Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I am in Atlanta and I am tired.

This past week - actually the past five days (not counting today) have been some of the hardest days of my 10,848 days of existence. (don't ask me what compelled me to attempt the math on that). That's one reason for the lack of blogging. Even my ever-faithful grandma has almost given up checking.

Although it is not appropriate to share details of these five days on the internet, suffice it to say I have a very hard job. It's right up there with social workers and psychologists and probably acrobats.

But I'm alive. I'm breathing. I have hope. And not everyone is that lucky.

So I'm counting my blessings and helping others count theirs. And helping them to count their sorrows. Because lamentation is a key element to spiritual health and also healing.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we thought of home so far away.
On the branches of the willow trees we hung our harps, and hid our hearts from the enemy.
And the men that surrounded us made demands that we clap our hands and sing.
Please don't make us sing this song.
It used to be happy when we were free and home.
If I can't remember, may I never sing a song again.

And so, if you think your life is hard, call me and I will tell you about the lives of my friends. And I will tell you about the stellar staff that I work with, and the amazing church that i call community. This will remind you that you are not alone... or make you feel bad for complaining.

The church of Christ in every age, beset by change, but Spirit led,
must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

a poem

neglect. neglect. neglect.

I know, know, know.

But I'm too tired to go.

So milk the cows yourself today.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Tag

As one of the two people who I guess read his blog, I've been tagged by Blogging Yosarian.

1. One book that changed your life:

Genesis by God, the Yahwists, the Elohists and probably a few other people...

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:

The Bible - I know, I'm just like that. It's so long though! And it'd keep you occupied for days. Months even!

4. Two books that made you laugh:

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

5. One book that made you cry:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

6. One book that you wish had been written:

The one in my head...

7. One book that you wish had never been written:

Any book by Ann Coulter :(

8. Two books you’re currently reading:

Watermelon by Marian Keyes - the children's minister at my church handed it to me and said, "this is what I imagine your family is like..." awesome.

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - I don't actually own it. I started reading it in a Barnes & Noble on the Plaza and now need to finish it!

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama - I'm quite curious about him and Hilary.

10. Now tag five (or so) people:

Lynnette Davidson
Sam Davidson
Sarah Pitre
Michelle Gold
Frank Drew

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany Sermon

The first Christmas present I received this year arrived in the mail late November. I opened the brown box with my name embossed in black permanent marker to find a crèche inside. “My first nativity,” I squealed, “and it’s Olive wood.”

I called my mother before I had even finished unwrapping the scene and sure enough, she had purchased it from her pastor who excavates in Israel every year and always brings home extra gifts. “Thank you,” I told her. “I love it.”

There was the stable with a star shooting over the top of it. There was a palm tree and a cow, a Mary, a Joseph and a removable Jesus in a manger. There were two shepherds complete with removable crooks, two sheep and two wise men.

Two wise men.

“I’m missing a magi!” I cried in dismay.

“Come on Ann,” my roommate said. “You know we don’t know how many there actually were anyway.”

“Of course I know that,” I retorted. “But I want three. This is my first crèche and I want the traditional three magi. I want them to stand just a bit further off than the shepherds since they arrived late and I want three of them.”

I mean, who puts only two magi at the manger scene?

It’s not even aesthetically pleasing.

Of course I set up my crèche on top of my grandma’s old record player anyway and resolved not to tell my mother she bought a nativity scene missing a wise man. I didn’t want her to feel bad. It did come all the way from Israel. ☺

The magi however came from the East – in the original story. They followed a star, so we call them astronomers and they brought at least three notable gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh, so we call them rich.

Truth be told, they probably were astronomers, or better put, astrologers, since they attributed meaning to what they observed in the sky. Everyone in the Middle East did. So if Herod hadn’t been so paranoid about the baby king, he would have been troubled by the appearance of the star alone. The text says all of Jerusalem was. Stars and comets and galaxies meant something tangible to the people back then and moving celestial bodies certainly drew everyone to attention.

The magi probably were Gentiles too, foreigners from Persia-Babylonia although in tradition we like to designate the three men as from Africa, Asia and Europe. This is our efficient way of assuring that we communicate that the magi were definitely foreigners. But these Gentiles speak of a desire to see the King of the Judeans. This was not terribly out of the ordinary. Everyone in ancient Mesopotamia was waiting for a messiah, or in the case of the Essenes, messiahs. And when these foreigners saw the star over Judea, the set out to find what special event accompanied it; they set out to find the king.

