Saturday, August 31, 2013

Installing Our Bishop

It seems like a very long time ago that we elected a new bishop to lead our Synod.

In some ways, it has been a long time.  We gathered in early May, and here it is, almost September.  In the meantime, our national assembly has elected a woman as the head of the whole ELCA.   Yes, a female bishop.

We had several female candidates for bishop for the Florida-Bahamas Synod back in May, but in the end, we elected a man.  Happily, I liked him very much.  Happily, I felt the same way about all the candidates:  they all seemed quite capable and quite inspired.  I came away still not sure of specific plans, but I also think that one can't determine specific plans until one is actually in the job.

So today, almost 4 months later, we install our new bishop.  We've all been invited, but I won't be going, even though I'm mildly interested.  It will be at least a 6 hour drive to get to the church where the installation is happening.  That's a lot of gas money, not to mention the time it will take, and the resulting exhaustion.

No, I will stay put right here.  I will pray for our new Bishop.  I will sort through my cloth for our quilting table at our September 8 work day at the church to celebrate 25 years of being the ELCA.  I will try to be mindful throughout the day as I look for other ways to serve.

I will pray for our new Synod bishop, and I will pray for our ELCA bishop.  I will pray for the Church, both the ELCA and all Christians.  I'm an ecumenical gal, so I will also be praying for my brothers and sisters who worship the Divine in different ways.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Poetry Friday: "Somewhere Between Side Dish and Dessert"

It's been awhile since I offered a poem here.  Since I've just had one published in Big Muddy, let me post it today.

It's part of the series that I began long ago, before I knew I was starting a series, poems that try to answer the question a childhood Sunday School teacher asked, "What would it be like if Jesus came back today?"

The poem also perhaps tells more than I want to acknowledge about modern miracles.  Do I yearn for an end to world hunger or just my own hunger?  If Jesus came back, would I want him to put the world to rights or just my closets/storage space?

Or is it just a poem about the nature of love?

You decide. 

Somewhere Between Side Dish and Dessert

Jesus came by to cook dinner.
He knew I didn't have time to get to the grocery
store. He knew I'd been living
on fast food, and he took pity on me.

Jesus knows that we want to taste
joy, and Jesus knows our secret desires.
Jesus fried up succulent chicken, meat
falling from the bones. He mashed
potatoes with cream and butter
and carefully separated grit from the greens.
He made that sweet potato casserole
that lives somewhere between side dish and dessert.

To end, we ate a cobbler
made of peaches, luscious though out of season,
topped with drifts of vanilla ice cream.

I fell asleep, fully sated
for once. When I awoke,
Jesus was gone, but my fridge was full
of leftovers and gallons of sweet tea.
Clean dishes gleamed from my cabinets.
Jesus had even rearranged the linen cabinets
and washed my dirty laundry. For weeks,
the house stayed clean, the fridge full.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Faith that Undergirds Social Justice Movements

This has been a week where it's hard to escape thinking about social change and social justice movements.  I've been enjoying hearing the snippets of King's "I have a dream" speech.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about the social justice movements of our own day.  I watched part of a documentary about the Freedom Riders--interesting to see how reviled they were.

Who inspires that same kind of revulsion today?  Transgendered people come to mind.  We fear the people whom we don't understand.  We often feel threatened somehow, which inspires that fear and loathing--and often violence.

Too many of us forget the violence that comes when we fight for social justice.  I've had many friends who wonder why social justice movements so often fade away.  It's hard to keep working towards a goal that seems so elusive.

Why do some people persevere?

If I was a young sociology student, I'd study the social justice movements that are founded out of faith.  I suspect those movements have more staying power.  There's a deep taproot that keeps the faithful going in the face of violence and death.

As I've watched the footage in the Freedom Riders documentary and listened to the tapes of the March on Washington, I've marked the presence of the songs, those songs that are so rooted in faith.  I've listened to King, with his oratory patterns formed in the pulpit.

As a society, do we still have the faith infrastructure needed to incubate these kinds of movements?  Do we have the faith infrastructure to keep people going strong when lashed by opposition to justice?

