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Archive for October, 2010

New Things

When I graduated from high school, my parents bought me a Smith-Corona electric typewriter as a present. I had taken typing and I was a pretty fast and accurate typist, but having that modern, Smith-Corona electric typewriter made me even faster. It had an off-white exterior with a blue background for the off-white keys. It was state of the art for what were called “portable electric typewriters.” It came in a padded, soft case that could be carried around like a purse (like a 40 pound purse!).
My Smith-Corona was the perfect portable electric typewriter, and I typed many a letter and college paper on it. I also spent a lot of time threading the ribbon through the little slots at the opening of the keys, and even more time washing the ink off my fingers. I used that Smith-Corona portable typewriter through college, and then through seminary. It was beginning to show signs of age, though, because certain letters wouldn’t appear as clearly as others (which was not supposed to happen with electric typewriters–every key was automatic, not dependent on the strength on the human finger, as with manual typewriters). It became increasingly harder to find new ribbons in office supply stores. The gentle hum that I used to hear when I turned on my Smith-Corona had changed to a loud grinding noise. During this period of my electric typewriter’s decline–inspired by the amount of research and writing he had to do for his dissertation–my husband bought an Apple II computer. It was amazing to watch him type, delete (without Liquid Paper!), edit without pulling out the paper in frustration, and have the whole thing emerge, perfect, from the printer. How did it DO that? For two years, I observed as Will wrote papers, sermons, Bible studies, and yes, his dissertation on that Apple II computer. I continued to limp along on my Smith-Corona, but there were times when I had to finish out a sermon by hand. Those examples are still in my files–first part of the sermon is neatly typed, double-spaced; the second part of the sermon is scrawled in blue pen.

I wish I could remember the first sermon I wrote on the computer, or what prompted me to leave my Smith-Corona for the smoother, soft clicks of the Apple keyboard. All I know is that I never went back, and I’ve never regretted it. I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles on a computer but I surely do love the features of saving what I’ve written, correcting without getting Liquid Paper on my fingers and paper, rearranging complete paragraphs without having to start from the beginning. We now have an iMac desktop computer which weighs less than my Smith-Corona portable typewriter, and does quite a bit more!

In the midst of this reflection about my Smith-Corona typewriter, an article about technology in the church appeared in my e-mail inbox. The writer was a minister who was describing how technology has changed the church, and how technology has affected the ministry. She wasn’t longing for the “good old days” nor was she saying that all technology was beneficial. But her article pointed out the ways that technology has not only advanced our society, but increased our connection with each other as well. For example, recently I finally “joined” Facebook and while I am still learning how to use it, I have nevertheless experienced some happy connections. A teenager whose activities leave him with an insane schedule asked to be my friend on Facebook, and now keeps me informed of how he’s doing and where he is. This blog that I write (which I admit I resisted doing and were it not for Steve Young, you would not be reading this!) has kicked off interesting conversations with people who previously said only “hi” and “bye” to me. Like the writer of that article, I have had e-mails from people with a serious problem and I was glad to be able to respond quickly.

And though the thought of it is often tempting, I don’t want to be minister of an “online church.” I like the church, I like the people, and I like to hear their different voices, and I like to see their faces; to laugh and to cry with them; to pray with them and study the Bible with them. How we communicate with each other may change but what’s important is THAT we communicate with each other. In the church, we learn to move forward, embracing whatever draws us closer to one another, using whatever helps us understand each other better, whatever connects us more completely. Yeah, I used write long, handwritten letters which, would arrive via USPS the next day or the day after. I still write those letters on occasion. But now I’m glad for those times that I can let someone know in real time that I’m thinking about him or her.

It’s a new thing, but it’s a good thing, too. Just as God says, “Behold, I am creating a new thing; can you not perceive it?”

