Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hanging on to Advent

I wrote this last year:

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him Psalm 37:7

This fall the Christmas decorations began to crowd out the Halloween decorations early in October. Radio stations began to play Christmas music long before Thanksgiving.

And again I begin to feel like the Grinch who stole Christmas as I launch my annual battle to save Advent in the church.

Advent is the season of the church to help us slow down and quiet ourselves in order to hear the voice calling in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord” While the world eagerly rushes into it’s version of Christmas, the voice calls us to “Wait” .

Wait for Christmas. Advent calls us to wait, do not rush headlong heedless into the false Christmas the world beckons us to, but wait – wait for God who will come to us in the Christ child at Christmas.

The advent hymns, beautiful, somber but hopeful, often in a minor key, strike a discordant note with the piped in carols we hear in the shopping malls, but those Advent hymns serve to remind us the Christmas proclaimed by the merchants has nothing to do with a small child born to a homeless couple in Bethlehem.

The world changed forever when God became flesh and was born of a woman. The world changed forever when God became flesh and taught us that the first would be last and the last would be first. The world changed forever when God became flesh and taught us to love and forgive one another. The world changed forever God became flesh and died and rose to show us what that love could accomplish.

The world claims it is “celebrating Christmas” and yet acts as though nothing has changed. The opulent displays and calls to “buy buy buy!” proclaim that Christmas is Good News for the rich and powerful.

When we follow the Advent path to Christmas, we hear the song of Mary that proclaims … “he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:53).
Advent takes us past the malls and merchants to a stable, where a young homeless frightened girl gives birth to the Creator of All.

It is only when we have waited through Advent for God to come to us in that babe at Christmas that we realize the world will never be the same again.

This season I pray for patience for all of us to appreciate the gift of waiting, preparation and anticipation for the joy that comes when Christmas comes for real.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Repentance a Prerequisite for Forgiveness?

I thank you dear God, that I have learned not to begin faith by my own efforts, nor attempt to destroy my sin with my own repentance.
Martin Luther, "Luther's Prayers" Edited by Herbert Brokering.

This is an issue that has been bugging me for quite some time.

I've been hearing this argument that we earn God's forgiveness through our repentance for quite a while but it has become even more prevalent with the recent sexuality debate. And it was expressed in a letter to the editor in the most recent Lutheran magazine.

"Yes we are all sinners….but but but….you have to REPENT and THEN God will forgive you." Or even worse, "Yes we are all sinners, but WE are REPENTANT sinners" Yes indeedy there are now two categories of sinners – Plain old bad sinners who if they aren't going to hell, they at least aren't very good Christians… and "repentant" sinners who are better because, well, at least we're TRYING to be better.

If this isn't semi-pelagianism rearing it's ugly head I don't know what is. 

Remember Pelagius never denied that we were saved by God's grace. He just argued very sensibly that we should at least COOPERATE with God's grace and you, know help it along a little. 

Because certainly God should not be expected to save us all by HIMSELF without even a little bit of participation on our part. We have to at least REPENT.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for repentance. 

Yes indeed that was Jesus' Gospel – "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" But what exactly did he mean? 

The Greek meaning of repentance is to literally turn around, change directions. In Hebrew it means to "go back" – to return to God. It doesn't have anything to do with being sorry for you sins. I still remember this being pointed out to me in my first bible class in seminary in Acts 2:37-28. 

 After hearing Peter speak, his hearers were "cut to the heart" and asked what they should do. He tells them to "Repent and be baptized" I take it that being "cut to the heart" meant they were sorry and yet Peter STILL tells them to repent and be baptized.

 What should we do? Be baptized!

Whose act is baptism? Not ours, God. What should we do? Turn to God! That's very nice that you are sorry for your sins, but that ain't gonna save you. Put your life in God's hands. 

Depend upon God to save you, not your own damned repentance.

But but but, we HAVE to confess our sins first. Because God is just sitting around with his hands tied, waiting for us to confess before he can save us. Confession saves us. Really? Salvation depends upon me confessing? 

 So I actually am responsible for my own salvation? Well, crap, if that's the case I am damned. And so are you.

In the 6th Chapter of Isaiah Isaiah is brought before God. It is in the presence of God that he confesses

Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!'

I am an unclean man and yet I have seen the Lord of Hosts. 

 I think having confession before worship has given us a warped sense of the purpose of confession. It's given us the impression that confession is something WE do to make ourselves worthy to be in God's presence. 

