Monday, September 25, 2017

Improv Jonah

Yesterday at our interactive service, we approached the story of Jonah from 3 perspectives: Jonah's, God's, and the Ninevites'. I was in the Ninevite group--this is us, having moved away from the refreshment table which we used to signify our sinful patterns.   Here we are in our sackcloth and mourning faces, hoping to change God's mind and avoid destruction:

The Jonah group told the story of Jonah from Jonah's perspective.  I particularly liked the high school student who played the shrub who sheltered Jonah and then died.

The God group pondered Jonah and his approach to life in much the way a parent of an adolescent child would wonder why the teenager was making the life choices that the teenager did.

I liked this approach to the story of Jonah--it helps us wrestle with the ancient texts in a very different way.  I began the session rather grumpy--we had had a morning of trying to clean up after a roof leak, and as we were doing that, a huge chunk of a tree fell on the car and motorcycle in the driveway.  I was not in the mood for a vengeful God whose mind can be changed or a prophet who doesn't want to be bothered to do his job.

An interval of improv snapped me right out of my mood.  We had a good morning at church across all of the services, as we pondered the modern message of Jonah for our fractured time.  Why is it so hard for us to participate in God's vision of a redeemed world?  Why are we so likely to sit in a snit when the "wrong" people are saved?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Prayer to Go with Today's Gospel

Matthew 20: 1-16

Leader: God, you have promised to provide what we need.
Congregation: We are afraid that there will not be enough.

Leader: God, you invite us all to the vineyard.
Congregation: We are afraid others will get our share.

Leader: God, we often see you as the plantation boss.
Congregation: Let us see you as the one who hosts the party.

Leader: God, you know we often see our work as drudgery.
Congregation: Remind us every day that life with you is a festival.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Post-Irma Update

We finally got power restored on Thursday--we had to have an electrician come out to do some repair work to the conduit/tubing/riser that had come apart.  On Tuesday, the FPL woman told me that we didn't have to do that, that the crew would fix whatever damage they found.  On Wednesday, the crew said no.  I called several electricians--thank God for Facebook and my various communities there who could make recommendations. 

I feel fortunate to have found an electrician who could come the next day, instead of in October.  I feel fortunate to have power and even more fortunate not to have to do battle with Comcast.

During the rain yesterday, the first rain since Irma, we discovered a leak in the laundry room.  I'm trying not to feel overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do list.

I hope that this week will see a restoration to some sense of normalcy, even with all the repairs we need to make.  I hope to be back to blogging more regularly this week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rusty Survivalist

Wednesday, day 10, no power, with the website saying it will be restored by 11:45 tonight. Let me keep my perspective by reminding myself that 2 weeks ago, my spouse and I took a walk and talked about the very real possibility of a category 4 hurricane coming over our house in a more direct hit and what that would mean for our house and posessions left behind (a total loss, we assumed, 2 weeks ago).  Today, 2 weeks later, we don't have power, but we have a house.

Let me remember the very surreal feeling of walking through the house and thinking about evacuation by car or by plane--what would we grab?  Our various documents, our laptops, and some clothes, if by plane.  If by car, a few extras here and there.

As we packed the car on Friday, Sept. 8, I thought about the space that was left, and whether or not to leave things behind to face what we thought would be certain storm surge losses.  Should I do a quick sort of CDs to ascertain what I'd truly miss?  Perhaps pack a few books?

In the end, I left it all, for the most part.  I meant to bring my box of chapbooks, but I didn't.  We almost forgot the fireproof safe that has all of our important documents.  It's become very clear to me that my survivalist skills have gotten rusty.  In this week with no power, I've discovered that I didn't have the stash of batteries I thought I did, and we don't have an alarm clock that works with no electricity.  Until 5 days ago, we had forgotten that one of our radios will work with AA batteries.

Let me not focus on the fact that my house is the only one on the block with no power still.  Let me focus on the survivalist skill that I've kept sharp:  a variety of communities.  Let me sing the praises of people who have invited us over for a meal and who have shared their batteries.  Lots of people have offered their generators or their guest rooms, but we don't need them, because of our very kind neighbor who hauled his revamped 1968 camper with AC down to our driveway--we've had a cool place to sleep.

