Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sunday Snippets

Such an interesting Bible study at church the other evening. We're just getting started with a series on the Eucharist. Usually choir rehearsal overlaps but it was cancelled. However, a choir member who did not "get the memo" found her way downstairs and wandered into our room. We allowed her to join despite her complete lack of preparation. After all, for homework, we'd read several Scripture passages, from Genesis to Isaiah, all dealing with meals, even lavish descriptions of "meals to come." It would be a difficult discussion to walk into "cold," without any preparation.

Right off the bat, then, she caused a ruckus. I was willing to share my booklet with her, and she took it out of my hands! I had jotted down my answers to the homework questions in the booklet, so I worked from memory as much as possible. What if, in the course of our discussion, she passed my answers off as her own!

Basically, she expressed frustration with evil in the world. She's convinced there's a god of the Old Testament and a god of the New. She insisted that calling Jesus "God's Son" doesn't make him God and she questioned the teaching on the Holy Trinity. As she bombarded us with her objections to the Christian faith, none of which were on topic incidentally, I thought, "And she sings in the choir." Of course, that matters not a lick.

The deacon has a humble, unquestioning faith so his explanations weren't much beyond, "But we're trinitarian!" Without wanting to draw too sharp a distinction, I told her that God as he is within himself is a mystery but God, as he has chosen to relate to us, can be known through Jesus. The best way God could think of communicating with us was to become a man, that's Jesus. She talked less after that.

This week's discussion focuses on Abraham and Sarah's hospitality towards the three mysterious visitors and the Passover meal. It was acknowledged that the Bible contains many other stories of meals besides. I mentioned one, the meeting between Gideon and the angel in Judges 6 because Gideon makes mention of the Exodus in verse 13:
Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.

I was convinced I'd seen our booklet's cover art in Jerusalem.

But I hadn't. It is actually a mosaic of grapes in the Amatzia Caves. The photo's caption reads "The caves located in Lachish region of Israel, used as hiding place for Jews during the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome in 132 C.E."

Still, I think it's remarkable that I found the image online so easily. The Internet is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Snippets

It was New Year's Eve and I hadn't prayed in the new year since 1988. I discovered a nearby church that was holding a prayer service at a reasonable time Wednesday night. Things were supposed to wrap up by 8:30 and I'd make it home before the roads got dangerous.

When I pulled into the church parking lot, I spotted the pastor pacing near the entrance way, ready to greet anyone. The congregation was finishing up a pot luck supper in the basement. He invited me downstairs but I preferred to wait in the near-empty sanctuary. I had met him in 2001 when I tried to get involved in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). Things were so haphazard in those days. But it means something that he's still there pastoring.

As congregants began making their way upstairs, I was greeted by a number of people. Well, I shouldn't say that because there were hardly a dozen folks in attendance overall. But a woman asked my name and introduced me to the pastor's wife. I mentioned my tenuous connection with the church: the facilitator at Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) is a member. I knew she was out of town for the holiday and figured there would be a seat free. I joked that I didn't want to take anyone's seat. The pastor's wife became serious and said, "We aren't like that here. Some places are, but not us." As she said this, I noticed a young family enter, throw a frustrated look, begin to enter the pew and then press on a couple of rows behind me. I thought to myself, "I'm in someone's seat after all." As things looked as if they were going to begin, the woman who first struck up a conversation said, "Well, I'd better get to my seat." And she did, as well as the pastor's wife.

It began as you would expect, with singing. And Pentecostal songs are really pretty repetitive. Each are maybe about two refrains in length that are sung over and over again. I was surprised because there's that "vain repetitions" admonition in the Gospel. Maybe it isn't considered vain.

Now, to my surprise, I recognized a woman who entered almost late. She sat next to me but we didn't get a chance to talk until everything was over. She used to work the front desk at the YMCA weekday mornings when I went in at 5 to swim. She was always so cheery and me, at that early hour, was usually not. After a while, I noticed that she wasn't there for a time and they told me she had surgery. She came back to work for a brief time but didn't look as happy. She told me she retired.

