Thursday, March 31, 2005

Its a Jumble

It was a jumbled, frantic day. You know, one of those days in which things pop up unexpectedly and you find your plans for the day scrambled.

Some of this was due to trying to finish stuff at work before I leave town for a couple of days tomorrow to visit Older Daughter in Austin. But most of it was due to things breaking (the air conditioning) and getting misplaced (a set of Sunday School lessons), and having my kitchen torn up for the purpose of redecorating after 15 years (those of you who lived through that will sympathize). Always a frustration! Its all sorted now, more or less.

Younger Daughter has her comprehensive exam tomorrow at her college. The school requires all graduates to pass an exam in their major that covers their four years of study before they can graduate. YD is conscientious to a fault and is probably overprepared, but still a bit nervous.

So there hasn' t been time to reflect on the two major news stories today which are of great concern to many faithful Christians: the death of Terri Schiavo and the grave illness of the Pope.

This morning one of the teachers at our church's school came by to tell us that every mom in the carpool line told her that Terri Schiavo died as she opened the car doors to let the children out. Later this afternoon as I walked into a room where the TV had a news program on, the reporter was saying that the cardinals had 9 days to get to the Vatican for the election of the next Pope. Startled, I paused to hear the rest of the story. It concluded with the anchorman saying "if you just tuned in, the Pope did not die but is in grave condition."

Although the death of Terri Schiavo and the Pope's health crisis are an interesting juxtaposition of events, I don't believe they are any more than that though there are those already trying to find some significance in them. For now this deluge of news reporting on these two stories seems like a jumble.

Tomorrow brings a nice drive through the countryside which is always a great opportunity to reflect and enjoy the scenery while listening to books on tape. The weather should be good and hopefully the wildflowers will still be in bloom. It will be great to have some time with OD who has had a very busy semester. I'm not sure I'll be posting again until Saturday.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Reacting to the Schiavo Case

Different aspects of the Terri Schiavo case again were the subject of discussion at our staff meeting today in various ways.

In prayer for the concerns of the church, our senior pastor noted that we should be praying for the other residents of the hospice where Terri Schiavo is and their families. What must it be like for them to run this gauntlet of protestors, police and newsmen everyday? All of these families are facing end-of-life decisions and issues in different ways. Some of them, like the Schiavo/Schindler families, may be torn apart by disagreement over appropriate care or end-of-life decisions for someone they love. How hard it must be for them to have to deal daily with a situation that they did not create and cannot control while struggling with their own emotions and stressful situations! They must feel under seige themselves.

We made plans to begin a new Sunday School class topic to begin later in April that will be designed to help people learn more about the medical, ethical, economic and legal issues that have been raised publicly by the Schiavo case. The goal is to equip those who attend with information that will help them define and discuss their own values with their families in advance of any emergency or terminal illness. We're fortunate to have an associate pastor with experience as a hospital chaplain and with hospital boards of ethics who is planning the series and can invite experts to speak and answer questions .

So much irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric has been unleashed the past few weeks that I hope it will be possible to provide an atmosphere where these issues can be discussed "decently and in order" (as we Presbys love to say).

For those who would like to see a history of the litigation and legislative actions in this case, check out the University of Miami ethics program timeline (up to March 28, 2005 as I write this post). I was interested to note that the feeding tube was removed on two previous occasions and then restarted pursuant to court orders.

After reviewing that timeline I don't think there is any way that the litigation between Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers will end with her death. This timeline reveals so much bitterness between them that it is bound to continue in other forums with different charges as long as publicity and money can fuel legal action.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Proud to be Dorks

A number of years ago during Vacation Bible School, I taught the kids a song called "Dorcas". The kids loved it because they could sing "Dork" very loud and "us" very soft and get away with it. The song was about Dorcas, whose story was told in Acts 9: 36-42. A very generous woman, she sewed and gave away clothes to widows. When she died she was raised by Peter.

Today I had lunch with our own "Dorcases", the Ministers of the Cloth. This is a group in our church that has met since 1996 to sew baptism quilts for infants baptised in our church. Over the years their numbers and projects expanded. Today they meet every Tuesday and were recently featured in a local newspaper and on a tv news show for their work with Quilts for Soldiers which is a charity that gives patriotic-themed quilts to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital. I am a long-time member of the group, but since becoming a staff member at the church I am not able to sew every week.

