Tanzania Trip Teazer

14 09 2017

I didn’t get to blog about Tanzania. I’ll update here at some point. It was a great trip with much less connection to wifi than promised or assumed. Also as I returned my first week with jet lag involved two family birthdays, the next week I co-led Vacation Bible school for 85 children, the following week we spent time preparing for and going through with a memorial service for my mother-in-law who tragically passed from heart complications, and then a week or two to end summer and get kiddos started back up at school. that it was an incredible 3 weeks that has much to process and there is more to come about studying with professors of and at the University of Dar es Salaam, politics, history, philosophy, religious beliefs of the people of Tanzania; learning about the original spot where East African Slave trade began, visiting villages of the Gogo people, eating their foods, experiencing amazing hospitality and wondering if it is of genuine hospitality or out of a sense of duty and notion to please white people stemming back to days of colonization. Also we experience amazing choral, instrumental, and dance performances from the village group participating int the Chamwino Music Festival. We visited schools for children, teenagers, and graduate seminary students. We worshiped ina few different settings, We went on a day long safari and saw many animals participating in the circle of life.

More to come …

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A Tired Daughter’s Rant About Health Care and an Ailing Registered Nurse 

4 05 2017

My family is fully immersed in realizing the medical/dental bill implications piling up for husband and daughters from a simply amazingly medically chaotic month – wondering can we afford some mental health care for myself as caregiver in all this? 

Daughter strep throat, then a what we were told was sprained but now is broken ankle healing in a cast for 6 weeks. 

Junior high age Daughter who fell accidentally, bit through her lip, and broke/chipped the bottom parts of her two front teeth. 

Husband who had surgery for and recovery from removal of gallbladder filled with nasty gall stones. 

And also this week we’ve been waiting days (almost a week!) for Medicare insurance to decide whether or not they’ll help pay for a transfer for my upper-60s father to move from the hospital to a skilled care center for recovery – because it would be a dignified safe option for him rather than releasing him home mostly alone to potentially have another fall as he is still feeling physically weak. 

Here is my rant of a tired caregiving daughter of a Registered Nurse (two actually!):

I’m wondering why my dad who was a military medic and registered nurse for many many years and whose body has essentially degraded because he spent those years caregiving for so many others in physical, emotional, and spiritual ways – why must he be treated as a pawn in a $$ game between medical facilities and insurance companies? His disabilities and ailments come because he put some serious time in helping others and sacrificing time with family to do so – don’t tell me he needed to work harder. There really is something we owe to those who care for us in such a way. It seriously upsets me. 

I wish I had the energy to put into polictical lobbying for the health care votes our law makers are placing – for now my family is potentially merely a casualty and we (at least my immediate family) aren’t even the ones who will be the worse off for it, it will be hard but we’ll hopefully have access to resources and figure it out – I really pray we are able anyways. 
Someone told me the other day in a devotedly Christian manner – and not knowing my full situation – society is not responsible for cleaning up the mistakes of others by providing Medicare and Medicaid – it is the responsibility of the person to figure it out and help themselves or end themselves. (I humbly disagreed on many levels). Also my internal reaction: Come on now – my dad killed his back lifting people like you when you were in your most vulnerable moments medically and held tight images of people like you that he tried his damnest to help heal – and now you’re telling me that his pain taken on to help you is considered cleaning up after people’s mistakes and choices? Too bad his choice was a career helping heal people’s bodies – too bad for him he didn’t choose something that would treat his body and maybe health care insurance wallet better – it definitely would not have been healthy to his dignity to not use the gifts he was given in care for others in their medically vulnerable moments. 

Oh man, I guess I have some feelings about this. Time to go maybe attempt a nap.





Grief – Resurrection – Mission: Life as Mom in Grad School

27 03 2017

It is my Spring Break – alas, I have a bit of energy to blast a blog post.

I just read an article from the Presbyterian Outlook magazine regarding the first words Jesus spoke to his grieving  disciples in the first moments they meet him after resurrection. The author emphasized Jesus’ first words to be words of peace and then encouragement to send them back into action with the good news that he is alive, has conquered death, and is God incarnate (God/human) whose mission is to point people back to a genuine life of loving God and loving one another. Having just come out of a very emotionally and physically intense seminary quarter of study this past Tuesday (I was granted an extension on a final paper) and getting ready to start back into studies on Wednesday my soul somehow resonates at a perhaps lesser level in experiencing this cycle of working hard, falling into grief, surprise at resurrection, peace and then having to get myself back on task. Actually I feel this almost every quarter.

