Monday, September 22, 2014

The Kingdom of Heaven is Grandpa?

Matthew 20:1-16, Lectionary 25 A, Sept. 21, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

The following is a fictional retelling of today’s parable based on actual events.
The Parable
The kingdom of heaven is like my grandfather who hosted a grand feast at the Claim Jumper Restaurant near his retirement home. He was celebrating sixty years of marriage with my grandmother. After agreeing to pay the standard 20% tip, my grandpa wheeled back from the hostess booth to welcome all thirty of his friends and family. 

The main waitress, Stacy, watched over us the whole time. She promptly took all of our beverage orders. She even took my two-year-old nephew’s food order right away. She knew that Lukas needed his food before everyone else so that he wouldn’t get cranky. Then, when she was delivering the drinks, her coworker Matt helped her. He brought out the trays of drinks as Stacy handed each patron his or her beverage. 

Then Stacy went around the table, carefully recording each person’s dinner order. She wrote down every side order, every exception, every detail. Matt came back and refilled drinks. While we waited for our food to be prepared, we shared grand stories of my grandparents. When the food started to come out, Stacy waited patiently as I shared a word of grace. Then, she, Matt, and their coworker Rob served the food. Stacy came back with plenty of ketchup and mustard for everyone. We enjoyed our food as much as we enjoyed our company. 

After dinner, our three waiters removed our dinner plates as Cora, another waitress, brought out the cake and cut it. Rob refilled our drinks while we enjoyed our dessert. As we were preparing to leave, the busboy removed all of our empty plates. After my grandfather paid the bill, I couldn’t help but notice that he slipped each of our four waiters and the busboy a small wad of cash. As I walked to the bathroom, I overheard these five standing by the kitchen door.

The busboy exclaimed, “That old man slipped me 5 twenties! Can you believe it?”
Cora said, “He gave me $100 too! I only cut the cake!”

Rob and Matt chimed in that they were given the same. Then Stacy, with a dour face, stomped off. She followed me to the bathroom. Right before we both went in, she pulled me by the shoulder and exclaimed, “That old man is your grandfather, isn’t he? Why did he give me the same tip as everyone else? Doesn’t he realize how much work I did for his party?”

“Well,” I said, “My grandpa is just a generous guy. He doesn’t care how hard you worked. He is simply glad that you were nice to his friends and family. He slipped me cash just for driving in from Iowa!”

The Meaning
Why is it that we are always competing with each other? Certainly Stacy didn’t expect to be slipped that extra cash. So why, then, was she jealous when the busboy got the same tip as she did? Certainly they both have families to feed. They both need the cash as much as the other. When Stacy complained outside the bathroom, she wasn’t thinking about the busboy’s family or even her own. She was only thinking about her work compared to her pay. 

We live in a scarcity mindset. We worry that there isn’t enough money to go around. Our economy is not what it once was. So many of our brothers and sisters struggle to find work and to pay the bills. We worry that we won’t have enough for the mortgage or for retirement. Because we are always worried, we hoard what we have, and we fight for the opportunity to earn more. 

So, when we experience generosity, why do we expect to receive more? Why can’t we be grateful for what we have been given, even if our neighbor was given more?

We may live with a scarcity mindset, but our God does not. Our God is one of abundance. Our God provides us with what we need and more, including family, friends, and finances. Just because God gives to people like that busboy does not mean that God will run out before giving to people like Stacy.  As Carolyn Brown quotes a friend (, 

“God’s love is not like a pie that leaves less for me every time God gives someone else a slice and more like a joke that gets funnier every time another person joins the laughing.” 

God's Kingdom is like...
The kingdom of heaven a place of abundance where nobody is left wanting. The kingdom of heaven is a time where all worries are forgotten. The kingdom of heaven will be fully experienced after this lifetime, but in this lifetime the kingdom of heaven is like my grandfather. 

My grandpa is old and failing fast. He knows that he has more money than he will need, and he knows that his kids are doing ok. So, whenever he sees one of his grandkids or if he especially appreciates one of the staff at his retirement home, he slips them cash.

At his 60th anniversary party, my Grandpa did give me cash. I certainly didn’t need the money, but he said it was to pay for gas. He is so glad that I am willing to drive from Iowa to see him. He will never be able to come here to see my home or my church, so the time that I spend with him in Illinois is precious. Sharing his wealth is his odd way of saying, “Thank you.” And he also enjoys sneaking it past my grandma!

Our God is a generous God, sharing heaven with any who want to join in. God does not care if we have been doing ministry all our lives or if we only believe on our death beds. God doesn’t care if we are lifelong Lutherans or if we are baptized as adults. God only cares that we believe. Our lives as Christians is its own reward. When we finally are able to experience heaven in all its glory, we will all be equals in God’s eyes.

This American culture that we live in feels like one of scarcity. We are unsure if we have enough to live a comfortable life, so we want to hoard what we have. Yet our God provides us with an abundance of resources. We need not fear, come what may. If we trust in God, God will provide for all our needs. 

