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Image of the altar cross at Notre Dame

Holy Week is easily ignored by most Christians. Maundy Thursday and especially Good Friday are some of the least-populated services of the church year. Is it because they’re too confusing? Too sad? Too intimate? It’s easy to skip from the Palm Parade to the party Saturday night and the lilies and alleluias of Easter morning.

Yet for those of us who do attend, perhaps it is proof of our desire to draw nearer somehow to God. Any “proof” needed that this is real is the yearning we feel in our hearts as we sit in the pews.

On Good Friday, there is no winning, no victory. Instead of a short- term political victory, what we get is a divine validation of every single thing we have suffered. God in Jesus tells us that there is

no wound so shameful,
no betrayal so scathing,
no pain so searing,
no loneliness so enduring,
no exhaustion so total,
no regret so bitter,
no sadness so unending,
no fear so terrifying,
no anxiety so crippling,
no disappointment so compete,
no cross so high,
no grave so deep,
that He will not have been there before us
to mark the way back.

The women deacons are preaching on Maundy Thursday and Good
Friday. Above is an excerpt from what I’m working on as I think about how the immense pain in the world is reflected on our two of our holiest days.

See you in church.
Barbara

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THE FACE OF FEET

“Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy…”

Simon and Garfunkle

I sported band-aids on one knee or other on a regular basis from age three to ten. My mother said I bloodied my knees because I was always in a hurry. Running when I should be walking. Not paying attention. For the rest of her life, she remarked that I was “always so busy.” Sometimes I think this was a thinly-veiled compliment or even a sign of mild envy that I had a lot going on, but more often criticism that I was heedless somehow. I thought I was just excited about life and eager to get to the next thing.

In early and mid-adulthood, I was strictly a high-heels girl but this slowed me down not a whit. I trotted around Blake in my red leather pumps, sailed down the aisle at St. John the Baptist in my black patent leather Easter heels, and wore two-inch wedged sandals to the swimming pool with the kids. Loved them.

I’m a tall person so I definitely do not have Cinderella-feet. Growing up, I got the impression this was a shameful quality, and admit to resorting to buying shoes a half-size too small because my real size looked gigantic to my sensitive, teen eyes. Later, teaching Women’s Studies and studying the Chinese custom of foot-binding, I learned that the painful binding of young girls’ feet at age seven so they would be forever tiny and therefore sexy (each culture defines “sexy”), also slowed the women down in various ways. Who could run away or move rapidly towards anything when you could only mince along? So only rich women got their feet bound; the others had to work.

I decided I had woman feet, not girl feet and that my culture’s efforts to make women small and “cute” were not going to work on me! At one point, I informed the manager of the shoe department at a  local department store  that their policy of not carrying larger sizes for women was sexist and that women were taller (and therefore had larger feet) now and they could improve sales if they wised up.

Okay, so I was young….

Feet are often considered funny appendages: smelly feet, big feet, clumsy feet (falling over your own feet), awkward feet (putting “your foot in your mouth”). My dad’s side of the family had such wretched feet (bunions, corns, and all matter of deformities) that my brother and I would ask our aunts and uncle to take off their shoes so we could be horrified and scream — a breath-taking gesture of rudeness, in retrospect.

Then I had big-time chemotherapy.

It was five years ago and it wasn’t too bad, really; I was very lucky. Yet one of the after-effects has been with my feet. Neuropathy—periodic pain and numbness, usually experienced by much older people.

Of course, there are drugs. They help a lot except at unpredictable moments the numbness occurs and I have to stop and be mindful of where I put each foot so I don’t trip on my own feet. It’s embarrassing and maddening and yet a small price in the big scheme of things.

So now I move more mindfully, sometimes more slowly than I would like. I also notice more things, and feel more connected to other people for some reason, maybe because I can’t race by as quickly.

Feet aren’t funny to me anymore.

But I’m still “feeling groovy.”

Here is Bishop Steve Charleston’s meditation which sustains me more than I can say and I hope touches you as well:

“How must I look to you, O God, coming to you every Sunday, dressed in all my pomp and circumstance? Beneath my robes do you not see me, a little boy with a scraped knee, so proud he survived the loss of a tooth, with dirty fingernails and grass stains on his knees? As a child I began this journey. As a child I shall reach journey’s end. No need for vanity along the way. No need for pretense or ego or any of the brave fronts we put on to impress ourselves before time’s patient mirror. Beneath it all the One who made us, sees us for who we are and always shall be.”

Although I originally published this in 2012, i will again be referencing FEET and more in this Sunday’s sermon: March 24, 2019.

See you in church.

