Saturday, May 23, 2015

The 30 weeks of Bible Study Fellowship ended at the beginning of May with a participant inviting others to join her in a summer study of Joshua. So later that day, I called the phone number she gave and heard back a week later that things would begin the following week. And that Joshua was too long a study, so we'd spend nine weeks on the fruit of the Spirit. When she called, I had been going through my phone's list of recent outgoing calls and wondering when I'd hear from her! I was just about to add her number to my contact list when she, in fact, called me.

But, to begin next week? So soon? With the kids still in school, the sooner, the better as I'm still driving over there everyday. And who knows what the summer will bring.

I arrived at the appointed time, but the usual way in was locked. I entered by the office and my anxious face tipped off the staff that I needed direction. She pointed me down the hall with barely a word. And I joined three other ladies in a small room.

There were introductions but the other three had met last summer. Two were old friends anyway. As usually happens. Not knowing what to expect, I brought only a pen and notepad. The leader seemed somewhat annoyed, left the room and returned with an NIV. She asked whether that was an alright translation for me, that there were also NKJVs available, and I said, "Whatever everyone else uses is fine with me." Then she curtly ordered me to bring my own Bible next time. Since I'm in the habit of borrowing their pew Bibles, I probably won't bring my own.

The leader admitted that the booklets for the study had not arrived yet. She said she ordered three booklets, so I asked whether I should order one for myself. She said that since she ordered them through a local Christian bookstore (near Mater Dei High School), the shop owner got about 15 booklets, to keep the rest in his store. She figured he could spare another one. I paid her $9 in advance for the booklet.

As a sample, she brought a book on "Decisions," also published by LifeWay, to give us a sense of how the study will proceed. She managed to flip through the entire book during our brief time together. Then, she assigned us each a Scripture passage to look up and then we went around the table rattling each off. I had Romans 7:4 --
So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.
Prayer requests were exclusively for unsaved family members, especially their adult children.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Saturday morning, my husband texted me that our credit card was no good and would be replaced on Monday. A full tank of gas and an unusual amount of cash on hand enabled me to check undue concern. As soon as I got home, I set the card aside so I wouldn't use it by mistake.

We didn't talk in detail about the cause beyond acknowledging fraudulent use online. The compromised card was itself fairly new, just recently switched from MasterCard to Visa, as so many other cardholders have. But after the many highly publicized breaches of security at well-known retailers had occurred. We could not guess how this happened.

Sunday morning, the intercessory prayer at church was for "victims of greed and violence," and I thought to myself, "Well, that's us." I'm not accustomed to intercessions at church applying to me. They're intended for others. But I took it this time.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sunday Snippets

The first of the Lenten ecumenical services was this week during the noon hour.

I had to leave halfway through a Bible Study Fellowship seminar on "quiet time" in order to attend. It was a frustrating drive from Lincroft to Freehold because I got stuck behind a student driver whose only aggressive move was pulling out of the community college lot directly in front of me. After that, she didn't exceed 35 mph and I was trapped until Route 18 where Route 537 goes to double lanes.

Then a road crew was filling potholes at the end of Kozlowski Road and I made my own detour because none was posted. Between following the cars ahead and using my GPS, I got around the closure without losing too much time. Because, you know, I timed it down to the minute. And I am eager to let road crews fill potholes. Naturally, for all my efforts, the program began fifteen minutes late. Which messed up my afternoon's schedule.

While waiting, I checked Facebook:

And I'm like, "How funny, this is my view, too!"

The arrangement was luncheon before and after the service but I wasn't sure so I'd already eaten. As the pre-service lunch folks wandered out into the sanctuary, I looked them over good. Hoping to spot the non-Catholics. Expecting to see deformities: big ears, club foot, crossed eyes, withered hand. But, nope, nothing out of the ordinary. These were just regular people. I found myself smiling and greeting the women in Roman collars. I decided that if Episcopalians and Catholics can't get along, we're in trouble. The church website is more clear than it was over the summer announcing his arrival and installation: "he is married to the Rev. T. James Hargrove, also an Episcopal priest and hospice chaplain." He is an excellent preacher. And, you know, I prefer black vestments for Lent to purple. The black looked good.

The complete lyrics of the few hymns we sang were displayed on the screens. Many people didn't understand that Catholics only ever sing a couple of verses because our hymns are filler. Singing covers the procession, recession, collection and communion. When those activities are over, singing halts. How awkward if those things took place in silence!

I ran into some old friends and, when it was over, they invited me to the post-service lunch. I went for conversation and a drink. On the way, I spotted two old ladies trying to find their way to the lunch hall. They tried the first door of the many lining the back of the church - it was the confessional, clearly marked. I motioned for them to follow us out.

