Diaconal" minister this may be a little dated sine there aren't any more Diaconal minsters anymore, but how about Deaconesses??
~"Good morning" has the status of a liturgical greeting in the worship service
~you say "trespasses" instead of "debts" in the Lord's Prayer and have no idea why
~your annual conference spends most of its time debating resolutions that nobody reads
~you'd rather be branded with a hot iron than serve on the Nominating Committee now called Lay Leadership and my personal position at Trinity UMC
~you've ever sipped Welch's grape juice out of a plastic shot glass during Communion
~you're asked to donate money to a "special offering" every other Sunday
~you pore over the Conference Journal with the same intensity you would read a John Grisham novel not exactly but you never know whose name you'll see where!
~you have to fight through a cadre of greeters to get into the sanctuary
~when the worship service lasts for more than one hour, the beeping of watch alarms drowns out the final hymn especially on Sunday when the KC Chiefs are playing!

In all seriousness, I'm going out of town for the next week to work a 6th grade church camp in Oklahoma, so the blog will be post free. Feel free to comment all you want on the previous posts (and this one) until I get back. For more info on camp (including the address where you can write to me and Angela) check out Angela's blog listed in my links on the right column of the blog. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Carb Cutting

No, this is not a post about dieting or eating habits - it's about the environment. A lot of people are talking about Al Gore's new movie An Inconvenient Truth. I haven't seen it yet - it just opened last week here in Kansas City - but it seems like the topic is one that I've heard about since junior high school. Global warming is happening, it's real and it's causing a lot of problems for the world as we know it. Of course, peace would also change the world as we know it, but that's another post....

Many people want to know what they can do - is there really anything one little individual can do to help such a lrge problem? YES!! In fact, it's the only way things are going to happen. Companies won't change policies unless their clients ask them too or choose to work with other companies who have better ones. Everything thing that we buy, choices we make about where to shop and which companies to work with - it all represents choices we make, votes with our dollars. Unfortunately, in today's society (be it due to capitalism or materialism or both) money talks - and loudly. Even in churches, eventually it comes down to the bottom line, so it is with our money we may make the bigger statements - more than bumper stickers or cool tshirt slogans (although those are perhaps cooler ways to make statements). So what can one person do??

There is a ton of information out there about a variety of environmental issues and agencies working with them, but my personal favorite is Co-opAmerica. They host sites like Responsible Shopper (see my links on the right side of the blog page) which show company policies on a range of issues from the environment to human rights and sweatshop use. You can check out the stores you shop and see which chain is actually better - WalMart or Target (Target, but not by much) or Nike vs. Adidas (both have plenty of faults). They also offer this challenge to INDIVIDUALS out there - to reduce your carbon dioxide emissions (hence, carb cutting) by doing 7 specific things around your house and daily life. Most of us probably won't do all of them, but even if we each commit to doing just one, every little bit will add up to big changes city-wide, state-wide, and nationally. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we all impact each other - the driver in Kansas has emissions blown into Missouri on the wind. It's going to take every one of us making small but very real changes to build up to a large impact on the crisis already underway. For example, one of the changes to make is using fluorescent bulbs rather than regular incandescent bulbs in your house. Yes, they're more expensive and the light is different, but they last a lot longer too. Check out the challenge and see what you can do, then let me know what you think. Are these things too much to ask? Have you seen Al Gore's movie? What did you think of it? What else can people do? Am I completely idealistic and not getting real?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Shameless Plug

So I'm working in the library and was shelving (the boring task of putting books that people have looked at or returned back in their proper place on the shelves) when I noticed our library's copy of Gay Marriage, Real Life: Ten Stories of Love and Family. For those of you who don't know, this book has personal significance becuase I am in it. Our relationship is one of the ten stories profiled. Many of you probably already know about the book, having either gotten your own copy or borrowed one of mine (and I can't remember who has it, so if it's you please let me know). For those of you who didn't know, I would encourage you to at least look at it. The ten couples are quite varied - 4 from the east coast, 4 from the west coast and two from the midwest. Some are men, other women, black and white, younger and older, but all have an incredible story to share. It puts a very personal perspective on the whole conversation about what marriage is and means to people and how same sex couple are working within or without it.

