Sermon Series

preaching

Today’s RevGals Friday Five asks about ideas for sermon series.  A couple that I’ve done during the summer:

  • Favorite Hymns
  • Water, Water Everywhere ~ based on the Presbyterian Women’s excellent study on water themes in the Bible

Taking a look at this summer’s texts, I think that if I were preaching regularly I might do one of these series:

  • Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible
  • All In: The Book of Romans (I thought I might try to tackle Romans three years ago, but wow ~ what a LOT of study would be required!  That might be something I could do on my own this summer in preparation for future possibilities.)
  • The Jesus of Matthew
  • In the Beginning: A Genesis Series

I guess that’s six, not five.  Maybe an opportunity for one of them will present itself.

Bible Sisters ~ Book Review

bible sisters

It has been my privilege and delight to teach a number of Bible study classes over the years ~ as a member of Methodist and Presbyterian congregations, and as a pastor to Presbyterian and Lutheran congregations.  In addition, as a spiritual director to Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish individuals, I am often called upon to provide scriptural references to someone seeking to explore various dimensions of his or her spiritual life.

No matter the context, it’s often a challenge to conduct a discussion on women’s experiences in the Bible.  There are the Big Ten to Fifteen or so (I made those numbers up): Eve, Sarah, Esther, Ruth and Naomi, Bathsheba, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, the Woman at the Well, the Woman “Caught” in Adultery, the Syro-Phoenician Woman ~ many of whom, my experience tells me, are only dimly recognized by even our most faithful church participants.  And then there are the hundreds of women, often unnamed, referenced only in relation to a man or men or community or activity.

Bible Sisters, compiled by The Rev. Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks and just published by Abingdon Press, makes a start on rectifying the lack of knowledge of women in the Bible which pervades many of our congregations.  It’s a devotional book, with 365 entries, numbered rather than dated (so that readers are not bound to a calendar).  Each entry suggests a short Bible passage, usually only a verse; a brief reflection; and a brief prayer.  I was not able to determine any rhyme or reason to the order in which the devotions are arranged, but there are indices in the back, alphabetically by name of character(s) and chronologically by book in the Bible,  which could be used to organize an individual or group prayer or study time.

This book is designed for ease and solace, rather than for deep study or challenge.  The most controversial events in the lives of women or teachings on the roles of women are either glossed over or avoided altogether.  Bathsheba’s rape is acknowledged, but the consequences are referred to as “the shame of her first pregnancy.” Yael (Jael) warrants two days, but the violence of her murderous action is not depicted.  Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the resurrected Jesus is depicted in a context of her sorrow and weeping rather than her joy and proclamation. Pauls’ admonishment to women not to exercise teaching authority over men makes no appearance at all.  And the brevity of the passages cited means that all context is omitted, so that answers to readers’ questions must be sought elsewhere.

Human lives are complex ~ and that includes the lives of Biblical women.  The layered depths of their lives are missing from this text, so that the reader or group seeking nuance or provocation must look elsewhere. However, with the names of so many Biblical women lost to time, and their frequent appearance as little more than faint shadows along the margins of history, it is a boon to prayer and study that obscure and overlooked women find a place in this book.  This devotional is a good beginning.


 

 

 

 

I received two copies of this book for review purposes, and was not compensated for this review.

Northfield, Part I

billings_hall01

In the fall of 1968, my father, and probably my stepmother as well, although I don’t remember whether she was there or not, dropped me off at the Northfield School for Girls in western Massachusetts.  I was assigned to a 1950-60s dorm, a nondescript red brick building on the edge of a campus strewn with majestic Victorian and solid turn-of-the-century structures, and a roommate from the Massachusetts coast, with whom I became fast friends for the short time we were together.

I had chosen Northfield from a sea of school catalogs presented to me because it had a domestic work program (which we somewhat affectionately referred to as “the dummie program”).  Every day we donned long smocks and white caps to work in the kitchens or public areas of our dorms.  Among the catalogs directed my way in rural Ohio, filled with girls in expensive clothing seated at expensive desks and riding expensive horses, Northfield stood out as an island of solid practicality.

I had no idea at all about its the school’s founder, 19th-century evangelist D.L. Moody, or his original goal of providing women for the mission field with the best possible of academic educations, and then, across the Connecticut River, boys of little means with an education equivalent to that found in the most elite prep schools, peopled by the sons of bankers and lawyers.   I did not know that many of my classmates would be scholarship students, the daughters of teachers and ministers, or what that might mean in terms of the campus atmosphere (one distinctly lacking in a sense of economic privilege).   Boarding school in that era, with its universal cinder block bedroom walls, its lack of student vehicles, and its uniformity of dress (jeans and jean skirts, clogs and sandals,  turtlenecks and sweaters) tended to have a leveling effect upon its students.

