Those Facebook changes are something, aren't they? Whew, I can't keep up anymore.
You know, my kids attended a Vacation Bible School (VBS) at a Bible church in August and the ladies invited me to their weekly Bible study. The funny thing about that is two years ago I had contacted the pastor through their web site about participating in their ladies' Bible study. Whomever he passed off my request to dropped the ball and I never heard back. It's a rare church which would only welcome regular members to Bible study.
So I went on Wednesday morning even though I don't really have time for it now. Wednesday morning is typically my "do errands" time. For instance, next Wednesday I'm chaperoning a fourth grade field trip. And last Wednesday I was having the car serviced, so I missed the initial meeting. The ladies are working through the Sunday school booklet and I had already looked through Chapter 1 online.
The facilitator almost hugged me when I entered the door, if I had allowed her. She really pressed me to identify my church so I looked her straight in the eye and told her. I eventually gathered that she's the pastor's wife. The pastor, since he quit his high school teaching post last spring, was around and came in to answer a question about God. We had read something in Genesis about man being made in God's image (Gen. 1:27) and a participant wanted to know whether God was human like us. My first impulse was to quote Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well, "God is spirit" (John 4:24) but to also say that Jesus is God incarnate. Instead, I decided to see how her question was handled. The pastor pretty much said what I had thought, only mistakenly attributed the phrase "God is spirit" to John, Chapter 6 and mispronounced "anthropomorphism." Still, his giftedness as a teacher came across very well.
We were taking each question from the workbook in round robin form, looking up each verse and reading it. We were jumping all over the Bible because we were investigating a theme: how the Bible describes God the Father. The facilitator was reluctant to put me on the spot even though I showed no qualms about looking up passages and reading them from my King James Bible. Yeah, alright, I stumbled on "shouldest" in the first verse I read aloud but I quickly caught on. Actually, not everyone had the King James and those who did modernized what they read to us on the fly.
When I read Titus 3:5, the lady next to me wondered what "the washing of regeneration" could possibly be. I really could have told her. Then she read her passage and commented on the name "Lord" all in small capital letters. She said, "There's that word again, LORD. What does that mean?" So I explained it's the translation of the divine name and that most Bibles have translation notes in the introduction explaining their choices. It was as if I hadn't said anything. No one acknowledged what I said but rather continued to ponder the significance of "LORD" in their Bibles. I was surprised the facilitator didn't offer any answer or call to her pastor husband again.
Later, this lady identified herself to me as a former Episcopalian before asking about my church. I told her and she said her opinion of Catholics is that they don't read the Bible either.
At the conclusion, I hung around to explain to the faciliator that I enjoyed the study and the company of the other women but that Wednesday is my "errand day." She offered to switch the study to any other morning for my convenience, a proposition that I found quite preposterous. I turned her down. I think she also offered to meet with me one on one.
As I drove home, I was thinking over this experience, laughing about how nice they all were to me and to each other but also considering how stunted they seemed. These critical thoughts were interrupted when my St. Christopher visor clip slipped off and bopped me on the head! I told God if he wants me nice he's gonna have to make me nice.
My parish hosted an ecumenical prayer service this evening for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The Presbyterians and Jewish Center joined us, bringing their respective choir and cantor. The cantor sang first, accompanied by her own guitar. She performed a couple of folksy songs that made use of several Hebrew words. Most of us were lost trying to sing along. I was pleased to see that folk music isn't only the scourge of liberal Christianity but has found its way to liberal Judaism as well.
The reverend read from Exodus 14 and I followed along in my Bible. He gave a sermon on the reading that referenced a magazine for Presbyterian clergy. Apparently, an article was submitted to the magazine from a Pastor Wilton in Point Pleasant, a major player in the local presbytery, describing his reaction to 9/11 ten years ago. I can't find the article online but he walked out to the beach where he could see lower Manhattan. He saw a pillar of smoke and thought it demonstrated God's presence in the midst. He was recalling the reading from Exodus 14 in which the Israelites were accompanied by a pillar of smoke in the day and a pillar of fire at night. At first, the reverend couldn't see the connection. How could God be present in such a horrible situation? But, then he asked, "Where was God?" and began to hear stories of survivors. Many got down the stairs because the stairwell walls held up ("the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left." Ex. 14:29). The reverend came to see that Wilton had a good point.
The reverend observed that the Revised Common Lectionary specified selected verses from Exodus 14 for September 11. I couldn't believe him because our lectionaries are generally pretty close except, I guess, when we read from something like Sirach. But it's true. Obviously those who assembled the Revised Common Lectionary also see a connection between the Exodus and survivors of 9/11.
For most of the service, I found myself trying to figure who was who based on their apparent comfort level and gestures.
There isn't daily mass at my home parish on Thursdays but given today's feast, I wanted to attend mass. I took Ella to the next town over, the one that had had a great deal of flooding from Irene, for their 9 am service. It's held in the chapel adjacent the sanctuary. Huge numbers of people were entering the church building. I was curious why. Sure, it's a significant holiday which tends to draw people out but, well, moreover, these people were well-dressed. All on their way to work?
Turns out, Catholic Charities was having a meeting with the bishop in a room adjacent the chapel. A couple of years back, the parish added the chapel and meeting room and now I see that the bishop gets to use it whenever he wants. :-) I hope that they were evaluating their response to the flooding. I tried to get a glimpse of the bishop through the large glass windows but wasn't able to. I could only approximate where he was seated based on the direction of everyone's attention.
