Tuesday, November 23, 2010

They started in on the Italians from the very start. The pastor was asked about his Thanksgiving plans and he said that he was cooking for extended family, including some relatives who are Italian. He'd heard that Italians eat pasta for every holiday, including Thanksgiving.
"I won't be serving any pasta, 'though, so I hope they like the food!"

I'm new to the group which started gathering last week or the week before. Everyone introduced themselves in an orderly sequence and stated how long they'd been church members. Most had joined within the last year which surprised me. Was this a sort of "new members" class? Do the participants expect to get connected to the church through this group? But everyone else is also new and unconnected.

By way of introduction, one lady said that she grew up in Jamesburg, you know with the Italian Catholics - as if it's common knowledge - and she used to scratch her head that they'd go to confession on Saturday night for the things they did on Friday night, get a clean slate and then go out the next weekend and repeat the pattern.
"But the penance was always the same, ten Hail Marys. It ought to have increased because they were committing those same sins over again."
I had a flurry of questions that I didn't ask: Does God forgive your sins? Do you recommit those sins? Aren't prayers better than not praying? Given human nature, isn't penance a sort of deterrent? Hers is a common criticism, stemming from the unspoken assumption that the sacrament itself is ineffectual.

At the previous meeting(s), they had covered the first two chapters of Second Corinthians. The approach was for someone to read a few verses and discuss. The pastor had a commentary from a familiar series, along with a leather-bound edition of the Access Bible and another book that I tried to make a mental note of but forgot it. He referred to the commentary a couple of times, mentioning the author's name, saying he was a contributor to the NRSV and the RSV. I just checked the list of contributors for the fourth edition and don't see his name (Ernest Best). That's not to say that he didn't contribute to earlier editions but it's just as likely that he contributed to the RSV only. I know that I have the Revelation commentary in that series and I may have one other, too, an epistle, perhaps.

I had my thin, blue-bonded imitation leather, silver-edged, personalized "classic" NIV because I forgot they are NRSV readers. The guy next to me had a TNIV and everyone else had the church's preferred version. When he read his verses, I followed along alright in mine. When I read my verses, the pastor re-read the verses from his translation as if he hadn't understood what I had read.

I said very little. For the most part I agreed with everyone else's take on the text. The first few verses of the chapter explain how the Corinthians serve as Paul's recommendation letter. The pastor related that when people come into his congregation they may bring letters of recommendation from their previous church. He said it is a common practice among Protestants, Methodists, Presbyterians, Reformed, Church of Christ.

He said it is possible to handle the transfer "within the session" without a public declaration of faith, but in the case of recent joiners, he had them get up in front of the congregation and make a profession of faith so everyone could see how friendly they are. I was familiar with all this already and considered bringing a letter with me from St. Dorothea when I moved out here. Msgr. Flynn had told me that if I ever needed a recommendation ... but the Catholic Church doesn't work that way 'round here.

I remember pointing out that in Moses' day the glory didn't spread to anyone else but in Paul's day they were all being transformed into his glory (v. 18). I thought to myself about the lady at St. Veronica's on Monday who wore a mantilla but who also could have veiled her face because it was radiant. I was certainly stunned and couldn't take my eyes off her. Haven't they also seen such things?

I thought that the pastor had figured out my background but when he said something about Catholics having "the best toys," liturgically speaking - robes, incense, etc., which he intended as a backhanded compliment, I realized he had no clue. At least, I hope he wouldn't say that if he knew. And I got sick to my stomach thinking about the ecumenical prayer service a couple of nights ago in his church. He stumbled to come up with the word "tabernacle" and I didn't dare help him but he knew communion is called "eucharist." Another participant said that Presbyterians have so little and nothing, and another came up with "tabernacle" to which the pastor conceded, "Oh, well, that's an Old Testament word."

As I departed, I informed him that I'm committed to attending another Bible study in Princeton on Tuesday mornings but I would come to his whenever they don't meet. He said, "Sure, come here and maybe, over time, you'll dump them." Well, I might.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jeff took the boys to see Harry Potter this morning, so I took Ella with me to the white church in town, with the intention of "breaking the ice" in advance of this evening's ecumenical prayer service. Immediately upon entering, I identified myself as "a visitor" and asked about the nursery. The greeter told me that the girl who runs it may show up, in which case she'd introduce me.

