Saturday, January 29, 2011

We Are Reconciling in Christ

About ten years ago, our congregation voted, UNANIMOUSLY, to adopt a statement that we would be open and welcoming to ALL people who seek to know Christ, regardless of any discriminating factor, including their sexual orientation or gender identity.  We became part of a community of believers, affiliated with Lutherans Concerned/North America, to adopt this statement.  By doing so, we became a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) Congregation.

Tomorrow, the last Sunday in January, Jan. 30, is Reconciling in Christ Sunday. 

This one of the things I love about my congregation.  We voted unanimously to become RIC because it is part of the culture of who we are.  There were no dissenters.  We all knew this was the right thing to do.  We were already living it; we should just say it out loud.  All are welcome here. 

One of my favorite hymns (yes, another song reference) is “All Are Welcome” Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal #641, by Marty Haugen.  The words of this song are the words St. Andrew lives by.  (See below)

We believe as the apostle Paul wrote in Galations 3:28  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We jokingly say that our slogan should be “We don’t care,” because we don’t care.  We don’t care if you’re male, female or trans-gendered. We don’t care if you’re heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.  We don’t care if you’re married, single, or divorced.  We don’t care if you’re in recovery.  We don’t care if you wear jeans to church or dress up (although we tend to be pretty casual).  We don’t care if you’re red, yellow, black, white or rainbow striped.  We.  Don’t.  Care. 

But we really DO care.  We DO care that you are here with us.  We DO care that you feel welcome here.  We DO care that you find a relationship with God and work to draw closer to Him.  We DO care that you should not feel judged by the people here.  We DO care that your gifts and talents are recognized and valued here.  We DO care that you find fellowship with the other members of the body of Christ who worship here.  We DO care…because you are a child of God… our brother or sister in Christ Jesus.

We live it.  Believe it.  We don’t care…because we DO care.

All are welcome in this place!

Is your church Reconciling in Christ? Go here for more information and resources to help move your congregation toward that goal.

All Are Welcome by Marty Haugen
(Reprinted under #A700392)

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger: 
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all our welcome in this place.

Thank you Marty Haugen for your beautiful, beautiful song! 

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Be still and know that I am God" Psalm 46:10

Distressed? “Be Still and Know That I am God”

There are times when the cares of the world just weigh so heavily on our shoulders that it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s easy to fall into a rut where you look around and only see the gloom of the various stresses in your life. These days it seems there is no shortage of things to stress us. I was going to name a few but the list could go on and on and it started to look depressing. It’s a good thing there is a delete button.

As I was outside today, I was in one of those stressed out, depressed, blue, overcast, more snow (ugh) funks when I suddenly was assailed by the passage from Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Assailed. Yes, I mean assailed: defined as physically or emotionally attacked.

This phrase was stuck in my brain. Over and over and over I could hear it in my head.

I could see it in my head, too. You know those movie clips when words on a page appear on the screen. My head was seeing this phrase on a Bible page, although I couldn’t, at that moment, remember exactly where it was from. (I had to come in and look it up.)

I had to close my eyes and take a deep breath because that phrase was all I could see or hear. After a moment or so of just being still and breathing in the cool air, I looked around and snow flurries were coming down again. I took a deep breath and repeated the phrase again, “Be still and know that I am God.”

I know that the Holy Spirit is active in my life. There have been too many times when something is too much of a coincidence for it not to be God, the Holy Spirit, moving in my life in ways to either make me see that He is with me or to show me another option to the path I was planning to choose. I actively watch and listen for signs of God in my life. Sometimes I get them.

I think today was one of those times. I needed those words.

I needed to be reminded that no matter how stressed I am, God is with me. He keeps his promises. No matter how dark things seem to be, He knows how dark and empty things can ultimately be. He died on a cross, for me, and for you. He died so that our dark days will be but brief moments until He can shine His light in the stillness and we can see an eternity without the shadows.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 10 Lessons Learned from Fishing

The recent continual blasts of snow and cold weather in New Jersey have generated some articles in our daily newspapers, including the Morris County Daily Record, about ice fishing. Brrr! I don’t know much about fishing and even less about ice fishing, but yet I am called to be a fisher of people. Maybe I should give it a try, or at least hang out with some fishers of fish to see what I can learn. Would it make me a better fisher of people?

My brother and my father both like to fish. Here are some things I have learned from them which seem to be easily applied to our quest as Christians to be fishers of people:

10. Sometimes it’s all about going to the fish, sometimes it’s about luring the fish to you.

9. You have to be patient. Don’t plan on fishing if you’ve got to be somewhere else soon.

8. Fishing gives you time for introspection and conversation with God and/or your own thoughts.

7. While you may head out with friends, fishing ultimately comes down to you and the fish.

6.  You’ve got to use the right kind of bait for the kind of fish you want.

5. You need the right equipment for the kind of fish you want. i.e. You might be able to catch a sunny with a stick, string and hook, but you won’t reel in a tuna that way.

4. Other fishermen may have great ideas for improving your catch quota, but only a few will share their best fishing hole.

3. Most fish will fight you once caught.

2. Every fisherman has stories about the one that got away.

And the #1 lesson learned from fishing…

1. It’s always a good day if you’ve had the opportunity to fish, just don’t forget the sunscreen.

What fishing lessons do you have? Do they apply to being disciples for Christ?
And if you're an ice fisherman I'd love to hear from you too!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sometimes Life is Like Pea Soup

Tonight I made pea soup for dinner. In the process, because it is definitely a process, I got to thinking about how life can often be very much like pea soup.

