Sunday, July 27, 2014

Seedy Business: MATTHEW 13:31-33, 44-49a

This morning's Gospel lesson is MATTHEW13:31-33, 44-49a. We've been spending some time in the parables in this Gospel and this is a particularly exciting selection of parables. I hope you find them as wonderful as I do! As usual, the manuscript can be found after the break.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why I have no eggs today

It's a bit we do, the chickens and I.

They wake me up by making a completely unreasonable commotion at an obscene hour of the morning. I toss on some flip flops, trudge out into the yard in my pajamas, tell the chickens how rude they are, and let them out of the coop into the yard.

This morning, when I opened the gate to their run, the chickens literally flew out at top speed, clucking and yelling the whole way. "What is your problem, today?" I asked them. Being chickens and all. . . they didn't answer.

I opened the side of the coop to check on their food and water and a pair of surprised little eyes stared back at me.

I slammed the coop shut and counted the chickens.

1. . . 2. . . 3. . . 4.

All of the pairs of chicken eyes were in the yard and accounted for - wide eyed and watching me to see how I was going to protect them.

I peeked back into the coop to confirm that there really was a fifth animal in the coop.

"Yep," I thought, "There is definitely a raccoon in my chicken coop eating all my feed and eggs. Now what?"

I latched the coop and called the dog. She did that thing where she cocks her head and looks at me like I'm the most interesting thing in the world, but didn't budge. "COME HERE!" I commanded. If this thing came out of the coop, I wanted back up. The dog moseyed halfway across the yard and stopped to say good morning to the chickens. "Sparkle, you dumb dog! COME HERE!" Suddenly, she noticed there was something bad happening and she snapped to attention. She zipped across the yard, barking furiously. . . at the neighbor who was getting into his car.

I realized I needed a plan and that Sparkle wasn't going to be a participant in said plan.

A little face appeared at the back door.

"LEVI!" I shouted. "Go get Daddy! I need Daddy RIGHT NOW!"


"GET DADDY! Tell him it's an emergency and I need him NOW."

"It's a what?"

"An EMERGENCY, buddy! This is a use your shouting help voice and get Daddy emergency. GO!"

While I waited for my son to come back with my husband, I kept my self between the raccoon occupied chicken coop and the actual chickens. I also told the dog she's an idiot.

Levi appeared back at the door. "Daddy says, 'what's the emergency?'"

"Oh for Pete's sake! There's a stupid RACCOON in the chicken coop and I could REALLY USE SOME BACK UP!"

"Huh. Wow. How'd the raccoon get in there? Did you trap it? Is it cute? Can I see it? I can help! Where are the chickens? Hi Sparkl. . . "


"Ok, ok."

This time the dog followed my son into the house and I was left alone with the chickens and the raccoon. "Good riddance." I told them.

Slowly, but surely, my husband made his way downstairs and joined me in the yard with 4 traumatized hens and a startled baby raccoon.

"What do we do?" I asked him.

"I dunno."

"Seriously? I have a raccoon trapped in the chicken coop and you can't think of anything? I mean. . . we have to get it out of there. How about a dog crate? We scare it out of the coop, into the dog crate, slam it shut, and call animal control."

"That sounds like a terrible idea."

"Do you have a better one?"


I considered sending him back in to get Sparkle. At least she chased the neighbor away. It was a worse plan than mine, but what do you expect from a dog?

"OK. How about this. . ." I started, "I'm going to take this shovel here. I'm going to stand in front of the chickens. You get that shovel there." I have no idea why we had so many shovels in the yard, for the record. "You open the coop and chase it out of the yard while I protect the chickens. Then I'll get a raccoon trap and set it up tonight and call animal control when we actually catch this little jerk."

"That sounds better than the first idea."

I opened the gate so it would be easy for the raccoon to escape the yard. I held my shovel firmly like a baseball bat ready to defend my flock from the local riffraff.

Tim opened the coop.

Nothing happened.

"Aw. Hi little guy! Hey, look! He's kinda cute!"

"He's NOT CUTE!" I corrected, "He's a freaking raccoon and he ATE MY BREAKFAST!"

"Oh. . . admit it. He's a little cute!"


"OK, fine. ready?"

I gripped my shovel tighter. My husband opened the second door of the coop and shooed the bandit out. The frightened animal streaked out of the chicken coop and straight toward me and the chickens! This is the sort of thing that my running buddy and I call "instant cardio."