These magi were not, as they are now commonly called in Christmas carols, kings, but curious men who bowed before the Jesus-child and chose to call him king. Though they weren’t kings, they knew well enough to bring gifts fit for a king and despite his humble beginning; they bowed before the young child in worship.

And while I may insist on three magi next to my manger, there may have been as many as five or 15 persons who took that long trip to Jerusalem, and brought the king of the Jews the three treasured gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The however many men or women pooled their riches into their treasure chest and began to head west.

For as little as we know about them from these 13 verses in this one gospel, we do know enough to recognize them. Like several of the people listed in Jesus’ genealogy, the magi were foreigners who knew enough of Israel’s God to know to worship the little king. They looked to nature to teach them about the world and as Paul points out in Romans, the natural world is a valid reminder of our amazing God. They headed off on an adventure, not sure of their destination, but sure they had to go nonetheless. In an attempt to locate themselves alongside the Jewish scripture and religion, they stopped at the local palace and received a private consultation with a paranoid ruler. And they are the men, and perhaps the women, who pooled their resources to offer God the very best. We don’t know much, but we know enough to recognize them.

I’ve encountered the wise men in my life before – have you?

The wealthy people who have everything they can get their hands on but who still search the sky for something they can’t put their finger on. The lost people, the outsiders, the foreigners asking directions of the ones who hold the power, the prestige, the privilege... the map. The optimistic people who insist on giving the very best just based on a hunch that it is only in giving that they will receive. The people who start out unsure of their destination, but with a destiny they surely have to keep. The people who look to the natural and find the scriptural. The magi are all around us and in us and they describe us.

Some of us may be the startled shepherds, the ones off in left field, caught off guard in the middle of the night, but most of us are the magi – in a slow process of discovering Christ. Some of us get the lightening bolt encounter with Christ complete with angels singing and bright lights (the conversion story every youth group longs to hear), but most of us pack up our observations about the world and our questions about God, and head out on a journey to find out if what they say about Christ really is true.

The magi make sense. And yet, they make no sense at all.

I mean, who does that? Who abandons their homeland to go in search of a king of another region – and not just to find him, but to offer him gifts and worship? Speaking of worship, who worships a child, adorned not in purple majesty, but Osh Kosh overalls? Who packs a bag full of presents fit for a king, but doesn’t know who that king is yet?

The story, for all its familiarity, seems a little far-fetched.

But then, much of Matthew has so far.

This gospel writer starts his story with a genealogy that includes royalty. Now, I admit, this part is a little exciting. How many people can say they’re actually related to a king? I mean, the closest I get is that I’m a MacBeth, but that just means the women in my family are prone to killing their husbands. ☺ But Jesus’ genealogy goes beyond royalty into the depths of poverty and deprivation. His lineage includes a prostitute, explicitly noted in the text, not for her vocational infamy, but for her heroism. It includes a story of incest, also not swept under the rug below the family tree, but forthrightly stated with the daughter-in-law-turn-mother, Tamar, named and honored alongside her father-in-law/husband Judah and their twin children. This rather infamous lineage seems a little far-fetched considering it births God incarnate. Certainly God should come from royalty, but a long line of royalty and upstanding citizens. Senators maybe and preachers. Only the best of the best. ☺

And certainly God shouldn’t have been born in a cave. He shouldn’t have been born to a young girl made comfortable on old hay with hungry animals bellowing and stomping nearby. He should have been born to a princess with midwives and cool cloths and oil all around. He shouldn’t have been placed in a feeding trough but in a bassinette, golden with satin pillows and soft toys. The idea of God being born in a cave seems a little far-fetched Matthew, come on.

And shepherds being the first ones to make it to honor the birth – that doesn’t seem quite right either. Might as well have been the tattoo artists, or the café waitresses or the cattle farmers who scurried in that night smelling of their craft and trade. It should have been notable people, foreign dignitaries who came to visit God become man. Thank God the magi showed up. At least they had money to offer adequate gifts and their clothes were surely suitable; indeed the text says they bowed before the king of the Jews. Finally, God gets what God deserves.

Except that these magi, for all their expensive gifts and long travels, were not considered the most trustworthy crew. Astrologers, sages and magi were considered shifty back then - sinister sorcerers. Anyone skilled in the magic of pagan religions ought to be kept at arms length. And they were foreigners. They worshipped other gods, looked to idols for inspiration and probably even ate ham on the holidays. They were foreigners, outsiders, unclean.