To start, you need 3 quarts of good clean water. We begin our lives as children of God after being baptized, washed with the waters of the earth made holy by Jesus’ baptism.

You need a pound of dried split peas. Peas, when cooked for hours, will turn to mush, but they’re full of fiber and make much better soup when mush than hard. Sometimes when we’re subjected to extreme circumstances we often find ourselves turning to mush; we lose our resolve. BUT, if we’ve been growing in God’s garden, we’ve also been gifted with the fiber to withstand those circumstances and we will be transformed into a new creation.

You need leftovers from Christmas or Easter dinner. Our family often has a spiral cut ham for our holiday dinner. Usually there are some leftovers and I always freeze them to make pea soup during the cold of winter. A few pieces of ham can add flavor, protein and bulk to a large pot of soup, stretching a few pieces of ham into soup for several meals. God is a god of abundance. God gives us gifts and talents and love to spare and to share. If we throw them away, we have wasted God’s gifts and others will suffer for their lack. If we put them aside and don’t use them, we hide our light under a bushel and our gifts are of no good to anyone, including ourselves. However, when we pull them out and use them, we have plenty to share and our gifts are multiplied.

You need herbs and spices. While the salt is already plentiful in our leftovers, we need some garlic, pepper, and basil to really add flavor. God has given us the salt in our lives. The gifts He has given us will leach out into the soup of life that we flavor. “You are the salt for the world, O People, Salt for the City of God,” says one of our hymns. Also, our lives are best enjoyed when we are willing to be enriched by the gifts of others. It is the experiences that we share with others that spice up our lives and give it flavor. God has created us to be in community with each other so that we might enrich others and be enriched by them.

You need supporting vegetables for nutrition and taste…carrots, onions and celery. God gives us tools to nourish, flavor and sustain our lives. We have the Word of God and the sacrament of Holy Communion to nourish and sustain us from week to week. We have the community of believers in Christ to support and enrich us.

You need time. This is the step I frequently forget about when making pea soup. I set out to start dinner and suddenly realize I didn’t plan this out well and we’re going to be eating very late tonight. Pea soup needs a couple of hours to cook or you’ll end up with cement or runny liquid and hard peas. Our lives are a journey toward a perfect relationship with God that is made possible because of Jesus. It takes a lifetime to get there. It is a journey where we will be tested, boiled down into mush, so that we can be re-made into something wonderful. If we try to rush things and do things in OUR time, we usually screw up the soup. If we allow things to cook along in GOD’S time, our soup – our lives, will be full of flavor and texture, and there will be plenty for everyone.

And lastly, pea soup stinks. So do our sinful lives. But pea soup tastes delicious regardless of the smell. (Well to a lot of people…maybe you’ve got a different soup with a similar analogy!) God loves us no matter how much we screw up the soup. He forgives us and adds the corrective spices, flavors, ingredients and cooking time so that when He’s ready to invite us to the banquet feast, we have been re-created into a perfect recipe that He is proud to share with His family.

Because ALL that He has created is good, and that includes YOU.

How has God flavored your life? In what ways have you been boiled down into mush? Do you see how He is re-creating you?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Joy in Worshipping

Kurt Gahan and Rev. Fred Lentz stand before the
altar at St. Andrew to celebrate a dedication of quilts
and the installation of Gahan as parish deacon.
Experiencing Joy in Worship

I love to worship at St. Andrew. There are so many Sundays when I come away from worship with a tune in my head and such a sense of welcome and love that I feel like I can handle anything the week ahead will throw at me. Of course, that’s how we should feel when we leave worship; fed and nourished by the body and blood of Christ, uplifted by the Word of God, and surrounded by the community of believers that loves and supports us because of who we are right now, not who we have been or could be.

It always amazes me when we talk to people about why they joined our congregation that the primary reasons are: 1) our being a welcoming and friendly place, and 2) they feel uplifted in worship here, and 3) they felt connected (to others, to God). Aren’t all churches this way? Isn’t this our responsibility to those who seek to know Jesus? Apparently not all churches actualize this calling, though there are many churches that do.  You just have to find the right one for you.

Yesterday was a special day of celebration at St. Andrew. We dedicated 24 quilts to Lutheran World Relief and 90 hand-knitted baby blankets to the Linus Project and an area hospital NICU. We also installed a member of our congregation as a deacon. Kurt Gahan has completed the diakonia ministry program and is now our official deacon, a specially trained servant of God. What wonderful things to celebrate! The music was wonderful! The Word of God was incredibly appropriate! The sermon by Pastor Fred Lentz was inspired, as it wove all the connections together in a joyful call to service. The joy of everyone present was infectious as we celebrated these two wonderful events. As a choir member I can see everyone from the front of the sanctuary. Looking out over the congregation yesterday, I could see the joy as we each took hold of a quilt during the dedication and as we all turned to watch Pastor Fred bless and install Kurt as our deacon. Oh that the world could have seen and felt the joy we shared yesterday!

Were you there? Tell the story! It’s a great one to share.

Missed it? Come visit us and be a part of the joy!
We worship each Sunday at 8:30 and 10:45 am.