I swung the shovel with all my might while the chickens yelled chicken obscenities at the invader. I've never been known for my baseball skills and there is a valid reason for that. I couldn't hit a raccoon with the broad end of a shovel if my chickens' lives depended on it. Fortunately for my chickens, their lives didn't depend on it this morning. The raccoon was spooked enough by the fact that I even swung the shovel (I'm sure it wasn't actually trying to do harm to me or the chickens, it was just scared and trying to figure out how to exit the yard), it changed course and ran under the fence on the opposite corner of the yard from the gate we'd left wide open for it.

Levi reappeared at the door. "Hey guys. . . can I see the raccoon? Where'd it go? Was it cute? I bet it was cute. Are the chickens OK? Did we get any eggs today. . . "

Clearly, it's Monday today.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Today's Sermon: Also. . . more about my trip to Scotland

This morning I was blessed to be back at Liberty Presbyterian Church where it looks like I'll be for a while. It's a super, friendly, warm little congregation that we have already grown to feel at home with. There are a few Sundays in August on which someone else is preaching there still, but for the most part, you can come to expect a sermon posting from me every Sunday afternoon now.

This morning's passages are ROMANS8:12-25 and MATTHEW 13:24-30, 36-43. It was so neat to see how well the lectionary passages fit with what I wanted to share about my trip to Scotland, so this sermon served as a great opportunity to share my experiences with everyone. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Month Abroad: Some things are the same everywhere

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea[1].  -Douglas Adams

            One of the major ideas that has been bouncing around in my mind through my travels this summer is probably unsurprising to those who know me well or who have heard me preach more than twice. I’ve been thinking about the ways in which we are all so very much the same. Surely, humans are all unique and beautiful in their own ways, but we also share a maker and there are things I’ve noticed are the same no matter where we go. I've found it refreshing and encouraging to see the things we all have in common. When it comes down to it, no matter what color we are, what language we speak, what sort of weather we're accustomed to . . . there are some things we all have in common.
We all know I'm a sucker for most members of the animal kingdom. When I'm away I miss my dog, my cats, my chickens, and even my fish. I miss the cats more than any of them, but they are all part of the family. When traveling, I always have a keen sense of what sort of animals are around and what they're up to.
In Scotland, I noticed that people really love their dogs there. They have beautiful, well kept and well behaved dogs there. What's interesting is I don't recall seeing many mutts and I certainly didn't see any strays. And I don't remember seeing a single cat while we were there. Just many lovely, pampered, and pedigreed dogs. At the core though, it was clear that people there love their pets like we do here. 
Turkey was interesting. There were cats EVERYWHERE. There were some street dogs too, but not the scrawny sort of street dogs you see in some developing areas, they were relatively well fed and kept, even though they were strictly speaking, strays. The cats were as well. There were a few mangy ones who would have made rescue folks in the states shudder, but they weren't starving or abused. Outside of nearly every house was a bowl of cat food for the street cats and nearly all of the cats were friendly and ready to spend quality time with whomever was willing to pet them. We asked someone about the cats and they said many people have pet dogs inside but never cats. They like cats, but not in their house. I like dogs, but not in my house. Go figure. 
I reflected back on my time in Guatemala about 9 years ago and remembered that the street dogs and cats there were scared and sick, as well as feared. But nearly every home had chickens and other birds, and the luckier families had other livestock. They weren't pets, exactly, but they had a lovely, symbiotic life with the people there. 
You know how when you're in a crowd and your phone rings so you pull it out of your pocket and realize that it was someone standing next to you? Yes. That is the same everywhere. 
And where people used to pull out cameras to take pictures of the Hagia Sofia, these days, the sanctuary there is a sea of iPhones and Galaxies snapping away with their fake shutter sounds. 
Dads cooing to their babies and holding their little girls' hands while they chat and exasperated moms yelling at whining kids. Proud new moms with their babies wrapped tightly to their body and dads barking commands at their rambunctious sons. They are the same in any language or accent. Be they wearing a kilt or a burqa, these families are familiar. Sense of family changes little when you cross cultural lines. The values of the families differ, but the general life of the family is essentially the same nonetheless. 
Every where I went this summer, there was pride in home. In Scotland, we were received by a number of churches and pastors who were so excited to share with us what they were doing. One of the guys in our group wound up joining in an impromptu jam session in a pub with some locals. In Turkey - a country where in many areas tourism is taking over all other trades - we were met with such pride and joy in the sharing of peoples' homes and lives that we were overwhelmed. Everywhere we went, we were met with the introductory question of "Coffee, tea, apple tea?" (Which is not a question of if you would like one of these things, but is a question of which do you want because you're definitely getting one.) Even in a rug store at the grand bazaar, the endearing elderly man running the shop insisted that we have apple tea while looking at the wares. One man described with great pride how his family's livelihood changed from one based in agriculture to one of hospitality toward visitors to the country. There was not a hint of resent in his story at all. 