I'm not charismatic. I've said many times. There's no raised hands, body swaying, not even shifting on my feet, when I sing. Maybe I'll tap my foot to the music, but that's about it. However, several people were able to get deep into the songs. Except the young woman next to me was often on her phone. People were encouraged to give what the pastor called "popcorn testimony," just a brief statement of thanksgiving in-between songs. The piano player shared what she'd read in that day's "Through the Bible in a Year" devotional, from Psalm 84, "For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." A few nodded, indicating that they, too, had finished well. The pastor let slip he's read through the Bible thirty times.

After the music, of course, there was a sermon. No preacher worth his salt would skip an opportunity to talk. He twice mentioned in his remarks to the congregation how jealous he was that my BSF facilitator was away on vacation. He talked about how God had given him physical strength even though he's in his sixties. He said that they were going to have the Lord's supper that evening, as a family, and he explained what it was and what it wasn't. He was as clear on what it wasn't as he was that all were invited. It took him a great while to get around to distributing communion.

I declined it. Sharon, next to me, took the elements and placed the cracker atop the juice cup so she only had to hold them in one hand. That bothered me a bit. Then, they all consumed together and the sight and sound of everyone munching - crackers crunch - was almost too much. The women in the front pew had to reach around behind them to deposit their used communion cups.

The service ran long for not starting on time. And I was anxious to get home. I expected someone to tell my BSF facilitator that a friend of hers had visited the church in her absence but when I saw her, she didn't mention it. Unless she hadn't gotten there for worship yet in the new year.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Sunday Snippets

We get the question, don't we, that if Jesus was probably crucified naked, why do Catholic crucifixes depict him modestly clothed. We're accused of being too bashful about the human form, which may be true. Certainly the humanity of Jesus is made very plain, absent the loincloth. Maybe we'd prefer a Ken doll on the cross.

Monday's first reading triggered surprising associations:
For, as close as the loincloth clings to a man’s loins, so had I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the LORD

The priest's homily clarified that Jeremiah's text is speaking about underwear that the Lord prohibits him from laundering. I felt a bit self-conscious as I sat listening to Father's words because I was myself behind on the laundry. And when I get behind on laundry, I borrow from my husband's drawer. It hasn't happened lately but Monday, yup. So that was on my mind.

After the homily, I glanced up and noted the Lord on the cross and the identity of the loincloth was made. It's everyone who clings to Jesus. We're there with him, not being crucified but benefiting from his crucifixion.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Sunday Snippets

Ever since my Princeton acquaintances removed to another PCA congregation, they've urged me to visit on Sunday morning. I may on Easter. But last night I attended a quarterly, Spring Praise and Prayer Service, primarily over concern for an acquaintance's son who's hospitalized from a burst appendix.

I arrived a few moments early and counted only two cars in the church parking lot. One had a Wilberforce School sticker on the rear window, so I knew that was the pastor's car. With my usual misgivings, I made my way to the main entrance. It's well-marked from multiple directions. There's only one door in anyway.

Large, clear windows face the main street. One can see directly into the sanctuary. I saw the pastor and the music director on his guitar. I went in and hung my winter coat on a hanger in the open closets in the foyer. The pastor came out of the sanctuary, firmly shook my hand and introduced himself. In introducing myself, I dropped the names of my acquaintances.

I entered the sanctuary and took a seat towards the front. The music director came over and politely apologized for not remembering if we've already met. He told me this is a quarterly service so I should not come next Sunday evening. I told him I get my information from the church's Facebook page so I won't make that mistake.

I flipped through the bulletin. The service was put together well, a mixture of hymns and Scripture. Behind me, I heard a man enter and discuss with the pastor whom I might be. "Is she a deacon?" Laughter. I forget how strange I appear attending such services without my spiritual authority, i.e., without my husband. I heard the pastor assign the man a Scripture to read from the program during the service.

An elder couple entered and I had to, again, explain that their inability to recognize me is due to the fact they've never met me before:
Me: First time here.

Them: Were you here this morning? Oh, you missed a great sermon, right, pastor?

I'll get the sermon from the website.

In total, fifteen worshippers turned out but that number would have been reduced by half if not for the participation of a large, extended Korean family. We got started with the hopeful understanding that others may yet arrive. No one did.