It's the first time I've ever had anyone else tell my personal story - a very strange thing indeed - but I'm happy with the book and how our story was told. I think it gives a pretty good picture of things. I will warn you that ours is a bit of a tear jerker. If you have any questions or comments on the book in general or our piece in particular, please feel free to ask! Part of what I hoped for with the book was more conversation (also a reason for the blog) as well as sharing my experience for others to learn from. Have you read it? What did you think? Do you think it was/is a bad idea for a book? or for us to be in it?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


My morning ritual generally involves breakfast in front of the Today show, and this morning I was somewhat flabbergasted by a story on "himbos" - the male equivalent of a bimbo, or someone who is basically arm candy but not over taxing their brains. The ultimate example they gave is Kevin Federline. WHAT?!?!?!

One of the things that really got me about this story was when the woman editor from Seventeen magazine made a comment about this showing how far we have come - that women are getting more powerful and so are now looking for "weak" and pretty boys to have on their arms as they go about their powerful lives. Whoa. Is this really progress? Is the goal for women to degrade men in the same ways that they have been degraded for the past hundreds of years? I understand the concept (although I think the word himbo makes the whole things way cheesy and lacking in the derogatory meaning of the female bimbo), but this doesn't seem like anything we should be proud of or airing on a national news program. Okay, it's the Today show - not the nightly news, but still, how many people watch this show and take it seriously?? So what do you think - do you know any himbos? Do you think the concept is a sign of the progress women have made in society??

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Man of God Speaks

Robinson did not gloss over the differences between different groupswithin the Episcopal Church and some of its 'partners in mission'saying that it was not surprising to him that (for example) ArchbishopPeter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria did not know any faithful, gay,Christian folk because it is illegal to be homosexual in Nigeria andthere is legislation pending which will make it illegal for aheterosexual person in Nigeria to advocate on behalf of homosexuals.In the Episcopal Church, Robinson said, there is a differentperspective because 'we know these people'. He said he believed that'Peter Akinola is following his journey back to God as prayerfully andas faithfully as he can' and added, 'I am too.'

This is an excerpt from an article (titled "Jesus is the Gay Agenda") I got in an email newsletter. I was just so struck by the words Bishop Robinson had for the Nigerian Archbishop - would you be able to be that graceful and humble? I want to be, but I don't know...

For full article and more coverage see also:

Friday, June 16, 2006

Lightening Up

My last post was really long, and probably too much information. My apologies to those of you snoring at your keyboards. Here's something a little more fun - and interesting since my name is already Italian. My new name is nothing like my "old" one.

Your Italian Name Is...
Brunella Russo

I wonder why Italian was the ethnicity of name they wanted to go with? I personally would rather know what my Indian name would be, or Arabic, or Native American. But then, I grew up in an Italian family. What ethnicity are you? What ethnic background would you choose if you could?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

To be or not to be... ordained

I'm going about my summer fairly relaxed, working in the seminary library and catching up on some fun reading (i.e. fiction and nothing involving church history or biblical interpretation or theological debate - at least for now). The other day when I went down to the break room to heat up my dinner, I checked my student mailbox and had some papers getting returned to me from the spring semester. I began reading through them and got to thinking, yet again, about what I'm doing here in seminary.

Here's the basic rundown. I was raised Catholic, active in my youth group, but never really gave it any more thought that that (not that there were many options for me in the Catholic church). When I went to college, I studied vocal music and contemplated becoming an opera singer (which my mom was pretty excited about, I have to say) but things were much harder than I expected in a variety of ways. The college was associated with the United Methodist Church, which I knew nothing about at the time, but I took notice of the fact that all of the people I really enjoyed and became friends with were the religion majors. Hmmm...

We always had great conversations and eventually I was talked into going on my first ever mission trip. We went to a little dusty town in Mexico and built two houses for some poor families, played with their kids and ate the best homemade Mexican food I've ever had. It was the best experience of my life. One night on that trip, I had an aha moment, or an epiphany, or I don't really know what to call it. I changed my major to religion and have been much happier with my life ever since then. I don't know that I have a real "call" experience like so many other people talk about, but now I'm seminary and I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing. What am I going to be when I grow up?

