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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Luke 16:1-13 Sermon

Read the scripture first. If you're zealous, read it in the NRSV version and The Message. This is my attempt at a sermon on this very difficult text.


I do not understand this passage of scripture at all. I can’t even repeat to you what I said when I first read it. What a puzzling piece of literature. I can’t wrap my mind around it. I mean, I guess I get the “you can’t have two masters: god and money” part, but I don’t really get the rest. Especially the part that says, “for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” Excuse me? Non-God-oriented-people are being praised for being shrewd? Children of light are being chided for not being shrewd? Perhaps Jesus referencing the “be shrewd as a snake and innocent as a dove” verse. I don’t know though, for he goes on to say, “Make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Use means of dishonest wealth? HUH?

Eugene Peterson’s The Message version puts it much more gently. Instead of calling the manager shrewd, he calls him “streetwise.” In this version, Jesus admonishes the person of the light to “use every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival.” Okay, that sort of makes sense. But is that what Jesus is saying? I mean, how does, “use dishonest wealth” translate into “use adversity to survive creatively”?

I love Peterson, but this is a bit of a stretch for me.

Perhaps the story Jesus is telling is ironic. What if it’s supposed to be satirical of the Pharisees who constantly abuse money and are of course standing around listening to him? What if the story isn’t for the “people of the light” at all, but rather is a rhetorical devise designed to undercut the Pharisees?

In other words, “you, who take people’s land when they can’t offer a big enough bird at the Temple, let me tell you a story. Here’s a story to you who own plenty of wealth while your people suffer. Once upon a time there was a dishonest manager who was fired, but figured out a way to manipulate a financial situation to save his ass. That is a smart man, let me tell you! Freaking brilliant man of God, right there. Only those like him will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Do you hear the irony, the disapproval, the judgment imposed on the Pharisees?

Read verses 10 and following, “whoever is faithful in little is faithful in much. If you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust you to the true riches?” Were the Pharisees fair in the way they dealt with their people? Not always. Why then should the people look to the Pharisees for spiritual guidance?

On the other hand, this could be said of us too. Why should we be entrusted with things of eternal value when we don’t even use the little we’ve been given? After all, we don’t always appreciate the sunrise and sunset every day. We don’t always feed the poor when we have plenty in our refrigerators. We get tired of listening to our co-workers complain about their lives and we get tired of offering the hope we’ve found. We have too much to do in our daily lives to use our gifts to serve God outside of our jobs.

Look at us! We don’t always take advantage of the resources, the gifts God has given us! And so we are not shrewd, we are not street-smart to use our resources to do what is right in the world. We don’t choose to live resourcefully. And in that way, we’re no different than the “children of this age.”

But that doesn’t change the fact that we are “children of light.” Even if we do come dangerously close to behaving like the Pharisees some days, we are not called “children of the Pharisees;” we are called “children of God.” But we are also called to accountability. We do not serve the God of money, we serve the God of love. Though we may make money, we mustn’t love money. We must use it resourcefully and creatively to bring redemption to our world. And if we don’t make money, we must take what gifts we have been given to offer hope to broken people.

Of course, first we must acknowledge what we have been given…

The parable before this is on the prodigal son, or rather, the loving father. God, the father in the parable, gives the son all he has and of course the son runs away with it to live how he pleases. He doesn’t acknowledge the gifts he has been given. When he realizes how foolish and abusive he has been of his father’s love, he runs home repentant and sad. But the father is good and forgives him and offers him his very best again. So must we acknowledge what God has given us, all the good things he has provided for us. We must not take our gifts and our blessings and use them for our own good. Rather we must stand up, and living in God’s kingdom, we must use these provisions to provide for others.

If that’s what I am called to do – okay. If I am called to subversively manage to help others while using the gifts I have been given by God – okay. If I am called to go against my American culture of materialism and greed, for the sake of equality and opportunity – okay. If I am called to stop the abuse of God’s creation and start taking care of the beautiful earth God’s given to humanity – okay. If I am called to use my gifts of teaching and singing and art to communicate the hope I’ve found in God – okay. If I am called to take my seminary education and use it to disciple others – okay. If I am called to claim my identity as a follower of Christ even when the media paints Christianity in an evil hue – okay. Okay. Okay. Okay.

I’m ready to stand up for what is right. I’m ready to use the unique gifts God’s given me. I’m ready to be called shrewd and cunning and smart. But innocent too. A child of the light, working diligently even after hours, even in the dark to bring about the kingdom of God.

I choose to serve God.

Amen.