I see an infrastructure that's perhaps a bit shakier than it once was, but still in place.  How can we strengthen it?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The Readings for Sunday, September 1, 2013

First Reading: Proverbs 25:6-7

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 2:4-13
First Reading (Alt.): Sirach 10:12-18

Psalm: Psalm 112

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 81:1, 10-16

Second Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

Here is another Gospel lesson which reminds us how different a world is the one that Jesus ushers in. It also shows us that ancient times weren't much different than ours.

We spend much of our day vying for power and position. Even in settings where there's not much to be gained by winning favor, one still sees a ridiculous amount of energy and time spent on power games. Think of the last meeting you had. Think of how short that meeting would have been if you could have gotten rid of people who spoke up to say, essentially, "I agree with what the last person said." Think of all the time wasted in currying favor with the people in charge or with each other.

Alternately, maybe you're more familiar with colleagues who try to cut each other down. Even when the stakes are small, even when the outcomes don't particularly matter, people will wage nasty battles to prove that they're right and everyone else is wrong.

Even outside of the workplace, one sees this dynamic. In volunteer situations, people often want to prove that they're indispensable. We even see this in our relationships with friends, the one place where you would think we would approach each other as equals. Likewise in marriages--many spouses spend absurd amounts of time trying to prove that one way of doing things is the right way, and all other ways are bad.

Psychologists would tell us that we play these power games because we're trying to satisfy our needy egos. We want to feel important because we spend much of our lives feeling insignificant. But instead of addressing that pain by making others feel better, we try to make others feel worse. We put people down so that we feel better. We connive and work to wound others.

Christ comes to usher in a new age. Again and again, he reminds us (in the words of today's Gospel), "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14: 11). We don't win favor with God in the way we might win favor with the boss. God is well aware of God's importance. We don't need to make God feel like the big man so that we might win a promotion.

God calls us to a higher purpose. We're to look out for the poor and downtrodden. And we're not to do it because we'll be repaid by the poor and downtrodden. We do it because Christ came to show us how to crack open the world and let the Kingdom light shine into the dark cracks. And the way to do that is not to show how wonderful we are. The way to let God's light shine is to look out for the marginalized of the world.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

God Talking or My Subconscious?

At my church this summer, we've been making our way through the book of Acts.  I've been noticing how those early Christians got their marching orders directly from God.  This past Sunday, I thought about how different their understanding would be from mine.

Our pastor talked about Paul having a dream where God spoke to him.  How different Paul's response would be from mine.  He talked to his compatriots, and together they determined the best course of action.

I, on the other hand, would wonder if it was God talking to me or my subconscious.  I would have to wrestle long and hard with that question if I had a dream where God told me to go somewhere I wanted to go anyway.

I remember one summer years ago, when it seemed possible that we might move away from Florida.  It had been a tough hurricane season followed by a tough job year as Goldman-Sachs bought the corporation that owns my school.  All the signs seemed to be telling us that it was time to go.

I was visiting my grandmother in South Carolina and also visiting friends along the way.  There seemed to be all sorts of opportunities in other places.

I was driving through the night, and I said, "O.K. God, if you want us to move to South Carolina, have a U2 song come on the radio in the next 3 songs."

Sure enough, a song or two later, I heard Bono's beautiful baritone.  A sign from God?  Or did I know that U2 was likely to play on that classic rock station, because the d.j. had said a U2 song was coming up, and so I set God up for the answer I wanted to get?

I am not as faithful as those early Christians.  I assumed it was my not-so-subconscious at work on me. 

Those early Christians probably didn't own hurricane damaged property in an imploding housing market.  It was easier for them to pick up and go where God told them to go.  That's what I tell myself when I'm trying to let myself off the hook.

Those early Christians also didn't have the knowledge of psychology that we have.  Does our knowledge of how our brains work (or don't work) make it easier to have a true relationship with God or harder?

Whole books could be written on that subject.  I will not be writing that book.  But I will continue to ponder these questions.  I will continue to wonder how I can differentiate God's voice from that of my own desires.

And here's an interesting possibility:  what if those two voices didn't have to be so different?

Why do I assume that my desires will be base and non-sacred?  What if God plants visions and dreams directly into my deep desires and yearnings?