We are rich in friends.  We are lucky to have a safe neighborhood, where I can sit on the porch at all hours of the day or night to read.  I am happy that I still have my supply books to read--I've been revisiting them.  A collection of books:  I may not have as many batteries as I need, but a supply of books is as important to me.

And we will have power soon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 24, 2017:

First Reading: Jonah 3:10--4:11

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 16:2-15

Psalm: Psalm 145:1-8

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

Second Reading: Philippians 1:21-30

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

I've often thought that these parables that use work metaphors are less useful to those of us toiling in the 21st century--and I've wondered how the contemporaries of Jesus would hear this parable.

Outrage is the classic response to the idea that the workers who toiled all day getting the same wages as those who show up one hour before quitting time. We howl, "But that's not fair."

Some preachers will use this Gospel as an excuse to preach on the classic idea that life isn't fair. Maybe they'll remind us that we're fortunate that life isn't fair (how often do we pray for justice, when what we really long for is mercy?) or maybe they'll give us a real soul-sapper of a sermon about the grinding nature of life. Or maybe congregations will hear about the idea of grace being extended to us all, no matter how long it takes us to acknowledge it.

But the poet in me immediately searches for a new way to frame this parable. What if, instead of toiling in the vineyard, we're invited to a party? Those of us who come early get to drink more wine, eat more goodies, and engage in more hours of intense conversation. We get to spend more quality time with our host. Those who come later will still get to drink wine, eat goodies, converse, and have quality time. The wine won't have soured, the goodies won't have molded, the conversation won't have dwindled, the host won't be tired and wishing that everyone would just go home. The party will still be intensely wonderful. But those who come late won't have as much time to enjoy it.

God does call us to toil in the vineyard. But toil is the wrong word, or at least, in our world, it has negative connotations that can't be easily overcome.

Don't think of it as the kind of work you had to do in that soul-deadening job with that boss who delighted in tormenting you. It's not that kind of work. It's also not the kind of work where it's OK to just show up and keep the seat warm, wondering when it will be time to return home, to the place you'd rather be (which would be Heaven, in this metaphor, I suppose).

Instead, God's work is like that enriching job, the one where you were challenged, but not overwhelmed. God's work engages you on every level and you look up at the end of the work day, amazed at how time has passed and how involved you have become. At the end of God's work day, you're amazed at all you've been able to accomplish.

God calls us to partnership in an amazing creative endeavour. We're called to transform the world, to help reclaim the world for God's vision. In Surprised by Hope, Bishop N. T. Wright reminds us, "But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15;58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff" (208).

The ways that we can do this Kingdom work are varied, from helping the poor, to enjoying a good meal, to writing a poem, to consoling a friend, to playing with your dog, to painting . . . the list is as long as there are humans in the world. Wright assures us that "God gloriously honors all kinds of ways of announcing the good news" (226).

Do the kind of creating that involves you on many levels, that makes you lose your sense of time, that leaves you unmoored in your wonder at the beauty of creation. That's the work that God calls us to do.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Haves and Have Nots

Today is the day that my good spirits start to flag.  It was fun, the first day or two without power.  We had had a few sunless days, after all, and then it was breezy, as one might expect in a hurricane.  Most people lost power, so we were all camping in our houses.  We went ahead and ate all the food that had been in the freezer.  We chatted with neighbors with whom we rarely speak.  We had leisurely evenings with nothing to distract us.

The sound of generators wasn't as maddening as in past storms--likewise for generators.

Now that some people have power, and we don't, I confess to feeling a bit more dejected.  We are lucky--we should have power by Sunday, FPL tells us.  We have activities planned at our friends' houses.  I am so grateful to have friends who say, "Come over for dinner" and/or  "Stay in our guest room."

Still, it's wearing.

And it's a valuable insight into the way that parts of the world live all the time.  I know that plenty of people in the U.S. can't afford to run the AC, even if they have power and AC.  I know that those same people often live in neighborhoods where it's not safe to open the windows.  I know that although the developing world may have access to electricity more than they did in the past, that the electrical supply isn't reliable.