Rev. Ann Catherine Pittman
Bereseth
September 26, 2007

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Happy Birthday Mom!

60 years ago today my mother was born. 30 years ago today my mother found out she was pregnant. I'm sure nothing can compare to that birthday greeting, but from that baby growing in your womb thirty years ago, here's hoping this day and this year is your best year yet. I love you.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jena 6

Maybe you pay more attention to the news than me, but I just learned about a case of segregation-era oppression happening today in Jena, Louisiana. It literally makes me sick at my stomach. So, I signed onto Color Of Change's campaign for justice in Jena, and want to invite you to do the same. The story as circulated by the NAACP and Snope's version of the story with updates is at Snopes.com Here's the version I heard...

Last fall in Jena, the day after two Black high school students sat beneath the "white tree" on their campus, nooses were hung from the tree. When the superintendent dismissed the nooses as a "prank," more Black students sat under the tree in protest. The District Attorney then came to the school accompanied by the town's police and demanded that the students end their protest, telling them, "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy... I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen."

A series of white-on-black incidents of violence followed, and the DA did nothing. But when a white student was beaten up in a schoolyard fight, the DA responded by charging six black students with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

It's a story that reads like one from the Jim Crow era, when judges, lawyers and all-white juries used the justice system to keep blacks in "their place." But it's happening today. The families of these young men are fighting back, but the story has gotten minimal press.

The noose-hanging incident and the DA's visit to the school set the stage for everything that followed. Racial tension escalated over the next couple of months, and on November 30, the main academic building of Jena High School was burned down in an unsolved fire. Later the same weekend, a black student was beaten up by white students at a party. The next day, black students at a convenience store were threatened by a young white man with a shotgun. They wrestled the gun from him and ran away. While no charges were filed against the white man, the students were later arrested for the theft of the gun.

That Monday at school, a white student, who had been a vocal supporter of the students who hung the nooses, taunted the black student who was beaten up at the off-campus party and allegedly called several black students "nigger." After lunch, he was knocked down, punched and kicked by black students. He was taken to the hospital, but was released and was well enough to go to a social event that evening.

Six Black Jena High students, Robert Bailey (17), Theo Shaw (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Mychal Bell (16) and an unidentified minor, were expelled from school, arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder. The first trial ended last month, and Mychal Bell, who has been in prison since December, was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery (both felonies) by an all-white jury in a trial where his public defender called no witnesses. During his trial, Mychal's parents were ordered not to speak to the media and the court prohibited protests from taking place near the courtroom or where the judge could see them.

The Jena Six are lucky to have parents and loved ones who are fighting tooth and nail to free them. They have been threatened but they are standing strong. We know that if the families have to go it alone, their sons will be a long time coming home. But if we act now, we can make a difference.

You can make a difference by demanding that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco get involved to make sure that justice is served for EVERYONE by going to color of change

Racism is alive in America. White people, wake up! This is your battle too. An injustice done to an African American or a Caucasian is an injustice to ALL of us, no matter what our race. Humanity is humanity and we all deserve a shot at living a life where at the very least, in the courtroom, justice prevails and the punishment fits the crime. Life will not always be fair but we shouldn't expect our communities to function with nooses hanging from trees, schools being burned, youth being ignored or threatened by adults, and students being beaten. Do your part to end racism where you live. Speak the truth, stand up for those whose voice is not well heard, and live as though we were all created in the image of God. Because all we, God's children, were...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

ACL 2007

I was quite excited about ACL 2007 having had a love-hate relationship with the past two years of my Austin City Limits experience. Suffice it to say, my first year I was there (briefly) with my mother when we watched my beloved Death Cab for Cutie (whom she kept calling Deadly Taxi) and not only was it 107 degrees and a dust bowl (i know you all remember), but after remarking at the strong smell of weed, my mother spoke loudly enough for everyone within a tweny foot radius to hear, "I wonder if they're parents know they're smoking pot!?" At which point I pulled my pink cowgirl hat down over my face and we left.

This year I think I actually got high off of second hand smoke at the Stephen Marley concert.

But I guess that's to be expected. He's a Marley. The cloud of pot smoke was thick above the crowd. I left half-way through to go get something to eat.

However, that smoke was not as thick as the black mushroom that dominated the north east corner of the park on Friday. I was watching Pete Yorn play and noticed a lot of fans around me looking away from the stage. Weirdo's, I thought. But when I noticed the whole band on stage all looking the same direction as they sang, I became supicious. Was Elvis behind me? Some other famous icon? No.