 And yet it is only in the presence of God that we are able to confess. We can confess till the cows come home, and we will still find that we are still an unclean people who have in spite of that been welcomed into the presence of God. Not because we've confessed. But because God wants to bring us into his presence.

Luke 5:8 is always paired with the Isaiah text in the lectionary, Jesus directs Simon Peter to put out his nets and after seeing the miraculous catch of fish-- THEN Peter falls down before Jesus and says 'Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!' Confession is a RESPONSE to grace; it is not a perquisite to grace.

Continue reading Luke 5:17-26 – the healing of the paralytic – Jesus sees the faith of the man's friends…not a word about the man's faith, confession or repentance and says "Your sins are forgiven." 

I have argued this with the "no forgiveness without repentance" crowd and they simply say "well it's implied".  It is NOT implied! They have written it into the script because they cannot conceive of a God who forgives without any effort on our part. And they call ME a revisionist.

The prodigal son? You think HE repented? 

He's coming home rehearsing a speech that will get him some food. But before his father even has a chance to hear the rehearsed speech, he's hiked up his robe and is running in the most undignified manner to welcome home his sorry excuse for a son.


If you think your salvation depends upon your repentance, you are just plain screwed. 

Thank God for all us you are wrong. Thank God we have an undignified God, who doesn't wait to hear our silly rehearsed speech, crafted to get us out of trouble, thank God he's already hitched up his robe and met us more than half way to forgive us, his sorry excuses for children.

And if after all that God has done for us, if we can make some sorry attempt at repentance in response to that unexpected, undeserved, and unimaginable grace, even that is not for God's sake, but for our sake, as we work together with other sorry excuses for Christian brothers and sisters to work together for the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Now Thank We All Our God

Now thank we all our God,
With hearts, and hands, and voices
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom His world rejoices
Who, from our mothers' arms, 
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, 
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us,
With ever-joyful hearts And blessed peace to cheer us,
And keep us in His grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God The Father now to be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns With Them in highest heaven:
The one eternal God, Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, And shall be evermore.

Martin Rinkart was a Pastor in a German town called Eilenbrug for 32 years. 

Much of his ministry took place during the terrible years of the Thirty-Year War. 

Pastor Rinkart saw a lot of suffering during this time and no one would blame him for wondering what he had to be thankful for. Eilenburg was a walled city and refuges from the war sought refuge there, leading to the same kinds of conditions we see in refugee camps around the world today. 

But there was no international Red Cross or other relief agencies to provide relief. The overcrowding led to famine, starvation, and disease. Eventually every other pastor in the city died and he was left alone to minister to the city. 

Sometimes he would have to conduct fifty funerals in one day. 

Then his own wife died.

And when the plagues were over, he was not thanked or appreciated; in fact he was harassed by the townspeople until he died of exhaustion at the age of 63.

And in the midst of all this sorrow he wrote:

Who, from our mothers' arms,
Hath blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.

I'll be going to my sister-in-laws for Thanksgiving tomorrow. She is my late husband's sister. He was their baby brother. He died in a car accident on the way to visit his father who had been hospitalized with a stroke. Their mother died of cancer before I met my husband. His other sister lost her husband a few years ago to Diabetes. My husband's nephew at age 49 (the same age my husband died) suffered two strokes a few weeks ago and his on a long hard road to recovery. They still have a son in school.

There have been more than one occasion when I thought to myself "Thank God Loren is not alive to see this." I thought about how much it would upset him to see his nephew (whom he babysat for his sister who worked) like this. See there's always something to be thankful for.

How do you be grateful in such a time? 

You have to be grateful. In the difficult and dark times it is essential that you be grateful. You MUST focus on what you have and what is good in your life. 

If you let yourself get caught up in thinking about all the things you don't have you will find yourself in a bottomless hole that will suck you in deeper and deeper. Gratitude is the only way out of that hole.

Thanksgiving is for us.      

It's not for God. God isn't like us – you know how we get all sulky and pouty because we didn't get a thank you note from that niece or godchild who honestly just doesn't think enough about you to sit down and write a thank you note.

God doesn't need our gratitude. Gratitude is for our sake. To get us out of that sink hole of despair and negativity.

I always open my confirmation class by having the kids go around and do "highs and lows". I have one rule. EVERYONE must share a high. If they can't think of a low part of their day, that's fine. But they MUST come up with something good about their day. 

Because no matter how bad your day is, there is something good. 

It's a good exercise for them to see that there is good in their lives.