Or, what if God can make use of me--hopes, dreams, desires, yearnings--in whatever soil I find myself planted?

Still, on some level, I do envy those early Christians, with their assurance that they were following the will of God, with their confidence that they knew exactly what God wanted them to do.

I would also point out that some of that assurance comes from their community.  The book of Acts is not a narrative of one person having a dream and heading out on a journey.  It's the story of a group of people who live in community and constant consultation.

Maybe that's what I really envy.  I have glimpses of that kind of community, but it's a fragmented vision.  I have to balance that community with my other obligations.  I envy those early Christians, who seemed to live their whole lives with a kind of balance that seems so hard to maintain.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Recalibrating Effects of a Funeral on a Friday

On Friday, I went to a funeral.  Occasionally, as a church member, I go to funerals of older people whom I only knew because of our shared church going. Friday night was one of those kind of funerals.

So why did I find myself so weepy? I found myself missing my grandmother and my mother-in-law; I found myself missing people who are still alive. I had that sense that I often get at funerals: "Does it really all boil down to THIS???!!!"

I feel somewhat guilty for feeling that way.  I'm a Christian.  I know that our lives are just a breath of wind.  We're grass--we're here, and then we're gone.  Some large part of me protests.

I shouldn't feel guilty, I think.  It's part of the loving of this exquisite world, God's good creation.

And it's good to remember that in the end, it does all come down to this:  a body returning to earth.  But in the end, it's so much more.

It was a strange service.  The parishioner had gone to a different church, a Missouri Synod Lutheran church, before coming to our ELCA church.  Both pastors were on hand, and both spoke.  A music director who has served both places also spoke.  It all made me think of last speeches, and what I hope people will say about me.

People talked about the parishioner's stubbornness, that if we lived in Roman times, he'd be one of the ones who said, "Bring on the lions."  He knew what he stood for, and he was unyielding.

While I can admire that, I hope that people will talk about my kindness and compassion, when it's time for people to make last speeches about me.  I hope they'll talk about the joy I found in life.  I hope they'll talk about how I convinced everyone around me that we can all be creative.

My pastor made an important observation.  After hearing person after person say, "He was one of a kind," our pastor said, "I hope he wasn't one of a kind."  Good point.

We sang a lot. I wish they had been hymns I like. Instead we sang the one about coming to the garden alone in the evening. We sang "The Old Rugged Cross." It was a blood of the lamb redemption/humans are so unworthy kind of songfest.

It did me think of songs/hymns I'd like at my funeral.  Here's the short list:  "Soon and Very Soon," "I the Lord of Sea and Sky," "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "Canticle of the Turning" . . . and as I made the list, I realized I could go on and on.  So much good music, so little time.

I know it's unusual, going to a funeral on a Friday. It's much more traditional to go to happy hour, after all. I, too, love the relaxation of a good glass of wine at the end of the day/week.
But I do wonder how our lives might be changed if we ended every week by going to a funeral.
It's good to be reminded that we will not be here very long. It's good to be reminded that much of that time has already slipped away. It's good to think about what's important and what's not.
Funeral as recalibration!   Yes, there are many other ways to achieve that recalibration.  But I'm happy for the occasional funeral, the reminder that we are dust, and we're returning to dust so much sooner than we think.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Another Use for Prayer Beads

A few weeks ago, in our Worship Together session, the text for the day was Philippians 4:8.  What interested me most was the arts project that we did.

First, the verse (Philippians 4:8):  "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

We had spent some time focusing on those qualities.  We got a laminated card to remind us of them.

And then we got to play with beads.  We had a variety, and we chose one for each quality.  We also had a variety of silver and gold beads to serve as an anchor.  Here's what I created.

If I was a woman who had pockets, I'd carry these items with me, to serve as a reminder of the qualities which I should ponder.

We spend far too much time thinking about all sorts of ugliness.  I like the idea of turning my attention to more worthy items.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Trudging through the Book of Acts

My pastor has wanted to work our way through the book of Acts for some time now.  I wanted to see if I had a different reaction than I've had in past times.  Maybe if we worked our way through it, as a book, I'd like it better than I do when we hit a story here or there in the Revised Common Lectionary.  And after all, I reasoned, it's only for a summer.