It doesn’t seem to be a very healthy cycle, but I’m almost certain it is normal for most graduate school students to have a similar experience we have ten weeks on the quarter system to open ourselves up to a fire hose of information with a requirement to filter what we can to produce deep theological and even new and surprising work. At the start, this doesn’t seem too daunting, but by the end it feels like one of those survivor type reality shows where you’re exhausted trying to get to the end and yet working as a team to hold one another up to accomplish the task together. We all have some type of obstacles trying to take us out through the quarter – finances, family, friendships, negative interactions with professors or struggles to complete the workload, work outside of school, health concerns, and more.

My obstacles this past Winter quarter have been a combination of timing of events:

  • Working through the beginnings of a major transition with our church that began the same week as winter quarter and added hours and emotional strain on church members and myself;
  • My husband’s structural engineering workload going overtime because the weather is getting warmer and people can build;
  • Deadlines or major events occurring at the same time for our daughter’s activities – normally it isn’t an issue to take them to a band/orchestra rehearsal, or an every other week girl scout troop meeting, or a sports practice. The difficulty was that all the concerts, cookie sales, basketball games, softball startup events, gearing up for martial arts testing and things requiring extra effort happened throughout the same three weekend/two week stretch of time – including my school finals week(s).
  • Also, ADHD – predominantly inattentive, is something I’m still learning to identify how my life is affected by this and trying out new strategies of which are and some are not effective and from there working to create new habits. However, it is not an easy feat to re-work forty years of very ingrained coping mechanisms to help my habits become a bit more healthy not only for myself, but my family, those I work with and serve, and those with whom I study.

All of this throws me into a frenzy at the end of each quarter and a type of exhausted grief and panic wondering if I will pass, am I worthy of continuing on for a Master of Divinity, and am I an imposter just thinking I can do this? Then by grace and with encouragement of God, professors, co-workers, family, and others I get the work done and anxiously await my grades and sleep – or stare at a wall – a lot. My grades come through and I pass – sometimes with ‘As’ sometimes with a C – but in my mind, a pass is a pass. I am overwhelmed with relief and peace. A few days later I begin receiving emails from Spring quarter professors with a list of books to quickly acquire and assignments to begin working on and have completed for the first day of class. Break and vacation are flexible terms in the life of a graduate student – we are quickly back on mission an ready to start the cycle all over again. Somehow we make it through. I am a part-time student (approx. 8 credits/quarter towards 120 credits total), in my third year, and still have two or three years of this mission left to go — Wheeeee!





Lenten and Easter Retreat for Suicide Survivors

1 03 2017

I have never attempted suicide – and I’m sure I know a few folks who are survivors (of whom I am aware and who I may not be aware) – this could be a great online Lenten retreat/practice if you are a survivor of Suicide. I am re-blogging this pastor’s intro to the online-retreat and you can find her first retreat post for Ash Wednesday here: https://maryrobincraig.com/2017/03/01/ash-wednesday-retreat-for-suicide-survivors/

Blessings.

Mary Robin Craig

green-river-1  This 2017 Lenten and Easter seasons, I am offering a free online retreat via this blog for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.  This means that I will be posting on this topic on Wednesdays and Sundays, with something each time designed to serve as a springboard for prayer, meditation, or contemplation ~ however you choose to characterize a time of quiet for yourself or a small group.

Because Lent and Easter are seasons in the Christian Church, and because I am a Christian (Presbyterian) pastor and spiritual director, these posts will have a Christian flavor and tone.  However, I am ecumenical in outlook, and will endeavor to make this a hospitable space for anyone who stops by, whether of any faith or none.  All are welcome.

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Adam McLane on Talking to our Kids about Race and Ethnicity

12 11 2016

I have two daughters on each end of the tween-age spectrum. Both of them have very good and best friends who are persons of color in particular African American and hispanic American. They have close friends who are a variety of Asian , middle eastern, and Eastern European ethnicities. They hear the media and rhetoric surrounding Black Lives Matter and immigrants being deported out of the country and they immediately think of their friends with great concern. This along with stories things I’ve heard in my places of ministry, other jobs, and school contexts make me want to help my children be the best friend and classmate possible to these children and us as parents to their friends parents. Adam McLane’s words are very helpful in sharing ideas on how to have this conversation with our children and why it is of utmost importance.