St. Andrew Lutheran Church
335 Reynolds Ave.
Parsippany, NJ  07054
(973) 887-6713

Saturday, January 22, 2011

St. Andrew "Fabric-ates" Some Love

St. Andrew is stitch happy! We’re dedicating 24 hand made quilts and 90 baby blankets at tomorrow’s worship services, 8:30 & 10:45 am. The quilts were made by more than 15 people and the blankets knitted by an unknown number of folks who worked for over 500 hours to craft these labors of love. The quilts will be distributed by Lutheran World Relief through their emergency response team to people in need. They are often used, not only for warmth, but as shelter, a pillow, a sling, a sack, or a tent. The baby blankets will be donated to Project Linus ( and an area hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Check out Lutheran World Relief’s web site for all the good things they do and what happens to the quilts they receive.

Come see what a colorful patchwork of love is decorating our sanctuary!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Case for Being Lutheran

Bishop Mark Hanson speaks at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August 2010. He speaks about what defines us as Lutherans.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Be Re-Made in Epiphany

Epiphany…seeing something old in a new way.

In talking about the season of Epiphany, Rev. Fred Lentz, pastor of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Parsippany, has been asking us to focus on three thoughts.

1. Know who you are!
2. See what you have been given!
3. Do what matters in this world!

Three simple thought processes, yet how powerful they could be in re-making our lives, the lives of others, and the world.

It is easy to get dragged down into the negative thoughts of our lives. There are plenty of news stories that detail all sorts of sad or distressing news. It is so easy to let the world overshadow the true joy of life.

Take joy in….

Knowing who you are! YOU are a child of God. What could be better than that? You are loved… no matter what. You are forgiven. You are claimed. You will never walk alone.

Seeing what you have been given! Each of us has been given gifts, talents, skills, and knowledge that is unique to you and the experiences of your life. You know you can do things that other people can’t. You might have the gift of humor, or financial insight, or gentleness, or management, or coaching, or singing, or writing, or gardening, or painting, or leadership, etc. You have unique gifts. Use them! You are more than what you perceive yourself to be lacking!

Making a difference! Use those gifts, talents, skills and knowledge to ease the burdens of others, make the world a better place, or bring someone closer to God. If you are gifted with leadership skills and do not lead, you have wasted your gift. If you are gifted with organizational skills and do not use them, you have wasted your gift. If you are gifted with (name it) and do not use it, you have wasted your gift. If you waste your gift, will you be able to stand before God at the end of your life and justify this wastefulness? You are more than what you haven’t done…think of what you can do!

If you’ve been following this blog or know me I am perpetually searching for God’s direction in my life. It is a journey. Sometimes the path is clear and I follow it easily. Sometimes I get lost and the journey gets hard. I want to be on the path God has set for me because He will provide me with opportunities to use the gifts He has given me and I will enjoy the journey.

Knowing I am a child of God makes a difference in my life. I know to whom I belong, even if I feel like an outsider in the world. I know I am not alone, even if it feels like the world has abandoned me. I know I am forgiven no matter how many times I screw up. I know I am loved, even when I feel unlovable.

There is a song (yeah, I know… more music analogies, but hey, it moves my life) that I’ve heard on Star 99.1FM called “You Are More” by Tenth Avenue North.
Check it out. You’ll be “re-made.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

They Had a Dream

Martin Luther was not an African-American minister. He was an Augustian monk from the early 1500’s, reformer of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and the man behind a reform movement that birthed a Protestant Reformation and a people of faith called Lutherans.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was an African-American minister, civil rights leader, and reformer of American culture and public policy.

Parsippany, NJ is not the ‘land of the Lutherans,’ as some would suggest Minnesota might be. When asked what religion I am, the response “I’m a Lutheran Christian” is often met with, “What’s that?” I can not even begin to count the number of times I’ve explained to people I interact with outside of the church that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the founder of Lutheranism, but that he shares a name with a man equally committed to changing the status quo.

Both men saw the abuses of the political, and religious powers of their times and sought to make reforms to their cultures and governments through peaceful means; Luther through dialogue with church leaders, preaching, writing, and the circulation of his 95 theses; King through peaceful preaching, protest and marching. Both men chose to use the power of their words for their arsenal of weaponry to effect change. Both used the Bible to show society the truth of their preaching. Both men sought to use education as a means to change; Luther by translating the Bible into the language of the common man, German; King in his search for changes to public laws and education policies toward a goal of desegregation, racial equality among people, and a color blind society.

Both men dreamed that God would be the only judge of a human being’s worth.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Faith, Foothball, Jets & Jesus

So the Jets (I won’t call them NY Jets because they play here in NJ and should be the Jersey Jets) have beaten the New England Patriots in the NFL playoffs after much hullaballoo and posturing about vindication and things being personal. Tomorrow’s papers are bound to be full of faith. Jets players had faith in the play calling. Jets coaching staff had faith in the talent of the players. Quarterback Sanchez had faith in his offensive line. The fans had faith in their team. The fans will continue to have faith in their team as they march on to Pittsburgh next week.

I don’t doubt that there was a lot of faith on that field today…faith in the things that the world of football holds dear. Did the hype and the rhetoric fuel that faith, or was it there all season? What causes us to have faith in something?

