Sunday, May 20, 2018

Soggy Pentecost

We've had some great, rushing winds, but they brought in waves of rain, not the Holy Spirit--more reminiscent of Noah and the ark, not a day of Pentecost.  I'm in charge at church today, so I'm a bit fretful about flooded streets, but I'll trust that it will all work out.

Many churches approach Pentecost warily or not at all.  Much like the unsettled weather we've been having in the past few years and decades, this holiday makes us unsettled.  We say we invite the power of God into our world, but are we serious?  If we look at the stories of what happens when God moves in the world, it's usually a time of upheaval, not comfort.

We often hear the stories of the early church--those believers going out in small groups, often pairs, taking very little with them, trusting in God and the communities they will find.  If we resist the idea of Pentecost, perhaps it's because we don't want this outcome for ourselves.  I think of Paul in prison, but I don't always remember the rescue.  I focus on the part that scares me.

This year, at the Create in Me retreat, our Bible study leader Kevin Strickland had us look at the end of the book of John.  He pointed out that the disciples have gone back to doing what they were doing before Jesus came to town:  fishing.  And they're unsuccessful.  Jesus tells them to move the nets to the other side of the boat.  They don't have to move to a new lake.  They just have to do what they're already doing, but a bit differently.

If this was the Pentecost story, if we didn't have the book of Acts, would more of us invite God into our daily lives?  Most churches focus on the stories of young men, Jesus and the disciples, all men in their 30's, men who forsake their families and throw away all their responsibilities to go follow Jesus.  Simon Peter has a mother-in-law; we know of her existence when Jesus heals her.  What happened to his family while he traipsed around with Jesus?

Pentecost stories are similar:  lives overturned which is great for the history of the church, but perhaps not so great for the individuals involved.  What if we had stories that told us that our dreams for ourselves can mesh with God's greatest dreams for humanity?

That story might comfort those of us who still have visions, but what if we feel hollowed out?  What if we've forgotten how to dream?

Pentecost reassures us with the mystical promise of the Spirit. We do not have to know what we are doing; we just need to be open to the movement of the Spirit. Pentecost promises daring visions; we don’t have to know how we’re going to accomplish them. God will take care of that.

God became incarnate to prepare humans to carry on the work of Kingdom creation. And Pentecost reminds us of our job description, to let the Holy Spirit blow into our hollowed out spaces and to fill us with the fire to dream and the resources to bring our visions to life.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Doors of Create in Me

The Create in Me retreat feels so far away today.
The tide of regular life has rushed back in to swamp my little boat. Let me post some pictures of doors that I took during the retreat. 
Let me remember that doors that might appear locked may well swing open if I knock.
When I first saw the workshop offering fairy doors, like the one in the picture above and below, I wondered why we'd want to do that.
After seeing some of the doors, I regretted not making one of my own.
But I can still take joy in these pictures.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Poetry Friday: When Jesus Comes to Your High School

Being around high school students this week took me back to one of my Jesus in the world poems, my series that attempts to answer that old Sunday School question of how the world would react if Jesus returned again and what would Jesus do and how would we recognize him?

I wrote this poem after reading a biography of Kurt Cobain, of Nirvana fame.  Hard to believe how long it's been since Cobain died, so long since that music which seemed to split the world open.  I remember a few details from that book, chief amongst them that Cobain often played a guitar that was out of tune, a guitar that didn't have enough strings.  Did he not know how to tune the guitar?  Did the missing string habit come from his poverty days and he'd gotten used to playing the guitar that way?  The book didn't have the answer.

I've been on a streak with these kinds of poems--but I do worry that they all cover the same territory after awhile.  It's good to revisit them to see that my poem about Jesus getting a dog is very different from this one.

Chiron Review published it years ago.  I think it still holds up.

New KidIf Jesus came to your high school,
he'd be that boy with the untuned guitar,
which most days was missing a string.
Could he not afford a packet of guitar strings?
Did he not know how to tune the thing?
Hadn't he heard of an electronic tuner?
Jesus would smile that half smile and keep playing,
but offer no answers.

If Jesus came to your high school,
he'd hang out with the strange and demented.
He'd sneak smokes with the drug addled.
He'd join Chorus, where the otherworldly
quality of his voice wouldn’t quite blend.
He'd play flute in Band.
He'd spend his lunch hour in the library, reading and reshelving.

You would hear his songs echoing
in your head, down the hallways, across the years.
They'd shimmer at you and just when you thought you grasped
their meaning, your analytical processes would collapse.
Instead, you write strange poems
to delight your children who draw mystical
pictures to illustrate your poems inspired
by Jesus, who sang the songs of angels,
that year he came to your high school.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Inspirations from a High School Awards Ceremony

Yesterday was book-ended by awards ceremonies.  We recognized scholarship winners at the Davie-Cooper City Chamber of Commerce at their breakfast meeting, and then, in the evening, we went to Cooper City High School to recognize the winners in that high school's awards night.

I finished our part of the awards ceremony last night by saying, "These students give us hope for the future, and we look forward to seeing what they do with their potential."  As I drove home, listening to the 80's music of my own high school days, I thought about how true it is.

We saw applications from students who have all sorts of plans, many of which involve helping others:  working with special needs children, designing better prosthetics, that sort of thing.  I was also impressed by how many of them have already been working for the good of their communities.

I realize that most of them will not transform the nation.  If we're lucky, they'll continue to work to transform their individual communities.  If we're lucky, we'll get to be part of communities that are being transformed.  If we're extra-lucky, the nation and the world will be full of these communities, full of people, working hard to make their communities better in a variety of ways.