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A Wandering Mind

I’ve got to confess that my mind wanders when I’m preaching. Some preachers will admit this; others will vehemently deny it but I think they doth protest too much. Maybe it’s not so much that my mind wanders when I preach as it is that I am preaching at the same time as I am thinking about stuff going on in the sanctuary. As I am saying, “When Jesus told this story. . .” I am thinking, “hey, who’s that couple sitting in front of the Jones family? Were they here last week?” and as I’m giving a clever illustration to help everyone understand the passage better, I’m listening to someone who is sneezing and sneezing and sneezing and I wonder if he has a cold or at least has a kleenex. As I share what I consider to be an interesting story, I see two members who are sound asleep–or look like they are–and I think about Mr. Elwell who used to bring a 6 and a half ounce Coke to worship and when the sermon started, he fell asleep and it would crash on the floor. Every Sunday he thanked me for a good sermon. Every Sunday. That entire story went through my mind while I continued preaching. I am preaching but I am noticing that that person has new glasses, those two children seem to be fighting over a crayon, maybe?, someone is texting! I am preaching but I see that there are way more people seated on the right side of the sanctuary than the left; that while two women are fanning themselves, two other women have pulled their jackets and arms closer around them. I am preaching but I am thinking, “this is page 4, is this only page 4? I thought I was farther along than that. . .” I am preaching but I hear the squeak of the pews, the creak of the doors as someone goes out of the sanctuary, a book fall to the floor. I am preaching but someone’s cell phone goes off–just answer it! I think as I continue preaching. Now you know why I have a manuscript in front of me!

None of this should surprise the average person in the pew. Every worshipper listens to the sermon while simultaneously planning what she will serve for lunch, whether the Titans will win this afternoon, what route to take home from church, how to begin the first page of that term paper, who all needs to be alerted to that YouTube video that was so funny, why does the minister’s hair look so wonky? Every worshipper drifts in and out of a sermon, latching hold of a sentence here and a paragraph there and sometimes standing in surprise when it’s time to say the Apostles’ Creed.

A minister friend of mine once said that every time I preach, I should remember that it wasn’t about what I said, but about the Spirit who was at work through my words to enable God’s words to be heard. So when my mind wanders during a sermon, or when I’m pretty sure the mind of every person in the congregation is wandering, I take heart that through poor words or brilliant words, wandering or focused minds, the Holy Spirit is there to strengthen and shore up every word. And I take heart in the Lord’s words, spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

It doesn’t mean that I can stand before the congregation, unprepared, and babble nonsense (well, not intentionally!), or let my wandering mind overtake my words. Nor does it mean that a worshipper is released from the responsibility of listening or at least trying to stay awake! It does mean, though, that God’s word is more powerful than the human word. If we are faithful preachers or faithful listeners, God will speak a word to us that transcends anything that distracts us from speaking what the Spirit would have us to say, or what the Spirit has opened our ears to hear. It doesn’t have to be the entire sermon–it can be a phrase or a a paragraph at the beginning and the end or thought inspired by the sermon. I take great comfort in that knowledge. . .even as my mind wanders!

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Happy Halloween!

I love the season of Halloween. I may complain about the early appearance of Christmas decorations in the stores, but I am delighted when our local Walgreens begins decorating for Halloween about the 2nd week of September. And this week in the mail I received a package which contained a gift combining two of my favorite things: sock monkeys and Halloween. Sara Anne sent me three tiny sock monkeys, one dressed as a skeleton, one dressed as a witch, and one dressed as a pumpkin. A delightful and appropriate gift for the Halloween season!

Halloween is a bigger deal now than it was when I was a child, with a wider variety of candy treats, decorations, and costumes. The number of Halloween costumes available were limited in variety, and they were stacked in the store in little yellow cardboard boxes, labeled on the side: “Witch” Size S. Sizes applied not only to the costume but to the mask as well, and they were those plastic masks with covered rubber bands attached to keep them on the face, and one couldn’t really breathe while wearing them. Sometimes one’s head size didn’t match up with one’s body size, resulting in a tiny mask but a well-fitting costume, or a too-short costume with a perfectly-fitting mask. But, hey, one only wore the costumes for an evening!

Halloween is also a more cautious event now than when I was a child, or maybe we are just more aware of the possibilities for candy poisoning and child abductions. It did come out during my trick-or-treating days that one should not eat an apple without having an adult look it over first, lest there be a razor blade embedded in it. Of course, that didn’t apply in my neighborhood because we knew everyone from whom we took treats, and Mrs. Small, who always gave out either candy apples or caramel apples, wouldn’t have slipped us anything dangerous. Now the word is “don’t eat homemade treats” but then we didn’t think twice about eating the popcorn balls or rice krispy treat that someone on our street had made for treats. Plus, it was the only time all year that I ever got to enjoy a popcorn ball or a rice krispy treat.

But despite the early appearance of Halloween decorations, I’ve noticed that the Halloween grinches are also beginning to emerge. Halloween is on a Sunday this year, which has caused a few folks to question whether they should trick or treat on a Sunday, since it’s the Lord’s Day. I’d have more trouble with the fact that it’s a school night, than the fact that it’s a Sunday, and of course, there are only have two chances out of seven when Halloween falls on a non-school night.