While doing some research for the Sunday School class I am teaching this week on the future of the postmodern church, I came across some statistics from the Barna group that stated that church members' participation in small groups had grown from 12% to 20% since 1994. This group has certainly more than doubled in size since 1996 and has become the model for small group development in our church because it has successfully blended service, fellowship and devotion in its meetings.

We're proud to follow in the footsteps of Dorcas, and we're even proud to be "Dorks"!

Monday, March 28, 2005

He is not here

"He is not here" was the theme of yesterday's sermon. Today my brother sent me a cartoon with the same title by Johnny Hart (who does the B.C. comic strip). I doubt that is a coincidence!

After 40 days of Lent which anticipate the death of Jesus, it is tempting to linger at the empty grave instead of looking for Him in the world outside. Following Christ in the world demands much energy, imagination, love and faith, and we seldom possess these qualities consistently. We tend to seek Him in church or Sunday School or Bible study groups and forget to follow Him in the grocery store, at school, in the carpool line, or in the neighborhood.

Today I found myself multi-tasking at home, since the church was closed. While doing the laundry and emptying every shelf and cabinet in the kitchen in preparation for painting, I prepared a meal to take to a friend who just had a baby as I supervised two repairmen fixing leaks outside. Not so long ago, I would have been doing all that and taking care of two little girls as well!

I took a break to deliver the meal and was rewarded with a nice drive on a spectacular day and a good visit with my friend, her mother and the precious new baby. When I got back to the house I was refreshed enough to finish all the chores in record time.

Cooking and delivering the meal to my friend and her family didn't add to the stress of the day it all. Rather it took away from it. Doing something for somebody else in my checklist of things to accomplish today actually made everything else easier.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Holy Saturday Washing

A few weeks ago I bought a pressure washer at El Jefe's instigation, so we could get the mold and mildew off the bricks and the deck around our pool. This morning I was inspired to get it out again and put it to work on the north side of the house where a lot of algae clung to the masonry.

Pressure washing is a tedious task. I thought the machine would make quick work of the grime but it takes a lot of repetitive motion and careful application to do its work. Pressure washing is actually a soothing and almost meditative activity that can lull you into using the machine for longer than is good for you. The constant vibration of the applicator can really tire the muscles in your hands, arms and shoulders.

Still it is very satisfying work to watch the grit and mildew of many years slowly dissolve under the pressurized stream of water.

Washing seems like a good way to prepare for Easter. The psalmist says "purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7) The bricks on the side of the house aren't whiter than snow, but they are much cleaner than before. My arms ache from the effort, but I am pleased with the result. It seems like a mini-metaphor for the renewal of life and hope that we celebrate tomorrow.

A blessed Easter to all reading this.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Limits of the Law part 2

Interest in Living Wills and the Medical Proxy documents (in Texas called Medical Powers of Attorney) has never been higher because of the Terri Schiavo situation. TV and radio commentators are repeatedly pointing out that the debate over her wishes in the situation would not be taking place if she had left a Living Will or a Medical Proxy. Attorneys, social workers, pastors and health care providers across the country are getting questions about how to obtain and execute these documents.

While I would advise everyone to have a Medical Proxy and a Living Will, these documents will not solve every dilemma that can arise when people are struggling with difficult end of life issues.

A Living Will states your desire not to be sustained by "extraordinary" means past the point where you can be expected to make a recovery that gives you some quality of life.A Medical Proxy appoints someone, usually your spouse, to make medical care decisions for you if you are physically unable to do that for yourself.

However when you execute these documents while still healthy, you cannot possibly anticipate the types of decisions that might arise in the future. When someone who is recently diagnosed with a life-threatening condition makes a living will and a medical power of attorney, they are doing so in the context of being informed about specific possibilities that lie ahead for them. This gives much more assurance and specificity to those charged with giving effect to their wishes.

Another limitation is that others in the family may not be ready to let their loved one die and want to continue to seek treatment past the time that the one in the family with the Medical Proxy thinks is appropriate. I have seen this happen before, and it usually results in a long delay for any decision because the one who can authorize cessation of treatment is reluctant to do so until most of the rest of the family can accept the outcome.

Both of these documents are important, but it is just as important to have frank discussions with close family members about your wishes. That way all of the burden of decision making and consensus is not placed on one person in the family and more of them understand and know the context in which decisions are being made.