I want to like the book of Acts.  Intellectually, I understand why it's important.  The early Church, especially in its more communal aspects, fascinates me.  But oh, how I am ready to move on to something else. 

Alas, I think we're with the book of Acts until Reformation Sunday.

The other day, I tried to figure out why it's August, and I'm finding Acts tiresome.  Is it something about the narrative structure?  I feel like each week, it's the same:  watch the faithful crew head out to some new adventure, where they'll meet people who are resistant at first, and then they agree to be baptized.

Mission building right there in the mission field--I hear a hundred sermons being preached.

It does make me yearn for follow up.  What happens to those fledgling congregations in 10 years when the now-no-longer-new believers realize they have many of the same problems and some of them are worse?  The apostles have gone along their merry way, on to the next mission field (or death, I know).

My pastor has done a great job of tying the book of Acts to our modern lives, let me hasten to add.  The problem isn't with him--it's with me.

Or maybe it's with the book of Acts.

Or maybe it's August, and I'm ready for something new.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 25, 2013:

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm: Psalm 103:1-8

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 71:1-6

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

This week's Gospel, and others like it, is often used to show the rigidity of the religious officials of Christ's time. And indeed, the Pharisees and other temple officials were extreme in their adherence to the law. To be fair, they thought that strict observance of the purity codes would lead to the salvation of the Jews. Viewed in that light, their horror at the miracles of Jesus makes a certain amount of sense. The future of the chosen people is at stake--couldn't Jesus wait one more day to heal the woman?

I feel immense sympathy for the woman who is so afflicted that she cannot straighten her back. For eighteen years, she has suffered. It's the rare person who doesn't at least have a glimpse of what that must feel like. Our burdens can weigh us down so much that we can't look up from the floor.

Jesus makes it clear that any day is a good day to unloose people from the issues that bind them. Again and again, he tells us that we are to stay alert for opportunities to minister to each other.

Yet in our busy times, I also find myself feeling an odd sympathy with the leader of the synagogue, who says, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days to be healed and not on the sabbath day." The leader of that synagogue two thousand years ago couldn't have imagined the times we live in, our own age when it seems impossible to get away from work, where we're expected to be on call twenty-four hours a day.

One reason I didn't go into medicine, or some other kind of career centered around crisis, is that I didn't want to be on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Yet that mentality has even crept into higher education, where I am greeted with incomprehension when I tell people I don't carry a cell phone with me (it lives in my car, so that I can summon help in an emergency). We are expected to be always available, always ready to offer assistance.

It's good to remember that even Jesus had to withdraw occasionally. We, too, can start to rediscover the Sabbath. Try declaring one day a week to be your Sabbath day. It doesn't have to be the same day on which you go to Church. Many of us have to work on Sundays, after all. But once a week, can you turn off your phone? Can you turn off all your electronics? Can you focus on what's important? Jesus reminds us again and again that the things of this world aren't important; your job should be lower on the priority list than other things, like your relationship to God and your building of community and your nourishing of yourself.

Maybe you can't have a whole Sabbath day. But maybe you could declare a Sabbath evening once a week, where you turn off the TV and eat real food while you sit at a table and reconnect with your loved ones. Here we could learn a lot from our Jewish cousins. In her book Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner describes the many ways that Jews celebrate Shabbot and the ways that those rituals nourish and comfort. She reminds us, "But there is something, in the Jewish Sabbath that is absent from most Christian Sundays: a true cessation from the rhythms of work and world, a time wholly set apart, and, perhaps above all, a sense that the point of Shabbat, the orientation of Shabbat, is toward God" (page 10).

In an ideal world, you'd have twenty-four hours out of every week to re-orient yourself towards what matters, but if you can't do that, start small. Every morsel of effort that we make towards this re-orientation will pay enormous dividends. The experience of Sabbath Time is one of the primary ways that God frees us from our infirmities.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Female Bishop!

It seems to be my fate to be away from the Internet when big things happen at our ELCA national assemblies. In 2009, I was at Hilton Head when the national gathering voted to be more inclusive on issues of sexuality; I wrote about it when I returned in this blog post.