Northfield was a tough place for me.  I was already experienced in boarding school and summer camp life, and made friends easily.  But the academics were hard ~ I was immediately dropped back a year in Spanish, and could barely keep up in some of the advanced classes to which I had been admitted.  I didn’t make the basketball team or receive even a non-speaking part in the fall play.  And school counseling being what it was in those days (not), and me being at perhaps my lowest point in lifetime maturity (age 15! ~ although 14 or 16 might have been worse), I did not seek out, and no one offered, the kind of support that would have encouraged me to see a tutor, increase my basketball skills in a gym class, or spend some time on the stage crew in order to learn the ropes (no pun intended) of a high school drama program.

The late 1960s were also upon us, and cultural changes slow to make their way to Ohio descended upon New England’s boarding schools almost as swiftly as they appeared on college and university campuses.  For us, it was everyday life.  For our teachers, I was to learn later, the changes in clothing, music, and recreational activities (!) were swift and incomprehensible.  I recall my French teacher’s angry announcement one spring morning: “I don’t care WHAT changes have been made in the school dress code!  You will not display bare toes in MY classroom!”  Of course, it being 1969, she might have discovered far more consequential matters with which to concern herself, had she not been so distraught about sandals.

 

To be continued . . .

(Imageof Billings Hall, where our French and Spanish classes were held ~  from http://www.northfieldopportunity.org/photogallery/)

 

Being Sick

 

Well, that worked out well.

 

I’ve been down for now eleven days with the virus from hell.  Yesterday, the head nose ear throat pain finally gone, but feeling as if a relapse might be imminent, I spent the morning leading a group discussion and then returned home to crawl under a blanket and stay there, too exhausted even to ponder the piles of small tasks that remain undone.

 

The consequence was that I awoke at 4:30 this morning and, an hour later, unable to go back to sleep, began to stir.  I read for an hour, took care of a pile of laundry and ironing, and ate some cereal and berries for breakfast.  I had to throw out most of the blackberries that I had purchased so hopefully a few days ago, walking slowly through the grocery as I began to glimpse the promise of recovery.

 

What I have been pondering is this business of being so sick.  The last time it happened, over a year ago, I had just begun a new call as a pastor, and Lent had quickly arrived, which meant an additional service each week at a time when I was already challenged by getting to know new people and new ways.  No wonder I fell ill!  And, unwilling to take time off in my first month, I plowed through the weeks that lay before me, taking several more of them to recover, while trying to conceal how thoroughly miserable I was.

 

This year, no new roles lie before me ~ perhaps a great stress in itself.  But there is a disturbing commonality between last year and this.  In both cases, just before I was felled by illness, I had been feeling particularly energetic and content, and in both cases I had added  a slightly more demanding exercise regimen to my life ~ a bit more walking, and a few trips to the gym.  It seems that my immune system may have had, in both cases, all that it could do to handle the additional workouts, and succumbed quickly when presented by an unfamiliar virus.

 

It’s quite discouraging to discover that I may have reached a point at which my body will accept only the slightest increase in stress before it reaches a breaking point.  I know that the life of all-nighters and even frequent late evenings out is long gone, but I am stymied by bow quickly I can be ambushed by a simple virus.

 

I am resolved to begin walking as soon as possible, and to practice more in the way of healthy eating.  But for now . . .  more sleep!

 

 

 

 

Writing

 

Weeks.  Months.  Maybe Years.  A long stretch of time since I have written anything of significance.

At least, not anything beyond the sermons I churned out weekly for five and one-half years.  I hope that a few of those offered scraps of meaning to congregants in pews or to readers online.  But my other writing dreams have gone unrealized.

I have been an on-again, off-again writer all of my life.  I have probably withdrawn from the fray too many times, and failed to hone gifts and skills buried under the rubble of setbacks.  A little girl longing for a typewriter which failed to materialize under the Christmas tree.  An adolescent incapable of wresting a year-long sought A+ from that English teacher who occupied the unapproachable pedestal.  The adult whose published essays were occasionally edited so that sentimentality was substituted for edginess.   The rejections from publishers and writing workshops.

None of this marks me as unique in the universe of would-be writers.  I imagine that we have all been bowed down by the sense that our lives are not worth the telling, our views neither intriguing nor embraceable, our command of the language neither original nor incisive.

But I have permitted discouragement to still my voice.  I am not preaching these days, and I am not writing much of anything beyond the occasional Facebook post ~ and Facebook is a medium in which I make no effort to communicate in any way beyond the most rudimentary.

I am out of shape.

And so . . . I am making a promise to myself.  Three-to-five hundred words a day, more or less, for the month of May.  I’m going to wander around my house and neighborhood, searching for one-word prompts, and I’m going to write.  No promises after that.  But at least thirty-one days.

 

 

 

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