Tuesday, August 22, 2017

All of God's Glory, not just Eclipses

I spent much of yesterday afternoon with my neck craned, looking up at the sky, struck with wonder at the glory of the eclipse.

I saw many Facebook posts that talked about how the eclipse made people feel awe and wonder in many shades.  Some of those people talked about the experience in terms of God.  The stranger posts seemed to suggest that God did something special yesterday to create an eclipse.

I don't even respond to those posts.  If all the scientists at NASA can't help people understand the way the solar system works, I don't stand a shot either.

At one point, I looked away from the eclipse and saw the very green leaves of a tree and beyond them, the very blue sky.  It was a good reminder that every day we're surrounded by the glories of God's creation--but so often, we forget to stop and look.

Let us use this eclipse as a reminder to stop several times a day and appreciate the wonders that are all around us.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Rare Celestial Show for the Continental U.S.

We have our eclipse glasses--we are ready!

I have handed out moon pies and fliers of information to students.  We have eclipse glasses and liability waivers ready to go.

Will this solar eclipse make us take notice of all the wonders of creation?  I suspect it depends on where we are and what the weather lets us see.

I for one intend to say, "Great show, God!"

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Blessing the Educational Forces

Today my church will be blessing backpacks, blessing school children, and blessing all of us who work in some capacity for a school or an educational setting.  It's interesting to me to realize that most of us who are still in the workforce in my church are working in either an educational setting or a medical setting.

Most of the women in the church who have school age children are working as public school teachers.  One father has just undergone the training to work in the public schools after working in a municipal arena.  I think that fact tells us something about both our church and our workplaces.  Most workplaces aren't very friendly to the needs of families.  But at least if a parent is working for the public schools, the holidays and days off will be the same--that's no small deal, if the alternative is working in a job where one only gets 2 weeks of leave.

On the other hand, I got into college teaching by accident.  I was working my way through grad school with a teaching assistantship--and I LOVED my first class that I taught.  They were enthusiastic and hard working and happy to be in class, and I assumed that every college class would be that way.  Happily, often, they have been.  And the work feels important.

Similarly, I got into full-time administration by accident.  I'd done some part-time oversight of adjuncts, in addition to teaching.  When a position came open in 2007, I was the one who applied who had the most experience.  And I've found that I have some administration skills that many people just don't have:  I can work on multiple projects at once, I'm efficient, and I'm also creative when it comes to solving problems in new ways.

I will not be at church this morning, however.  My sister and nephew are in town, and we don't go to church when they're visiting.  I wish I could get a long distance blessing.  But in some ways, there's no substitute for the laying on of physical hands, the anointing with oil.

I know that my church will be praying for us all--and that will be enough.  And I, in turn, will pray for everyone who returns to schools this week, and those of us who never left our posts.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Meaning of Statues

Do all of our Confederate statues insult our modern sensibilities?

Picture taken by Paula Feldman: SC Statehouse statue saluting the women of the Confederacy

If we will be known by our statues, what do our statues say?

A statue made out of a fallen tree tells the story of our humanity:  all we love will ultimately be lost.

Can a statue made of marble bring us comfort?

Does a statue made of recycled scraps tell us something about our ultimate destiny?

Can a statue call us to something bigger than ourselves?

We continue to make our tributes.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Confederate Statues and Modern Times: Through the Lens of Gender

All this talk of Confederate statues has put me in mind of the only one I really like:

 In March, in honor of International Women's Day, one of my favorite grad school professors posted this picture with this Facebook post:  ""To the Women of the Confederacy' erected 1909-11 on the SC statehouse grounds. "They were steadfast and unafraid," proclaims the pedestal. This century old monument to female strength was inspired, in part, by Jim Crow era myth-making."

I wrote:  "Even though I knew its troubled history, and I knew all the ways that the idea of Southern womanhood had been used to oppress all sorts of people, I still found it a comfort--I would walk to the State House grounds and remind myself that any grad school tribulations I might have had did not compare to life during war time."

Then I remembered a poem that I wrote long ago that was published in an online journal Clapboard House, which is sadly no longer online.  Of course, I still have a copy of the poem:


The statue, a tribute to Confederate
Womanhood, keeps her bronze eyes fixed
on the statehouse, while her metal
children clutch her skirts. Inside,
women throng into the chambers, this once male
bastion of legislative power.
The current law states a husband
cannot be charged with the rape of his wife;
a wife is property, to do with as a man pleases.
Females of all ages bear witness, testify
to the violated sanctity of home and hearth.
Only one senator remains unswayed
by their pleas for a twentieth century view.
He doesn’t approve of racial integration either.

I also wrote it as a sonnet:


Inflamed by laws we deem unfair,
we approach the leaders of our state.
In this chamber, men stop to stare,
and ask if women deserve their fate.

