Monday, May 30, 2016

Prayers and Practices for Memorial Day

I have always had an uneasy relationship with Memorial Day.  My dad served in the Air Force so we were never far away from a conversation about the sacrifices others made so that we could live in freedom.  We went to memorials and statues and cemeteries.  We often made our way to Washington D.C., where it's impossible not to be aware of the sacrifices made--so many and of so many kinds--for the sake of freedom.

As I got older, I wanted to be a pacifist, and so, Memorial Day became more difficult.  I've read my history, though, and I realize how often war, even if held as the last resort, has been necessary.

It is impossible not to realize the cost of war.  There's the money, of course, and the death of soldiers.  We may forget the other costs:  the families of military members, the injured veterans, the civilians damaged in so many ways, peace of all kinds shattered.

So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue or open up the beach house, let us pause to reflect and remember.  If we're safe right now, let us say a prayer of gratitude.  Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places--and even if they're not in dangerous places, we all still face threats, military people more than others in some places. 

Let us remember how often the world zooms into war.  Let us pray to be preserved from those horrors.

Let us pray for nations that are involved in wars.  Let us pray for a time when we can all beat our swords into ploughshares.

We could resolve to do more than pray.  We could get involved in social justice groups that actively work to bring the world to a more peaceful place.

We could resolve that we're going to do more to support our veterans.  We could donate money to groups that care for vets.  We could make care packages.  We could write cards.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war.  We pray for those who mourn.  We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten.  We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil.  God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers.  On this Memorial Day,we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mepkin Abbey in Black and White

Two months ago, I'd have been walking around the Mepkin Abbey grounds, taking pictures in black and white, wondering what differences I would see.

I didn't expect to find the tree such an interesting focus in this shot:

I expected some shots to look arty:

When taking pictures in color, I return to this kind of shot because I like the contrast of the color (in this case, green palms) against the cool marble.  It looks interesting in black and white too:

When I first started shooting in black and white, I headed to the sculptures made out of fallen trees.  Indeed, they did look compelling in black and white:

It was an interesting experiment.  I should be on the lookout for ways to keep experimenting.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Inspirational Words from Around the Internet

Facebook has many gifts:  we can stay connected, we can reconnect, and we can meet new people and places.  There are days when the amount of outrage and rage on Facebook makes me think of swearing off of all social media.

But then there are weeks like this one, where people post links to all sorts of inspirations, which lead me to various sites which make me happy to be alive and hopeful for the future.  Let me record some of the links that I've been happiest to find:

Here's a wonderful quote from Desmond Tutu:

I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, ‘Now is that political or social?’ He said, ‘I feed you.’ Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.
I love that last line.  This site gives all sorts of other inspirational quotes.

I've noticed several people finding inspiration from Richard Rohr, and this site gives a daily meditation.

Parker Palmer has been inspiring me for decades, but this blog post spoke to me in multiple ways.  It's a graduation address that he gave in 2015 at Naropa University.  It includes 6 suggestions for living a good life.  Here's a quote that spoke to me this week:  "Care about being effective, of course. But care even more about being faithful, as countless teachers do — faithful to your calling and to the true needs of those entrusted to your care. You won’t get the big jobs done in your lifetime. But if, at the end of the day, you can say, 'I was faithful,' you’ll be okay."

And then, while I was at the blog section of the On Being site, I came across these wise words of Sylvia Bernstein:  "Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day."  (for more, go here)

I had never heard of the poet David Whyte before my Mepkin Abbey retreat, and now I feel like I come across references to him every week.  This essay was just what I needed the other morning.

For example, he talks about the way that we experience time: 

"Sometimes we forget that we don't have to choose between the past or the present or the future. We can live all of these levels at once. (In fact, we don't have a choice about the matter.)
If you've got a wonderful memory of your childhood, it should live within you. If you've got a challenging relationship with a parent, that should be there as part of your identity now, both in your strengths and weaknesses. The way we anticipate the future forms our identity now. Time taken too literally can be a tyranny. We are never one thing; we are a conversation—everything we have been, everything we are now and every possibility we could be in the future."

He's got a great way of thinking about how the way we act now will impact our future:  "What could you do now for yourself or others that your future self would look back on and congratulate you for—something it could view with real thankfulness because the decision you made opened up the life for which it is now eternally grateful?"