And when I hear religious folks complaining about the secular and sinister aspect of Halloween, I roll my eyes. Attempts to Christianize Halloween by having a “Judgment House” is far more terrifying than a “Haunted House.” Sticking a child’s hand in gooey, cold macaroni and proclaiming that she’s touching “eyeballs” may be yucky and scary, but it’s not implying anything permanent or fearful about the destination of her soul. Scaring children and youth with scenes of what God might do if they commit this sin or that sin is a sad misuse of what I consider to be a silly and fun season. Halloween is for fun, and depending on your age, it’s about spending large quantities of times discussing as what or whom you are going in costume, with whom you are going trick-or-treating, reaping candy by the bagful (some of which you hide from your parents!). It’s about swapping out the treats you hate, enjoying the creative decorations in the yards and most certainly about carving out a pumpkin.
I know that bad things can happen on Halloween, but bad things can–and do–happen any day of the year. As Christians, let’s act the fool on Halloween and have a good time, and the religion that we bring into it should be remembering that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38, 39) Happy Season of Halloween!

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Navigating

Recent driving events have caused me to reflect upon one of my favorite subjects in elementary school which was geography. Geography included not learning about other counties, but map-making and map-navigating. We would have homework or a test in which we were required to find something on a map, and then write out the directions to that something from the given starting point. Sometimes obstacles were thrown in–like a river or a dead end–and I loved the puzzle-quality of having to find one’s destination.
I love maps and when trying to find a yet-unknown destination these days, my first glance is at the Rand McNally “Nashville and Vicinity” map that we own. Then, just like in geography class, I trace my way from “here” to “there” (after finding the street in the index). Street maps are becoming quaint, however, in this world of Google maps and GPS devices and iPhones. Asking an under-30 person to look up something on the map is sort of like asking them to look up something in the phone book–“what? Let’s just enter it in Garman,” or “here it is on Google maps–do you want the street view, hybrid or satellite?”
I”m not ready to give up my maps, but on Google maps, I do like the way that I can actually SEE my destination ahead of time. It’s kind of nice not only to be looking for a number (which is not always prominently displayed) but also looking for the fast-food restaurant located nearby. I haven’t warmed so much to the idea of the GPS devices, mostly because I’m not an auditory learner. When I’ve ridden with people who have GPS devices, I realize that I have no concept of how far or close 50 feet is (“turn left in fifty feet.”). Is that a lot or a little? I’m also fearful that the GPS voice will be disappointed in me if I miss the turn and heave a big computerized sigh if I miss a turn. If I’m going to get lost, I don’t want attention called to it but I want to be like cats, who, when they accidently fall off a piece of furniture, immediately begin licking a paw as if to say, “I meant to do that.” Oh, I meant to turn left because I wanted to see where that street was in relationship to this one. Or if I hadn’t missed that turn, I wouldn’t have known that there was a Krispy Kreme doughnut place on the corner. While this adage has not held true for every member of my family, I maintain that I have always gained much from the experience of getting lost, mostly information to be used the next time I’m out and about. My mother asked me once how I found my way around a new city to which I had moved, and I told her that I drove around and got lost a lot. She said that method did not appeal to her at all!
Well, I’m rambling (as in driving around aimlessly–did you ever do that as a child? Just go for a drive?), but all of this navigation talk makes me think about Abraham, and how when the Lord told him to “go,” Abraham went. And he didn’t go alone, either. He dragged his whole entourage into this unknown journey with him–wife, flocks, possessions. I really can’t imagine going anywhere without having some kind of navigation device–a map, a GPS device, an iPhone. I can’t imagine convincing my family to take such a leap of faith. Still, whether as dramatic as Abraham’s departure or as common as my daily driving around Middle Tennessee, it’s true that none of us really knows where we are going on any given day. Our day may start out headed in one direction but we end up in another; we may set out to accomplish one thing but find a more compelling quest by the day’s end. It’s enough to know that God is not only ahead of us leading us on our daily journey, God is beside us as we decide which turns to make, and God is behind us, reminding us of dead-ends and obstacles we previously encountered. I don’t start out every day completely lost (although some would disagree!), but even if I don’t know exactly where I’ll end up, in this life I’m comforted by the knowledge that God our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer is indeed before me, beside and behind me wherever I travel.

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