Ten years ago I faced the holidays for the first time without my best friend, the love of my life. 

I had two children who needed to see that it was not just okay, it was in fact, a wonderful thing to be joyful and celebrate the holidays. 

And I simply did not allow myself the indulgence of self-pity and resentment about what I didn't have during this season. I turned my sights on what was good in my life.

And there was so much good. There were so many people whose hearts reached out to my children. The football team/Luther League who climbed on my roof to put Christmas lights. Help to put up my tree. Presents for my kids. 

I saw how beautiful the snow was and how lucky to give my kids a Christmas card Christmas. How lucky we had heat. How lucky I was to have a job. 

It was an amazing Christmas because I focused on the good like I had never done before. 

And that gaping bottomless pit that threatens anyone who has known grief did not take over. And it was the gift of gratitude that kept me out of that pit.

Yea I know you can find a lot to bitch about this holiday season. Just stop it. Find the good and thank God for it. 

And then thank God for the gift of being thankful.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Time to Make the Sandbakkels

So this morning the lady I let ahead of me in the grocery store line because she only had a couple of loaves of bread looked at all the stuff I had and said "Oh are you having a big thanksgiving dinner?"

"Oh no" I replied. "My kids are coming home from college this week and this is just to feed them BEFORE Thanksgiving". 

She seemed rather horrified.

Okay so I went a little overboard and tried to get ALL their favorite food in one visit. 

But the one thing they always look forward to is Sandbakkels, a Norwegian cookie.

These are made with special tins. I use my late mother-in-law's molds. She died of cancer before I knew my husband. Using them always makes me feel connected to her in some way.

It is best not to wash these tins, just rinse them out and dry them....that keeps them from sticking. Of course some always break when you tap them out. 

Since I usually made them for special occasions and gave the broken ones to the kids, they were always grateful that so many broke! But now the unbroken ones are for them. I'll probably eat the broken ones before they get here.


  • 1 Cup Butter, softened - this you will want to use all butter, real butter - no substitutions.
  • 1  Cup Sugar
  • 1 Egg yolk
  • 1 tsp (or capful) Amaretto or almond extract
  • 2 Cups Flour

Oven 350

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, beat. Add Amaretto. Add flour.

Take about a teaspoon of dough and roll into a ball, then press into the tin. Thinner is better.

 Put the tins on a cookie sheet and bake 9-11 minutes until just golden. Cool. Tap the bottom with a spoon to pop out.

Some recipes say to fill these but I never knew any Norwegian who filled them.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cranberry White Chocolate Bars

Several years ago in another parish I used to host an open house between Christmas and Epiphany.

Tried it a couple of times in this parish and hardly anyone came and it really wasn't worth making all that food so I quit. But I have a lot of recipes from all the goodies I made. 

 This one I make whether I have a party or not.

Notice that I used half butter and half butter flavored Crisco. I have found this works perfect in cookie and bar recipes. All butter just doesn't bake as nice. That's butter flavored Crisco.


 Margarine should not even exist as far as I'm concerned.

  • 2 1/4 C All purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup butter flavored Crisco
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla (do yourself a favor and buy REAL vanilla)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 12 oz package white chocolate chips
  • 1 C dried cranberries

Preheat oven 350

Cream the butter, Crisco and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well mixed. Mix in flour, salt and soda a little at a time. Add chips and cranberries and mix.

Spray a 10 x 8 baking ban. Spread dough in pan and flatten. Bake about 25 minutes - I like it when it's still a little soft and chewy.

This is my basic chocolate chip cookie recipe as well. Like the one on the chips package only more sugar (because I like my sweets, well - sweet) and the half butter, half Crisco.

Cherry Stuffing

We go Wisconsin to my sister-in-law's (my late husband's sister) although sometimes there is too much going on and then I make a nice dinner for just the kids and I. This year since my thanksgiving staples are pretty different than the in-laws and to celebrate having the kids home from school I'm going to make my Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday so we'll get two meals. This is my stuffing:

1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
2 gloves garlic
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped
2 Tbl Olive oil
1 Cup dried cranberries
1 can tart cherries in water (not syrup)
1 stick melted butter (please do not use margarine!)
1/2 Cup honey
1 Cup milk
Celery salt
Lemon pepper, Basil and Sage to taste
12 oz unseasoned bread crumbs

Heat frying pan (remember Рhot pan, cold oil Рfood won't stick!) Heat olive oil and add onions, celery and peppers and saut̩ until transparent. Add garlic and herbs and saut̩ a few more minutes. Mix this with bread crumbs and cherries. Add honey, melted butter and milk. Do not over mix.