In the big picture, football is just a game. Having faith in your coach, fellow players, team mates, or if you’re the fan, in your team, is fun but not usually a matter of life or death. If it gets you the win, I guess it means the continuing life of your current football season, but it doesn’t really impact your eternal situation. It’s for a win…in a game…maybe even your job if you work for the team, but it’s only a blip on the radar of the time we’ve been given to inhabit this planet. It means even less when you consider eternity.

Do we give a thought to the bigger faith issues in our lives as much as we talk about having faith in our favorite football teams? Yeah, I’ll bite. I’ve been more into football this year than other years. It’s fun. It’s fun to pin your hopes on something and feel like you’re part of something bigger…a whole fan base all cheering for the same team. Whoohoo! (Personally, I’m a Giants fan and a Seahawks fan, but since they’re both out of the picture I guess I had to root for the Jets. But, if it comes down to the Packers and the Jets, I pick the green and yellow. I know I’m weird.)

In the grand scheme of life however, we need to take a harder look at where we put our faith.

Do you have faith in the God who created you?
He has an ultimate game plan for your life.
Do you listen to the coaching from the Holy Spirit?
He gives you all kinds of advice on how to win the game, i.e. how to value a relationship with God as your Lombardi Trophy.
Do you have faith that the God who created you really knows and understands all your sorrows and joys?
Jesus took on our human frailty and died a horrific death. He conquered that death and was resurrected to eternal life. Because of this, we can have faith that He understands all that we go through. He knows our strengths and weaknesses…when it’s time to carry the ball or punt.
Do you have faith in the people that God has placed in your life?
God has give you a team of fellow believers who will be there to support you in all your joys and sorrows, in all your struggles and in the times when you question the things in which you have placed your faith.
Do you pin your hopes on the life God has promised you?
If you do, you will feel like you’re part of something bigger…a whole fan base made up of the children of God, cheering for the same team. Whoohoo!

Now that’s a team worth having faith in.

Friday, January 14, 2011

To-Do List Failure

Everyone has days when you screw up. Sometimes you do it big and other times no one will notice but yourself. Today was one of those days when only a couple people will notice that I accomplished only a few of the things on my “to-do” list. Luckily, they love me anyway.

After yesterday’s blog about trying to do my best all the time to the glory of God, this is pretty condemning, isn’t it? It isn’t like my “to-do” list was too far-reaching. It was actually a pretty conquerable list…well mostly. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of it done. So I’m left to wonder why? Why didn’t I get to those tasks I deemed important? Happily, today is not the way my days usually progress.

I look back on today and I think I know some of the reasons for my less than productive day. First off, I didn’t start the day by putting God first in my thoughts. I didn’t ask God to set me on a path that He designed; I thought I could plan it myself. I tend to find this a major fault of mine and it has been made very clear to me what happens when I skip this important step to the day: lack of focus, primarily.

Secondly, I didn’t ask God for help to get me back on track. I was too busy doing other stuff to even realize I was off track. I did start a number of the tasks on my list, but only finished a few. Bouncing around like a rubber ball, I forgot I had set out a plan for the day. The reason I probably couldn’t set upon a path for a successful day was because it wasn’t God’s plan for me today, but my own.

Fortunately, I did recognize, though a bit late, that I have dropped the ball on another day. There are still a few hours left in today and I could buckle down and attack that list. However, I think that the more productive course would be for me to take a few moments, confess my pridefulness to God and ask forgiveness for stepping off into another day thinking I was going to conquer it on my own.

I truly do believe that God has given us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and to guide us in our daily journeys. If we let our self-confidence, pride or our laziness usurp our thoughts, however, we will not hear that quiet voice of the Spirit guiding us to the path we should travel each day. We will wander further afield from the path God has planned for us. We will lose our focus and wander aimlessly, like the Israelites in the desert. Like following the wrong to-do list.

Fortunately, God forgives me daily because of Jesus. Just by taking a moment to pray and listen for the Holy Spirit to provide direction for my life, I can turn around and find my way back to the path I should be following. There I will find the focus that God wants for me. My to-do list may look different, but I should be able to conquer it more easily.

I just need to end each day the way I should have started this one…with God at the forefront of my thoughts.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Lord Respects Me When I Work, but He Loves Me When...

I just got home from choir practice. I have to say there are many Thursday evenings when I think about leaving the warmth of the house to head out into the cold for our choir practices and I just want to stay home and skip it. Usually I’m mostly comfortable with the song we’re going to sing on Sunday, so hey, why not? But then I’d miss the first run-through of the newest piece in our repertoire. So, I bundle up and trudge out.

The thing is... I love to sing. I mean I really LOVE to sing. My voice is not technically trained or beautiful, but I’m a fairly strong alto. I have a pretty good ear for the key and I’m a relatively confident singer, not loud, but confident and strong enough that the other two altos prefer me sandwiched in the middle. My voice blends better with others than standing out alone on a solo anyway. I recognize that and am okay with that, because it isn’t about being a soloist. I love to sing… just because. I’ll never make a living out of it.

Being out of work, I come across a lot of advice to look at the things I love to do and try to find a job in an area that involves that passion. Okay. I’d starve if I tried to live off my voice. I think it is okay to just love something and not gain employment from it. On the other hand, I love to write, and I wish someone WOULD pay me to do that, but in the meantime, here I am. My perspective on this is that God gave me the gift of a voice good enough to sing with a choir and to help lead the music for our congregation so that I can glorify Him, not so I can be employed because of it.