So I'm looking forward to next Wednesday's ecumenical service at my friend's Pentecostal church.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sunday Snippets

Ok, this is embarrassing. I spent a couple of hours Friday in the public library's "quiet zone" to catch up on my Bible study homework. I was reading the commentary for this particular chapter in 2 Corinthians. I honestly can't tell you which chapter but it almost doesn't matter. Because the commentary was talking about Satan in general at this juncture and had cited another Scripture to illustrate Satan's role as accuser:

So I happen to be studying Numbers in another Bible study, a topical one on the Life of Moses. And I'm like, "When was Joshua of conquest fame high priest?" Well, he wasn't, of course. Son of Nun, notwithstanding.

Frankly, this exposes the fact that I've never read the Book of Joshua. But it's not as if I've never tackled the post-exilic prophets. In the summer of 2008, I heard Fr. Boadt lecture a week on them. But he was always more into the historical background and not so much about the text. And I haven't read his book.

But, see, this is what comes, also, from reading Jesus into every Old Testament scripture. I've honestly never taken the time to reflect on the original meaning of Zechariah 3 before inserting Jesus into the role of high priest. And now that I've seen it, I hope I don't forget.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday Snippets

It's been a while since I criticized a church. That didn't go well, either. It seems that that pastor has moved on to movie making. A fine fit.

Since I haven't learned my lesson, here goes again:

Gimmick. Repeat after me, gimmick. Can we understand that?

"God told me to do this!" In your best Cosby-as-Noah voice, "Right."

I know some of these people and it makes me sad to think that this is their best.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday Snippets

Even though I have griped about never being invited to lunch, I still wasn't prepared to be. Practically speaking, I had no cash.

My friend offered to treat me. In fact, she picked up the tab for everyone, all five of us. We handled the tip, including a tract. Quell the twinge of discomfort. But I can't remember when I last shared a meal with tract-leavin' church folk! Pray before eating, of course. Discuss churchy things in earshot of restaurant staff, sure. Send back meals that aren't gluten-free or vegan, absolutely. But leave tracts? Still, they kept saying, "Let's bless her. Oh yes, let's!"

What was interesting, even awkward, was that my friend took a call right after we ordered so I did my best of talk with the remaining three strangers at the table. One was a former Catholic now in charge of the youth ministry. She asked whether I'd ever read Lee Strobel's book.
Oh, sure, that's an old one. Read it in college1. Tells you how old it is! Kids find those kinds of 'logical' books convincing.
I went on:
But what's really convincing is actually going to Israel. I took my son there last February.
That broke the ice! Because another woman has also been, so we swapped stories. Travel is usually a great conversation topic. When my friend returned to the table, she joined in with plans of a summer mission trip:
They're in the woods, alone, for three days with only a flashlight, a blanket and a Bible. After the first day, they take away the flashlight!
Sounds monastic. So, they've memorized the Bible in that time or do they simply clutch it for comfort? Get a softcover one. How do they grow up not hating you and scarred for life?

Earlier in the day, at St. Rose, I noted a flyer of upcoming ecumenical Lent events. I couldn't wait to mention the one at their church with a preacher from the UMC! The news elicited a mild groan from them. They were quite unaware. I teased, "Maybe you're serving the lunch!"

After we finished eating, even the ones who sent back their meals and got replacements, the conversation turned to personal, true stories of attempted child abductions. These tales jogged my memory so I made my exit:
Yes, speaking of that, I must go pick up my children at school! Ta-ta!
I was glad to leave before the waitstaff picked up her tip.

1 In fact, I'm thinking of Josh McDowell's book. These popular apologetics were making the rounds of campus ministries in those days. I didn't read Strobel's book until I was out of college and working.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sunday Snippets

As the deacon and I waited for other participates to arrive Thursday, the final session for the parish Little Rock Scripture Study The Eucharist in Scripture, he shared about a recent mass at his workplace, a retreat house:
"The priest actually said, 'like the dewfall' and it sounded nice. You never hear that but it was alright."
With a few exceptions, I agreed with him that the prayers ought to be said as written. I expressed my frustration with the pastor who alters the prayers, especially as pertain to Mary. I confessed to him:
"I can't attend a Marian feast day here anymore. It's too distracting to hear him fumble for words. The pastor ought to mark his preferences in the book so it flows."
The deacon defended the pastor, saying, "He doesn't want people to get carried away with devotion to Mary. He's no Marianist, that's for sure. I, too, want the Big Guy to get top billing, you know?"

I replied that I trust the prayers to express proper theology (and mariology). Reading the prayers would correct any errors or exaggerations in anyone's piety. Attempts to downplay the significance may have the opposite effect.

After everyone arrived, we were discussing the homework questions. One asked, "How can you better prepare yourself [at mass] to receive Jesus [in the Eucharist]?"

My answer reiterated my earlier point: I rely on the prayers of the liturgy to prepare me. I'm not off doing my own thing at mass, not saying the rosary or any other private devotion. I'm not reading my Bible, at mass, or the pope's latest encyclical. Instead, I'm saying the public prayers with the congregation.

When I catch glimpses of people doing their own thing, usually as they're on their way out before the service actually ends, I wonder if they think they have a superior way.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sunday Snippets

"I met your music teacher's husband yesterday. At his church. He has a church."