I let Ella pick our seat and she chose a side pew with no cushion. An unfortunate choice because the pews were so close that the seat pressed into my calves when I stood, which - truthfully - wasn't often. The morning service - very like this one - was a wonderful preview of the evening service to follow. Rev. P. welcomed everyone to what's now called in the PCUSA "Reign of Christ Sunday," but he confessed to being partial to the old "Christ the King" designation.

While the organ played, a young acolyte entered from the vestibule in the back and walked along the center aisle carrying a lighted candlelighter/snuffer. He lit the two candles on either side of the pulpit, then recessed to the vestibule. His action was the extent of formality or ceremony during the service.

The "call to worship" was Jer. 23:5-6 and was followed by a hymn. There was an opening prayer and a prayer of confession said in unison, not confession as in a creed1 but an admission of guilt which was followed by the pastor's assurance of pardon. The congregation sang the "Gloria Patri" with everyone, including the pastor, facing the front wall of the sanctuary, i.e., north. The passing of peace totally upset the atmosphere which went from this pensive, soothing, mental exercise to physically walking around, bumping into people and greeting and chatting and ... such a complete change!

The children's message was delivered by a PTS seminarian/intern. I was very impressed with her. She'll make a great pastor someday. Ella went up front to sit with all the other kids. She was slow getting up there, though, because she lost her shoes just as the children were called forward. Then she struggled to get them back on the correct feet and one went far under the pew and the seats were so close together that I couldn't help her go faster! But, she's very brave and found her way up there.

The adults grew instinctively restless during the children's sermon, mostly filling out their offering envelopes. One man had a printed text that he was looking over. Turned out that, after the children disappeared into the room behind the front sanctuary wall, this man went up to the pulpit to read from his papers. Part of it was called a "prayer of illumination" and then he read Col. 1:11-20, nearly identical to last night's second reading.

But, before all this, the handbell choir played "Give Thanks." One woman, only one, was very good. One lady lost her place and her neighbor tried to help her recover it. The two youngest players messed up the middle pretty good.

After the First Lesson, we sang "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" which I don't really know. But I'd noticed something strange: two rather large people, a husband and wife team, sat in the front pew and seemed to be informal worship leaders for the congregation. Now, it's typical for Catholics to stand as soon as the hymn music begins to play but these two waited through the musical introduction and stood just as they were about to sing!2 And the rest of the congregation followed their lead!

Before reading from the Gospel Lesson, Rev. P. told the congregation about a party he'd been to the night before. Several people expressed sounds of mock disapproval but he let it be known that it was a rare and special event, the centennial of the town's synagogue, at the Excelsior. I'd forgotten all about it. Not that I was invited. But how nice that it was scheduled just before the ecumenical prayer service.

Again, the Gospel reading was about the same portion as we heard last night. He observed that readings about Jesus' crucifixion usually come up on Good Friday or during Lent but here's this odd - his word - Scripture reading on the last Sunday of the church year. The only point I remember of the sermon was that it's as if the cross is Jesus' throne, the seat of his power, the place where he speaks to his people. He said that the Gospel reading is filled with irony.

The offering was announced as our "worship" of God with our gifts and tithes. In the pews were envelopes towards poinsettias for the sanctuary at Christmas. I took one with the intention of returning it that evening, either with money if I could get some or without. I guess, then, the offertory, which is listed in the bulletin immediately after, is when the plates are brought forward to the pastor. We sang the doxology which I know by heart. The seminarian read the prayers of the people and led us in the Lord's Prayer. We sang "Crown Him with Many Crowns" and received the benediction and rather than simply dispersing, the acolyte came again with his snuffer and took the flame from the candles.

Fortunately, Ella came running out from the back room just in time! She came out carrying a reindeer. I asked her whether someone gave it to her or whether she just took it. She said that she just took it and that she wanted the penguin instead. She's such a crook.