After working through the hymns and Scriptures, we spent some time at the end in what has been called "conversational prayer," the real meat and potatoes of the prayer meeting. Very specifically, in this denomination, it means sharing prayer requests with the small group such that people takes notes. Then the group turns to the Lord with the requests. A leader volunteers to "open and close" the prayer and each person takes a turn "lifting up" someone else's request in an intercessory way. No one is left to pray for their own personal intention.

As requests were made, the pastor felt necessary to explain each one to me because they were often just mentioned by name only. In such a small church, everyone knows the full story. So I learned that the music director had been accepted into a doctoral program at Princeton Seminary which was considered a blessing because it kept him close to the congregation he serves. And I learned that a youth pastor has been "called" from across the country. I had seen requests on Facebook for temporary housing accommodations for this family, so I had some previous familiarity.

Strikingly, they have the boldness to pray very specifically, almost telling God what to do. But, in that way, they can recognize when the prayers are answered, can't they?

When we were finished, I said my goodbyes and left. And that's another strange thing about leaving a Protestant church after a service because no one else is leaving. Ever. I guess because they come late, they feel they need to stay after.

Subsequent to this prayer meeting, I've prayed for the acquaintance's son at daily Mass. And recently I've taken God to task for the delay in healing because the family is really trusting and faithful. I told God it was time to deliver. Later that day, a story came across Catholic News Service that Francis said it's ok to pray from the heart to God. So I feel somewhat at peace about losing it.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I had never been up Mount Tabor and wasn't all that interested, either.

Our tour guide made use of a minivan taxi service from the base of the mountain, which each car seating about 13 passengers. He had cautioned us that if there was a line, we could forget it. There was no line but the people in charge were expecting a rush that Friday afternoon, so our guide hurried us into the taxi cars.

It was right after a huge lunch at a Lebanese place and the minivans were stuffy. I thought that, combined with the sharp incline and road switchbacks, I could become nauseous. It was a longer ride than I expected but I got through.

In an open bit of lawn near the upper parking lot were gathered a crowd of people blaring loud music and dancing. Our tour guide told them they were supposed to be quiet out of respect for the holy place, that they weren't allowed to carry on as they were.

We visited the site. I'm sure our guide told us all about Deborah and Barak and Sisera and Jael from Judges 4 and 5, a fascinating story the first few times you read it. But Transfiguration images predominate inside the church and that story became my focus.

Mass was going on when we arrived, so we were herded into one of the two smaller rooms, the one dedicated to Moses. The other is dedicated to Elijah. (St. Peter got his wish after all! Ahem, Moses has horns.) The story of Elijah versus the prophets of Baal has become my son's favorite.

Someone in our group got into trouble for picking a sizable branch from an olive tree in a nearby garden. I was appalled that anyone would. Then my son showed me a tiny, tiny lemon he'd plucked. Periodically, he'd scratch the exterior for its refreshing scent. The view was awesome. I must correct my opinion that Israel has no true mountains.

We gathered at the upper taxi stand for the trip down and our guide cautioned us against accepting anything from the Muslims who were near the parking lot handing out free Korans. They were very polite initially but as we walked by ignoring them, they began to shout things I've heard before: that the Bible says nobody can serve two masters, that Jesus never instructs anyone to worship him - that he, in fact, says the opposite - and, that the Gospel tradition has been corrupted over time.

Somehow I was slow getting to the taxis and they all filled up. It was only myself, the tour guide and Deacon Tom. Our tour guide turned back and began shouting at the Muslims, countering what they were saying. I'm not the type of person to get into a confrontation in public but I found the exchange interesting to observe. During the taxi ride down, the guide admitted that he had to say something to them, as they were speaking against Christ. Admirable enough. As we turned onto the main road, I spotted a man on his bicycle just beginning his ascent. I mentally wished him a heartfelt Godspeed.

Back at the hotel, shabbat candles were available in the lobby and the elevator confused us all. After dinner, the monsignor heard my confession.

Shabbat candles

cf. Mount of Transfiguration - Wiki

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sunday Snippets

We suffered a bit from the bus driver's inexperience. The best route was designated "Cars only." Back and forth through Brooklyn - Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst along 86th Street - in the evening rush we traveled, looking for the entrance to the BQE1. The bus driver asked directions of a gas station attendant. He didn't know how to inform his GPS that the Belt Pkwy wasn't an option.