I turned around to discover that a trailor and truck had blown up and a huge fire with black smoke was shooting up through the trees. Awesome. They stopped the concert briefly for announcements but everyone remained calm. Pete Yorn motioned prayer hands toward the cloud and the concert continued. On a mostly unrelated note, Pete Yorn wins for hottest arms. Not gonna lie.


Later that night we experienced fire number two when a speaker began shooting flames right as Bjork was "ending" her set. An encore was planned, so they merely waited for the security guy to spray a fire extenguisher on it before coming back on for the encore. Bjork of course needed no fire to spice up her show because she was PHENOMINAL. Definately suitable for my expectations. The stage had banners that I think were Kabhala symbols. Her brass ensemble from Iceland were in colorful garments that glowed when the black lights were on. Bjork herself was clothed in a large gold shimmery frock. Her music is so beautiful and creative, it was hard not to love it. Although I wasn't so convinced as i STOOD for 5.5 hours at the front of the AT&T stage before her concert. Shoot me now. But it turned out to be completely worth it once her show started.

What wasn't worth it was waiting for Regina Spektor. I hate to say it, but it's true. Regina was fabulous and definately wins the award for most awed by ACL and appreciative of the fans. But Angie and I busted our butts to get up close and i refused to empty my baseball sized bladder only to discover that although we were only two people away from the gate holding back the crowd, when Regina sat down, we couldn't see her behind the piano. it was disappointing, to say the very least. So I spent the rest of the concert with my neck craned to the east trying to see the jumbotron tv screen and block out the terribly loud hispanic women behind me singing along with EVERY WORD. But Regina's smile made everything all right. She was so adorable in her humility towards the crowd and getting to play ACL. She's rad.

Damien Rice also knocked our socks off. Granted, I LOVE him anyway, but in the middle of his set, his electric guitarist sat down on a bongo box (sorry, i don't know the real name for it) and began playing that in addition to the snare and high hat that were in front of him. He and the drummer began a drum solo/duet that even shut up the annoying college kids standing around chatting and waiting for Muse. At one point, I had to actually tell a drunk college kid to please stop talking to me because i was trying to watch the absolutely amazing show. Unbelievable. (The concert and the chit chat).

Winner of best crowd of fans has to go to Indigo Girls. Definately the most chill, the most fun, the least pushy, the best to dance to... just really fantastic. And even though they weren't the "headliners" the audience went so nuts when they were through, they came back on (to their own surprise) and played an encore. So genuine and still such fabulous musicians.

Also still going strong was Blonde Redhead. Their electronics were fantastic and I especially loved when she looped her voice and then sang over it. Very, very cool.

Spoon definatley wins LAMEST concert of them all with no verbal reference to Austin (even though they're from here), only one thank you, and a generally bored disposition. DeVotchKa was a surprisingly delightful concert and from the tuba to the accordian it was generally fantastic. Ben Kweller was fine (no coke-induced nose bleed this year) although I couldn't get over how YOUNG he looked. Holy cow. I would have guessed 15 if I'd have met him on the street. But then when a close-up of his hands reveiled a wedding band, I assumed I was wrong. But the man has NO FACIAL HAIR. He looks like a really talented little kid who writes great music. Joss Stone has a beautiful voice and great back-up singers, but was a thumbs down for me because her songs all sounded the same lyrically and musically.



ANN'S OVERVIEW:
Best Arms Playing the Guitar: Pete Yorn
Cutest Band Members: DeVotchaKa (lead singer and drummer!)
Best Show: Bjork
Best Drum Solo: Damien Rice
Best One Person Band: Regina Spektor (at one point she was drumming with one hand on a wooden chair, banging her foot on something on the stage and playing piano with the other hand)
Best Audience: Indigo Girls
Most Fun (overall concert): Indigo Girls
Most Exciting: Bjork
Most Adorable and Terribly Talented: Regina Spektor
Most Disappointing Performance: Spoon
Most Disappointing Choice of Crowd Placement On My Part: Damien Rice or Regina Spektor
Most Inspiring: Indigo Girls
Band With the Most Songs That Got Stuck In My Head: Blonde Redhead
Band I Will Most Likely Beg to Let Me Sing Back-up For: Damien Rice (he sang all the girl parts in falsetto)
Performer Who May Have Driven Me to Quit My Day Job: Regina Spektor.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Vehicular Violations

I felt a little violated when I woke up this morning. It wasn't because I remembered that six years ago terrorists hijacked at least four planes and attempted to kill innocent people, destroy american morale and shock our government. It was because something was wrong with my front yard.

