Thursday, January 17, 2019

Poetry Thursday: "When I Run Away to Theology School"

It's the time of year when some school programs start; I'm thinking specifically of some programs that train people to be spiritual directors--in fact, I've thought about these programs on and off for a long time. 

A few years ago at Mepkin Abbey, one of my friends said, "You've been talking about being a spiritual director for a long time.  Maybe you should look into that more deeply."

I thought about starting this year, but this year is the year of an accreditation visit, so I couldn't be sure that I could get to the schools I'm considering for the 2 weeks required onsite.  However, I've been increasingly aware of a determination to start in 2020.  I am not getting any younger, and while I'm not sure how I'll use the credential, I'm sure that I'll enjoy the process of getting it.

And it's much cheaper than seminary.  But let me confess that I'm not ruling out seminary.

These January thoughts have made me return to a poem that I wrote.  It was recently published in TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics.  If you want to hear me read it, go here.

When I Run Away to Theology School

When I run away to theology school,
I shall think no more of mortgages and insurance rates.
Sea level rise will recede to the backwaters
of my consciousness. I will eat
whatever is served to me, and I will fall
asleep at a regular hour.

When I run away to theology school,
I will turn off the news. I will submerge
myself in books from an earlier age.
I will abandon the controversies
of our current time to lose myself
in arcane arguments of past heresies.

When I run away to theology school,
I will pray more regularly. I will spend
more time in the chapel. I will write liturgies
and construct worship spaces to match.

When I run away to theology school,
I will finally structure my life in a way
that makes sense. I will strip
my life to its barest essentials.
All will be revealed
when I run away to theology school.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 20, 2019:

First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

Psalm: Psalm 36:5-10

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Gospel: John 2:1-11

Today's Gospel presents the first miracle of Jesus, the turning of water into wine at a wedding. No doubt that some preachers across the country will take this opportunity to talk about weddings and the sanctity of marriage; they'll see the participation of Jesus as his sanction of this institution. Perhaps others will talk about miracles, while others talk about the proper way to treat one's mother.

I'm less interested in the marriage issue than in the miracle issue. In this Gospel, Jesus resists his mother's urging to help out with the wine. Why does he do that? Does he have a splashier miracle in mind as his announcement that he's arrived? Is it the typical rebellion of the child against the parent?

And then, why does Jesus change his mind?

You might make the argument that Jesus shouldn't care about whether or not the wedding guests had wine. You might argue it's a trivial miracle. But scholars would remind us that to run out of wine at a wedding would be a serious breach of hospitality. The whole extended family would suffer great embarrassment and shame—and there might be rippling effects through a community with strict codes that modern readers can scarcely imagine.

At a Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge, Bishop Gordy, head of the Southeast Synod of the ELCA, led a fascinating study of this text. He sees the this first miracle as showing us that Jesus was not so focused on his own agenda that he couldn’t act on the need for compassion for this couple who is about to experience great humiliation.

Bishop Gordy also pointed us to the abundance in this miracle. Just like the loaves and fishes miracle, Jesus provides more than humans can use—not just enough for the given situation. The wine doesn’t run out. Indeed, they have wine left at the end of the wedding feast.

And it’s good wine. God doesn’t just give out leftovers and lesser quality. We’re the ones who operate out of a scarcity consciousness. The miracles of Jesus, particularly in John’s Gospel, remind us that not only will there be enough, there will be great abundance.

What does Jesus need for this miracle? Water and jars. What could be simpler? Gail O’Day notes that the jars were used for purification. The old forms aren’t destroyed, just filled with newness and new purpose.

We often hesitate to ask God for what we truly need and want. We’re afraid of rejection. We’re afraid that the task is too hard. The miracle stories remind us that God can use the materials at hand to give us more abundance than we can use.

Perhaps this could be the year that we rid ourselves of our scarcity thinking. We worship a God of abundance and great giving. Rejoice in this good news.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Martin Luther King's Actual Birthday

Today is Dr. Martin Luther King's true birthday; Monday is the day when many of us get a holiday. We will likely hear many people declare that this week-end should be one of service.

