Saturday, December 22, 2007

Saturday Afternoon Video...

The MCC denomination has watched Amanda grow up and has cheered her all the way. What an amazing young woman. Have a hanky ready--she will move you.

Random Thoughts on the Way to Becoming a Sermon...

Joseph. The carpenter. The spouse of Mary. Jesus' earthly father. Him.

The Lectionary reading is about him this week, and I like that. I'm all about the ones who get overlooked, who no one notices, or really thinks about. And Joseph is one of those.

It must have been difficult for him--in his society, pregnancy before marriage just didn't happen--especially if the baby wasn't her fiance's. He had no idea what was going on, but it didn't happen in "decent families" and so he decided not to marry her after all. Now, I'm not sure, on one level, that he was being truly "righteous" when he decided not to marry her after all but not to make a stink about it. But then, we don't know what conversations Mary and Joseph had about it--if any.

Mary: "Look, I know this isn't the done thing. But it was the Spirit of God."
Joseph: (Incredulous) "Sure it was."

Another of those instances where we know the story so well we don't see these twists in it. "Speed bumps," one of my Biblical Studies profs used to call them.

I mean, how would you react if your significant other/daughter/sister said she was pregnant by God? Indeed--a quick trip to the psychologist.

At any rate, Joseph had made his decision. And then he had a dream. Someone in the RevGals lectionary discussion on Tuesday drew the connection between this Joseph and his ancestor Joseph, the dreamer of dreams in Egypt.

So he changes his mind, based on a dream (which doesn't make much more sense than what Mary might have told him), and does something very radical. He accepts Mary's scandalous pregnancy, even if the facts have been kept fairly quiet within the family so that all the village doesn't know, and marries her.

I wonder what went through his mind--was he simply resigned, quietly resentful at God putting this task on him, awed and reverent at the honour, uncertain but willing to step out in faith? I wonder if this drew him closer to Mary, as he understood better what it must have felt like, to be called to a task that was difficult, an honour, bound to cause trouble for you in your culture, a blessing...all those things.

I'd like to think it did strengthen their bond, this common call to bear and raise God's child, to stand in the face of derision or skepticism from their families and friends. It's easy to forget that these were real people, not creche figures or cardboard characters.

It's a tough job to be a parent in any case--and how much more difficult when your child is born under, shall we say, unusual circumstances (whether premature, from artificial insemination, adopted--or the child of the Most High). I'm sure there were times when either or both Mary and Joseph resented this task, and times when they were overjoyed with the child.

My last question about Joseph has always been, "What happened to him?" The traditional answer is that he died before Jesus began his ministry. It makes sense--there's mention of Mary and Jesus' siblings but not Joseph. And I find it difficult to believe that a man who could accept that his fiancee was pregnant by the Holy Spirit would be unable to accept the child of that pregnancy becoming an itinerant rabbi. The two things go together. So Joseph never saw the most earth-shattering parts of Jesus' life, even though Joseph had prepared Jesus for them.

Now, in a certain sense, I can see another purpose for Joseph and his dreams. The goal, for the gospel writer, was to show that Jesus was the child of God, not the child of Joseph. So not only did Mary have a vision, but Joseph had a dream, and both had the same result--they accepted the child and were married. So Jesus was clearly the child of God, but at the same time, was legitimate, in the terms understood in his time and place.

I like Joseph. In the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC is a statue of Joseph. It's in a side chapel, the one usually used as a Lady Chapel in Roman Catholic churches, dedicated to Mary. Well, the whole church is dedicated to Mary in this case, so it only seems fair somehow that Joseph gets a chapel. At any rate, the statue really caught my eye. Joseph cradles a toddler-age Jesus in his arms, as the child looks up at him happily. We know it's Joseph and not St. Christopher (who's also often shown carry Jesus, since that's what his name means and his whole claim to fame)--there are carpentry tools at Joseph's feet. I like the statue because it shows a nuturing, caring Joseph. So often Joseph is depicted in such marginal roles as leading the donkey, holding a lantern in the stable, or, later in Jesus' life, teaching him carpentry. All needed nad useful, but really something that could have been done by almost anyone; or else hardly surprising. But this tender Joseph is wonderful. I couldn't find any information on it when I went looking on the internet, unfortunately, but I remember it very clearly from a visit only four years ago.

Joseph. He willingly, if reluctantly, took on an enormous task that was bound to cause him trouble, on the basis of a dream.

Do we listen to our dreams? We may not have angels visiting us every night, but we do feel those calls, those commands, the voice of an angel speaking to us in the darkness of our nights, when we lie awake wondering what to do or how to do it or why we should. Listen to those angels. Joseph did.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tired, hungry

Week One of Pastoring/Office administering is behind me. I'm feeling frustrated because everything takes me twice as long as it really should--because I'm learning how to do it, and so I make mistakes. Lots of them. But it's very forgiving atmosphere (well, one would hope...) and the former OA is still volunteering. This week, he's training me and picking up the slack. Why did I decide to start the week before that Big Event that Will Smama mentioned earlier? Oh, yeah, a week's salary!