As I unlocked my car after having slept through my alarm and awakened late for work, I realized that my roommate's bike lock that she uses to lock up her two bikes was in my driveway and not wrapped around the bikes... and was it...? it was... snipped, clean through.

We were robbed.

I surveyed the area: my roommate had owned two bikes. There were still two bikes at the house (three counting mine). One i found in the backyard, the one with the flat tire that busted last month. It was leaning against the house next to my piece of crap bike which is locked in only by the giant weeds entangling it. The other bike was laying on the ground in the side yard where her two bikes had been locked to a pole.

I was confused, so i called her at work. No answer, but she promptly texted back. Ah the beauty of communicating undercover. "If you're calling about my bike, it was stolen. Will you put the blue one in the back yard for me?" "Um, sure." But why are there still two bikes at my house?

Later I came to realize that not only did someone steal my roommate's $350 bike, her bike headlights, bike basket and helmet, but he left his own bike in my front yard as a trade-in! Apparently, after spotting Melissa's bikes, taking both of them for a test drive and then choosing the bike with the non-flat tire, he decided hers was better than his and he swapped bikes! And of course took all of her accessories.

Ridiculous.

So now, inside my house in my roommate's room are her busted tire bike (cause she doesn't want to risk it being stolen too) and the thief's bike. Very strange.

Very strange to have lost something and yet be left with something of the person's who took it. A constant reminder of your loss.

I suppose she will take the bike to Good Will after the police look at it, but still, the thief's bike is in her bedroom. The perpetrator's possession is in the victim's possession.

I'm having trouble processing that.

911

Love your enemies. It's a hard lesson on days like today.

Six years later we're still feeling empty, hopeful, angry and confused.

Six years later, we're still learning how to forgive.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Reflections on Luke 14:7-24

Yesterday as I sat in church, a giant of a man, mentally handicapped, sat behind me breathing so loudly, if I closed my eyes, it was easy to picture myself in a hospial with a respitory machine at my left shoulder... or maybe Darth Vader.

As Roger began preaching from the lectionary text, I heard a small voice coming from within the congregation. I looked at the woman sitting next to me and we smiled at each other, both recognizing and confirming the sound. It was a little girl, situated among the adults, so content with her placement that she was humming. Though I couldn't find her, I pictured her looking down at whatever picture she was drawing, or puzzle she was working, humming. Happily humming to herself.

The text was on the banqueting table, and never taking your place of honor, but remaining humble to be put in your place only by the host. Similarly, it was on who we invite to the feast, leaving the door open enough to not offer the easy invitations to our friends, the prestigious, the ones who make us look good, or the ones who are easy to be around. It is about being humble enough, comfortable enough with who we are, to acknowledge the least of these, those who really need to be at the banqueting table.

Roger said, if this doesn't make your stomach turn, you're either made it to true humility or you aren't processing what I've said. Invite the least.

I was sitting by Darth Vader and the humming child and I understood what he meant. And as I pictured in my mind the most difficult people it would be for me to invite to honor in my house, to shower a great feast upon, to spend time with, and as I lamented the thought, I was also struck by the beauty of where I was in that moment. I was a actually sitting by some people's least of these, and it was a beautiful picture of community.

I could tell that some people around the giant man whose breathing could be heard for pews and pews looked around with irritation. But others shook his hand and asked how his week had been. Some rolled their eyes at the little girl who never stopped humming, while others giggled and shrugged their shoulders. This was community. One another infringing on each other, overlapping the circles of our lives to join together before God.

The least of these and the greatest of these, all humbled before the cross, before communion, before the confirmation we receive as children of God. All ready to partake of the feast.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Ann is...

On facebook, the world's best networker, one's "status" is displayed as such, "Ann is..." and then you may fill in the blank. I like this feature, and moving beyond the "Ann is at home" or "Ann is at work," it's a fun way to communicate what you're thinking, doing, experiencing, etc.

So I thought I'd give the blogworld a taste. Ann is...

...relieved people only have to get tetnus shots once every ten years cause Ann can't even raise her left arm right now.

...thankful for Joe and Benjamin who chopped down a cherry tree in her front yard today. George Washington must've had a hell of a time doing it by himself.

...officially starting her new job as Minister to Young Adults and of Creative Discipleship today even though today is her day off. Startin' off strong!

...missing her sisters and wishing she could see them sooner than later.

...laying in bed with her computer and her cat after an exhausting day of watching boys labor in her yard for the mere price of an El Chilito lunch.