And now, in the weeks after the move, when my home Internet access has been limited, I hear news of a female bishop to lead the ELCA. The possibility wasn't even on my radar screen. I had no idea until my mom wrote an e-mail asking me what I thought of our new woman bishop.

I did some Internet searching, and honestly, I'm still not sure of what I think, although I am struck by how little information is out there about her. I love what the outgoing bishop said when he talked about it not being an election, but a call that will be accepted.

I would have predicted that a woman would never be elected bishop, given the elections that I witnessed in my Synod Assembly back in May (I wrote about it in this blog post). I would have predicted that a woman, or maybe several women, would make it to the final rounds, and then we'd draw back and go with a choice that felt safer, in other words, an older, white male.

I'm glad to be proven wrong.

You could argue that we're not being particularly edgy in our choice. Is it really so groundbreaking to elect a woman?

I would say that it is, still, even in this day when we've had plenty of women in a variety of leadership positions. We still don't see many women in the TOP leadership position.

I am old enough to remember a time when women couldn't even be pastors, and there are still plenty of churches out there full of members who will tell you why men make better pastors.

But honestly, I'm old enough now to believe that we've all got important gifts. Why should we deny anyone the chance to use those gifts? Even people who have been deeply wounded can make a huge difference; out of the wound comes their strength.

In some ways, by focusing on gender in such a binary way, we're being very 20th century. I predict that there will come pitched battles in the not-too-distant future about the transgendered and inclusivity. We will look back with longing at the battles fought over gender, and perhaps homosexuality.

I think of my grandfather who was a pastor in various southern states in the U.S. during much of middle years of the 20th century. My mother remembers that the pastors of the communities--all white, all male--would gather to discuss what they would do if a black person or family arrived to worship.

I'm fairly sure I don't want to know what my grandfather would have done. It was a different time, and the emphasis was definitely not on diversity, the way it is now.

Now it seems quaint, this old discussion about what to do if a black family came through the door. Now it seems impossible to believe we ever would have worried about such things.

I predict that in 100 years, maybe less, we'll feel the same way about gender. We'll marvel at the fact that it took so long for women to be allowed to preach, for a woman to be elected Bishop.

With God's grace, perhaps we'll bask in the more tolerant society that our struggles have birthed. Maybe we'll rejoice that we occupy a place where anyone with the gifts of national leadership will be nurtured and given wings.

Monday, August 19, 2013

An Answer to a Prayer

We've had our house on the market for a little over a week now.  On Saturday, we had an open house.  I stayed away--after all, that's why we have a realtor.  But I found my thoughts wandering back to the open house, and I found myself praying.

Late in the afternoon, I checked my e-mail.  No notice from the realtor, so I turned my attention to other e-mails.  I wrote to a pastor friend.  Here's what I wrote:

"As I type, our realtor is wrapping up an open house at our old house, which we're hoping to sell quickly, now that we've moved into the new house. I feel guilty about praying for the kind of good fortune that an offer on the house (followed by an easy closing) would be--still, if you're inclined to pray, that's my need this month.

I'm trying to think of it differently--that house would be a blessing for many families. Please God, help us connect the right buyer with that house--and if possible, let it be this month!

A better prayer perhaps."

At the same time, my spouse was driving back from a Board meeting at Luther Springs.  He, too, was praying that the right family discover our house, that God send them our way.

I went back to my e-mail after sending the e-mail to my pastor friend.  Lo and behold, the realtor had written in the intervening time to tell me we had an offer!

I have science friends and doubter friends who would be too happy to explain all of this away in terms of coincidence.  The rational part of my brain agrees.  My believer brain sees it differently.

We spent the week-end negotiating.  We have ended up with a verbal agreement.  The money is a bit lower than our greedy selves wanted, but we think it's fair to both parties.  And if all goes well, we can get the house sold by the end of September. 

Sure, we could leave the house on the market for awhile longer, but we're happy to be done with it.  It's time to move on.  It's time for someone else to enjoy all the delights that house has to offer.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary

Today is the feast day that celebrates the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.  I have a piece up at Living Lutheran.  It's different from what I usually write.  I decided to compose it as a sort of prayer, asking that I may be granted some of the qualities that Mary had.

