Easter according to the Syrian Doctor

On this particular Easter, in a year when you’ve been hearing from the Good News from the Gospel of Luke, here’s a way you might might help bring good news.

Luke, as Maren Tirabissi reminds us, was a Syrian doctor. Earlier this year, she wrote:

Go ahead and say it out loud,
all this lectionary year, every time:
“I am reading from the gospel of
Luke who was a Syrian.”

Luke from Syria,
this Syria, the one we read about in the papers.

Not just some Luke who floated in
from somewhere, maybe a physician,
with exquisite Greek.

Not just Luke who wrote to
some Lover-of-God, Theophilus
both the gospel and Acts …

remembering Jesus prayer-life,
tracing his genealogy back to Adam,
child of God,
alternating healings and parables
about men and women,
naming his radical preference for the poor,
insisting on forgiveness –
the kind from God,
and the kind when someone throws
a party for a runaway child.

This particular Luke
whose rendition of the beatitudes
is about the poor (not so much in spirit)
the hungry for … yes, food,
and so on, like this one –

Blessed are you who mourn, O Syria,
for you will be comforted.

This morning, I heard a Syrian-American doctor speak about what’s happening in Syria. There are not enough doctors, not just for the war-wounded, but for basic things.

And I’d humbly suggest, if you want to commemorate the resurrection that Dr. Luke tells us about, a resurrection of a body meant to save us, body and soul, perhaps a donation to these Syrian Americans who are working for wholeness in their homeland, and Luke’s.

Linking the way through the week: We All Fall Short…

A few links that are about the fact that nobody’s perfect.

For the record, these ladies burned more than bras. It was actually part of a kind of awesome protest at the Miss America Pageant.

While folding laundry last week, I made my way through the PBS series Makers: Women Who Make America. You should watch it. Even if you are among the many women (and, for that matter, men) who would rather not use the term “feminist” as a descriptor. Even if you do not agree with every last bit of the feminist movement. There’s a pretty good chance that at least a few things these women did made your life better. I forget how barely-removed we are from some of these issues of history. This article brings it home: there’s a lot we take for granted.

Meanwhile, after reading about women’s happiness in different countries, I want to move to Norway. Those ladies are happiest with the balance of home labor. Not that I’m complaining: Erik (middle name Bjorn) is pretty good about this.

And now, I will say something that is probably utterly un-feminist. If your spouse doesn’t love you like Mark Kelly loves Gabrielle Giffords….wow. That man is one smitten husband. It makes me choke up every time I see evidence of it. (Gabrielle Giffords is being awarded the JFK Profile in Courage Award. She’s wonderful.)

Finally, nobody’s perfect. So let’s all cut each other a little slack in the preachers’ kids department. Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to profile preachers’ daughters in a reality series? More importantly, what on earth pastor’s family thought it would be a good idea to put their kid in an even bigger fishbowl? For a more mature and incredibly wonderful take on preachers’ kids, read my friend Jan’s piece . And note: the first list (the problems of being a preacher’s kid) are basically all the reasons this preacher’s kid was reluctant to go into ministry. The second list are all the things I worry Abram is missing out on while I’m not working in a church.

Humility: It’s Not Just for Catholics

I’ve been following the papal election with interest because I have more in common with Catholics than I don’t. In other words, Protestants and Catholics disagree with each other on a relatively small percentage of doctrinal points. It’s just that this small percentage makes the most noise. So I’m praying for them and their process. They’re my brothers and sisters. (Also, I have this little Medieval Studies major that I accidentally completed in college, and I need to feed my inner history-nerd. An event that hasn’t changed that much since the Renaissance? Yeah, that’s right up my alley.)

John Thavis’s blog has been a great way to get a feel for what’s going on. I’ve been reading it mostly to fulfill my curiosity. What do they put in the stove to make the smoke black or white? What does the set-up in the Sistine Chapel look like? What’s the latest whisper about who’s ahead in the voting? There are also gorgeous pictures.

As far as I can tell, Thavis knows his stuff, is a sound critical voice, but also really cares about the future of the Catholic Church. This morning, I came across this gem of a post about humility.