Barbara

 

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St. John’s Faith Formation 9:00 Sunday:

Three mothers lose children in this film. How is the death of a son or daughter the foundation of the movie – and of Christianity?

DEAD MAN WALKING, 1995
With Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, directed by Tim Robbins; nominated for four Academy Awards with Sarandon winning as Best Actress. Based on a book by Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ.

Since this movie was made in 1995, the world has exploded with violent crimes. Individually and as a society. How do we who follow Jesus regard those who have committed unspeakable crimes against society as well as those who have hurt us individually beyond measure? Can forgiveness be bought with the price of a confession?

“This movie ennobles filmmaking.” Roger Ebert, January 12, 1995

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Round 1: Weather Anxiety

What if I get stuck in the alley? What if the alley doesn’t get plowed until late? What if the garage door freezes shut? What if no one shows up at church? What if I fall and break a major thing? What if we can’t get to Theater La Te Da on Sunday night to see my friend’s favorite play in the whole world? Should we change the tickets? Do they even do that? What if it blizzards on the date I change them to? Who do we call if we get stuck?

Round 2 Performance Anxiety

What if the sermon bombs on Sunday (especially worrisome because people are going to “unpack” it Wednesday night).  What if I duplicate some “forgiveness” themes that I should save for the movie class Thursday and the following Sunday? What if the movie I’ve chosen to use is dated? What if the projector and other equipment fails me (as it always does)? What if ……?  Oh no….What if the power fails (see 1 above)?

Winter can breed a sense of increased vulnerability and dependence. The media ramps it up with dire predictions and talk of records, while using the “wind chill” as the realair temperature (You’re not fooling me, channel 11).  Spinouts everywhere! Worst ever!  Stay home if you can! School closings march somberly across the bottom of the TV screen.

I admit to being a worrier. Always have been. It’s never helped me one   bit. What does help me on Sunday mornings is living two blocks away from the rector who is a pretty fearless driver and who is wiling to pick me up).

What also helps me is picking up a book  — sometimes at random – and getting rebalanced. I rely on some favorites for this and one of them is anything by the former Bishop of Alaska, now residing in Oklahoma, the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston. He also has a daily Facebook post that feeds me regularly.  Here is the section I opened to today:

You have known moments when what you believed was so clear, it was like ice, sharp and clear and pure.  You have also known disappointments so profound that they have numbed you with the blunt trauma of doubt. You have felt called. You have felt abandoned. You have seen healing. You have seen death. You have seen dreams fulfilled. You have seen hope slip through your fingers like sand.  You have the patience of Job and the temper of Peter. You are proud You are obedient.  You are still here. You are a disciple.

I never thought of myself that way before.

But maybe I am.

Read it again. Maybe you, are, too.

Disciples.\

 

See you in church.

Barbara 

 

*FromHope as Old as Fire, A Spiritual Diary, by Steven Charleston, Red Moon Publications, 2012.

 

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RESOLUTIONS, BELATED

Some of the things I am striving for this year, as interpreted by three of my favorite supporting players. I hope you, too, find something in their words.

I. ACKNOWLEDGING VULNERABILITY

Barbara Brown Taylor: “Being ordained is not about serving God perfectly, but about serving God visibly, allowing other people to learn whatever they can from watching you rise and fall.”

… And there’s certainly plenty of that… the rising, the falling, the rising, the falling….

II. ENDURANCE

Bishop Steven Charleston: “We all bear the soul scars of a wrong done to us… Feel the warm hand of one who was there and loves you all the more for what you have endured.”

… since life doesn’t really get easier….

III. AUTHENTICITY

Howard Thurman (Jesus and the Disinherited) “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

IV. HARD WORK

Hymn #541, or as I like to call it “The Norwegian National Anthem”

“Come, labor on!
Who dares stand idle, on the harvest plain
While all around him waves the golden grain?
And to each servant does the Master say,
Go work today!”

These themes may be reflected in next Sunday’s sermon which I am attacking with vulnerability, endurance, authenticity, and you know the rest. The lesson is the Wedding at Cana and it is (to use one of Craig Lemming’s favorite words) fabulous (the lesson, not necessarily the sermon but it’s coming along).

See you in church.
Now get back to work…..

Barbara

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AN HOUR

Maybe it’s just me, but somehow I’m detecting less energy in the culture for celebrating Christmas this year. Most people I know say they’re forgetting the Christmas cards and dialing back on the entertaining, especially with what can be the daunting world of food allergies and preferences. And not enough time…

My grandsons don’t seem to want much that I can afford except X-box cards (wince). Some friends say they’re buying fewer gifts because people “have everything”. Fewer people are going on cookie-baking marathons because they’re watching calories, or cutting back on the outdoor lights to save energy (unless you live next door to the rector, that is. There are not only Santa and mangers, there are Christmas penguins! It’s something to see….)