Complaining will do us no good; God does not need to hear bitter words of jealousy or contempt. Just as God provides us with love, how can we not return the favor for those who are coming to the party late?  As J. Ellsworth Kalas writes, 

“When I stand before the Great Landowner as he passes out the silver pieces of eternity, I might well take mine and say, “Give part of this to that poor soul who didn’t come to faith in Christ until he was sixty years old…and to that woman who became a believer only when she was dying. I’ve been employed all my days, have been blessed by a purpose, even by communion with God. Give them part of my reward, because they stood in the marketplace for so long, because no one hired them, while my life was filled with purpose.” (p. 92, Parables from the Backside

Amen. May it indeed be so. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Exodus from Domestic Abuse

Exodus 14:19-31, Lectionary 24 A, Sept. 14, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Last Monday, TMZ Sports released a video of NFL player Ray Rice hitting his fiancé Janay Palmer in an elevator. She hits her head against the handrail and is knocked unconscious. Previously, the nation had only seen the video of Ray Rice dragging Janay out of the elevator. Although this incident happened in February, seeing the video makes it more real, more horrible.

Since this last video was released, the media has not stopped talking about domestic abuse in the NFL. A few other players have been charged and removed from play. What has inspired me most this week is not the NFL’s response but the internet’s. All over Twitter and other social media, ordinary women are telling their stories of domestic abuse. Using the hashtags #whyistayed and #whyileft, women are using few but powerful words to express what they experienced while they were being abused. For example, 

Nicole Dills writes, “#WhyIStayed I had very little confidence in myself, I felt I deserved it, because the good times were really good.”
Chickee writes, “I thought that he was my best friend.”
Kirin Rosemary writes, “He told me ‘no one will ever love you like I do.’”

Reading these brief powerful stories of women afraid to leave their abusers, I can’t help but wonder what God has to say about all this. God must be disheartened by all of these tales of woe, worry, and worthlessness. These stories are not modern phenomenon. Domestic abuse has happened throughout the centuries. Even the Israelites were oppressed by the Egyptians yet unwilling to leave. The Exodus story is not one of domestic violence but one of societal abuse.

Just as the Pharaoh did not know Joseph, neither did the Israelites. All of the stories of Genesis were just that - stories. The Israelites at the time of the Exodus did not know what they were missing. They knew that they were being mistreated, yet they wondered what the other side looked like. Time and time again, even after the plagues, the Israelites complained to Moses and to the Lord that they would rather live as slaves in Egypt than die in the wilderness. If they had Twitter back then, their tweets may have sounded like this: 

#whyistayed I didn’t know the Promised Land really existed.
#whyistayed At least I knew what to expect in Egypt.
#whyistayed Despite the hard labor, life wasn’t too bad in Egypt.

In our first lesson, we hear that despite their complaining, the Lord had the Israelites’ best interest in mind. No matter how unsure they were about life after Egypt, the Lord guided the Israelites to the Red Sea. Even though the Egyptian army pursued, the Lord separated the waters. The Israelites passed to safety on dry ground. When the Egyptians entered the sea, the Lord returned the waters so that all the chariots were destroyed and the army was killed. This was a brutal way for the Lord to bring the Israelites to safety.

Because of this, the Israelites feared the Lord. They saw the mighty power that the Lord had. They respected the Lord after that - at least for a little while. Certainly, they did not refrain from complaining while they wandered in the wilderness. Their tweets might have sounded like this:

Certainly the Israelites remained bitter about the Exodus for a while. Yet, when Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, they finally knew that the Lord’s plan was worthwhile.

Sometimes we don’t understand how bad life was until we look back. No matter what their abuse was like, those tweeting knew that they took the right steps for freedom. For example:

Recently, I listened to a TED Talk where the speaker described her domestic abuse. Leslie Morgan Steiner is a well-educated woman. She never expected to be in an abusive relationship, yet she remained in one for about three years. In many ways, Leslie represents the average woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship. She was young and in love; her boyfriend was so charming that she didn’t see the signs. 

In her TED Talk, Leslie said, “Connor did not come home one day and announce, ‘Hey, all this Romeo and Juliet stuff has been great, but I need to move into the next phase where I isolate and abuse you.”

Connor and Leslie moved out of the city, far from her network of support. Once she was isolated, Leslie had nowhere to turn. Connor put guns in almost every room of their home. Often, he would hold the gun to her head and threaten to shoot.

Then, just days before their wedding, Connor grabbed Leslie’s throat so hard that she could not breathe. He knocked her head against the wall. Then he apologized so profusely that Leslie was certain this was a one-time incident. Once her special day came, her bruises had faded, and she married Connor.

Then, for the next two and a half years, he abused her at least once a week. Why did Leslie stay for so long? She didn’t think of herself as a victim. She didn’t realize she was in an abusive relationship. She thought she could help him.