Go here to read the whole thing.  But in the mean time . . .

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite.

When God’s angels call on me, let me be hospitable, like Mary was.  Let me listen to what Divine agents have to say.  I have a tendency to be overly controlling.  For the rest of this year, let me practice being quiet.  Like Mary, let me hold things and ponder them in my heart.

Let my heart be like Mary’s, susceptible to being broken wide open.  Many of us say no to God because we’re so afraid of the possibility that sorrow will follow.  Let me remember that salvation often comes in the arms of sorrow.

Let me recognize the Elizabeths in my life.  Let me honor the older generation who has gone before me.  Give me the wisdom to seek out each and every Elizabeth who would be happy to see me.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Medititation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 18, 2013:

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:23-29

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm: Psalm 82

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:29--12:2

Gospel: Luke 12:49-56

Once again, it’s been a summer of strange weather, most notably floods in places that usually don’t see flooding. Last month, Rolling Stone published an article entitled “Goodbye, Miami,” which was full of gloomy-doomy scenarios that aren’t unfamiliar to anyone who’s been paying attention to climate change issues. This week’s apocalyptic texts seem appropriate.

In churches that use the Common Lectionary, we only get an apocalyptic whiff every now and then. This week’s Gospel is one of those days. Jesus tells us that he's come to separate family members, to sow division. We certainly don't see Family Values Jesus here. In fact, if we read the Gospels from beginning to end, we see that Family Values Jesus just doesn't exist. Again and again, Jesus tells us that if we follow him on the path he shows us, we're likely to lose a lot that the world tells us we should hold dear--that might include some family members. Jesus also assures us (elsewhere in the Gospels), that if we lose our lives, the lives that society sets out for us, we might actually find those lives.

But all too often, we don't see the signs we need to see, the signs that would let us know what kind of lives we're living, what kind of lives would satisfy our souls. We're good at forecasting the immediate weather when we notice obvious patterns: the direction of the wind and the appearance of clouds. But we're not good at noticing the bigger picture, like noticing God, when God becomes incarnate. We don't pay attention to doing what we know is right and good. Again and again, Jesus tells us that we need to pay attention.

It's interesting that these Gospel lessons come to us in the month of August, a time when the historian's mind might turn to eschatology (the study of end times). We've just passed the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Barbara Tuchman wrote a book, The Guns of August, that explored the events in August of 1914 that led to World War I. Many regional conflicts burst into conflagration in August.

Jesus reminds us that the end is always near. We tend to think of the end in apocalyptic terms: mushroom clouds or poisoned water or melting glaciers. But Jesus comes with a different vision: he promises the end of oppression, the end of inequality. He holds out a dream of a world where everyone has enough and no one has to endure a boot on the neck. For those of us with eyes to see, we can notice the beginnings of God's plan for the world, even while worldly powers think they're in charge.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reflections on Marriage: The 25th Anniversary Edition

Twenty-five years ago today, my college sweetheart and I married each other. It both seems like no time at all and several lifetimes ago.

I'm a Lutheran, and we only have two sacraments: Baptism and Communion. I think Martin Luther was too hasty when he got rid of so many sacraments. I wish he had kept marriage as a sacrament.

Marriage has taught me many things, but the nature of love is one of the most important things it has taught me. Nothing else has helped me understand God's love for me the way my spouse's love for me has. I make mistakes, and he forgives me. He forgives me, even though he knows I will likely make the same mistakes again and again. I do the same for him. He sees me--the best me, the worst me--as I truly am, and he loves me. Largely, he loves me not because of my anything I might say or do to convince him, but because he knows me.

And of course, I do the same for him. And in this daily practice of love and forgiveness, I come to understand God's love for me--and I am able to carry a similar love out into the world.

And by experiencing my husband's love for me, along with his forgiving of me, I've come to understand God's love for all of us just a bit better.

Understand is probably too strong a word. In some ways, we can never understand the scope of love, either the love we have for each other or the love God has for us.

David Brooks wrote one of the better essays about marriage that I've ever read (hopefully you'll find it here, but the link isn't always working). He says, "Few of us work as hard at the vocation of marriage as we should. But marriage makes us better than we deserve to be. Even in the chores of daily life, married couples find themselves, over the years, coming closer together, fusing into one flesh. Married people who remain committed to each other find that they reorganize and deepen each other's lives. They may eventually come to the point when they can say to each other: 'Love you? I am you.'''