When I was young a neighbor gave me a framed quote that read, “The Lord respects me when I work, but He loves me when I sing.” I can not adequately explain to you how that quote has shaped my life, and not just in regard to my singing with the choir. When I was a child, I took this pretty literally and was happy that my singing was pleasing to God. As I grew older I began to understand that while the Lord had gifted me with a German work ethic of trying to always do my best work…ALL THE TIME, and that He respected me working hard and doing my best, what really pleased the Lord was doing something to glorify Him. It didn’t matter if I did my best work on something; if it didn’t glorify Him, it didn’t much matter. However, if whatever I did, be it writing a blog entry or shoveling my neighbor’s snow, if I did it to glorify God (to maybe enhance your own relationship with Him, or to serve as Christ to my neighbor, or to be a pleasant face in a stodgy office) then THAT would please Him, even if it wasn’t perfect.

When I was in college I read somewhere that the artist who sculpted the Statue of Liberty, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, when questioned why he was bothering to spend so much time on the top of Lady Liberty’s head as no one would ever see it (there were no planes at the time), is said to have replied, “Because God will see it.” Aha! A man after my own heart! God knows when we put forth our best effort and when we do it for His glory, or for our own.

The Lord respects me when I work, but he loves me when I sing…laugh…write…care for another…use my God-given gifts and talents…for His glory.

That is why we were created. And so I sing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Disconnecting in an Internet Age

I’ve been on a 2 day hiatus from the Internet and my computer. You may have noticed…no blog entries. It was not my original intention to totally disconnect like that but hey…life got in the way. On Monday, I returned my daughter to her college. Yesterday, life was just chock full of appointments and chores that just filled up the day. You would not believe the number of people at the grocery store in preparation for our overnight snow storm! Oh well, we really were out of milk and stuff for dinner and lunches, so I slogged through the crowd and stood in line with the rest of world. Last night, with chickadee #1 back to school, it was time to take down the Christmas tree. Epiphany has arrived and Christmas is over.

In reflecting on my two days of disconnect from the Internet, I have to say it was somewhat more productive on the home front but the thought of opening my e-mail box fills me with dread. I also feel re-charged and somehow more whole. The other thing I’ve noticed is that I feel more connected to my real life, even though I’ve clearly become disconnected from the Internet crowd. Have you missed me? I doubt it. However, I suspect that if I were to somehow get sucked into cyberspace, my family and friends might actually miss me.

A small epiphany in Epiphany. I hadn’t realized (well maybe I did have an inkling) how much I wasn’t getting done in the attempt to get these Internet things done. Truthfully I spend a lot of time on the computer doing the job search thing, doing stuff for St. Andrew, and stuff for the Boy Scout troop. In order to make all these Internet connections, I had to let some of my real-life connections pile up in the corner.

After un-decorating our Christmas tree last night, I telephoned my friend with whom I also connect on Facebook. It was a great conversation. We made plans to get together because we haven’t seen each other in person since early December. It’s hard to have that real-time, real-life dialogue on the Internet, even though it certainly is possible with chat and Skype, etc. It just isn’t the same. I read her Facebook postings and occasionally comment, but it is SO much more real to talk to her in person. I hadn’t forgotten this. I know this. But sometimes all the “stuff” gets in the way of what is really important…how God intended us to communicate with each other…a true relationship with each other. Sometimes the Internet may make it easy to find connections with people and to instantly or easily send a message, but I hope we never lose our ability to really talk to each other, face-to-face. We need to remember the Internet is just a tool, and treat it as such.

So now I plan to purposely disconnect from cyberspace once a week, so I can purposely plan to re-connect in real-life with the people I care about (and with all the things I neglect along the way).

How about you? Do you purposely disconnect yourself from your computer? Why? What do you gain? Lose?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Headline: Baptist Dunks Cousin in River Jordan

Today is the Sunday that we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. (Read Matthew 3: 13-17)

In recalling Jesus’ baptism, we are reminded that through this act of love, Jesus has made all the waters of the earth blessed, for, as Holy God, He certainly did not need to be baptized but did this so the glory of God could be revealed. Jesus is revealed as the beloved Son of God. In this way, we share in the baptism of Jesus when we are baptized into the family of God at our own baptism.

To Lutherans, Holy Baptism is a sacrament and a rite of being made holy, or sanctified. The only other sacrament to Lutherans is Holy Communion, by which we are made holy by taking Jesus into our bodies in the form of bread and wine. Each week we remember our baptism while we make our public confession at the beginning of each service. (Did you notice that we begin worship in the back of our sanctuary, near the baptismal font?) We remember how in baptism we are washed clean of our sins and made a new child of God. In our baptism, we are called to be a light to the world, to tell others about our baptism into the family of God and invite them to join us in the joy of being a child of God.

In Holy Baptism we are given identity and purpose. In Holy Communion we are given the support and sustenance to fulfill our purpose. In Holy Baptism we are birthed into the family of God and anointed with the Holy Spirit. In Holy Communion we are forgiven, given life everlasting, and then sent out to “baptize all nations” carrying the Light of Christ out into the darkest places of our world.

Friday, January 7, 2011

DVD Review: Legends of the Guardians

Christian Symbolism in The Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Rated: PG

I watched this DVD with my daughter (18 years old and still a kid at heart). I would not recommend this movie for young children as there are dark themes and imagery that would be upsetting for the under 10 crowd. For older children it is an entertaining movie with plenty of food for thought regarding sibling animosity and the battle of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong.