Check out his suggestions here: http://adammclane.com/2016/11/talking-to-our-kids-about-race-and-ethnicity/





A Twist on Tradition. The Parable of the Sower – Mark 4:1-9

3 11 2016

This portion of scripture, Mark 4:1-9 is known as “The Parable of the Sower”. We can find very similar accounts of this parable in the other Synoptic Gospels of the Bible in Matthew chapter 13 and Luke chapter 8. There is more discussion and explanation of this parable past verse 9, but this is the portion set before us as we are following the Illustrated Earth curriculum provided by Adam Walker Cleaveland of Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Pastor Sandy chose to use this curriculum as a guide as our children are participating in the entire worship service this summer.

This isn’t my first time preparing a sermon for the entire congregation, however I have gained respect for Sandy’s and other guest preacher’s preparation as it is a challenge to stick within the parameters set by the curriculum rather than veer in a whole other direction.

Listen to the Word of God –

Jesus was beside the lake when he began to teach. So many people surrounded him that he climbed into a boat there on the lake. He sat in the boat while the crowd stayed on the shore. He spoke to them in parables. He said, “Listen to this!”. A farmer went out to scatter seed. 

Some seed fell on the path; and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. Those sprouted immediately. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants; they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among the thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked the seeds, and they produced nothing, either. Other seed fell into good soil and bore fruit. As it grew, the seed produced a lot of fruit – each new place it grew, it produced more than the last!”Jesus said, “Are you listening? Pay attention!”

My first question in studying this scripture was “What is a parable?”.

When it comes to defining parables I poured through a few Bible dictionaries and commentaries and yet the most simple but concise definition I came across is from a book written by the professors of the seminary where I am currently studying. I promise I did not look for a place to plug my studies or Seattle Pacific Seminary at Seattle Pacific University. I can’t help but share an excellent resource with all of you developed by a variety of well-studied and currently engaged theologians and biblical scholars residing right here in Seattle. This group of professors wanted a book that would be helpful to their Theology undergrad student, a primer for their seminary graduate students, and could be used by the lay persons in their own churches and the churches they are asked to teach. I can’t recommend “A Compact Guide to the Whole Bible” enough. If you’re interested, I can help you acquire a hard copy or you can search for a digital version for your Kindle or other e-reader.

OK enough commercial – getting back to the definition of a parable by Dr. Laura Holmes (New Testament Studies professor at SPU):

A statement that compares something – often from nature – to the kingdom of God in order to illustrate what the kingdom is about or to point to who God is.” 

She continues stating:

“Parables are rarely interpreted in a straightforward manner; in fact the point of a parable is to make its hearers think hard about God, Jesus, and discipleship. We are in danger of totally missing the point if we assume that parables are easy to “get”.” (Compact Bible, p 116)

Why did Jesus use Parables?

Jesus used parables as did many rabbinical or Jewish teachers of his time – it wasn’t a new idea and there are a few earlier parables recorded in the Old Testament. No matter how many others use them, Jesus holds the record for the number of parables used in his ministry as it is highly characteristic of his teaching style.

Marcus Borg points out parables are stories where something happens and yet are not factual and are made-up stories. Borg however is quick to point out the fact that parables are made up does not at all discount the important of the point of the stories. He says parables are “meaningful and meaning-filled, truthful and truth-filled. Their truth does not depend on their factuality; rather they are about meaning. They are invitations to see something you might not otherwise see.” Jesus had a most difficult task of explaining to those in his presence his purpose and the fact that he indeed is God and he indeed came to fulfill the prophecy of a messiah come to usher in the Kingdom of God. It was his job to create a visual and an experience to help people understand the importance of who he was, who God was, and who we are as people of God.

Another factor in the importance of Jesus’ parables is remembering that his Aramaic tradition was an oral tradition. They did not yet write down their history and everything was passed on and explained through verbal storytelling. Parables were a colorful and effective means of storytelling to help others remember. Parables made it easy to pass on the word to others.

Bay of Parables

I came across a fun tidbit of information about the likely location of Jesus’ parable of the Sower. It is a place known as the Bay of Parables or Sower’s Cove.

bay-of-parables

  • The Parable of the Sower was likely an acoustics aided parable on the Sea of Galilee.
  • About 1km northeast of Tabgha is a small bay with exceptional acoustic qualities. Here it is believed Jesus taught the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9) from a boat moored in the bay.
  • The semicircular bay, at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes, is one of the most attractive places along the shoreline. It is called Sower’s Cove or the Bay of the Parables.
  • The slope of the hill forms a natural amphitheater, rather like a Roman theatre. Acoustical research has demonstrated that as many as 7000 people could hear a person speaking from a boat in the bay.
  • Pilgrims who test the acoustics, usually by reading the Gospel account, are amazed at how far the voice carries.
  • This location was also an appropriate setting for the story of the sower and his seeds. There is fertile black earth, rocky ground and plenty of thorns and thistles.