Everyone seems to be afraid to put stuffing inside the turkey these days. I always stuff the turkey. I also have leftover dressing that I bake in a pan. The stuff that's been in the turkey is MUCH better, I don't care what they tell you. Nobody's died yet.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Time to Make the Fruitcake!

Actually I'm late this year. You really need to let it soak in the brandy for at least 4 weeks. Still time for Christmas though.

Trust me this is not the fruitcake people joke about. People always make jokes when they hear I am making fruitcake but if I can get them to actually taste my fruitcake they shut up real quick. There was a very nice gentleman in a former parish who always help me put up my Christmas tree in exchange for my fruitcake. He would talk about it all year.

There are mostly two reasons people don't like fruitcake. 1) they are into healthy food and don't believe in eating fruit that has been preserved in heavy syrup with artificial dyes. There's nothing I can do to help those people. They probably don't believe in Santa Clause either...

The other reason people don't like fruitcake is because they don't like citron and a lot of fruitcake is heavy on the citron. I don't like citron and so this cake does not have it.

Do not skimp on these ingredients. Yes it is rich and unhealthy. So what? You make it once a year, you give all away except one loaf (unless you are having a party). Enjoy.


1 C chopped dates
1 c golden raisins
2 c. candied pineapple, thinly sliced
2 c. red candied cherries, diced
1 c. green candied cherries, diced.
1 c. candied lemon peel
1 c. candied orange pee
1 c peach preserves
about 1 c Apricot Brandy
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c pecans, coarsely chopped
1 c butter
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 pinch cloves
1 c. dark brown sugar
6 eggs


The night before you bake, combine raisins, dates, cherries, pineapple, preserves with 1/2 C. brandy and vanilla in bowl. Cover. Let stand at room temperature overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 300. Grease and flour three 9 x 5 loaf pans --or smaller, I never know how many I'm going to fill.

Add nuts to fruit mixture. Set aside. In a large bowl cream butter and sugar. Beat eggs separately and add to butter and sugar. Add spices. Add flour. Pour batter into fruit mixture and stir to get all of the fruit covered. The batter is just there to keep the fruit together.

Pour into loaf pans. Pat down with fingers. Decorate with half candied cherries and whole pecans. Sprinkle with red or green sugar if you like. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for two hours. Remove foil and bake 30-40 minutes or until cakes are browned. Cool completely in pans on wire racks.

When cakes are cool, pour 1/4 brandy over each. Cover tightly with aluminum foil or wrap in cheese cloth and store for at lease two but no more than 6 weeks before eating.

Note --if this is too much booze, you can pour orange juice over the cakes and it will be good too. But not nearly as much fun.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hilda, Abbess of Whitby , 614

Hilda was born in 614 and raised in the court of King Edwin of Northumbria. She entered the convent and established many monasteries and centers of learning, advocating for greater reading of scripture and better education for clergy.

This is another one of those fascinating stories of a woman in medival times, who was educated, and had great influence among important men.

What I also find very interesting and timely was her response to the decision at the Synod Of Whitby to follow the Roman traditions of the church, rather than the celtic traditions. If you know anything about history of the Irish church, you know that it was very different than the Roman church. Hilda preferred the Celtic way (I think the Synod made the wrong choice myself) but unlike some chose to leave and establish separate monasteries in Iona and later, Ireland, Hilda chose unity over her own preferences and used her influence to encourage others to stay in the church and go along with the decision made by the Church Council.

Hmmm. That's all I'm going to say about that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Playing Sorority Life - A Little Too Much Like Real Life

So I discovered this very addictive game on Facebook called Sorority Life. It started with just dressing up this virtual paper doll. I like dress-up. Then you organize little virtual events that gave you virtual money and virtual "glam" and you get points and move up a level. Then I discovered you could virtually "attack" other houses and steal their money. And there was strategy with figuring which glam to buy that had points for attacking and points for defense. And that was fun and challenging. But you needed more "sisters" for that - which meant more facebook friends. So I got more sisters. And pretty soon my virtual crops on facebook farmland were dying because all I wanted play on facebook was Sorority Life.

Ah but there was ANOTHER feature of the game. You could virtually "slap" someone. But a number of people playing this game had decided that it was socially unacceptable to push the slap the button. Whole houses had "no slapping" rules and would kick anybody out of their virtual "house" if they were caught slapping. These people take this seriously enough that they keep screen shots of virtual slaps.