And each year as we get older, the holiday “baggage” may increase, with painful memories and more empty seats at the table.

As for me, I take solace in the old Christmas movies from the 1940’s: “White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn,” “Christmas in Connecticut.” In some ways, the present landscape is so depressing – especially politically and with the planet in such peril – that I need to get away for awhile to a different set of problems. World War II and its clear-cut patriotism permeates these films, with soldiers in uniform and beautiful ballads… “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Let It Snow,” “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing…”

Still, we come to church, to hear the stories, to listen to the music, to pray the prayers, to receive the Bread and Wine, to be a part of the community, and to have an hour to be quiet amidst the bustle.

This week, the wild man John the Baptist strides into the picture, the desert ascetic, outrageous, offending the wrong people, proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah and later wondering if he is indeed “the One.” John, who must have been a huge disappointment to his priestly father. John, whose appearance we know more about than anyone else in Scripture. John, whose passion for speaking out cost him…. well, that happens later.

I thought the picture above was good with the hair…

Church is a constant for many of us, a community, a place to ask the Big Questions, a place for the head and the heart.

“Could you not watch with me for one hour?” Jesus asked his sleeping Disciples on Maundy Thursday. Each Sunday morning, maybe he asks the same of us?

See you in church.
It will be about an hour.

Barbara

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GET RID OF THIS STUFF!

by The Rev. Barbara Mraz

How embarrassing to find things in your basement from decades ago, especially when those things are beyond stupid. “Who the heck gave me THIS?” you wonder. Was I ever so unsophisticated as to think this was funny?

Then there was the day I found Big Mouth Billy Bass. Here is what a recent Internet posting said about it:

First released in April 2000, Big Mouth Billy Bass wasn’t just a hit, he was a cultural sensation. The premise was simple: comprised of realistically fishy rubber and plastic mounted on a trophy plaque, the Big Mouth Billy Bass was typically hung over a mantle or fireplace. On first glance, the fish looked real — perhaps a taxidermy prize from a relative’s fishing expedition? Walk past him, however, and the head would abruptly swivel away from the wall to face the room. After a slight pause, he would sing.

Remember, this was back in 2000, a time when Tickle-Me-Elmo and Furby had ushered in a national obsession with cute, animated toys. Initially, Big Mouth Billy Bass was genuinely startling. “It was magic,” remembers Jason McCann, chief executive of Gemmy Industries. “People wanted to show their friends so they could watch their reactions.”
Tweets, Facebook posts, Vines and YouTube videos didn’t yet exist; Billy Bass went viral anyway. Restaurants lined their walls with the talking fish, DJs played the “fish song” (back then, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or “Take Me to the River”) in venues across the country, and Billy Bass appeared on talk shows. At first, stores sold out so fast that waitlists were implemented. “We sold millions and millions and millions,” says McCann.

Maybe I bought this thing for a Christmas present one year for my dad and then my brother must have stuck Billy into the pile of stuff I was bringing home when we cleaned out our parents’ house?

Ha ha.

Well, Billy has just crooned his last melody because he is in the pile of stuff in my car for the monthly trip to the Goodwill, along with boxes of books, bags of clothes, and container after container of “housewares.”

It seems that I am in a continual state of “decluttering,” simplifying, and downsizing to make my life saner and my surroundings less frantic. My kids gifted me with the best-selling Marie Kondo book, “The Life-changing Magic of Tiding Up” in which she says you shouldn’t keep anything that isn’t useful or doesn’t bring you “joy.”

What if we applied the same principles to religious faith: disregarding what is outdated, no longer works, or is down right embarrassing intellectually? What would make the cut? What would be left? Why does it matter?

Well, it matters a lot when people are leaving churches by the thousands (Star-Tribune, November 11 2018, “Fastest Growing Religion Is None”).

Asked another way, what is the irreducible minimum that is necessary for Christianity? It may not be what you think….

One of the things a faith must have for me is a sense of humor, even if it’s simply the difference in how we perceive things now from when the texts were written. One of my favorite lines in this respect is from Sunday’s first lesson, from I Samuel. Here Hannah is having trouble conceiving a child and is in utter despair over this fact. Her husband Elkannah (who already has another wife and kids) says to Hannah, “Babe, aren’t I more to you than ten sons?”

Okay, I added the “Babe,” but Elkannah must have been quite a guy based on that statement! I am guessing that Hannah wanted to answer no but….

See you in church, when we will downsize, and in the process, I hope, fall in love all over again with the beauty – and usefulness – of Christian faith.

Barbara

 

 

 

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