Tonight though, I'm feeling weary and hungry and worn out. I will grant you that part of that is because I was out late last night with Man About Town and some of our friends, celebrating the holidays before everyone takes off this weekend. And guess what that dear man gave me for Christmas? A gift certificate to the studio of my skin artist! (Lest you think all my friends are financially well-off, he received it because he donated some canned goods to our local mission through the studio; he started to refuse it, saying he wasn't going to have anything done soon, and the artist said, "Well you *know* someone who is." Man About Town smacked his own forehead and said, "RP! Of course!" And gave it to me last night. Have I mentioned how sweet and generous he is? Oh, I have? OK....)

Anyway....I'm rambling, my tummy is grumbling, and I'm going to take it as easy as possible tonight. I do need to move some furniture for Roomie's arrival next week, but that shouldn't take long. Or I may put it off until tomorrow, when I have nothing scheduled at all (except writing 2 sermons, some prayers, and wrapping the creche*).

John Adams and I have a date--and I had better finish his biography, RDQ is beginning to question my sanity, since I am claiming to date dead presidents!

Off to have a burger and fries (OK, soy burger and baked potato)!

*Brilliant idea from a clergy collegue here in River City. Wrap up all the figures in tissue paper, pack them in a larger box, wrap the box, Talk about Christmas and the Christmas story, tying in presents. Open the large box, have the kids (and I plan to enlist some adults if I don't have enough willing children) each take a package, unwrap them one at a time, and talk about the significance of that figure in the story. The donkey carried Mary to Bethlehem, the shepherds were visited by the angel, the good news the angel brought, etc. DO NOT wrap the Christ child. He goes in your pocket. Then when all the other figures are in the stable, talk about how nice it is, and complete and finished. And if one of the brighter kids doesn't say anything, suddenly realise the Child isn't there, fish him out (ooh bad pun, sorry), put him in the scene, and discuss how he's the centre of the story and the real gift of Christmas.

[This is the management. We regret RP's babbling, but assure you she will be fine once she has some supper. Please continue your normal activities. There's nothing to see here.]

Monday, December 17, 2007

Coda (which it doesn't fit either post but is interesting and an update)

Remember back in September I decided to get some skin art, inspired by Will Smama? And remember how the first appointment I could get was in January, and how I told them that if something came open earlier to call me?

Well, nothing's come open. And in talking to Man About Town the other day (he's a cousin of the artist), I learned that the wait time is now SIX FREAKIN' MONTHS! I feel lucky I only had to wait three.

And still excited by it--can't wait....January 23, 2008...

Two Weeks--Continued...

Well, in so many ways I am feeling blessed right now (see below). But I would trade it all for the health of two friends and active church members, one here in River City and one in Big Capitol City. They are wonderful people, and both are fighting variants of the same disease. Grief and worry is mingling with my happiness.

Two Weeks?!

Holy Advent, Batman! Has it really been two weeks since I blogged? Yikes...

Well, I will resist going back to the book I really would like to read (and highly recommend: "Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America" by Lillian Faderman) to update you (yes, all ten or so of you!). There's been lots happening here in River City!

First, my ex, Army Guy, in a truly blessed moment of generosity, bought me a plane ticket to go to Big Capitol City and visit my son and friends after Christmas. He knows my financial situation (see below) and felt this was the best way to get TO and I together for the holidays. He didn't have to; but he did. And the interesting thing is, it's helped me heal some of the resentment I was (and am, a little) still feeling toward him. The most difficult part was moving past my pride to what's best for TO and our relationship (and thank you, Brit Boy, for the kick in the a** needed there). And blessings to Army Guy for seeing that need and rising to the occasion.

Second, my finances were/are in some distress--this is a part-time pulpit and I don't have a partner to help with some more income; I don't have a trust fund; heck, I didn't even have another job. That's right--"didn't have." I do now, in another church of our denomination not too far away (not, however, as pastor). With the combined salaries, I'll be OK. Added bonuses: closer ties between the two churches; with one salary in US dollars and the other in Canadian, I'll be OK no matter what the exchange rate is (and it's been weird lately); I can regularly shop in US stores for those things I can't seem to find in Canada (sweet pickles, Pounce for the felines, L'eggs hose, etc.); a US-based chequing account makes sense again, and will be so useful; and access to some of my favourite stores/restaurants on the planet in the GLBT area near the church (OK, the last may be detrimental to the paycheque, true).

Third, a young woman I knew through the church (hereinafter known as Roomie) is returning to River City for schooling, and needs a room. Guess what? I have a bedroom I'm not using . Congenial company and a bit more income.

Fourth, a dear friend from seminary and his partner are making it possible for me to attend a denominational conference next year. Because they live near the conference site, I'll be able to stay with them, and therefore actually visit with them. Icing on the cake? They're using their frequent flier miles to upgrade me to first class for the trip.

Fifth, Brit Boy let me know how much he values our friendship in words that touched me deeply. I knew how much his friendship meant to me; now I have an idea what it means to him. He had so better invite me to a certain event (involving a pretty young lady and a church) next year!

I am feeling so very very blessed in my friends these days. I don't think I'm a better or kinder or more loving friend than anyone else they know--but these wonderful people are all giving and giving to me. Army Guy, Roomie, Cali Pastor, Piano Man, RDQ, Man About Town, The Professor, RED, The Stylist, Brit Boy, The Small Church Cabal, Monsieur, Guitar Lady, Denizens of the Yellow House, the Campers--all have been very present and loving for me. I can only say, "Thank you, God, for these wonderful loving friends through whom your Presence is made known in my life. They have taught me the meaning of grace."