This all sort of made me wonder if part of our problem getting along with people of other cultures and ethnicities and nationalities is that we so often focus on the differences rather than what we have in common. Differences are what make us unique, but we tend to focus only on those. When there is no balance between appreciation of uniqueness and commonality, the result is fear. We fear that which is different and unfamiliar, but we're bored by too much sameness. 

Today's travel question for you is: What have you found that people seem to have in common all over the world (or at least in a very different place than whatever is home for you)?

[1] Adams, Douglas (2007-12-18). The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy . Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Month of Travel Abroad: Introduction

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t[1].  -Douglas Adams

            There is a moment during the takeoff of an airplane in which it seems certain the plane is going to stop ascending at any moment and gracefully plummet tail-first into the ocean/city/field/mountain range that is below and slightly behind it. This moment terrifies me every time.
            My brain understands the physics behind the magic of making a gigantic steel tube full of naturally flightless animals hurtle through the sky at astonishing speeds, but the academic understanding of how it all works doesn’t stop my stomach and my heart from switching places during that moment of every flight.
            I’ve spent the past month traveling the world and I’d have thought at the beginning of that month that with all this travel, I’d have grown more accustomed to that awful moment of gravity defiance, but that has not proven to be the case. Each time, I find my insides in all the wrong places and a feeling of absolute impending doom.
            This is it, I think to myself, this is the part where I die. I hope my kids know how very much I love them.
            And then the airplane proceeds to do what airplanes nearly always do – which is continue to ascend and happily deliver its occupants to their destination of choice (or the destination of their employer’s choice as is also frequently the case.)
            I have never been disappointed by an airplane’s ability to carry me to new and exciting places or to familiar and comfortable places. It is always worth it to be lifted gracefully away to meet new friends or to return to family. The thrill of the journey never fails to enrich, excite, and enliven.
            I’ve been to many destinations of my choice this summer. Since June 13, I’ve taken a total of 15 airplanes on 5 airlines (Turkish Airlines wins for best airline this summer. . . UsAirways and Pegasus are tied for most mind-bogglingly awful) traveling to/from/through 11 different airports (Pittsburgh International and Istanbul Atatürk in a tie for the win with JFK/Konya in a tie for worst experiences.) I’ve been on 7 trains (6 regular and one high speed), 1 rental car, 4 ferries, and more busses and taxis than I care to count.
           I have made layovers and brief stops in between destinations in Philadelphia, Shannon, Orlando, New York City, Izmir, and Konya.
I’ve been in Edinburgh
St. Andrews
And Ankara 
It’s probably best not to ask too many questions about Ankara.
I've been in cathedrals, mosques, modern churches, and ancient chapels carved into caves. I've seen more historically important religious sites and ruins than I can count and have walked the roads of early church fathers. 
Prior to this summer, I’d traveled much of the United States - with the strange exception of the Pacific Northwest – but the farthest out of the US I’d ever been was Guatemala. Suffice it to say that this summer was the sort of summer that I will never forget. Additionally – because I know you’re going to ask – I’m every bit as exhausted as one would think I should be right about now, but I don’t regret one moment of it all. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was worth every plane, train, boat, car, bus, and taxi. It was worth the lost sleep and motion sickness.
            Over the next weeks, I’ll post about my experiences in the different places I went and keep an eye out for my sermon this Sunday – much of it will be about my experiences in Scotland. There will be a sermon most weeks now on the blog as I have the joy of having been called to serve as the temporary pastor at Liberty Presbyterian Church in McKeesport, PA.
            For now, I leave you with the following question to answer in the comments:
What has been the most exciting and/or life-changing trip you’ve ever gone on and why?

[1] Adams, Douglas (2007-12-18). The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (p. 24). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.