Thavis tells us that the cardinals will pass through the Sala Regia (royal room) on their way to the Sistine Chapel. Its walls are painted with pictorial reminders of the historic power of the Catholic Church among the royalty of Europe.

And he ends with this:

I wonder if we’ll ever see a Vatican hallway decorated with less-than-triumphal scenes from the modern papacy. A pope who resigns. A pope who meets with sex abuse victims. A pope who apologizes to groups the church may have offended in the past.

They could call it the “Hall of Humility.” It could be a project for the next pope.


There’s a whole lot about this conclave that reminds me how different little old Protestant me is than the Catholic Church. Just for starters, my clerical garments are pretty tame. Check out the embroidery on some of those cardinals. My fanciest stole has nothing on that!

I am hopeful that Benedict’s decision to step down speaks of humility, an understanding of the limits of human and institutional ability. I am hopeful that his decision might mark a small turning point for the Catholic Church. (I am also hopeful that he will have a gentle and quiet retirement.)

They sure could use a hall of humility, I thought.

But, then again, so could the rest of the church.

So many of us North American Protestants are used to being the establishment. A central pillar of the community; the hub of people’s lives. No, we did not have Charlemagne giving us huge tracts of land. (Though, there was a time when municipalities made their plans so that church structures had pride of place in the middle of town.)

And even churches that were not the anglo-saxon establishment congregations in their towns were often the center of their own members’ lives.

But as things change, we are not always at the center of everything anymore.

And perhaps that’s a reminder about humility for us, as well.

We’re going to have to do things a little differently.

Prayer at the Dressing of the Six Year Old

Based on a Celtic prayer to be prayed while one dresses.


Bless to her, O God,

her body and her soul;

Bless to me, O God,

my faith that other parents will not judge;

Bless to me, O God,

my speech (that I may not say, “You’re wearing THAT?!?”),

and Bless to me, O God,

the choking back of laughter.

Strength and determination of this little person,

her sense of self

and conviction of hipness,

and Thine own path, O God of lovely things,

til she goes to sleep this night.

Thine own path, O God of virtues,

until she discovers the skanky styles.

Poetry Prayer: Stay at Home Reverend Goes Modern

The Stay at Home Reverend also has a handy undergraduate degree in English. So she can get all arty with her prayers. Inspired by e. e. cummings….

i thank You God for this most amazing

day:for the high spirits of my children

and the shrill clear sound of their squeals

for every time (twice today) they say yes

(i who haven’t had enough sleep am awake today,

we laid in a new supply of diet coke; and this is the birth

day of life and caffiene: and of the great

happening illimitable glee of my kiddos)

e.e. cummings was way better at this, God rest his soul…


Linking the Way Through the Week: Family, etc. Edition

Let’s do this sometime midweek, every week, OK, folks? A few things I’ve found interesting, this week, many of them more or less related to family.

My family had one of our best family dates ever this past weekend. Not everything went as planned, but we had a wonderful time rambling around Golden Gate Park and then found this ridiculously good noodle shop. We even took the best family picture we’ve taken in ages.


I also took one of the hands-down most beautiful photos of Zora ever. Look: you can even see her freckles. And aren’t the shadow-shapes around her eyes amazing? That’s a eucalyptus flower she’s smelling. Who knew they look like that?


My big shot of truth for the week: time with family (of origin or choice) is never going to be perfect all the time. But taken in little bits, there are some amazing blessed moments.

My Mom called me last week just to say that she thought this sounds like a great book: The Secrets of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler. She heard feiler interviewed and said it was so wise not just to approach family life with another set of techniques, but to look at good practices from other areas of life, too. I pay attention when she’s excited about this sort of thing not just because she’s a good Mom, but because she’s a clinical social worker with years of experience. Though, you wouldn’t imagine she has been doing it as long as she has when you look at her. (I’ve got some good genes, huh?)

I’ve known Meika ever since we were campers together as kids. We bonded on one rather harrowing overnight camping trip. And then, we rediscovered each other when we wound up in graduate school together. She’s one of my favorite people and also smart and funny. Meika has a background in public policy and theology, and she’s got adorable girls, and she’s on a mission to make her part of the country more transportation-livable. She keeps up this wonderful blog, Traversing Tulip Lane. There’s fabulous stuff about walking and biking and public transit and polka-dot-decorated streets.