The current law has stated
a husband cannot be charged with rape.
This issue engenders hatred
on both sides of the political tape.

Females of all ages testify
to the harm of violation.
Only one senator remains mystified.
He still does not approve of integration.

The law is changed and we rejoice.
We tell our daughters of the power of the human voice.

And yes, it's based on a true incident. Until 1989 or so, it was legal in South Carolina for a man to rape his wife. I was part of a campaign to change that law. I remember heading over to the State House after my graduate school classes at USC (an easy walk) and watching the proceedings. I didn't testify, since I had no horrifying stories, but I like to think that the fact that so many women jammed the meeting halls led to the change in that law.

And yes, some of the legislators really did look puzzled and/or annoyed that so many women were there, back in the days of very few women legislators anywhere. 

I like to think we've made progress, but when I look at pictures of state houses and federal buildings, I still see a lot of old, white, male faces.  But there are female faces and minority faces and younger faces.  We are making progress--it's just taking longer than my grad school self would have believed.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Children's Community Peace Garden

In these times of hatred spewed out of mouths both expected and unlikely, let me focus on something that might bring peace and gentleness.

This morning, I found this Facebook post on my pastor's page:

"We've been talking for a while now at Trinity about replacing the prayer labyrinth that was destroyed a handful of Holy Weeks ago by vandals (meaning that they crushed to shards some 800 re-purposed red clay barrel roof tiles. )
But what if...what if the focus was a Children's Community Peace Garden ? One that included (likely in stages) mostly interactive things like a prayer labyrinth, a garden peace Bell to ring, a place to make a mandala out of sand and colored stones, prayer flags to hang, a peace path with peace quotes along the way, a butterfly garden, and more. A place where pre schools and other schools and family's could come and learn about and reflect upon and practice forms of peace either on their own or on special days with more activities organized by our congregation and others?"

I love this idea.  We are letting a preschool put a playground on part of our grounds, so this vision dovetails nicely.

In these difficult times, let us remember that we can be peacemakers.  Let us remember all the ways that we can be peacemakers.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 20, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Genesis 45:1-15

Psalm: Psalm 67

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 133

Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Gospel: Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

I don't like this picture of Jesus that today's Gospel represents. He treats the Canaanite woman rudely, with a complete lack of compassion. What do we make of this vision of Christ?

Part of the answer may depend on your view of Jesus/God. Do you see God as completely formed? Do you see God as never making mistakes?  We see Jesus change his mind in today's reading.  It's an interesting idea of the Divine.

I like the idea of God who allows us to disagree--and a God that sometimes agrees that we are right in our disagreement. I like the idea of a God that is being shaped and changed by creation, just as we are being shaped and changed by creation--and by God.

I know it's not as comforting as what many of us were taught in Sunday School. I know we'd rather believe in an absolute God, a God who has all the answers. We don't want to believe in a God who gets tired. We don't want to believe in a God who doesn't have absolute control. We want a God who can point and make magical changes, even though everything we've experienced about the world doesn't suggest that God does that act very often, if at all.

In today's Gospel, we see a tired, irritable Jesus. It's a terrifying idea (I'd prefer a God of infinite patience), but it's the best support to show that God did indeed become human.

The Canaanite woman is much more Godlike than Jesus in this Gospel. Here's a woman who is desperate to help her child. When Jesus rebukes her, she stands up to him and argues her case. And she persuades him. She demands justice, and because she stands her ground, she wins.

She has much to teach us. We are called to emulate her. When we see injustice, we must cry out to God and demand that creation be put right. Many theologians would tell you that if you want God to be active in this free will world that God has created, that you better start making some demands. God can't be involved unless we demand it (for a further discussion of this concept, see the excellent books of Walter Wink). If God just intervened in the world, that would violate the principle of free will which God instilled in creation. But if we invite God to action, then God has grounds to act.

I would argue that some of the most sweeping social changes of the twentieth century were grounded in this principle of crying out to the wider world and to God to demand that justice be done. Think of Gandhi's India, the repressiveness of the Jim Crow era in the USA, the South African situation decried by Archbishop Tutu, the civil wars in Central America, the Soviet occupied Eastern Europe: these situations horrified the larger world and the movements to rectify them were rooted in the Christian tradition. True, there were often external pressures applied, economic embargoes and the like, but each situation prompted prayer movements throughout the world.

We are in a similar time--perhaps humanity is always in a similar time.  The world is full of injustice that should make us cry out, especially since much of the injustice will not easily be fixed by any one of us.  Cry out to God about the plight of refugees, the racism that has such deep roots, the economy which keeps so many so desperate, the warming of the planet, and the list could go on and on.

 Let the Canaanite woman be your guide towards right behavior. Let the actions of Jesus remind you that even if you're snappy and irritable, you can change course and direct yourself towards grace and compassion. Let your faith give you hope for a creation restored to God's original vision of a just and peaceful Kingdom.