The whole article is full of lots of interesting ideas, lots to ponder, lots to mull over.  He says things that I already knew, but in new ways--and it's good to be reminded of the essential questions!

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Songs that Shape Us

Two weeks ago, my spouse practiced his violin on the front porch.  Towards the end of the practice time, he played "Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep."  I could sing every verse, and I thought, how do I know this song?

Long ago, I had a cassette tape of a group called HARP, composed of Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie, Ronnie Gilbert, and Pete Seeger.  During my first year of grad school, that tape played regularly in my car stereo.  I wondered if I could get a copy of it on CD, since the tape has long ago gone to cassette heaven.

Not only could I get the original 8 songs, but there's a CD that has other songs from the recording session.  So I bought it.  It was a splurge, but I had an Amazon gift card from Teacher Appreciation Day.

We live in a time where it seems that everything ever made is available on the Internet, but that's not true.  I remember when I thought I would replace all my LPs with CDs, and I was surprised to realize how much of my collection was not being digitized.

Part of my purchase was impulse buy--but part of it was being surprised that the CD even existed--and wanting to own it while I still could.

This week, I've been listening to it in the car.  It's been a treat to revisit these songs--truth be told, I haven't listened to the new songs that are included, because I've been enjoying hearing this music again.  I can sing along, and I even remember the harmonizing, the background patter, the backup bits.

I've been stuck on "Pallet on the Floor"--and I'm struck by how many artists have recorded it (an impartial list is here).  And as I've been driving from place to place, belting out these lyrics, I'm thinking about how little has changed in the 30 years since I first heard this song recorded by these artists.  I'm still teaching, still writing, still dedicated to my spouse.  I'm still thinking about some of the same social justice issues:  why as a society do we shrug and say, "The poor, the homeless, the abused, the junkies, the _________ we will always have with us."

I might argue that things are worse in 30 years.  This political season has been ugly, and it's likely to get uglier.  There are more homeless and less affordable housing and fewer shelters than there were 30 years ago.  There are fewer jobs for regular people.

And yet, how much has changed.  A woman runs for the office of president, and she may win.  We've had our first president who had a black father.  My homosexual friends can marry.  We argue about who can use which bathroom, but it means we have an awareness of transgender people.  As I write this, President Obama delivering a speech at Hiroshima is being broadcast on the BBC.

I think about the songs that have given people the courage to work for this change.  I think of the songs that say, "You are not alone in these values that you hold dear."

I think of songs as a sort of prayer, with a lineage that goes back to the Psalms and back further.  We have the songs that remind us of who we are.  We have the songs that call us to a higher and better purpose.  We have the songs that mourn.  We have the songs that rage and remind us that we have become too passive, too accepting.

I am so grateful for these songs.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Spiritual Manure: The Important Questions

It's hard to believe it's been a month since I led the retreat Bible study on parables.  My mom sent me the feedback on the retreat, all the aspects of it:  fascinating to read.

The response to my Bible study was very positive; my favorite comment said that she could have continued with me as leader all week.  One comment talked about how meaningful the Sunday session was for her, which of course made me think, Sunday, Sunday, what did we do on Sunday?

Happily, I wrote a blog post that answers this question.  I remember that I planned to talk about lamps and how we're called to be light to the world.  But Saturday night, after doing some preliminary work with that parable, the pastor for the retreat said to me privately, "I hope you don't plan to talk about lamps.  That's part of my interactive sermon tomorrow."

I said, "Thanks for telling me.  We'll do something else."

I'm pleased that I can switch gears.  Is that a benefit that comes from years of teaching or have I always had that talent?  I also think that years of drama club work with improvisation have helped here too.  But again, was I drawn to improvisation because I'm already good at thinking on my feet?

I digress.

I decided to go back to that little tree that wasn't producing fruit.  We discussed for a bit, and then, we did a bit of individual writing, since we hadn't done as much of that as I had planned.  The questions I planned to ask were important, and I wanted people to write, in the hopes that they'd remember.  I set it up as freewriting, that they were to write a set amount of time (4 minutes I think), that they were to keep going without stopping, that if they ran out of things to say that they just repeat a word, that they go wherever the writing took them, without editorializing or editing.