Parables and the Gospel of Mark

Biblical scholars have a variety of definitions and purposes for the author of the Gospel of Mark to include the Parable of the Sower, but most agree on three many purposes for the entirety of the book of Mark. These three main purposes are Christology, the Kingdom of God, and Discipleship.

Reading further in Mark chapter 4 we will see Jesus explain this parable further – the seed is the word, the ground – or soil – is the recipient of the word – when the birds snatch up the seed, this is Satan snatching away understanding before it can begin to take root; the rocky soil doesn’t allow for depth in growth – this is a joyful recipient but the joy is short lived when they are tested with trials and temptations, as there is no soil for the plant to take root; the thorny ground is one who receives the word but their potential growth is choked by the longing for wealth, greed, and selfish motives; the good soil is the recipient who hears the word, takes it in, and grows and produces good things from doing so. This is a very brief synopsis and leaves the disciples and ourselves wondering which are we, and how might we be good soil, and do we even want to be good soil, is it worth it? It is apparent that this parable already covers the gospel writer’s main topics – Christology (the kingship and authority of Jesus), the Kingdom of God (who is and is not in it), and Discipleship (what it looks like to be a follower of Christ).

Some of you who grew up in a Christian household or congregation might have had a similar experience with this parable as a child. I remember having this parable taught and explained to me in a manner that left me anxious wondering if my heart or my life was good soil and worried about whether or not I was producing good fruit for God. Was I studying what I understood to be God’s Word – the Bible – deeply enough to make sure my faith was strongly rooted and anchored in Jesus. I think for some maybe the anxiety is necessary to get a start in faith, and some need a reminder to stay rooted in Christ. But as I read this scripture now, having studied not only the Bible, but some history and theology and reading further work from Laura Homes, Marcus Borg, and John Edwards on this passage – there is something intriguing about a possible difference in what I was taught and what perhaps the author of the book of Mark intended to communicate to the recipients of the Gospel. I have been struggling with how to communicate this idea to you all wanting to have it all wrapped up in a nice neat package. I admit I do not have that nice neat package but several thoughts and ideas to share that maybe we can continue to ponder together. After all, this is a parable and it isn’t supposed to be easy for me to “get”, right?

You see, Mark was written after Jesus walked and lived on the earth – approximately 70 CE for a second generation of Christians. These Christians were not only Jewish but also Gentile (meaning, not Jewish) they probably already knew about the life of Jesus – his teachings, his miracles, his call to discipleship. They knew that he was the Messiah – God come in the flesh to save them from oppression. They knew that Jesus died on the cross, they knew that Jesus resurrected from the grave and came back to life, they knew that he ascended into Heaven. They knew the stories, but they didn’t experience this first hand in real-life. They were believers because they were told the story, believed the story, and accepted the call to live a life worshiping God and following in the footsteps of Jesus – just the same and you and I.

The book of Mark was one of the earliest written narratives of Jesus’ life. Most Christians did not read and write, only a few select people in society were trained to do this so they took this short narrative explaining the purpose of the life of Jesus to groups of people and read it out loud in a few short hours – like a reader’s theater and the first people groups it was read to were Christians who either were living just at the start of the Jewish/Roman war or just at the end. They were persecuted for their beliefs and it was risky to participate in Jesus’ call to care for the poor, the hungry, the beat-down. This was not the call of the Roman or Jewish leaders, it was a life-threatening move to follow Jesus. In their fear, they were becoming discouraged and hopeless wondering if it was worth it to keep following Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is a book of encouragement reminding them that actually, it is worth it, because they aren’t alone in doing this work – God has already done the work.

Realizing that these people already accepted the word and realizing they were paralyzed with fear causes me to wonder what if this parable of the sower is not a mandate to worry about whether or not they have control over the state of their hearts and souls? What if it is a reminder that in the midst of chaos and uncertain times God is in control. What if it is not about worrying if Christians will do the work, but it is about reassuring Christians God has already sown the seeds and done the work and will continue to do so? What if this parable is reminding future generations of Christians that God the sower already sent Jesus the seed into the world to create a ripple effect of love, peace, and justice that continues to grow despite the difficulties.