He doesn't use the term "sacrament"--after all, he's writing for the secular The New York Times. But he's talking in sacramental terms nonetheless.

He begins to conclude his piece by saying, "The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity."

On this anniversary day, I pause to thank God for that love, that love that comes to me not because I'm wonderful, not because I'm perfect, not because I deserve it. I thank God for that love that's so much like grace. I thank God for all the people who love me even though I haven't reached my full potential yet. I thank God for all the people who remember me at my best, even when they're seeing me at my worst--and who love me, despite my less than loveable behavior.

I wish for us all the human love that points us to the love of God.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Blessings of Many Kinds

I still don't have my computer set up at home, and it still doesn't have a wireless network adapter so that's why blogging has been sparser than usual.  I'm hoping to get things more settled in this coming week so that I can get back to some productive writing patterns.

But in the meantime, some random thoughts, collected from the past week:

--Yesterday at church, we had our annual blessing of teachers, staff, and administrators.  I've written about this tradition before, most recently in this post from last year.

--It's taken me a long time to feel like I deserve a blessing too.  At first, I felt unworthy because I teach college, and that's not as tough as my compatriots who teach in public schools.  And then I felt unworthy because I've been teaching less and less.  But now, I realize how much work administrators do to keep things running smoothly.  It's very different from what teachers do--I'll be the first to admit that.  But it's important work, nonetheless.

--I've said this before, but it bears repeating.  I don't think it's just teachers/staff/administrators who need a blessing for the work they do in their occupations.  It would be a cool some Labor Day Sunday to bless all of us who toil outside the home--send us all out blessed to be a blessing.

--Summer seems to end earlier each year.  In some ways, it has.  Students go back to school midway through August.  That means they're not going to camp in August.  Families aren't taking vacations in August, except for the ones who rush away the last week before classes start.

--What will be the future of summer camps, if summer gets shorter and shorter?  I know that many camps are doing more with adult programming during the non-summer months.  Will we some day come to a point where camps don't have much in the way of sleep-away programs?  These ideas may deserve posts of their own, so perhaps more later.

--We not only blessed teachers/staff/administrators yesterday.  We also had a chili cook-off.  Yes, a chili cook-off in August.  We probably need to migrate that event to the winter months.  Maybe have a salad contest in August.

--I was the judge of the chili cook-off.  What fun!  We also judged cornbread too.  I thought I'd be blown away by spice and heat.  I was not. 

--It was good to have that fellowship.  It was good to have a tasty meal in a week of getting back from our great southeast driving trip and continuing to move stuff from the old house to the new house.  It was good to remember why we come together.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Where Would Jesus Live?

In yesterday's blog post, I wrote this post about buying a new house and then coming across the Gospel where Jesus talks about selling what we own and giving alms to the poor.  I've been spending days moving possessions from the old house to the new house.  It's very intriguing to see the difference in the neighborhoods.

In our old neighborhood, all sorts of people wander through, and many of them are down on their luck.  Others look like they might be threatening; I assume that the thuglike appearance buys them some protection, but I am the middle-aged, white woman who will cross the street when thug-looking people come down the sidewalk.  I'll avoid confrontation if I can, and I'll give myself a head start if the pedestrian traffic looks scary.

However, I'm also aware that God often appears in the middle of the poor, destitute, and outcast.  As I've travelled from neighborhood to neighborhood, I've asked myself, "Where would Jesus live?"

I suspect my old neighborhood--plenty of people in need of his ministrations in my old neighborhood.  I feel somewhat guilty for fleeing to a better neighborhood and living in what I hope will be a better housing investment.  I doubt that Jesus would be thinking about the appreciation of houses.

This morning it occurred to me that Jesus might resist having a house at all.  The Gospels show us a Messiah who is constantly on the move.  I think of that poignant passage where Christ talks about the son of Man having no place to lay his head.

I think back to the interchange Jesus had with the young, rich man, where Jesus tells him to sell his possessions, and the rich man can't.  Am I that person?  Does Jesus want me to take up my shopping cart and walk beside the poor?