In this time of graduations and bright hope that students evoke in us, let us remember that it's not up to youth alone to do this transformative work.  It's a time when many of us may be feeling despair about political events on the national and international stage, but it's urgent that we not let that despair paralyze us.

In every action, we move our various communities more towards good or more towards evil.  That's true even of actions we might think of as mundane, like how we treat our colleagues, how much we donate to charity, what we choose to eat.  I think of my Fitbit that shows me how my little actions are moving me closer to my health goals or further away.  Let's also think of our daily lives in the same way:  are we moving ourselves and our communities closer to good or closer to evil?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 20, 2018, Pentecost:

First Reading: Acts 2:1-21

First Reading (Alt.): Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 104:25-35, 37 (Psalm 104:24-34, 35b NRSV)

Second Reading: Romans 8:22-27

Second Reading (Alt.): Acts 2:1-21

Gospel: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the event that sets into motion the events that will form the church as we know it. In mainline churches, Pentecost often gets overlooked. It doesn't have the gift giving potential of other holidays; it doesn't have any special candies or foods (although I see lots of potential here--flame shaped chocolates, anyone?). But I think the real reason that Pentecost has gotten the short shrift is that the events of Pentecost make many of us nervous.

Speaking in languages we don't ourselves understand? Evangelizing to strangers? No wonder we don't spend much time contemplating the meanings of Pentecost for modern life.

But maybe we should. Many North Americans are members of a church that is in clear crisis. Some of these crises explode on the national stage.  Almost every expression of mainstream Protestant churches has come close to schism over a variety of issues in the last 10 years, and the Catholic church still have a variety of problems that loom over it.

And even if we put the schism-causing issues aside, it's hard to deny that many congregations are institutions in trouble. We face declining membership, declining donations. It's unclear how long many individual churches can keep limping along.

We celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, but we often fail to mention that this birthing, with all its pain and messiness, is an ongoing process.  We tend to look back at the early days of the Church with idealistic vision, but if we carefully reread the letters of Paul, we see that those churches had just as many problems as our current churches.  We tend to see ourselves as deficient, but we don't have the longer view.

If we let the Holy Spirit loose in our home churches, what might happen? If we trusted in the transforming power of God, what changes might we see, both in our individual lives and in the lives of our church bodies?

On this festival day, revel in the promise of renewal that God offers.  Be alert for new visions and different directions.  Trust that desiccated ruins--whether that be our lives, our Church, our neighborhoods, our planet--can be reinvigorated.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Conflicted Homelands

Yesterday morning, I didn't have much time to pay attention to various news sites--and so I was surprised when I opened the NPR site in the early afternoon and saw a picture of black, billowing smoke.  I thought the volcano in Hawaii had exploded again or in a different way.  I was surprised to see that I was seeing footage of protestors reacting to the U.S. embassy moving to Jerusalem--and I was further surprised to see the death count.

There are many people out there who are much more educated on the topic of Israel who will weigh in.  I am one of the ones who is perpetually confused by it all.  First I agree with the Palestinians, then I agree with the Israeli government.  I am one who feels perpetually adrift in the world, a girl with no home town who dreads the question "Where are you from?"  Part of me doesn't understand the pull of place, while part of me yearns for it.  Part of me doesn't understand why we can't just divide the city of Jerusalem and give everyone a place.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat gave a Facebook link to this article, which says, "In the real world, west Jerusalem is the capital of Israel; east Jerusalem is a city in waiting. Jerusalem the holy city is in exile."  The rest of the article unpacks these ideas in ways I hadn't considered (but full confession, I haven't spent much time lately considering these issues).

One of the ways that the past 15 months of the Trump administration have left me feeling so whipsawed is that questions/issues I thought were settled have been so easily dismantled.  I might have felt this way during the first year of the Reagan administration, but I was much younger then; I suspect I just assumed that politics was always this way.

As I saw pictures from yesterday's protest, I thought, we have been here before.  And what makes this time in our collective history difficult is that we've been here many times before, which makes it hard to predict where we're headed.  I am thinking of this book review of Jon Meacham's The Soul of America, which argues that "Trump is normal in that he embodies recurring maladies of American public life; perhaps the main anomaly is that he brings so many of them together. Such historical awareness can comfort, especially if you believe, as Meacham does, that every generation considers itself under siege and that, with the right leadership, Americans usually find a way forward rather than back."

Of course, the fact that so many of us have very different views of what constitutes the way forward is not exactly comforting either.

I don't know what the day will bring, except that it will both surprise me and make me wonder why I am surprised.  Let me say a quick prayer for Jerusalem and all of our conflicted homelands.  Let me pray for peace--may it come quickly.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Memorial Stones in the Butterfly Garden

Most churches have a variety of ministries.  Some require lots of human effort:  a soup kitchen or a food pantry, for example.  In my younger years, I'd have said that those ministries that helped people in distress were most important.  But in my later years, I've come to appreciate those ministries that are every bit as necessary, even if they're not the ones that non-believers think of, when they think of the usefulness of church.

Over the past decade, our church's front grassy area has slowly but surely been transformed into a butterfly garden.  Along the way, it's also become an area for memorial stones.

When my mother-in-law died in 2005, we were members of a different church.  We knew that she wanted to be cremated, but she hadn't specified what to do with her ashes.  She had talked about having a space in a garden in a Memphis funeral home where people could come visit, but that was prohibitively expensive.

Through the years, my spouse has felt that it was increasingly important for her to have a stone in our church's butterfly garden.  And yesterday, on Mother's Day, the stone was blessed and laid in the garden.  It's near the door that my spouse uses when he arrives for church or choir practice.

I know that many people share the sentiment of my spouse:  everyone deserves a stone to say that they were here and important.  I'm glad that our church can offer a beautiful space for those stones.