Those conversations usually do not happen because they are painful, uncomfortable and unwelcome. The efficacy of the law is limited by our shortcomings as human beings. Today is Good Friday and we remember Christ's suffering for the sins and failings of all men and women on the cross. His sacrifice is a reminder that the law was not sufficient for salvation then, and it isn't sufficient now.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Limits of the Law

Tragically, all those involved in the Terri Shiavo tragedy continue to look to the law and the courts to resolve matters that the legal system was never designed to address. We have an "adversarial" legal system which is predicated on the idea that when both sides to a dispute are represented by competent counsel who advocate their client's position vigorously, the trier of fact (either the judge or the jury) will be able to discern the true facts of the matter and render an impartial and just decision.

In the Terri Shiavo case the crucial issue is defining her medical condition. As often happens when the courts are asked to practice medicine, lawyers for each side present medical experts with widely differing opinions that the judge must
sort out. Although a judge may have presided over cases where medical experts were involved, he or she has no medical expertise. Yet somehow the judge must make a medical decision: what is the accurate diagnosis of Terri Shiavo?

The bitter conflict between her husband and her parents is another important factor in this case. In family law courts in Texas, parties to a divorce are required to meet with a mediator to try to work out an agreement respecting the division of marital property and the custody of minor children before these issues can be tried before a court. In this instance there is a recognition that the adversarial process that applies to other types of lawsuits is not appropriate in family disputes where it is in everyone's interest to cooperate. Clearly the many years of adversarial litigation between the husband and the parents has prevented any negotiation between them that might have averted this crisis.

"Hard facts make bad law" is a old adage taught in the law schools. Here have some very hard facts and some very bad law.

A bevy of babies

March and April are bringing a bevy of new babies into our congregation. So far this month two little boys were born to couples in the church. Today a little girl was born to another family in the congregation.

About the same time the church office got that call, an email came in with pictures from yet another couple sending pictures of the baby boy they picked up yesterday at an orphanage in Russia. They will be there a while longer until the legal process in that country is complete and they can bring their new son home to Texas.

Those pictures were eagerly examined by a young mother who happened to stop by my office this morning. She and her husband have just begun the process of adopting from Russia, so she was delighted to see the healthy beautiful baby in the pictures her friends sent.

Interestingly, all these couples already had children. These new births and adoptions bring the second, third or fourth child into these families. Is there a new trend of larger families out there?

So many churches in our denomination have such an elderly membership that they have no Sunday School or youth groups. They'll be closing their doors within the next decade or two if younger families don't come into the congregation. It's not only the church as a whole that is only a generation away from extinction--its also individual churches.

My church is so blessed with all these babies coming into the life of the congregation around Easter. It is particularly meaningful to me because three of the couples are part of a study group I have led for the past two years. We have all prayed for the safe delivery of the babies and when one of them suddenly needed heart surgery to correct a congenital defect, we prayed and worked to support that family. (That baby is fine now and the doctors say should never have any problem in the future).

These babies bring new life and the prospect of the continuation of the faith into the next generation: a blessing and a challenge to faithfulness and witness for our congregation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

What do you tell children about Terri Schiavo?

I'm not going to discuss the facts of the Terri Schiavo case, because they are murky to those whose only knowledge comes from the media.

The relentless coverage of this tragic situation reaches young children as well as adults. Today in our staff meeting, the Head of School related that the fourth and fifth grade classes at our school came to her office as a group with their teachers because they wanted to ask questions about what they were hearing on the news. She shared her struggle to respond to them appropriately without becoming embroiled in a controversy with their parents, whose views on the subject could be quite diverse.

Children this young do hear and absorb news reports: from TV at home or from the radio as they are driven to school. This was brought home to me years ago when Older Daughter was about 5 and asked me "exactly" how do you get AIDS? She had just heard a news report on the subject on the car radio. That really brought me up short.

There is an old Bible School song: "Be careful little ears what you hear". Today we cannot shelter our children from everything that they hear. Yet they often hear and try to understand things that are still beyond their developmental capabilities, because those things are thrust upon them, even when their parents try to shelter them from too much media exposure.

What do you tell young children about the Terri Schiavo case if they ask ? These 4th and 5th graders are just beginning to grasp the concept of the finality of death, but certainly cannot understand the complex legal, medical and moral controversies that abound in this situation.
Most adults are at a loss to do so as well.

One of our confessions states "in life and in death we belong to God." Perhaps that is the best assurance that can be given. Terri Schiavo belongs to God, and so do we.