As a Lutheran and a social justice person, these declarations make me grumpy. Every week should be devoted to social justice, and that's one of my spiritual goals, to make sure I do some work of social justice and/or charity each week.

Of course, I realize that the rest of the nation could stand to be reminded periodically of the necessity of service and social justice work. It's a dark time, in many ways, and I find the words of King still inspiring, still consoling, still hopeful: "Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life's restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men."

Those words are from King's address when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964; it holds up remarkably well, as do so many of King's writings.

Years ago on the NPR program Talk of the Nation, Tavis Smiley and Cornell West discussed King's legacy. They talked about the fact that when King died, he was not the beloved person he is today. Smiley said, "King's life was really about three things: justice for all, service to others and a love that liberates people. Justice for all, service to others and a love that liberates. Sometimes, when you have that as your agenda, you're not popular. You're not understood." The whole interview is well worth a listen or a read (go here).

Just think how profoundly our society would change if more of us devoted our lives to these three things: justice for everybody, service to others and love that liberates. There's a worthy goal to keep in mind, not just this week-end, but every week-end.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Currents of Baptism

Just over a year ago, my pastor asked me to do something with the sanctuary to transition from Christmas to the Baptism of Jesus.  I wasn't sure I could pull it off.  A few years ago I had an idea for making a small prayer chapel out of a larger room, and it never quite came together.  I still feel a twinge every time someone asked me about interior decorating kinds of creative projects.

But I said yes last year, and I started collecting a variety of cloths and ribbons that would suggest rivers and water.  We have a great space under the altar, and I used it in this way:

I also used the ledge on the back wall as a focal point.

I loved the way the sanctuary looked at the end.  Perhaps that's what gave me courage to keep transforming the sanctuary throughout the liturgical year.

As we move into this liturgical year, I'd like to avoid just doing what we've already done.  Yesterday when I arrived at church, my pastor had already started decorating.  I asked if I could add the ribbons, and he said yes:

We both agreed that it gave the blue cloth some suggestion of currents.  I had brought some ocean elements from home.  I like this one best:

I had a different idea for the jar of shells and coral, but alas, I couldn't get the gold ribbon to stand up straight to support the descending dove I'd created.  I didn't get a close up, but the jar is on the left side of this picture:

It's fun to create these elements.  I think it helps us worship when the space changes and gives us something new to consider.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ancient Spanish Monastery in the Subtropics

There's an ancient Spanish monastery in Miami, and the story of how it came to be here is amazing--for more, see their website.  I've been wanting to go see it for years, but the days when I could go, they have been closed.

Yesterday the stars aligned, and my spouse and I made it over.  It was a strange mix of people:  the devout, the tourist/curious types, and lots of folks taking photo shoots:

I loved this juxtaposition of a bride and suit of armor.

I'm astonished at how we're allowed to touch just about everything.  Perhaps they figure that the subtropical climate is much more of a threat to the centuries old structures than the oil of our fingers.

There were "crystal" chandeliers hanging in the trees; are they there all the time or just for the wedding that would take place?

The tour was worth it--just the right amount of time and information.

This nativity scene is apparently popular:  #4 on some worldwide list.

This room, the chapter room, has the best acoustics--in the original monastery, monks would gather to hear the abbot read to them.  My spouse went back after the tour and sang Dona Nobis Pacem, and it was the high point of our time there.

This labyrinth is one of the smaller ones I've seen.  Could we create something like it in our back yard?

It was the perfect kind of outing, something outside of what we usually experience, much more interactive than a movie, with physical activity and mental stimulation.  What a great way to spend part of our Saturday!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Monasteries, Abandoned and Otherwise

I so enjoyed our time on the porch on Thursday night that we had dinner on the porch again last night.  I wanted to capture the monastic chapel kind of vibe we've created.

Yes, I am aware of the irony of trying to capture a monastic vibe as we ate hamburgers.

