Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, March 26, 2012

Feeling Good about Feeling Bad

I feel like I face the same thing every time Holy Week comes back around. It gets exacerbated thanks to how viral things get on facebook. And it also might be a touchy subject because I just re-read Rob Bell's Love Wins with my ladies at church. Ok, there are actually two things that bother me about Holy Week, but I think they are related.

First of all, I love Holy Week, despite the craziness it brings to those of us who work in a church. The combination of the timelessness and ritual and reality and messiness, in addition to being one of the few times it is still acceptable to talk about death and acknowledge our own brokenness just GETS me. I get caught up in something that's bigger than myself, something that is worth remembering, something that the saints who have gone before have done. It's a time of reflection and confrontation with the brokenness of the world and in myself, and how Jesus chose to enter right into the thick of it, even unto death. 

What I don't like is putting too much emphasis on the physical torture and pain of Jesus. There is something a bit sick about human nature and being drawn to all the gory details of any kind of horror done to a human being - the Shoah (Holocaust), Abu Garib (sp?), Survivor or Fear Factor. There were two movies I saw last year that had water torture in it, and I was like, really?!?!? Do we need to see this? Oh, but we do. 

Yes, yes, give us all the gory details. Tell us exactly how it felt for bleeding Jesus to have a robe put on his wounds and the ripped off. Yes, tell us about his levels of exhaustion and dehydration, and what part of the hand/arm the nails went in and how long he could have survived what exactly the cause of death was. Yes, tell me about the bloody corpse of Jesus. 

But that's what Holy Week is all about, right? Reliving and re-enacting the last hours and moments of Jesus life, right?


Jesus was crucified once. We don't need to crucify him again, every year, at least in our hearts and minds and memories. Which is pretty much what we're doing when we over-emphasize all the gory details. I'll never forget once as a teenager hearing about all this gory stuff for the first time. We were scandalized, horrified, and curious all at the same time. But I left that youth group that night with one strong feeling - guilt. But at the same time, I felt good about feeling guilty. Like learning about and feeling horrible by all the tortures that Jesus experienced on my behalf was a sort of punishment for me for having put Jesus through them in the first place. I felt better for having felt bad. And that's why I think people flocked to see The Passion of the Christ. We could feel. Every. Nail. As they were pounded. We felt terrible. And then we felt better. It was cathartic. And we left feeling good that we knew every little detail and could feel bad about it. Confusing, I know. Feeling good about feeling bad. 

Is that what Holy Week is all about? Making us feel guilty all over again for what we've done? We crucified Jesus, that's true. We didn't and don't want to hear his message of love to all. But I put to you that it is neither healthy nor helpful to wallow in the gory details. 

Every gory detail is important if Jesus is the appeasing sacrifice to an angry, righteous God on behalf of humanity. That's right, folks. Penal substitution. That's the second thing, which I will address in another post, I think. I DO have four sermons to think about in the next two weeks....

Monday, March 19, 2012

This is where I pretend to be a Garden Blog!

Last year when we first moved to NJ, we came in August. We moved into a second story apartment which is lovely but unfortunately has no yard. At the time I wanted to start a small balcony garden, and while I did by a few plants, it was too late to really do anything with it. So our poor balcony languished for a few months, with only a bird feeder to adorn it. Not anymore! Spring is here in full force, and I have begun the transformation from boring balcony to garden balcony! 

This has been kind of a piece-meal process, with assorted pots I have acquired over the winter and knowledge gathered from all kinds of library books about container gardens and patio gardens and urban rooftop gardens. Our very first gardening adventure on internship was wildly successful, so I am coming into this with some know-how already. The real trick is downsizing and scaling back. We can't plant rows and rows of peas and beans, but we can plant a few. I'm also learning about pots and the best kind to use and how to make sure they have enough drainage (since excess water can't just disperse into the ground). 

So far I have planted spinach and garden greens, green beans, and have started my snap peas indoors. We also plan on planting red peppers (that one has to wait since the seed packet had NO SEEDS in it when I opened it) chives and green onions. 

In the deep windowsill in the kitchen, I've decided to place my Herb Annex. Since the cats can't (well, SHOULDN'T anyway) be up there, there is plenty of space and it will be convenient to cook with. 

I just finished a wonderful and helpful book called This Odd and Wondrous Calling. One chapter reminded me that the time of a pastor is both more free and more random than in practically any other line of work. This has given me the chance to pursue and expand my knowledge and interest in gardening. And probably keeps me from try to do too much or to get too obsessed with thinking about the church! Being called part-time can be a tricky business to navigate, but it has also been a blessing, sometimes in unseen ways. For example, I, like Katie Luther before me, get to be "head of household" and make decisions thus, like what to plant!!! 

Has anyone else tried balcony/container gardening? Any tips?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reflection on Mark 12

For our Wednesday night Lent services, we've been working through the passion narrative from the Gospel of Mark, as preformed on DVD by Max Mclean. Here is my reflection from March 7.