I'm in a committed relationship with a woman, and that means problems if I want to be ordained. "No self-avowed practicing homosexual" can be ordained in the UMC. Granted, I wouldn't label myself that way (the Book of Discipline doesn't mention bisexuals anywhere), but I'm sure that when people look at me and my "lifestyle" that's what they see. Whatever. I've worked at jobs before where I chose to not say anything about my personal life. It wasn't lying, but it was also really hard to never talk about a big part of your life. I can't and won't do that again. It didn't really work anyway - coworkers naturally ask questions and you can't keep evading them forever. So if I'm not willing to lie about the woman I love and live with, what are my options? At this point, I've chosen to become a Deaconess - a lay person who is commssioned as a missionary would be - and am very happy with that decision, but the people I'm in school with don't understand why I made that choice. Honestly, sometimes I'm not sure I understand either.

Would I go for ordination if the church didn't have this rul in place? I tell myself I wouldn't, but there are days when I think I would. I know I don't want to be a pastor, but there are so many other options in the church. There are just a lot of jobs that require ordination (such as being a chaplain). Lay people are important to the church's ministry, but let's be honest - ordination gets you certain pull that laity don't. The Deaconess program gives me some of the authority and connection to the church without playing by all of the institutional rules and getting bogged down in conference politics (unless I choose to). Am I doing the right thing? If you were in my position would you fight the system from within, push it away all together or something else?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friday Five Following Friends' Footsteps

Noting the intentional alliteration in the title, I'm giving credit to hipchick and Kim for the Friday Five. Here are my answers:

1. Favorite way to spend a rainy day:
Sleeping in, then either reading fiction, watching a movie or playing a board game before experimenting with a new recipe for dinner.

2. Favorite song about rain:
Singin' in the Rain (I've always loved musicals and desperately wished I could tap dance)

3. Favorite movie featuring rain:
I love scary movies (when the mood strikes) and no scary movie worth its salt doesn't have a good thunder storm.

4. Favorite piece of raingear, past or present:
I don't think I've ever really had raingear other than umbrellas, but I do enjoy my current travel umbrella - it has the names of cities from all over the world on it.

5. Favorite word for rain:
shower - it doesn't sound violent, but refreshing

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Love is in the air...

Well, this weekend I'm heading to Oklahoma City for a wedding - a popular activity this time of year. As it turns out, this wedding is between two friends of mine from seminary. The groom and I spent almost 2 weeks travelling around Brazil together 2 summers ago and the bride and I knew each other back in college. What a small world. I'm excited about the fact that there are going to be a lot of people there that I haven't seen since college graduation, but it's going to be a crazy weekend. Angela has drill and her unit picnic so there will be a lot of running around on Saturday and then Sunday will inevitably be me trying to see all of the friends that weren't at the wedding. This is the problem with living 6 hours away from people you want to keep in touch with. It's really hard.

My family all lives spread out across the country - well mostly up and down the east coast, but still farther apart than 6 hours. I talk to my mom and brother maybe once a week, but hardly ever talk to the rest of the relatives (and there are a lot of them, being a good Catholic family). Why is that?? Is "out of sight, out of mind" really true? I don't want it to be, and in this age of email it seems like it should be so much easier to keep up with people. Why doesn't it seem like it works?? I guess part of it is generational differences - my grandmother (who turns 90 in August) doesn't have a computer, let alone have a clue about email or blogs. I call her on special days, but haven't seen her since about 6 months after my dad died. What kind of grandchild am I??

Well, I hope to rectify that situation later this summer (it looks like there will be a90th birthday party) and then it will be time for more wedding madness as I'll be in a wedding for another couple of seminary friends. I love weddings, and engagements (Congratulations again, Mom and Rob), but this time of year it does all seem to be a bit much. Every weekend walking through the rose garden at Loose Park is another ceremony going on, churches are booked every weekend, and even at Gay Pride last weekend people were continually asking about the possibility of having a wedding. I'm not going to get on my rant about same sex weddings at this point, but love is definitely in the air!! If only we could find a way to hold onto it and stretch it out through the winter months...