But then it wasn't enough not to slap. You couldn't house or be friends with anyone who slapped. You couldn't belong to a house that was neutral about slapping. And there were witch hunts and if you were found to be the sister of a sister who was sisters with a "slapper" you were booted from houses. It was crazy.

And my rebellious streak set in and I started housing slappers. And got kicked out of houses for it. Then I started watching all the fun my slapper sisters were having so one day I did it. I pushed the slapper button. And watched grown women (there are actually a lot of men play too but I don't think they are as suseptable to the anti-slapper mania as women) go absolutely nutso on me, writing foul and disgusting insults on my board, as well as lame "Yea well you are an ugly old lady"

I won't lie. I got some satisfaction out of being able to do what you can't do in real life. Slap idiots and self-righteous uptight old biddies.

Well it was bound to happen. I wasn't as careful with my privacy settings on facebook as I should have been. And one day I got outed as I read on my board "Is this the way a PASTOR should behave---slapping people?" Which is pretty hysterical as no one seemed to have a problem with the main part of the game which is STEALING MONEY.

At first I was bummed that I couldn't be anonymous in the game anymore. But I didn't participate in the foul mouthed insults - I thought I kept my smack talk clean (except for the character I created just to slap people called "SMACKuratsass") and rather on the witty side and I never got personal like these people did. I mean who goes and looks people up and post personal information about you over a GAME? Apparently a lot of people. Lot of nuts on the internet. I've been online long enough to know that.

And then I started thinking. People decide slapping is wrong because they don't do it. And so everybody else has to do things their way and not only can slappers not be in your house - nobody else can have slappers in their house. Hmmm. Not only are WE not going to have a gay pastor. No other congregation in the ELCA can have a gay pastor.

Anti slappers would gang up on and drive to drive slappers out of the game. CORE trying to get its members to gang up on pastors who don't agree with them and drive them out of the church.

Anti-slappers acting all morally superior because they don't slap yet they engage in vile and rude and insulting behavior (and sometimes do actually slap). People who focus in on homosexuality as the only sin in the world and yet engage in vile and hurtful behavior (some of whom are in the closet themselves)


And yet, just as in the church there are good people who "get" it. I met some really cool sisters who slapped or didn't mind befriending slappers and that made it all worthwhile.

Purity. Trying to draw that line between them and us. This side is God's good clean side and I'm on it and THEY are not. And yet what did Jesus do? Constantly crossed over boundaries. Constantly held up the "other", the unclean, the sinner, the outcast, as the one who will be in the Kingdom of heaven before all these morally superior smug anti-slappers.

One crazy person who found out I was a pastor posted all over my board "WWJD" You know what I think Jesus would do? He'd call all those self-righteous biddies a brood of vipers and go have a party with the slappers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CORE Encouraging Congregations to Oust Pastors who Don't Agree with them

Lutheran CORE is playing dirty. Got a pastor who agrees with the churchwide assembly decision or simply refuses to make a big old issue out of it? Get rid of them. Yup that's their suggestion. First they use judgmental and incendiary language and refer to a pastor's support of the ELCA as "refusal to adhere to ordination vows" and then they say:

If You Need to Confront Your Pastors
If your pastors are unwilling to adhere to their ordination vows and the church constitution, your choices become very difficult.

1.) One is to tell them that you cannot in good conscience support the church with your time and money. That would be a tragic decision for many.

2.) Another—depending on the unity of your church—would be to encourage the pastor to look for another call. That could be a threatening decision for many churches, especially small ones or those who called a new pastor recently.

This was originally on their resources of "What to do now" You won't find it on their webpage anymore because they have altered it --but for now it is still here: CORE Suggestions -don't be surprised if they cover their ass and change that.
Pastors accepted these calls to ELCA congregations in good faith and excuse me but it is in our ordination vows to support the ELCA and to ENCOURAGE congregations to try to oust pastors for the SIN of supporting their church is reprehensible on the part of CORE and the fact that they have taken that out of their public documents shows they know darn well how shameful it is. The fact that they have taken it out of their public documents does not mean they are not still encouraging congregations to threaten to get rid of pastors who do not see things their way.

This is not the first time CORE has said/done something outrageous and backed away when called on it. Check out Magdalene's Egg "Bouman: CORE Lies to its Members They are not a trustworthy group.