The chapel was packed. I imagine that if some poor souls weren't already in the sanctuary having some quiet moments, the pastor would have jacked on the lights and switched venue to accommodate those pouring in for liturgy. Ella and I found seats up front which meant she could see the proceedings and would have to behave like a perfect angel. She did. To tell the truth, I'm not used to being that close to the goings-on!
Thankfully, he took the shortened form of the Gospel, leaving out the genealogy. The first reading was Romans 8:28-30; Mary's life makes the best case for Christian predestination. During the Lord's Prayer, Ella followed suit and prayed with hands in the orans position, not something I've ever done. But, as she grabbed my left hand, I found my right hand turning out and up.
We sang two hymns, "Hail Holy Queen" (entrance) and "Immaculate Mary" (recessional) a cappella. After the service, we stole into the dark, quiet sanctuary because I had a dollar for a candle. The kids like to light candles and our parish doesn't stock any. There were at least a dozen people in there praying who had not attended mass and several other people wandering about. I've never seen a Catholic church so busy on a weekday morning.
Then we hightailed it over to the Baptist church for the first session of bible study. It was nice seeing some familiar faces. I remember being jealous last year, my first year, not knowing anyone. This year, people are at least saying hello. I have a new small group leader but she's away for her anniversary so we had a substitute. The sub is actually in our group as well but winters in Florida. By January, she's out. Another lady in the group also winters in Florida. It's an incredibly well-off group, in my opinion. But that's what I get attending a bible study near the Shore. Imagine, going from flood-ravaged, working class Hightstown over to Spring Lake?
We had to tell a little bit about ourselves to our neighbor and then they would share it with the group. I'd rather share about myself directly but I guess it's an icebreaker and I do listen better to at least one person! There wasn't a clear pattern in their stories but one lady talked about growing up Catholic - which she didn't regret - and joining the host church a couple of years ago. Another lady, with a very Catholic-sounding surname, talked about her husband who was "another religion" before becoming Christian. And, at least as they told it, it was the wife who converted the husband, rarely the other way 'round. So much for spiritual headship.
Last year I met a woman there who was Catholic but I couldn't spot her this year. The lady sitting next to me was good friends with the sub and after we finished the icebreaking exercise, she talked with our leader about her Saturday evenings after her company has left. She said she sometimes goes over the Bay Head if it wasn't too late but otherwise would go to St. Dom's. She lives in Brick. So, afterwards, we were wandering back to the sanctuary to sing a closing song and listen to a lecture, but we were in a dining room with tables full of books for sale, cheap. So I was browsing and she saddled up next to me. I pointed to a book from Piper, saying I'd never heard of it before. Then the Interior Castle caught my eye and I commented that that particular translation is good1. Then I pointed to a book by Schaeffer. She just said that my interest in books reminded her of her cousin.
1 But, in fact, it was Peers which I think is not the good translation. This edition was recommended when I took the class on Christian spirituality authors several years ago (Merton, Lewis, Siena and Avila).
As I was thinking about Community Bible Study, the telephone rang. It was my new group leader for Community Bible Study calling to introduce herself. Without a visual, it did little good. I hardly know anyone in Community Bible Study, having attended only one year. She sounded like the rest of them, breezy but intentional.
It starts on Thursday morning. Problem is, Ella's school doesn't begin until next week. She offered to check whether I could stick her in their children's program for that one time. As I was thinking about her again, the phone rang with the response that I could. We'll be studying the Acts of the Apostles this term which is convenient because I just finished a Little Rock Scripture study series at my church on Acts.
At the Princeton church, Janet will use Dr. Keller's materials to study the same book as the Plainsboro church this term, Romans. She had sent out an email about a women's mentoring program and I thought the Bible study was morphing into mentoring. So I checked into Queenship of Mary's offerings in the same time slot. I had done Great Adventure Timeline and Matthew with them two years ago. I think they did Acts of the Apostles last year but this year they are doing Revelation. So I'll be joining them. Unfortunately, I'm going to be late arriving each Tuesday by a good 15 minutes because Ella's school never starts on time!
Still, I bought a copy of Keller's materials, printed them out and intend to work on them, visiting Janet's study whenever QoM doesn't meet. In addition to the video lectures on Tuesday mornings, there's also a live person lecture on Wednesday evenings. I have to check with my husband whether I can attend those. There's a good chance I may because it begins late, 7:30. In sending Janet my regrets, I told her I felt I could deal with hanging with Catholics again.
Every other Thursday evening, Jim is reading the Psalms. My summer goal is to read through the psalms with this church, two a day. But I fell far behind in late July, so I was reading ten a day this past week and now I'm ahead! It's actually better to read several in one sitting so that patterns are more evident. I enjoy the poetic - almost romantic - retelling of Israel's dusty wilderness stories. I've tried reading with the idea that Jesus is the "singer and the subject" of the psalms, a very Reformed idea. But I'm so used to reading as if David's words are my own prayers that, with few exceptions1, I'm the singer.
1 Like, whenever my supposed "blamelessness" is mentioned, or there's talk of the "pure oil" running off my anointed head into my beard (Ps. 133:2)