Not everyone is with me on this, but I think we should tell more birth stories. We’ve all been through it (at least on one end), right? Mihee Kim Kort wrote a beautiful birth story that’s not just the medical details, but a full-on spiritual meditation about what happened when her son’s birth didn’t go as planned. (After my experience with Abram, I admit I’m somewhat fascinated by all things VBAC.)

In an effort to get a life, I’m singing with a choir. They’re kind of awesome. I’m so tickled to death that this group will have me. Last week was sectional rehearsals. This week, I am giddy with the thought that I get to hear the whole choir, all parts, all together for the first time. Singing together is just about my favorite way to be with people.

For family matters of a different kind, whether you’re Roman Catholic or not, if you’re Christian, you should be at least somewhat interested in who’s going to be the next pope. This Fresh Air interview went beyond the basics of what’s going on in the Vatican and what happens next, without going into wild, crazy speculation. Then, of course, there’s the wild and crazy that the conclave is bringing out. Did you see this? The guy on the left is not a cardinal. He just tried to sneak in by dressing like one. The fedora is what gave him away, I guess. But that’s some extreme tourism! At least he got the picture!

I wonder if his Asics also gave him away?

And, I wrote a things for a few other websites in the last couple weeks. Here’s my take on Facebook as a place to work, from my perspective as the spouse of an employee and church-person. (I think their employee practices have something to tell us in churches and in workplaces about Gen Y and younger Gen X folks.) And here’s something I wrote for Think Christian about the example of C. Everett Koop as someone who lived out his Christian faith in different spheres of his own life.

Coming up & looking forward to: the Stay at Home Reverend gets a little modern in her prayers; my “baby” cousin comes to spend her spring break with me; Zora’s about to loose her first top tooth.

Have a great week everyone!

“Mary Speaks”


Mary’s song, the Magnificat, from Luke 1, as portrayed in the St. John’s Bible.

Music shapes our theology. Especially, often, the words that we sing. When I was a student pastor, one of my congregants told me that he’d absconded with a church hymnal. He’d kept it for years in the back of his truck, next to his toolbox. He read it during lunch breaks. He wondered if it was bad that he didn’t read the Bible on his breaks. But he knew the songs and they resonated with him, in the literal and figurative sense of the word.

I met an old friend of a song again last night, and suddenly realized that this song has helped me write countless sermons. The text is a beautiful poem, “Mary Speaks,” by Madeleine L’Engle.

O you who bear the pain of the whole earth, I bore you.
O you whose tears gave human tears their worth, I laughed with you.
You, who when your hem is touched, give power, I nourished you.
Who turn the day to night in this dark hour, light comes from you.
O you who hold the world in your embrace, I carried you.
Whose arms encircled the world with your grace, I once held you.
O you who laughed and ate and walked the shore, I played with you.
And I, who with all others, you died for, now I hold you.
May I be faithful to this final test, in this last hour I hold my child, my son;
His body close enfolded to my breast:
The holder held, the bearer borne.
Mourning to joy, darkness to morn.
Open, my arms; your work is done.

It took the Church a couple of centuries to sort through what it meant that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. I don’t view these centuries of debate as a shortcoming, or proof that Christians made stuff up: I think the nature of Christ is a really difficult concept, and understandably took generations of Christians thinking together to figure it out. The big fancy name theology folks use for this aspect of Christian thinking is “Christology” (the study of Christ).

During those centuries, one of the big items of debate about Jesus’s human nature was actually about Mary. If Jesus was fully human and fully divine, could one call Mary “the Mother of God”? (The Greek word they used was “theotokos” which means, “the God bearer.”) Or was that a little too far? Was she only “christokos,” “the Mother of Christ”?

In 431, the Church held a council at Ephesus, and decided that it was appropriate to call Mary “theotokos.” Because if Jesus was one person, who was both human and divine in nature, then Mary must be the mother of that one person. (Note to Protestants: the Church was still one big-C Church back in 431. So this is a decision about church doctrine that we Protestants are completely in agreement with, the same way that we buy into doctrines like the Trinity. In other words, you can call Mary “theotokos” and be completely orthodox in doing so. In fact, I’d say it’s a little heretical not to!)