After a particularly horrible beating, Leslie finally escaped her doubt and denial. She told her friends, her family, and everyone she met that she was in an abusive relationship. They helped her get out. She divorced Connor and never looked back. Now Leslie is married to a wonderful, kind man. They have three beautiful children, a dog, and a minivan. Leslie Morgan Steiner now has the life that she always dreamed of.

In our first lesson today, we see a God who can deliver an entire people from the abusive grasp of Pharaoh. Certainly our God can do the same for abuse victims everywhere. 

Our God can do anything to help the woeful, the worried, and the worthless God may even work through us. So, if you are in an abusive relationship, tell someone. If you know someone who might be abused, seek help. Be God’s hands guiding him or her out of the shadow of his or her abuser. Just as God split the Red Sea to bring the Israelites to safety, God can work through us to split victims from their abusers. Amen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cross Necklace

Here is my first original tatting design!

At the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin, I purchased some unique cross-shaped marble-looking beads. I had no clue what to do with them, yet they were so beautiful I could not resist. For about two months, I would occasionally look at them, wondering what they might become. Well, here is the necklace:

This is a really big necklace! It is five inches from top to bottom. I have never made any jewelry this large before - I haven't even ever worn jewelry this large before. Even my "statement jewelry" is half the size of this. Yet, I made this to wear to renaissance festivals, and there anything goes. 

The piece is made with two shuttles using size 20 black thread, 4mm and 6 mm clear Swarovski beads and 5 silver beads (at the 4 corners and in the center). There are green seed beads on the border chain.

As with most tatting, this is not 100% original. It was inspired by many items that I have already done. The clover stitch counts are the same as the clovers in the cross bookmarks that I make. The self-closing mock rings around the beads are inspired by Marilee Rockley's jewelry. Using split rings to move from one motif to the next is inspired by a pendant from Pinterest. Finally, the optical illusions created by so many clovers and rings clustered together is inspired by another pendant. Here are some photos of my inspiration: 

First, I created a test single motif:

Then I drew out a full-size mock-up of the entire piece:

Then I was ready to make the full piece:

Because the piece is so large and heavy, it wouldn't stay flat against my chest. While at the Faire, I was wearing another, longer necklace. So, I wove that necklace through this one and it stayed in place all day long. 

Vacation Fun

While I was away from the church office, I had lots of fun! Here are a few pictures from last week.

Last week, I finished The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.  I loved this book so much! Claiborne has inspired me with his stories of bold action and brave words. He sees the world in a beautiful way and is unafraid to stand up for the least, the lost, and the lifeless. I pray that someday I can act with such a deliberate faith.

I also read cover to cover Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. Evans describes in beautiful detail the faith journey that she has experienced. She was raised in a conservative evangelical family. Her church and her college fueled her with answers to any questions that a mainline Christian or an atheist might ask her. Yet along the way, she started to see the frailty in her own arguments just as she saw them in others. Evans began to ask new questions, wondering if maybe her faith tradition didn't have all the correct answers after all.

As much as I loved Rachel's writing, I found that I enjoyed her book too much. She was supporting everything that I believed about the evangelical community without challenging my beliefs at all. Her book was a delight for me; I can't remember the last time I read a book cover to cover in 4 days. Evolving in Monkey Town was what I wanted to read, but it may not have been what I needed to read - if that makes sense.

I will make another blog post about the new necklace that I made. Here, let me post about the other items I finished last week. Here is a photo of my blocked items. I pinned them to an old mini ironing board and steamed them.

Some of the items that I blocked this past week I had finished some time ago, like the orange flower necklace pendant and bracelet. I made the red pendant around my birthday.

I made this tatted mask for Brett. Many of his rennie friends have hardened leather masks, but he can't have one because of his glasses. So, the tatting will work much better for him. The mask has been a work in progress for some time. I found the pattern so confusing! It wasn't written out well - I rewrote it so I could follow it better. You can find the pattern here: I used black size 20 thread, green Twirlz thread, and black seed beads.

I made many items from the Flights of Fantasy book by Martha Ess. I made the tiny knight, the medieval maiden, the block tatting baby unicorn, and the baby dragon.

I also made Frivolette, the Tatting Fairy. I had never made anything so difficult before! I learned how to make daisy double stitches and picot lock joins. Honestly, the fairy was a bit of a challenge for my small hands. The fairy looks so small and simple, yet it is such a huge accomplishment!

The best part of my vacation was attending the Minnesota Renaissance Festival! I went with Brett's medieval living history group; there were 14 of us and various other friends that we met up with too. Attending such a massive faire with such a great group of people makes the experience that more special. (All of the faire photos were taken by friends.)

I really love visiting all of the shops at Ren Faires. Everything is so expensive because most of it is handmade. So many of these artisans keep old arts alive by creating unique items by hand. Being a creative person myself, I have a great appreciation for the handiwork of others.

Many of the performances are unique as well. I especially loved watching the Fandazzi Fire Circus and the Danger Committee. These people have serious talent; they are so much fun to watch!

This little guy decided to hitch a ride with us. I found him on the car after we were back in Iowa. Amazingly enough, he was still alive when we got home.