And they got lost. They began to doubt the star’s ability to guide them and so they stopped in Jerusalem to consult yet another idolatrous man, King Herod. And what did that get them besides a lesson in Old Testament scripture… nothing! The text says the star eventually led them to Joseph and Mary’s dwelling! But King Herod, King Herod as we learned last week, ordered a slaughtering of the innocents after his encounter with the magi who never returned. Kill every child under two years of age!

And so those magi, the ones who actually seemed to know how to honor the birth of a king, those sorcerers, those foreigners, were the instigators, albeit innocent, but the ones who frightened the king enough to wreak havoc on an innocent town. Truly, they’re the reason pain and anguish accosted the Bethlehem community. It was their questions that ushered in a genocide, albeit unknowingly, to be associated with, spoken of in the same sentence as the birth of God.

They may have trusted greatly and brought gifts and bowed before the little king, but at what cost?

This whole story is ridiculous. Fit for Stephen King or Flannery O’Conner, not Jesus Christ, Savior of the World. What kind of a story is this where the baby King’s own people don’t know enough to worship him, so a bunch of Gentile magic men have to come in to make things right? What kind of a story starts off in cattle stall, provokes the murder of innocent children and ends up eventually with the hero dying the victim of capitol punishment?

Our story. God’s story. That’s how God’s story goes.

And ours joins right alongside it. Here we sit at Epiphany. After Advent and Christmas comes Epiphany: the celebration of the foreigners who knew enough to bow before God. Epiphany: the celebration of the beginning of Christ’s life, baptism and ministry. Epiphany: The magi came to see Jesus, and over the years, the people just kept coming – people like you and me.

Epiphany wraps up this twisted Christmas story with what will mark Christ’s career – all people being brought to God – all people: foreigners, idolators, the rich and the poor, people with names, people unworthy of being named – all come before Christ and receive the blessing of being called a child of God.

And we all get to begin again.

Epiphany. The magi. The baptism. The new birth. The new year. The closing of one chapter and the construction of a new.

As we pack up Christmas and put away presents and decorations and the only-two-magi nativity scene, may we remember the wise men, the foreigners who knew only enough to take the journey, and follow their dreams, follow the stars, and follow the stories home to God.

May this first Sunday of this new year initiate a journey for all of us to move closer to Christ in every aspect of our lives. Whether like the magi we follow nature and find scripture, or give back our gifts to the first gift-giver, or even if our journey means rejecting the Empire and choosing to go home with God – may we embrace that path without fear but with joy and worship in our hearts. He may not be where we expect him, but truly we will find the king.


Ann Pittman
First Baptist Church January 6, 2008

Thursday, January 03, 2008



The New Year. You gotta love it. Saying good-bye to anything and anyone even remotely unpleasant from your year and in a flash, in a matter of seconds, in a couple of bubbles swirling up out of your champagne, you call out five… four… three… two… and it’s over. A whole entire year will cease to exist ever again and a new one is upon us.

It happens that fast.

Some things in life happen like that. Some things occurred so quickly we forgot to breathe or so fast that we didn’t get a chance to get everything said or done and then suddenly, there’s no going back. The moment’s gone, the situation has changed, the people aren’t there any more. Good and evil happens quickly sometimes and there’s no going back to change it.

Other things happen much more slowly, like forgetting. For as fast as 2007 leaves us and 2008 ushers us in, the events or people we wish would disappear, we wish would finally dissipate like the last embers of a fire, truthfully still remain. They’re still burning and heating and giving light to what we may wish was the darkness of a closed door, and even if they don’t, the ashes still remain, diligent as we may be to sweep them under a rug.

As fast as the clock’s hand ticks over to 12am, life generally transitions much more slowly. For while events may happen in a second: “You’re fired.” “We’re pregnant!” “Happy 40th Birthday!” “She passed away,” the repercussions of those seconds may last a lifetime. And the clock keeps on ticking whether we want it to or not.

And so while in life oftentimes we get a chance to begin again, we also get the chance to put to rest what caused us to begin again in the first place.

With everything in life, there are doors opening and closing, sometimes so many and so often, we can’t keep track of where we are and often I don’t wonder if I’m in one great big revolving door.

The birth of a child is a beginning of a new life and a closure of the type of life the mother lived before. A new job means less free time. A lost job means more time for reflection. A new pet means more trips to the pet store and more trips to the Vet. A new hobby means a financial cutback elsewhere. A new boyfriend means fewer outings with old friends.

Doors open and close and slam shut and creak open and swing on their hinges to the point that sometimes I can’t tell my beginnings from my endings. What gets left behind and where do I start again?