I first heard “Mary Speaks” when I sang it in the first year women’s choir at my college. I knew the bare basics of Christology, but I didn’t learn the deep history until later in college, and then, even deeper, as a seminarian. I’ve even sat in the ruins of the place where this decision was made in Ephesus.

But, while I was learning the history and the ins and outs of the Greek terminology, L’Engle’s words were resonating in my head.

When I sang this piece in college, there was not a mother among those of us in the choir. Except for our choir director. She got it, the power of this connection between Mary and Jesus, the way that the relationship between a mother and child is the absolute primal relationship of the human experience. And she cried while we sang it.

We 18 years old cried, too. Partly because our director cried; partly because we understood something of the intensity of mother-child relationships; largely, I suspect, because the musical arrangement, by Daniel Gawthrop, is, as my choir directing friend last night pointed out, “raw and exposed.”

I was sucking back tears when I sang it last night, this time as a thirty-something mother, too.

These words have taught me that the doctrine of the humanity of Christ is not just some intricate Greek wording that I barely understand. It’s full of paradox: the one who holds the universe can be held; the one who bears the sins of the world can be borne by a human woman. It is sweet and comforting that God comes to us as a baby. It is messy and horrible that God comes to us in the form of one who can die.

Christ’s humanity means that the God in whom we live and move and have our being, the One who is the most primal source of all we are as humans, has entered into our lives as a human who has experienced the deepest intimacy and love of human relationship as well.

To quote another song, how can we keep from singing? There are no words that fully capture the gravity of this. We need music, and probably tears as well, to get the full sense of what it means.

Stay at Home Reverend: Morning Prayer from a Six Inch Sliver of the Parental Bed


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I thank you, O Heavenly Father, that you have kept me from all evil and harm this night…and done so as well for the two children and two cats (indeed, everything in my home that has life and breath, this being the reason I refuse to get a dog) who have squirmed their way into my bed this night. And I pray that you will preserve me this day, from every ill and exhaustion, as I am weary from lack of sleep, due to the theft of my pillows, and the absence of covers and the in accessibility of my spouse, from whom I am separated by the contorted sleeping posture of a large two year old. Bring us all through the day in safety, and peace, that we may sleep well tonight in our own beds, and thus refreshed, wake to serve you tomorrow, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Loosely based on the morning prayer from Luther’s Small Catechism.

Things I missed about the Midwest

(The blog has hit a slow patch because the kiddos and I are in Chicago cramming in some intensive family time…in the meanwhile…)

Things I missed about the Midwest, mostly the small stuff.

The cold, no really, because it makes you treasure the warmth in a whole different way.

Houses that are insulated and heated (I’m wearing loess clothing inside than I do at home.)

Better donuts (sorry, that’s just true).

Midwestern beers.

My family (obvious).

My writing ladies: Jenn, Katherine, and Bromleigh.

The way it smells when it rains (it’s different here…)

The sound the wind makes in leafless trees.

Encased meats (again, better).

The zen simplicity of the flat land meeting Lake Michigan.

The fact that blooming bulbs actually mean something for the seasons changing.

The drama of the weather.

Old brick buildings.

The smell of wool when you come inside from the cold.

Stay at Home Reverend: A Prayer for Safety


O God of adventure,

You called Abram and Sarai to journey to a new place;

You summoned Moses to climb the heights of Sinai to see your face;

You empowered David to face a giant;

You led Paul to go to places where he was not welcome;

and by your merciful hand, they were all preserved.

Stretch out that same hand, when my child decides he is called to scale a 6 foot retention wall after church

or to balance his rocking airplane on the couch, stand up on the seat, and do some wing walking.

Spare us from urgent care,

and inspire in him a respect for the places you actually have called him and the places you have not.

And when, someday, you do call him to the adventure of following you,

be gentle. Because I’m not sure how much more I can handle.

In the name of Jesus, who probably scared the crap out of Mary all the time,


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