I’m going to stick my Christian analogies in brackets. Watch the movie and tell me if you agree.

This animated story begins with a family of owls living an idyllic life in a forest where the parents provide for all that the young owls need [Garden of Eden where God provided for all that we needed]. A younger brother loves and dreams the stories of legend about winged warriors that saved owlkind from the evil Pure Ones [Bible stories], told by his father, while the older brother scorns them. In learning to fly, the younger owl is able to use the imagery in those legends to envision his flight path [the Bible gives us the stories that help us know what God wants us to choose for our own path], while the older owl has trouble because he isn’t listening to his inner voice and tries to make it happen on his own steam. Ironically, a snake is given the characterization of the loving nursemaid, talk about the lamb lying down with the lion. Owls eat snakes!

After being told to stay in the tree while the parents go hunting, the two owls venture out to practice their flying [disobedience to the Father] and end up falling to the forest floor where they are in danger and can not yet fly up to the safer branches [falling from Grace]. They are scooped up by evil owls and carried off to a world where they are made either a slave or a soldier/oppressor [the world of sin in which we live separated from God]. There, the younger owl, Soren, seeks to protect a smaller younger owl and is sent off to be a slave with her; already his calling as a Guardian is showing [Jesus]. The older brother, Kludd, denies Soren is his brother (didn’t catch if it was three times, but definitely twice…hmmm Peter anyone?), and is offered the opportunity to be a soldier, which he accepts thinking it would be a position of respect. Through the rest of the story the older owl will betray his younger brother and sister at least two more times.

In a show of inner wisdom and strength, the younger female owl and Soren defy the slave master’s order to gaze into the moon, thereby avoiding the moon-daze that falls over the hundreds of other young abducted owls also enslaved. One of the guards (a rebel at heart) spots their deception and secrets them away to train them in flight so that they may escape to find the Guardians of legend to bring rescue to all the enslaved. [Hmmm…who might those Guardians be?]

The story continues with battles of the good owls vs. the evil owls, with learning your true calling and using the gifts you have been given, and with salvation of the abducted owls coming from the Guardians, ultimately because of the acts and knowledge of Soren who has to make choices between what is right and what is wrong. There is even a scene where our young Soren is silhouetted by backlighting and we seen him suspended vertically in the night sky with wings [arms] outstretched just before diving into battle and possible death. [Crucifixion anyone?] The story is full of sibling rivalry or betrayal which brought to mind the Biblical stories of Cain and Able, Jacob and Esau, or Joseph and his brothers.

(SPOILER ALERT) In the end, of course, good triumphs over evil and the enslaved are set free, yet there is foreshadowing that the evil has not yet been eliminated from the owl kingdom and there may be more movies to come. There are humorous owl characters that lighten the story and heartwarming moments that make your eyes tear.

This movie is based on a series of books by Kathryn Lasky about The Owls of Ga’Hoole. My children and nephews devoured them eagerly. Even at 18, my daughter wanted to watch it for her second time while I watched it for the first. It clearly strikes a chord with the kids, but the themes of child abduction and enslavement are dark and terrifying themes for young children, even if there is rescue in the end. The animation/cinematography is breathtaking, if somewhat dark, after all owls do roam at night. This movie is definitely one to enjoy, but take care with the younger children.

Seen the movie? Agree or disagree with me? Write a comment. I’d love to hear your point of view.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany - A Note from Pastor Fred

Today is Epiphany, also known to some as Three Kings Day. I’ve commented on Epiphany in a previous blog entry (Toys R Us Celebrates Epiphany). Today’s blog is a guest submission from Rev. Frederick L. Lentz, pastor of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Parsippany.


In every church I’ve ever been in, I’ve had to hide the wise men until Epiphany. For some reason we lump the first Epiphany, the appearance of star to the wise men in the east, with the shepherd and the angels. But these are separate stories, and to my mind have different messages. Christmas is about God made Flesh. About God come in diapers, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

Epiphany is about seeing something that was always there but now you understand in a new way. Wise men followed a star and found a king but not the kind of king they were expecting. Their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh must have seemed silly gifts for a poor Hebrew child. But they make perfect sense in the light of where this “king” will reign. They point to his death, where gold could be used to pay the costs of burial, and frankincense and myrrh could be used to cover the smell of death. Yet none of these great gifts or their givers anticipated that God would raise Jesus from the dead, and that therefore none of these gifts would be needed.

Epiphany is about that. About our best expectations being challenged and changed by a God who still surprises us. Life is about that too, as you well know. For you know how some of the best-laid plains can go completely haywire and yet sometimes come out even better than we could have ever planned or hoped.

Pastor Fred

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Art Review: Greenaway's Vision of DaVinci's Last Supper

Art Review: Leonardo’s Last Supper: A Vision by Peter Greenaway
Dec. 3, 2010 – Jan. 6, 2011
Park Avenue Amory, New York City

I’ve wanted to get to New York City since I read about this exhibit at the Park Avenue Armory highlighting Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper, in early December. Well with one day left in the show I finally got there. My apologies to any of you who would have liked to see it too, after reading this.