1 strangely, no creed was recited.
2 when I told Jeff later, he surmised they were conserving their energy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the fan page of a nearby church plant I follow, the pastor posted a request for a complete Thanksgiving dinner. I got everything except the gift card because I doubt it would be used. I always feel that way about gift cards. I had trouble finding a large enough basket and ended up parting with one I'd had for a number of years and occasionally used. Maybe I'll get around to replacing it because I liked it.

So I made a special trip there today with the stuff because I wasn't able to swing by yesterday when I was over that way. Then, since I had some time afterwards, I popped into QoM, for olde tyme's sake. I had to rummage around in my car's armrest compartment for a rosary and found only my least favorite one, from Medjugorje, given to me by an acquaintance who had been there. The beads aren't spaced properly for me but I made do.

I thought the sanctuary was empty and was lamenting that fact. Such a quiet, peaceful space. But, in fact, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw a woman at the feet of a statue of Mary. The third row is close enough for me! But sometimes I'll venture to the prie-dieu situated just in front of the tabernacle. I doubt I disturbed her.

That reminds me, the place I'm going to tomorrow morning is collecting coats. I'd better see what I have to spare.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival hosted by Rann at "This That and the Other Thing."

My submission this week:

Saturday, November 06, 2010

I remembered where the Little Theater is from the spring and was the first to enter and grab a seat. Immediately, I went out again, though, hoping the campus book store was open. Ella needs a new college shirt. But, no. I'll have to order online.

As others filed in, Fr. Rich inquired about the book in my hands, thinking I'd purchased it on site. I explained that I'd taken it from a church library in the process of being purged and had it autographed. As I opened the book to show the author's signature, my right hand trembled uncontrollably. I had no idea how nervous I was to talk with him. He noticed and moved on rather quickly.

He explained to us that he named his lecture long before he developed its contents because that's marketing's timetable. Here's the blurb (click to enlarge):
We began with a hymn by Bernadette Farrell which I didn't really know (lyrics). He cited the contrasts between ourselves and Abram: he had no Bible, no catechism; he barely knew God but obeyed. He walked everywhere; we drive down the street. He started in Genesis 12 and pointed out that God always takes the initiative.

He quoted 1 John 4:10 to demonstrate God's initiative:
"In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us ..."
I had a Bible but he said that his Powerpoint slides contained all the verses cited in his lecture. Besides, the mini pull-up desktop wasn't large enough for my notebook and a Bible.

He moved on to Genesis 18, the promise of Isaac and he gave an informally dramatic reading of the exchange between Sarah and God over whether she laughed at the promise or not. Later in the same chapter, he read the exchange between Abraham and God as Abraham pleads for Sodom and Gomorrah. He said that he grew up liking Noah, probably because the story had lots of cute animals. But now he sees that Noah sold everyone out and should have pleaded for people's lives like Abraham did!

He admitted that Genesis 22 is one of the more difficult chapters in the Bible to take. He displayed several instances of famous paintings and shared that Caravaggio's is his favorite because the artist "gets it right" in terms of emotion. He said it's an instance of Abraham finding out that God is different from the Canaanites' gods and he referred us to Micah 6:8 for what God expects of us:
You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.
He quoted Lewis which I knew well:
"Remember, I had always wanted, above all things, not to be 'interfered with.' I had wanted (mad wish) 'to call my soul my own.' I had been far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight. I had always aimed at limited liabilities."
He said we need to be more open to God's calling.

Here are workshop descriptions of the other options for the morning session (click to enlarge):

Of course, Dr. Schubert (#6) was a close second choice. All these presenters are well-known in the diocese and I believe Fr. Bausch's reputation extends beyond the diocesan borders because he's published books which have not always garnered favorable reviews.

To my best recollection, I've never met Fr. Bausch. I've never heard him lecture. I know people from St. Mary's in Colts Neck who are his devotees. I give him the benefit of the doubt and respect his professional accomplishments, but I've never myself consciously been a fan of his.