A bye week for Valentine's Day allowed me to attend a ladies' study group at a friend's nearby A of G church. I arrived on time, not early, so that no one could text my friend in case she was blowing it off. I was introduced to the pastor within minutes of entering the meeting room (pictured above). His wife teaches music in my son's school and the reverend was careful to get my first and last name.

The group would finish "Breathe" by Priscilla Shirer, Tony Evans's daughter, and then take a short break before beginning the next topic. The program advocated not only Sabbath-observance but spoke repeatedly of "margin" which I understood as Pentecostal lingo for "rest."

Three other women staggered in, upwards of fifteen minutes late, looking rushed and preoccupied, and it occurred to me that the ten-week study had been unsuccessful in turning around their overcommitted lives. We began going over the week's assignment, and I listened several minutes before my friend offered to share her booklet. I discovered that she is literally unable to sit still.

She read from her answers, telling of her rebellious attitude, leaving the Church after confirmation, and her happiness that her Catholic husband now attends her church every Sunday without complaining. She actually said, "Instead of a religion, I have a relationship." She glanced at me for effect.

How can she admit rebelliousness, yet excuse it? Moreover, rebel further into another church? How can their applause for her husband's church-switching not implicate me?

She showed me a table of the literary structure of Genesis 1:1-2:4a, light on Day One and sun and moon on Day Four, etc. I told her I've seen that kind of analysis before. The materials rightly credited Meredith Kline with this framework but the scholar's name only vaguely rang a bell with me. I'm slipping because, even though it's been six years since I studied Genesis in a Reformed church where this framework was presented, Bruce Waltke's name leapt to mind instead, as I had used his Genesis commentary then.

In closing, prayer requests, past and present, were discussed. Referring to their prayer journal notes, inquiries were made for status on so-and-so but many were unknown. No one had been in touch with them. My friend shared her good deed driving last minute someone to treatment. She also shared about her homeschooling friends whose first daughter, then second daughter, both, became pregnant their respective first semester at Christian college. And prayers for the third daughter. I wanted to ask whether contraception had ever been recommended.

As I didn't take any notes, I took my turn swiftly in order to mention an intention I could recall. I feel like I did fine, praying for those away at school in New England dealing with a harsh winter.

Then we went out to lunch.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sunday Snippets

I dreamed last night that Jeff and I were at a church supper. The food was laid out buffet style. Much was made about the fine quality of the food. A dish at the near end of the table was a vegetable salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and half of a large, red onion poised on top. The onion looked weird.

Before the meal started, there were a couple of songs of thanks. A row of musicians stood in front of the buffet, each holding a different instrument. After that, someone approached us and asked whether it was our first visit to the church. It was Jeff's but I was disappointed that I wasn't recognized from having attended the Bible study.

As the meal was to begin, we moved from where we were to a long dining table, and I wanted to sit at the far end. I was carrying a heavy, glass candelabra, without any candles in it, and as we neared the dining table, I decided that I wanted to put the candlestick back where we had been. So Jeff, who took a seat at the head of the long table, reserved my seat to his left with his coat and I walked back to the other section of the room.

Except I was now outside and a friend was walking towards me carrying a paper plate of pizza slices. She saw me and tripped and fell down. I reached her in time to help her up, despite my hands being full with the heavy candelabra. We fell in together and I showed her around, explaining that Jeff needed to mow down the tall grasses on the property. Somehow we found our way into a slow-moving car and I drove us down a country lane to a farm. Jeff was ahead of us, walking, wearing suspenders and carrying an animal, maybe a rabbit. He was accompanied by a couple of other men in suspenders also carrying small animals. Even in the car, I could not catch up to him because the place was crowded.

I mentioned to my friend that I was glad to see Jeff wearing suspenders, trying to fit in with those around. "We spend our early years trying to be different, and our later years struggling to fit in. Don't you find that?" I asked my friend. She didn't exactly agree, and I discovered that my attention was drawn from my driving with that brief conversation. It was so crowded on each side of the narrow lane with what looked like booths at a county fair. I was wondering to myself how I hadn't hit anyone yet. Then I heard a thud and looked back. Two gray-haired men in straw hats lay motionless near the side of the lane. No one was tending them.

I stopped the vehicle and hopped out. My friend also came. As I got nearer, a woman, maybe a spouse, was trying to wake up one of the men. By now, they were both in the ground up to their chests. And their complexion was green. It appeared to me that they'd been dead for some time. My friend took some extra steps to verify it: she opened one man's mouth very widely and peered inside. I said there was nothing we could do.

We continued on, touring the fairgrounds. We went past the 4H horse stable. I told my friend that I wanted to get my daughter into 4H with a horse and that, technically, we have enough property for a horse. But I would want a larger piece of land to be fair to the horse. Then we entered a hallway and found a room at the end with refreshments. I pour my friend some tea from a pitcher and also a glass of ice water. And I drank some water. That's it. I woke up.

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.