Peter Greenaway has taken multi-media and digital technologies to attempt a dialogue between painting and cinema. His goal was to use the value of painting to “fix and stabilize and limit and frame the image…and to use cinema to make a painting move and change, have a temporal life and have a sound-track.” (From the House Program for this exhibit, I think he has definitely achieved his goals. Through the sound-track, video projections, and the architectural and sculptural elements of this exhibit, DaVinci’s Last Supper truly comes to life and moves with light and symbolic gesture as varying images draw your attention from one end of the room to the other. Some reviewers felt DaVinci would be rolling over in his grave. Personally, I think he would have loved it, being a Renaissance man of art and science.

Visualize yourself 1) standing before an entirely white banquet table (table, tablecloth, food, dinnerware – all white), 2) with an orchestral soundtrack bouncing from one corner of the room to another while 3) on your left, DaVinci’s Last Supper morphs through various settings of light and shadow, highlight and contrast, color palette or black and white, line drawing or fleshed out figures, and 4) on your right, another display of the painting in microcosm is expanded across the wall, showing each fleck of paint digitally scanned, so that as the scene pulls away you are able to grasp the larger portion of the painting (reminding me of George Seurat’s pointillist Neo-Impressionism). Then while all this is happening, 5) the stark white table in front of you is backlit (or lit from beneath in this case) in alternating colors of green, orange, red, and others. 6) In order to take it all in you’ve got to look left, right, down at the table, back to the right, again to the left…as if you were seated at the table having a dinner conversation with 12 people. There are times when it seems that the figures in the painting have actually popped up off the background and become sculptures. There are other times when the figures disappear into the background while one symbolic aspect of the painting is brought to the fore. On the one hand, it is a bit overwhelming. On the other, it is a static painting come alive with digital cinematography. Either way, it is a unique way to experience this masterpiece of art.

The segment of the exhibit focusing on the Last Supper is bookended by two similarly styled presentations. The introduction piece depicts Italy as the host of cities built up around piazzas, where the Italian lifestyle of centuries has nurtured the art of centuries. The follow up piece includes dialogue to dissect the artistic, mathematic and architectural composition of Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana. I found these two segments rather confusing as I had not yet read the House Program when I viewed the 45 minute presentation. With this insight now behind me, I understand the intent but feel that the connections are not easily bridged without the notes. At first I thought the dialogue included with Veronese’s Wedding at Cana would have helped to understand Greenaway’s intent with The Last Supper, but now, after reflection, think that might have distracted from Greenaway’s own artistic interpretation of The Last Supper.

All in all, it was a great thing to see and experience. Not bad for $15 in New York City.

The Park Avenue Armory is also a treasure to behold. Grand paintings (at least one by Thomas Nast) line the halls, coffered ceilings and wall paneling are ornately detailed with craftsmanship not easily found today. Stained glass windows honor Medal of Honor recipients from World War I. Next time I’ll plan to arrange for a guided tour of the Armory as well.

My only true gripe? After walking what seemed like an eternity of city blocks from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, this exhibit was a standing 45 minute presentation (there were a few seats but those had been taken by the elderly among the group – and rightfully so). That’s what I get for tackling New York on a tight budget. After this we hoofed it over to the Museum of Natural History. I splurged on a cab back to Port Authority as we headed home. Oh my aching feet! But it was a day well spent with my daughter, before she heads back to college, and feeding my artistic hunger. And, for this wonderful opportunity I say “Thank you, Lord!”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fear - What's it Going to Get You? Or Lose for You?

Fear - A stumbling block to a relationship with God

We see it everyday. Fear.

A New Year should be a time to look forward in hope. For too many people, I’m afraid the approaching year is over-shadowed by fear. We fear we might lose our job. We fear we might not find a job. We fear we won’t be able to make ends meet. We fear we won’t be able to keep paying for the health insurance plan. This economy has a lot of people on edge with fear. So how do we handle it?

There is, of course, a healthy fear…that fear that motivates us to move, to make changes. This fear causes us to look around for help and grab it by the horns, dropping our selfish attitude that we can muddle through our problems on our own.

Un-healthy fear is a relationship blocker. It puts distance between the people who care about us and ourselves. It puts distance between the God who will always provide for us and our scared self, too absorbed in our fear to trust in the promises of The Provider of all that we need. When we wallow in fear, we block out those who offer hope and help. We forget to TRUST.

Look at Noah. He had to have a healthy fear and respect for the Lord to embark upon such a crazy plan to build an ark. If he had feared the laughter of his neighbors, the difficulties of getting lions to lay down with lambs in confined quarters, or the prospect of the whole earth being swallowed up by water, he would have drowned in in-action or disobedience to God. We would all be lost if Noah had let his fear get the best of him.

Look at Abraham. In his healthy fear of the Lord (he is the Almighty after all), Abraham offers hospitality to three strangers in his midst and receives the long awaited news that his wife will finally bear a son. In respect and fear for the Lord, he takes his long promised heir to the mountain to sacrifice his only son as commanded by God. Because of his faithfulness, God provides the ram as an alternative sacrifice. If Abraham had been so consumed with fear about Isaac’s safety, he could not have trusted God to provide the solution. The covenant of generations as multitudinous as the stars would not have been realized.