That’s why I like holidays like New Year’s. It forces one to stop. Reflect. Not go to work, but instead to celebrate. Not to participate in the mundane of every work week, but to interrupt it with cause for reflection. Holidays force us to alter our schedules and in doing so often force us to alter our egos as we pause to examine ourselves and our lives and realize, maybe something needs to change.

Maybe I need to watch what I eat.
Maybe I watch too much TV every night.
Perhaps I should call my parents more often.
Why do I rely on other people’s spirituality to get me through life?
What if I stopped being so co-dependant, and tried taking my own initiative?

I like holidays because sometimes they afford us the opportunity to slow down the clock, examine ourselves and perhaps even, start over.

Begin again.

Beginnings. They’re scary, but refreshing; overwhelming, but exciting.


In the beginning before there was land or water or the sky or sea, God made the heavens and the earth. Then God made humanity, and it was good. In the beginning, before there was a manger or a mother or shepherds with their sheep, there was a genealogy, there was a preface, there were the people who brought us finally to the birth of a child, to a new beginning to a new goodness.

Who brought you to where you are today? Who went before you and opened doors that you could walk through them? Who walked beside you in the past, and who walks beside you now? Who in your genealogy defines who you are?

In the beginning there were shepherds and astrologers, familiar faces and foreigners who chose take their story and begin again with Christ at the center of it. In that beginning they chose to worship and they chose to go home another way. How have you reacted to encountering Christ, to hearing the story and experiencing the wonder that is a God who became a human?

In the beginning there was nature to enchant us. Kindness to humble us. Peace to center us. In the beginning as children maybe, we might have called those things God. As teenagers they might have told us that was God. As adults we have to choose to believe that is God. Over the years we might have called those experiences science, a stretch of the imagination, hormones even. But what in the beginning brought you to God? What continues to enlighten you to the grace of God now?

What happened in the beginning that needs to be remembered?
How do we need to begin again?

Maybe I should watch what I eat.
Maybe I should watch less TV.
Maybe I should call my parents more often.
Maybe I should stop relying on the spirituality of others to make me feel better.
Maybe I should stop being so co-dependant, and make up my own mind for myself.

Or maybe we should remember. Remember the beginning when God created the world and it really was good. Remember who came before us to light the way… Abraham and Isaac and Rehab and Ruth and the shepherds and the Magi and President Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi and Rosa Parks and my grandparents and my parents. All of them in their imperfect states, finding perfection only in Christ, laid the path for me to be here today.

Maybe we need to remember where we came from – that we came from God, a gift to the world. We came from the creator of the all things to participate in creation. We came to save the world, just a little bit at a time, even as God is little by little saving us.

Maybe we need to remember that life is a process – that we are always in transition. That as many doors as we would like to shut and lock, life doesn’t always work like that and metaphors will never adequately describe how life actually is. We need to remember that when life is hard, God is present and when life is amazing, God is present. And that through all the transitioning and processes and beginnings and endings one thing remains the same: God is always with us. Emmanuel. God with us. Imago Dei in us.


Ann Pittman
Beresheth January 3, 2008

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Day

I'm not ready.

I'm still processing Christmas; I'm not ready for New Year's.

There are still so many stories to tell, to laugh at again, to reflect upon. There's family history to scrutinize, presents to put away, cars to wash after the long drive home. I'm not ready for resolutions and reminiscing and black eyed peas.

I'm still in Christmas. I'm not ready to move on yet. The world is moving too fast.

Stop the World I Want to Get Off.

My father met my mother during that show. He was the only man and she played one of the many women. I wonder if they feel like that was just yesterday - if just yesterday they were at Jewell acting in plays - if just yesterday they were taking pictures of newborn Baby Ann - if just yesterday they discovered they were pregnant with Emily - if just yesterday Amy was getting accepted into Med School - if just last week was Christmas and how could it already be all over...

That's how I feel.

I'm not ready for the New Year. 2008, day one, and I'm already behind. Quite an unpleasant feeling actually - or that could be the remains of last night's champagne - something else that managed to sneak up on me. "I know it's the day of, but could I get reservations for dinner tonight?" It's daunting to feel left behind - or at least a day late. The party was yesterday. The wedding was last Saturday. Oh, they moved from this house a long time ago. It's like the rest of the world is progressing and celebrating and embracing newness and success and I'm still staring at the Christmas tree wondering when I'll find time or motivation to take it down.

Dear Santa, for New Year's I don't want something New. I just want to savor what I've Got.