I had the kind of administrator day that exhausts me:  doing the last prep work of getting ready for a site visit by accreditors.  It's not the big visit; it's scheduled for 2 hours on Monday, and then the same person will be doing a site visit for the Ft. Lauderdale campus (there's an advantage to having the same executive director for each).  Still, a site visit requires assembling many files and moving them to the conference room.  But we are ready!

I emerged blinking into the late afternoon sunset after a day of squinting at folders and getting small cuts from file tabs.  My back ached in a strange way; after all, I hadn't spent the day slumping in my desk chair, but had been going back and forth from office to copy machine.

It was a relief to sit on the porch and watch the light change.  The family across the street was having a birthday party for the toddler, and guests arrived.  It felt strange to feel excluded from a party I didn't want to attend.

Eventually, we moved inside.  We were oddly chilly, so we decided to have a fire in the fireplace that we only use once or twice a year.  That cheered me up.

When I drove home, I expected to crash into sleep before 7, but I'm happy to report that I stayed awake until 9.

I explored the camera to try to get it back to a setting that allows me to take pictures more quickly.  I succeeded!  Before I took a picture and the picture froze on the picture for what felt like 10 minutes.  Now I can click, click, click.

Here's an interesting effect, and I have no idea which setting allowed it:

Today we may go to a real monastery.  I've been wanting to go to the Ancient Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach, and they seem to be open; in the past, when we've thought of going, they were closed for a special event.

Friday, January 11, 2019

First Thoughts on Lenten Jouraling Journey

I have been thinking about offering a journaling class for my congregation for Lent.  Here are some of my initial thoughts:

I'd use some elements of the journaling class that I just took:

--each participant would get 4 of the good markers in 4 different colors, which we could (theoretically) blend to make other colors--I must confess, I wasn't good at blending marker colors, but others were. I'd also buy us some cheaper black markers in 2 different fineness grades, felt tip, not ball point or gel.

--I'd have people buy their own sketchbooks or paper--and of course, we have plenty in the arts and crafts closet. I know that people are particular about paper.

--We'd meet at 6:30 on Wednesdays to sketch and/or journal together. Each week, I'd prepare a different kind of journaling experience (one week with an art prompt, one week a collage prompt, one week maybe a poem to sketch, maybe some guided imagining/imaging--there's all kinds of stuff!), but of course, people would be free to do their own thing. People could share their work or not. I chose 6:30 so that people could participate for a bit and still go to choir.

--Would we want food as part of the Wed. night meeting? I'm fairly sure that I could not make that happen week after week all by myself. We could brownbag or potluck or a different person bring a crockpot of soup each week.

--How long should the meeting last? I'm thinking 6:30 to 8:00, but 6:30 to 7:30 could be good, with the option to stay longer if people wanted.

--We'd start on Ash Wed, but just to hand out materials, and then to go to Ash Wed. service at 7:00. We'd finish on the Wed. of Holy Week. I'm out of town on March 27, but I could prepare materials in advance.

--I'm thinking of having a different poem and a different meditation each week, plus a Bible passage. I'd hand the ones for the coming week out at the end of the Wednesday time together. Maybe I'd also send a short prompt/reminder/suggestion every 2-3 days by way of e-mail (or paper mail for those who don't have e-mail).

--I've also thought of an online option for those who can't attend on Wed. I've become a bit concerned about Facebook in terms of the ethics of the company, and I have artist friends who refuse to use FB when it comes to sharing creative work--FB isn't proactive enough to prevent stealing and doesn't step in forcefully when work is stolen. I've never had that happen, but it does concern me.

I've thought of a shared blog site open only to members of the Lenten Journaling Journey. That way if people couldn't attend, they could post work, see the work of others who are willing to share, and I'd post a write up of our time together each week.

It's also fine with me if we don't explore online options.

--Would participants prefer a consistent theme (for example, my online journaling class that I did in the Fall revolved around doors and thresholds)? Or would people be more interested in a variety that would go where the Spirit moved us each week?

I'm interested to see how this develops--stay tuned!