Monday, November 01, 2010

I would like to forget today. Maybe if I put it all down here, I'll forget it.

I took the boys to school, then took Ella with me to church because Jeff couldn't take her to school. So she went to school late without her sleeping bag because it wasn't washed from the weekend. She reminded me on the way over to school that she didn't have her sleeping bag, which I appreciated, but I already knew.

Instead of going swimming, I went back over to the boys' school to "work" the Scholastic Book Fair. I detest Scholastic. I don't understand the relationship/appeal/deal that goes on between that company and public (& private) schools. I hadn't been in the foyer ten minutes before seeing all three of my sons. Timmy really seemed to be loitering. I had to chase him and Kenny back to their rooms. "Aren't you supposed to be in class?!"

From 10 AM until 12 noon, there was a steady stream of students "previewing" the book fair materials. Tim's class was first. I know those kids the best having been on several field trips with them already this year. They needed some help finding prices. The second group was more challenging, preschool. Even with a teacher, two aides and two volunteers, the kids still had to take turns. It really made no sense to me that preschoolers would be shopping for books without their parents' help. Especially because Scholastic offers more than books available for sale. Kenny's teacher from last year was slow to bring her class down, so under orders of the PTA secretary, I went to her room to get her. She had gotten the time wrong so she quickly brought her class. Good thing, because two classes were due simultaneously in the next slot!

After her, sixth grade came down with the kindergarteners. I thought they were working in "buddy" fashion but they were all on their own. So I helped about four kindergarteners fill out their wish lists. One girl had money and bought the book she wanted. The others were supposed to take their wish lists home and bring money in the next day. Then Chris's class came with 2nd grade too. That was alot of kids and they all needed help. Finally, Kenny's fifth grade came and Kenny actually bought the book that he wanted.

The books got very messed up on the tables with so many kids looking at them. So even though we straightened up each chance we got, there was still a need at the end to give everything a once-over again. By then it was close to noon, so I got out of there because I'd forgotten all about lunch ... and I hadn't eaten anything before going to church!

But since the kids had a half day, I was due back to the school at 12:30 for early dismissal. I managed to get only something to drink and nothing to eat. Then they wanted to play on the playground, so I foolishly let them. I was supposed to pick up Ella at 12:30, especially because she didn't have her sleeping bag. I actually don't know what time her "rest" period is. But I called over there and delayed her pick-up until 1:30.

We left the playground around 1:10 and drove over to Ella's school and got her just as she was about to go outside to play on the playground! About 1:20. I felt so bad! But it was cold today anyway. We dashed home for a few minutes and I got those guys some crackers and then we were back at school for parent-teacher conferences at 1:50 and 2:10. Chris's conference was first and since he's doing so well, it was over in five minutes. Then I had to wait around for Kenny's conference. And the parents in there ahead of me talked over by fifteen minutes. So, it was difficult to keep those guys behaved in the school hall for 25 minutes!

Last year, Kenny was scoring well above grade level. This year, not so much anymore. So that private school foundation that he has hasn't lasted.

We got out of there by 2:30 but it's good that I had picked up Ella already because 2:30 is her dismissal time. I would have never made it over there by then. Besides, we had to leave for fencing practice 45 minutes away in Tinton Falls by 4! So, again, a quick trip home for a nibble of food - the boys hadn't had any lunch and I hadn't eaten anything all day but crackers. We left the house around 3 and got to fencing quite early, 3:45. Last week there was construction on 520 in Lincroft that made us late, so I allowed myself enough time for that - and it was already completed. My boys didn't know what to do with the extra time.

But class started soon enough and was over by 5. I had to swing by the bank to get money for the babysitter. We were home a little after 6 and Jeff was already home. I started dinner even though I knew I wouldn't get it completed. I fed the kids. The babysitter arrived on time and we went out to our conference with Tim's teacher. We were done with that by 7:30 and back home. I got dinner on the table by 8:15.

Tomorrow promises to be better. I am still working the book fair and the kids have another half day. But without conferences and the drive to Tinton Falls, we'll have more time at home. Oh, wait, I have to go grocery shopping!