He Chose the Nails

Another Holy Week reminder came in by email this week. Max Lucado has a beautiful slideshow with music called He Chose the Nails. It takes at least 5 minutes to view, so plan accordingly before clicking the link.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Holy Week reminders

Every year during Holy Week I make a point of listening to all of the Messiah by Handel. It is always performed during Advent and Christmas, but is in fact a Lent and Easter piece. I was wondering this afternoon why sing-a-longs of the Christmas portion of the piece are popular but I have never heard of a church or symphony organization sponsoring a sing-along of the Easter portion. If someone did, I would love to participate! For now I am limited to singing along with my ipod in the car...

The clutter of the world's busy-ness contained in many emails today was interrupted by several messages reminding me of the meaning of the week. Then I joined the quilting group from church and a few (brave) men for lunch at a restaurant with outdoor tables so we could enjoy the glorious spring weather we are having today. We are blessed with clear blue skies, coolish temperatures and a mild breeze while all the flowers are in bloom. That's another message for Holy Week.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Gospel women during Holy Week

Back to everyday things, now. El Jefe and I missed Palm Sunday worship in order to get younger daughter to the airport so she could fly back to college after her spring break. I was sorry to miss Palm Sunday because now I feel a bit unconnected to Holy Week. It doesn't seem the same without seeing all the children process into the sanctuary with their palms singing "Hosanna in the Highest".

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week don't have special names that I know of. Were Martha, Mary, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and "the other Mary" busy on those days in Jerusalem with everyday tasks preparing for Passover? Washing the special linen to be used for guests, kneading and baking bread, shopping for wine and special foods for the feast?

They aren't mentioned in the Gospel accounts of Maunday Thursday--but they were at the cross on Friday and at the grave on Sunday morning. So they had to be around. Were they engaged in the same kinds of tasks that I and my 21st century friends are as we prepare our own households for the Sunday Easter dinner?

Good blog on divestment

Jeff the Baptist really nails the issues on divestment of investments in Israel by the PCUSA in his post today.

Pleas to the sergeant

Several members of the former Administrative Commission of the church under seige, as well as the General Presbyter of our Presbytery have written emails to the sergeant in charge of off duty police officers for the city asking him to permit off duty offcers to work at the church as requested to protect the congregation from disruptions.

One of the members, a retired pastor who also has a Phd in political science (interesting combo, no?) pointed out that the congregation had a constitutional right to worship in peace. Wish I had thought of that myself!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Teaching the Presbyterian Controversy

It's hard to imagine a task more daunting than trying to describe the complicated series of disputes in the UPCUSA during the 1920's and 1930's collectively known as "The Presbyterian Controversy"--and having to do that in less than 45 minutes! The regular teacher of one of our adult Sunday School classes was out of town today and I was subbing in for him. This class has been studying the history of the Christian Church and this was the topic for the day.

The class was interested in the topic and the outline I presented, which of course was highly selective. That surprised me as it seems to me that most folks would find it rather a dry subject. However since some of the controversy revolved around disputes concerning what candidates for ordination to ministry must believe in order to be ordained in the church, the class was clearly making the connection with the modern controversy over the eligibility for ordination of practicing homosexuals.

We did not get on that topic however, but stuck to trying to analyze the underlying themes such as different views of the authority and interpretation of the Bible and the attempt to find a balance between toleration of diverse beliefs in the church and adherence or enforcement of the "basic tenets" of belief.Once again my legal background comes in handy as many of the events we were reviewing involved ecclesiastical litigation in the church courts.

No conclusions were reached, but I am again subbing in on Easter Sunday when we will conclude the study with a look at the development of current controversies in the church since the 1970's. Not my favorite topic for Easter Sunday!

It is really a blessing when you find people taking a serious interest in these important issues for the church, as this group does. They keep me on my toes....

Update Church under fire

Good news! The Palm Sunday service at the church under seige went very well. Many Presbyterians from other churches attended to support the congregation and the presence of an off duty police officer deterred any untoward incident from the troublemaker and his group.

We did get word that the troublemaker is trying to convince the police department that this is an internal dispute at the church in which the department should not get involved by permitting off duty officers to serve as security. At the request of the interim pastor, many of us (including me) are sending emails or phone calls to the sgt. in charge to apprise him of the true situation and the real need for peace officers on the premises at this time.