Look at Moses. A healthy fear of, and respect for, the Lord God, the Almighty, made Moses turn his face from the burning bush and remove his sandals on holy ground. His irrational fear of public speaking nearly lost him the job of thorn in Pharoah’s side, leader of a disgruntled people, and bearer of God’s law. But his trust in God to be with him and provide for his safety enabled him to stand before the region’s most powerful man and call down the wrath of God. Not once, but mulitple times. Then he stood with his back to a sea while the Pharoah’s army pursued them. Fearing, and yet trusting in God, Moses was given the power to part the sea and usher the Israelites to safety. Entrusted with God’s promise and law, Moses sees the face of God and receives the 10 Commandments to give to God’s people, so that they might live together in peace and in respectful worship of the God, “I Am.” Where would we be if Moses had chickened out on any of the things God had called him to do?

Look at the disciples. People must have thought them crazy to abandon their professions and follow a carpenter’s son on a 3-year preaching tour. Had they feared the public and family ridicule, they would have lost out on the relationship of a lifetime. In fear, they all turned and ran at the hour of trial. But even though they turned their backs on Jesus, He did not turn His back on us.

Look at Jesus. God Immortal saddled with human flesh and suffering. Imagine the discomfort of being limited by our finiteness. Imagine the fear that the part of him that was human must have felt at the moment of death, that ultimate time of loneliness and separation from God. Had Jesus, in His human skin, feared the darkness so much to as cry “Uncle!” and beg for respite, where would we be? Jesus conquered not only the darkness and death, but fear.

We need not fear anything. God will provide for all our needs. Jesus has conquered death. The Holy Spirit lives within us and will guide us on the path that God has planned for us. And that means weathering the economic uncertainty of this new year, 2011, too.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Different Nativity Story

A Different Nativity Story: In the Beginning was the Word…

Today’s Gospel lesson in church spoke to us of a different kind of Nativity story. We looked at John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth…”

Pastor Fred spoke to us today about how these words are to remind us that just as everything God has created was spoken with a Word (Genesis Chapter 1), so is God’s own Son, Word of God, existent at The Beginning, and become flesh in our time (okay, about 2010 years ago). In becoming flesh, God has become a part of us and dwells within us. We carry God with us wherever we go and are to shine like the light of God in the world.

If there was ever a question about the Bible being the inspired Word of God, these passages from John certainly clinch it for me. They are pure, God-inspired poetry. The vision that birthed these words could only, in my mind, be inspired by God. In just a few words, the confirmation of Jesus as God’s own Son is poetically and symbolically gifted to us. The entire Gospel of John is rich in imagery to help us understand the magnitude of who Jesus is and how much God loves us.

What an awesome responsibility! Just think how the world might change if we all acted as if God was living within us, and we wanted to share him with everyone we meet. Now that’s a New Year’s Resolution!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Monopoly and Why I Have Hope for the New Year

Yesterday was New Year’s Eve. The last day of 2010. Good riddance. And yet, I learned a lot during the year. I even was reminded of some important life lessons during a game of Monopoly last night.

Our family is not big on going out to celebrate the welcoming of a new year. My husband and I are basically New Year’s Scrooges. Occasionally we’ll go to a party but generally prefer to stay home, play some games with the kids and/or watch movies. So yesterday evening we broke open the Boy Scout Edition of Monopoly that my son received for Christmas and later watched the new DVD release of Despicable Me.

Now what can I learn during a game of Boy Scout Monopoly? Well aside from having a lot of fun with my family, I learned that even the best plan is subject to the whims of others and the roll of the dice. I had planned to buy everything I could as I moved along because I knew I was up against others with similar plans, who would be placing tents and cabins on the various merit badge spaces and charging me enormous rent if I happened to need to camp at their site. Unfortunately, my dice rolling left me lacking for opportunities to become a merit badge or National Boy Scout Camp property baron. I did not own a monopoly of anything by the time the others had scoffed up all the rest of the property, although I did acquire a bunch of cash in the meantime.

So I learned that through no fault of my own, my original plan was bust and I had to come up with a new plan. Now this is not something new to me, I do it all the time, but I did feel rather insightful as we were playing and thought, “Hmmm, how interesting. My life has not been following the path I had planned either and I am again faced with deciphering what to do next.” Having written yesterday’s blog earlier in the day, I thought about how I have agreed to let God prepare the road, tighten Jesus on as my safety belt, and let the Holy Spirit program the GPS.

I was debating how to find a path toward success in this Boy Scout Monopoly when my daughter, home on college break, chirps up, “You know that church I’m going to near school? The pastor there was preaching and talked about Monopoly in his sermon.” She then went to their web site and called up a sound track of his recent sermon. And I thought, “Wow!”

I thought “Wow!” because she was eagerly seeking out a place of worship while away at school (even though it is a non-denominational contemporary style of worship and not Lutheran, hey, she’s worshiping!). I thought “Wow!” because she remembered the sermon and was eager to share it with us. I thought “Wow!” because this pastor had found a way to imprint a very important message on her. The message in his sermon was that the objective of Monopoly, to basically have it all at the expense of others, is in direct opposition to the message of Christ. While in Monopoly, money may buy all the tents and cabins, he points out later in his sermon that the Beatles got it right when they sang, “Money can’t buy you love.” Christ already paid the price for love. Love is free.

I didn’t win the game, but I wasn’t the first one out either. We had fun and that was what counted most. I also learned that in spite of what seems like difficult odds there is hope. While we might not finish up with all the “stuff,” we certainly can have hope for the future when our kids can connect the contradiction between the rules of the game and the rules of a life of well lived, full of true meaning and love.
When we can still say “Wow!,” there is hope.