Future generations of Christians do not need to worry about whether or not their risks to love others will produce good fruit or benefit the future because we know when it is an act rooted in following Christ it most definitely will grow love in or bring healing to others. It may not immediately yield a huge amount of results but it will gradually grow greater – one sown seed at a time. The Christians who first heard the parable of the sower from the Gospel of Mark needed to be reminded that Christ had already conquered death and continues to live and they need not be afraid to take the risk of worshiping God and following Jesus because the hard part was already done and the benefits far outweighed the risks.

Perhaps we as Christians today need to hear this encouragement as well – you know the stories, you know the call – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and Love your neighbor as yourself”. We live in a different time and our risks to our lives may not cause physical death, but we fear loss of pride, friends, family, work, and self-identity. Some of us may still need to hear this parable as if they were with the crowd and the disciples hearing it for the first time and learning how to listen to and what it means to follow Christ.

Some of us may need to hear it as a 2nd Generation Christian hearing the Gospel of Mark – What if you accept that you already are good soil instead of wondering what kind of soil you are? What if you continue to let Jesus take root in your life and follow him, take the risk rather than being paralyzed in fear – take the risk of loving others and working towards justice, working towards whole and right relationships, and allowing God’s love and goodness take root and grow abundantly in your lives and throughout the world.

When you listen to the words of Jesus what do you hear him calling you to in your faith and life? What might God want to grow through you?

Wise Jesus, Thank you for seeds that grow and for the fruit they bring. We want the goodness of our lives to grow too – teach us how to nurture it. Amen.

Sources:

Wall, Robert W., and David R. Nienhuis. A Compact Guide to the Whole Bible: Learning to Read Scripture’s Story. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015.
Borg, Marcus J. Conversations with Scripture: the Gospel of Mark. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 2009.
Sweat, Laura C. Theological Role of Paradox in the Gospel of Mark. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013




Role models and Mentors for Women in Public Leadership – Hilary Clinton

28 09 2016

Humans of New York

http://www.humansofnewyork.com/post/150136510691/im-not-barack-obama-im-not-bill-clinton-both

Political agendas aside – I get her. I get Hilary Clinton  (yes this is a bold staement to make). I have not experienced the depth of vitriolic public shaming she has experienced by some citizens of our country, not even close. I am with her when it comes to the way a woman “must” present herself when speaking publicly and the  available role models and mentors leading up to that point – mainly men. Men, and every woman, who says I need to present myself differently in public to exude a sense of strength and confidence and  poise. This includes working hard to keep my voice low and slow since my higher pitched voice “doesn’t assert authority” – I dont mind being told low and slow so people can hear and understand – but to assert authority is a different piece of advice that exposes biases.

I’ve been blessed working and ministering at LCPC – with first a 70 year old woman who was interim pastor and now pastor Sandy for six years. I have learned a lot from both about the difficulties and the benefits women have in public leadership. Often times, when both of us, or several women have stepped up to leading the public part of worship at our church – heck even our organist and pianist are women – I have this nagging wonder and concern about the men and boys in the church and who they have as male role models in the church. Who can they look to to learn to be men of God?

As I read Hilary’s comments on role models, I realize there are more than enough positive male role models in the church, in our society, and there always will be. There are plenty of other places these men can choose to worship where men are the majority or only public face or voices. Personally, I truly am grateful for the many men in my life who have been and continue to be great mentors for me… so often though it has not been by choice. They simply have been or are the only option available to me as a woman.

There are many men who choose to stay and wholly participate in our community and after several years of being publicly led by women, they are still there. I really need not worry about them, they are fine. They choose to look to and minister alongside the women God has currently called to publicly lead their church – they have a choice. They get a choice of who will be their role model for public leadership – something a lot of women did not get until the last few decades. Actually, many women still do not have the choice in choosing to be led by a woman in authority – in the church, in academia, in politics.

Take this a step deeper and consider this who are in minority – people of color, people in poverty, LGBTQ persons – when do they get the choice? Why do we suppress their voices and styles of leadership and assume that the wealthy, white, straight (mostly male) role model is THE model for leading the whole of this mixed diverse population?

Thank you Secretary Hilary Clinton (first woman to be a Presidential Nominee for the United States) for standing strong for yourself, speaking up for women in leadership, and being a role model and mentor we can relate to when it comes to being in the public eye. Thank you to the men who take women as we are and have full confidence in our leadeship abilities – help in to hone our natural abilities rather than clone a full replica of your own skills and abilities.








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