Honestly, I thought we'd miss our flight out of JFK. 90 minutes driving around Brooklyn - how is that even possible? The entire trip wasn't supposed to be much more than that. But we arrived at the gate with thirty minutes to spare. EL AL begins boarding a full hour prior to departure.

I'd planned to kill time at the airport with dinner. Arriving as we did after 9, though, most of the restaurants were closed. Neither of us had eaten since 3, so he grabbed a sandwich and I got a salad from a counter service place.

As we lined up to board the plane, some in our party declared, "We made it. God wouldn't let us miss this flight!" I muttered in reply, "Anything can happen. Really." And it's true, especially when you're dependent upon someone else.

It's a ten-hour flight over and twelve hours back. Most of the time, it felt as if we weren't moving. I sat in the middle of the middle of the 777-200 with my son on my right and an (ultra-)Orthodox man on my left. The man tended to mutter to himself. At times, these were prayers. Generally, he seemed immature for his age. Or naive. Or sheltered. He wondered aloud how he was going to be able to sleep in this arrangement (being seated next to a woman who wasn't his wife). I was sorry for him but I planned to sleep! Honestly, I think he nodded off for a time, also.

About an hour after our first meal, I heard the sound of someone repeatedly vomiting. Just out of view - thankfully - I could make out a commotion by the exit doors four rows up. Plane staff were helping a woman who could not control herself. I suspected that she had morning sickness but it could have been anything.

Towards morning, the men gathered at the back of the plane for prayers. Several men, young and old, urged the man next to me to join them for prayer. He declined. He read several pages of his Talmud which lead me to believe he was merely skimming. Then he pulled out another oversized book, the Schottenstein edition of the psalms (Tehillim). He prayed several of them. When the men returned from the back of the plane, from their prayer, the younger men ribbed the man next to me for the size of his books. They advocated the travel-sized ones, but he defended his large ones because they had belonged to his father.

An hour before landing, a woman collapsed in the vicinity of where the vomiting had occurred the night before. I thought she had broken her leg. Her age, as well as her attire, indicated to me that she was a Christian pilgrim and I thought, "How unfortunate!" As it became clear to her that she would miss her pilgrimage, she began to sob. In fact, I learned later that she was a member of our group of 40 people and that she was hospitalized for an apparent stroke. She was not even released in time to fly back with us and, even though her doctor cleared her to make this trip, she should not have.

The sun was setting when we landed and was down completely by the time we left the airport. So unlike June. Our hotel that first night was in Netanya on the Mediterranean Sea. After dinner, Kenny and I walked down to the sea. It was out of season, of course, but nothing prevented us from going down to the water. Most of these photos were taken the next morning before leaving, driving up the coast.

Looking up from the beach at our hotel

Views from hotel balcony

View from street level

1 There was no reason to exit Route 278 after crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Sunday Snippets

I've still got the taste for olives and cheese in the mornings.

See, breakfast is dairy and dinner is meat. So breakfast is cheese and milk, even hot, chocolate cake. Olives accompany every meal.

I was concerned for my son's table manners, because he doesn't sit up straight. For the first few meals, though, we sat two to a table. Only in Jerusalem were we seated at larger tables. By then, I'd already seen such poor manners from the adults to not worry about my teenager. First night, a woman bent over the buffet chafing dish to sniff the fish.

"It's fish," she declared to us in line behind her.

Another woman ladled out some soup, frowning. "Lentil," she observed. I would have preferred them to move along and let me make up my own mind about the food. By the last night, some ladies were done with the local fare, waiting to grab something at the airport.

The Church of the Pater Noster was new to me. It's situated on the Mount of Olives, just up from Dominus Flevit.

As it's a French church, the various languages in which the Lord's Prayer appears - over 150 of them - are labeled in French. Pilgrims scurried about looking for the English version.

In haste, they hustled by it, not recognizing the designation "Anglais" or the Blackletter font it's written in.

Even when I called them back, they could not decipher.

I'm familiar with the font because I used to scan old German Bibles in the undergraduate library between classes. Cf. Chronology of German Typeface Development,