We had talked about being the withered tree.   I asked, "What manure do you need so that you can thrive?"

We talked about the withered tree as the world.  I asked, "How can you be manure to nourish the world?"

We talked about the withered tree as God.  I asked, "How can you be manure for God?  What does God need from you right now, as you are, right now?"

People were writing so fervently, I hesitated to call time.  Then once we'd written on all three questions, we had good conversation.

I thought it was effective.  I'm glad to know that others did too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 29, 2016:

1 Kings 18:20-21[22-29] 30-39

Psalm 96 (7)

Galatians 1:1-12

Luke 7:1-10

In this week's Gospel, we get the story of the centurion of great faith.  This centurion will not be the only one that we see throughout the New Testament.  What's behind their presence?

We may have forgotten our history.  We may have forgotten that Jesus lived in an occupied territory.  There's a reason why Christ was crucified, a Roman style of execution, not a Jewish one.  Centurions were omnipresent in the culture to keep the peace, by brute force if need be.  That might be one reason why they make appearances now and then.

From a distance of 2000 years, we also may have forgotten about the earliest conversations in the Christian Church, before it really became the Christian Church, about who could be included and who should be left out.  If we go back to the Gospels, it becomes clear that Jesus did not come only for a small group of Jewish people.  The Gospels show the broadening ministry of Jesus.

It's also important to realize that in speaking highly of the centurion, Jesus is embracing an enemy.  The centurions work for Rome, which means that they often have to oppress Jews and other cultures that Rome defeated.  Yet Jesus recognizes faith when he sees it.

It's a surprise to find faith in this kind of man.  It's a lesson that we would do well to remember.  We tend to think we know how God works in the world and how humans respond.  Then, as now, we can find examples of righteousness in unexpected places.

The Gospel lesson for this week is also a story about power, the kind that the world embraces and the kind that Christ offers.

The centurion is used to having a certain amount of power, as his language makes clear.  But then, as now, human power only takes us so far.  We may be able to hire and fire people.  We may be able to issue orders that people must follow.  But all this worldly power can only take us so far, especially when we face the issues of sickness and death.

Do we have the faith of the centurion?  Are we open to faith in unexpected places?  How can we be enriched, so that we're not surprised by the centurion types who may wander through our lives?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Walk by the Woods--with a Camera

Yesterday, I took a day trip with a group from church.  We headed to the Everglades, to the Loop Road in the Big Cypress Nature Preserve.  We stopped along the way to take pictures and/or enjoy the natural world.

You might imagine a church group stopping to pray or handle snakes or something like that.  Nope.  We're Lutherans.  If we prayed, we did it silently.

It was good to be away from the city, away from the office, outside.  We were lucky that the weather was a bit overcast, and not as humid as it has been.

I found myself once again appreciative of God as creator.  What diversity!  And that's just in our little patch of the country.  When I consider the whole planet, my heart sings, and my artist self wants to pick up her markers, her fabrics, and every other creative medium.

I was also interested in seeing everyone's artistic process up close.  I know how I take pictures.  But I've never been in a group taking pictures.

Here's what I learned:

--I tend to take a few pictures and assume I'm done.  Because I was with a group, I stood staring more than I would have on my own.  I appreciated the browns and greens. 

The image above is blurry, but I like it anyway.  We got home with lots of pictures that look like Impressionist paintings.

--We didn't see much wildlife.  We were too big a group.  Plus, it was late in the season for birdwatching.  We did see more alligators in one day than I've ever seen.  Plus a group of them:

--I don't tend to let things in nature be themselves.  For example, I saw the below, and I said, "That looks like a statue.  Or an angel who has lost her wings.  Look at the red and green plants above--don't they look like wings?"

--Here's a close up of a wood knob, where I saw a face that I didn't see when I was staring at it from the creekside.  It's interesting to get home and see what I didn't realize I was seeing through the camera lens:

--On the way back, my pastor talked about his journey through camera equipment.  He mentioned some prices--yikes! And I thought my new markers were expensive.

The day turned out to be a bit longer than I expected.  We didn't get home until almost 4.  But it was worth it. I felt restored and refreshed--and looking forward to more art inspired by the trip.