Continue to pray for this Church!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Church under seige

For the past two years I served on an Administrative Commission for a church in my area. An Administrative Commission is formed by the presbytery to take over as the governing body of a church when that church's own session is not able to function--usually because divisiveness and controversy have immobilised it. This situation was one of the worst ever, because it was provoked and sustained by an attorney who filed multiple lawsuits against members of the church, the session, the presbytery and the Administrative Commission alleging every possible type of malfeasance and wrongdoing. Extensive investigation and a financial review by independent auditors proved all of this untrue.

The man's license to practice law was revoked by the state, not for his actions involving the church, but for embezzlement and fraud of his private clients. Subsequently the court found him in comtempt of court for continuing to practice law and ordered him to serve time in jail. He is still out on bond pending the resolution of his appeal--but he has ratcheted up his attacks on this church.

This week the session of the church, which is now united in purpose, voted to ban him and his entourage from the church premises for continuing to violate the ban on videotaping church services recently passed by the congregation. None of these people are members of the church. Appeals to him to cease, desist, repent etc have fallen on deaf ears. His actions bear all the earmarks of several serious emotional disorders.

Tuesday night he attempted to break into the session meeting. The session had consulted the General Council's office in Louisville and the District Attorney's office in the County and so were prepared with armed police officers who had to call for backup to remove him and his group from the premises.

He has publicly stated his intention to return Sunday to disrupt services again. The church and its interim pastor are prepared and have the support of the local police to prevent his trespass. All of us are very concerned about this volatile situation and ask for prayers for this embattled congregation.

No one likes the idea of banning people from a church. I ask myself: What else could have been done to avoid this? Here is a man who really needs the saving grace of Jesus Christ because he is lost in a delusional and bitter world of his own making.

We were guided by Christ's instructions to his disciples about confronting conflicts among followers and had several intentional "Matthew 18:15" meetings:

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or more witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one tbe to you as a Gentile and tax collector.
Matthew 18: 15-17

After many attempts to satisfy his demands or persuade him not to continue his disruptions, those of us on the administrative commission concluded that he was beyond our power to reach. He continues to threaten to "ruin" another Presbyterian church when he is through with this one. At least our efforts have helped to heal the division in the congregation as they are no longer divided in their desire to keep him away from them.

Where is God's grace in this situation? At this point I see it in the reunion of the congregation as the members have recognized this man as being a deceiver and now have the courage to confront him.

Please pray for them and pray that God will change the heart of the man determined to ruin them.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

If you feed them, they will come

Later today we will be hosting an Alpha grad reunion at my church. It is an attempt to create more interest in the spring Alpha course that begins the first week of April. The idea is for those who have previously taken the course (the "grads") to come and bring a friend who has not taken the course to give them an idea of what to expect if they decide to register.

So the event is structured to resemble a regular Alpha evening complete with a dinner, the introductory video featuring Nicky Gumble, and with the added attraction of several folks getting up to talk about the difference Alpha made in their lives.

How often we create events at church around meals! In the New Testament, we read so many times of Jesus and the disciples gathering to share meals together with each other and with the curious crowds who gathered around them. Hospitality was an important aspect of the early church --centered around the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Now, 2000 years later we continue to offer that Christian hospitality as we gather together to share dinner, fellowship and prayer.

Blessed are those who bake cassaroles and sheet cakes, for truly if you feed them, they will come!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Why Quotidian Grace?

Inspired by the writings of Kathleen Norris (Dakota, A Spiritual Autobiography), Diana Butler Bass ( Strength for the Journey) and Nora Gallagher (Things Seen and Unseen)
and others who have tried to bring their faith into everyday ("quotidian") life, I hope to bring a similar sensibility to my own observations about the events of my day and the things that happen in the wider world around me.

My background is rather different from these authors. I was an attorney in earlier life, then a stay-at-home mother and now that my daughters are young adults I serve my church as director of Christian Education. I always had a strong interest in church history, doctrine and adult education, but have little formal training in these subjects.

Influenced by the writings of Leonard Sweet (The Aqua Church) and Hugh Hewitt (Blog), I was drawn to the idea of creating my own blog as a way of further exploring the possibilities of technology for expanding Christian education and faith witness beyond the four walls of the church building.

However, since my interests are very eclectic, I expect that the posts will cover a wide range of topics. My goal will be to look for God's grace in everyday things.