Intro: This chapter in Mark has two big themes – about money and about belonging. Chapter 12 begins with Jesus telling a story that really sets off the religious leaders, and the rest of the chapter Jesus spends deflecting some tough questions.
Mark 12

As a reminder, a parable is another way to say story. Most of the stories that Jesus told were about ordinary people doing ordinary things. Here we have workers tending vines, employed by the man who owned the vineyard. At the end of the growing season, the owner naturally wanted his percentage of the crop. But instead of being good tenants and giving their share over to the slave, they beat him up and sent him back! Others they also attacked, insulted, and they even killed his son, which is a foreshadowing of what is to come. This angers the religious leaders, who were listening in. So they spend the rest of the chapter trying to figure out how to trick Jesus. First, the asked him about TAXES.
Now, really, who WANTS to pay taxes, right? At the time of Jesus, Israel was a nation under the thumb of the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, and their tax percentage seems astronomical compared to ours. In order to get Jesus into trouble with Romans, two religious groups who hated one another joined forces in trying to trap Jesus. If Jesus says yes, pay taxes like a good occupied person, then he would be validating the Roman oppression, and the people would be very displeased. But if he said NOT to pay taxes, then he might get into trouble with the powerful Romans. But fortunately Jesus was on to them. He had them bring in a coin, which has the emperor’s face imprinted on it, much like our coins have the pictures of presidents.
Just today I heard on NPR the BBC program “The history of the world in 100 objects.” Today was about a gold coin from India dating back 1500 years. During that program, the host commented that this coin does what coins have done for thousands of years – tell all who handle them that their ruler enjoys the special favor of heaven, or even that he himself was a god. The emperor of Rome was no different. His face and his name were seen and revered daily in the mundane task of buying and selling.
So we know what is stamped with the emperor’s name and image. But what is stamped with the name and image of God? Hmmmm… well, take a look around. When you were born, you were created in God’s image. And when you were baptized, you were named and claimed “child of God.” God doesn’t just want part of you. God wants everything that you are and everything that God has created you to be.  That revelation alone should have awed his opponents into silence.
Then there is yet another attempt for the religions leaders to play “Stump the Savior.” They ask him a question about the resurrection they know is silly, but Jesus again amazes the crowd with his wise answers.
Then, one scribe who was impressed by Jesus asked a serious question, “Which commandment is first, or most important?” Jesus, however, responded with two equal and related commandments – love God and love your neighbor. Jesus is revealing to his listeners that God is not a God of following the law to the letter. Instead, God is about love. The scribe is impressed, and seems to “get it” more than Jesus’ own disciples did.
Now it is Jesus’ turn to ask some hard questions, taking the scribes and Pharisees down a peg and revealing their lack of love for their poor and widowed neighbors. And seeming to prove his point, he parks himself in front of the offering box in the temple and watches as people put in their offering in. Some rich people walked by and made a show of writing big checks. And then a poor widow came by, and in goes the entire amount of her social security check. Jesus noticed, and pointed out to his disciples that, out of her lack, she had given more than the richest member of the congregation. They had all given what they could afford. She had given though she couldn’t afford it.
In those days, a widow was at the mercy of others to survive. She was a burden on her family. She had no disposable income; she was utterly dependent. We don’t know who cared for this widow, if it was her children or extended family, or even if she begged on the street. But we do know that she gave what she had, and her offering impressed Jesus more than all the vast sums the rich had contributed.
 Though she was invisible to society at large, and had no legal power or religious clout, she gave what little she did have. She knew that the God in whose image she was created and to whom she belonged would not forsake her. She knew that whether she lived or died, she belonged to God. Amen. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lessons in Culture: St. Patrick's Day

I remember in grade school, there was a holiday we decorated and celebrated for between Valentine's Day and Easter. We put up shamrocks and wore green, and then forgot about it. Not so around here. Valentine's Day was barely here and gone, and suddenly we see green everywhere - not just the shocking amount of daffodils coming up already, but green decorations for St. Patrick's Day. 

St. Patrick's Day is a big thing around here, I think, because people around here actually are Irish. In massive quantities. This is also evidence by the fact that there are more large Catholic churches around here than I have seen before. (The other half of people who live here are Italian, it seems like.) It is not actually St. Patrick's Day yet and already an outsider such as myself can tell that it is a big deal, and will be a big deal. I was about to see this first hand when I went to the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Hamilton. It was a big day of education for me. 

Beer and children were the norm.

At least four bagpipe bands marched by.

There are three different Irish Dance studies in and around Hamilton. 

Mummers are a big thing around here too. Check out these crazy costumes!

This about sums it up. 

...and a giant cow, for good measure. This one's for you, Grandpa! 

It was both fun and fascinating at the same time. Here are two things I take away - we probably won't be going out anywhere on St. Patrick's Day (because of the crowds) and I feel now that I should own more green. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

There's always hot water on Sunday morning!

Now that we've been here around 6 months here, lately we've found ourselves in a flurry of activity at our apartment lately - rearranging, decorating, getting new things. I think that subconsciously we've realized that we won't be moving in another 6 months, so we can actually start REALLY settling in! Especially since we won't be packing up again in a few months. 

Our first foray onto Craig's list was a rousing success. We found a couple in Hightstown who fell on hard times and were selling some old but solid furniture. We ended up with a beautiful dresser with mirror and a table with five chairs, paying a tenth of what we might have paid for the same things new. Once we scrubbed the grim off (the house they were in was more than a bit shady), we realized what a gold mine we had gotten for a pittance. Now we are really grown up people and can entertain like grown up people! 

I put some wallpaper scraps I had into the selves to make it look less dark. As you can see some of the handles aren't there, but the original owners gave us some off of the end tables that we didn't take. 

We've also rearranged the living room, much to our satisfaction. It has really opened up the room. Unfortunately it was getting dark when I took the picture (farther down). I guess we are here to stay!I am also making plans to create a balcony garden this spring. I was sad that I wasn't able to start one last year, since we didn't arrive until August. But this year I am going to transform our lovely balcony into a herb/veggie/flower jungle! With the weather we've been having, I might be able to start very soon! 

I've been feeling so accomplished in other ways too! I FINALLY tried on and ordered a bridesmaid's dress for a wedding this summer; I'm in the preaching 'rotation' for Sundays and Wednesdays in Lent; and we finally got NJ plates for our VUE.  Go us!