I know that plenty of people would love to live in my little cottage in the back of the property, even though we haven't cleaned it up from the flooding.  I know that plenty of people would envy me my ability to cook on propane.  I have water that's clean enough to bathe in and drink--much of the world does not.

This week, I have had a glimmer of how it feels to be a Have Not in a world of Haves.  But it's only a glimmer.  I'm only a tourist in this land.  I'll be returning to my home country of the Haves very soon--but I hope to help more people migrate to this land, having been reminded of how tough it is to live on the Have Not side.

Friday, September 15, 2017

When God Doesn't Change the Path of the Hurricane

I told myself I wouldn't get sucked into these kinds of conversations on Facebook.  I had been so good at not engaging.  But then I saw this post from a family member (the fact that it's a family member may make this engagement better or worse, I'm not sure):

"So...there was a massive unprecedented hurricane barreling down on Florida. We all saw the radar and space images. The country went into a panic and many began asking for prayer and millions were praying that God would ease the storm. The storm followed the predicted path but did not cause even remotely the amount of damage or loss of life that was expected. Now there's an outcry that either the media was lying or the scientists were wrong. Why is no one considering the possibility that God answered some prayers and intervened, thwarting the devastating effects of the storm?

I let it go at first.  If I responded, would I really change any minds?  But in the end, I wrote this:

"Have you seen reports from Key West? The fact that no one has seen pictures makes me worry that it may be truly awful. And Naples is in bad shape. The problem with this theology: did those people pray less well? Why did God thwart devastating effects for me and not for all the island nations? I feel certain that it's NOT because I pray better or are [sic] more deserving."

The FB poster said this: 

"It wasn't a matter of praying better. If Irma had taken the path they said at a Cat 5 then there would have been massive deaths. We don't know with the Keys yet but at this point it seems that most of the deaths in Florida were avoidable. They were either from human mistake (the fall and genator deaths) or human incompatence (the nursing home)"

I wrote this:

"Read that last sentence of your post again--you do seem to be suggesting that God answered the prayers of those praying for Florida after God decided not to answer the prayers of those who prayed for all of those islands to our south. It's crummy theology in so many ways."

Another FB friend responded:

"The main message that I saw in this post was why aren't we giving God the credit for his help with this storm. True, there are so many who were tragically impacted (my daughter is in St Maarten and is living that tragedy now). However, I do believe that God did answer prayers and that it could have been so much worse if He hadn't. My heart goes out to those who were not as fortunate as we were here but I do believe that God should get all the glory for all blessings."

Again, the theology and the logic bothered me, and so I posted:

"I wish that God had answered my prayer to have the storm curve out to sea and not impact any of us at all. I just don't see prayer as working that way--which doesn't stop me from praying, as you can see. I don't blame God, either. I believe that God is there with us in every storm, but not to change the course of the storm. Otherwise, the theology is just unsustainable--why some prayers answered and not others? I don't think that God intervenes in the laws of the physical world that God created in a certain way."

And then minutes clicked by, and my inner voice accused me of a bit of hypocrisy.  It's not hypocrisy, so much, as believing two opposing viewpoints at once.  I posted this:

"But of course, I'll pray regardless. I'm sure that God hears our prayers and that having God by my side is better than not praying. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a very tiny human with a much smaller vision than God's--I could be wrong, and I'm not seeing the long view that God sees. I also think that if God intervenes, it's only when we ask. So, yes, I hedge my bets and pray and pray and pray, especially when the news looks grim."

I am fairly sure we haven't changed any of our minds.  I still don't know how they would explain the many things that prayer hasn't changed--can we rejoice when prayer goes our way, and live with the difficulty of coping when prayer doesn't.

The Facebook exchange above shows how I have wrestled with the issue--and I expect to wrestle with it my whole life.  I would like God to make the changes that I can't pull off by myself.  I would like to control God--and everyone and everything else in my life.

I just don't know that I can buy into that theology that if I pray hard enough, it will all turn out OK.  It often doesn't.  What do we say then?