Those of you who have been reading this blog know that I routinely wrestle with these social justice issues, and I expect that I always will.  I can justify my comfortable existence by saying that I can do more to advocate for the poor from my middle-class perch, but that's a cop-out, and I know it.

I continue to idealize all those communities who live in solidarity with the poor.  I want to be Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement who did so much to house the poor.  But I want comfort too.

I don't have easy answers.  I wish that I did.  I will continue to pray for all of those people, so many humans, who don't have my housing options.  I will continue to do what I can to move towards a future where everyone has a safe space to stay.  I will continue to look for ways to be an advocate for the poor and dispossessed--because God mandates those options, and because when God took on human form, God sought refuge there.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Weekly Gospel Meditation

The readings for Sunday, August 11, 2013 (Lectionary 19)

Complementary Series

Genesis 15:1–6
Psalm 33:12–22 (22)
Hebrews 11:1–3, 8–16
Luke 12:32–40

Semicontinuous Series
Isaiah 1:1, 10–20
Psalm 50:1–8, 22–23 (23)
Hebrews 11:1–3, 8–16
Luke 12:32–40

In past years, I’d have written about the part of the Gospel where Jesus tells us to sell all our possessions. I’d have written about how important it is to keep our eyes on what is important.

I’d have written something like this: “Again and again Jesus warns us not to trust in earthly treasure. He's clear: earthly treasure will always, ALWAYS, fail us. That's not the message the world wants us to hear. The world wants us to rush and hurry, to buy more stuff, to build more barns for our stuff, to accumulate and hoard and lie awake at night worrying that we won't have enough. The world wants us to pay attention to our bank accounts. Jesus wants us to be on the lookout for God.”

This year, however, I’m a woman who has just bought a house. Instead of selling what I own, the one house, now I have two. Have I ignored all of what I believe to be true when buying a new home? Should I have sold the old house and given the money to the poor?

I return to the Gospel, to see what pieces I’ve overlooked. My guilt about being able to buy a new house when so much of the rest of the nation can’t afford the houses that they have—that guilt may have blinded me.

I return to that first line, the one about having no fear. Oh, how I need to hear those words, again and again. I am so very fearful.

The rest of the Gospel reminds me that although I’ve got some treasures on earth, I can’t rely on them. The Gospel reminds me to rely on God, who wants to give me all sorts of good things.

The Gospel reminds me that God is the purse that can’t wear out. Over the past few years, it’s the rare person who hasn’t seen how earthly institutions can fail us again and again. We put our trust in our retirement accounts, only to see them dwindle. We pour our efforts into a house, only to see its worth drain away. We place our bets on the sure job, only to realize that our industries have shifted away right out from under us.

I write these things, and I wonder if I’ve made a dreadful mistake, buying a house in this economic climate. But honestly, the past half decade has only made painfully clear what wise ones amongst us have always known. If our treasures are only earthly, we’re bound to be betrayed.

How can I make the indestructible purse, the unfailing treasure? It’s time to return, again, to the practices that the wise ones have told us are important. We can keep watch for God. Our traditions remind us that God will often appear where we don’t expect to find the Divine.

Does that mean that because I’ve moved to a better neighborhood, I won’t find God there? I’ll keep watch, for one never knows.

I’ll continue to share what I have. My cash flow will be tighter, at least until we sell the old house. But I will continue to give alms—most immediately, all of my possessions that don’t fit into the new house will go to a ministry that runs a thrift store to fund other ministries.

But the spiritual discipline that calls most clearly to me right now is the one that demands that I put away the world’s anxieties. That’s the spiritual discipline that’s hardest for me. I worry about bills, I worry about what happens if I lose my job, I worry about health crises that haven’t even happened yet.

Again and again, Jesus reminds us that God has already provided for us everything that we need. Again and again, Jesus calls us to put away our fears.

Again and again, I resolve to do that. It’s easier for me to share my money than it is for me to rest assured in God’s abundance. Again and again, I will try.

Monday, August 5, 2013

"Heaven on Earth" Finds a Home Again

Last week, I got a phone call from the poet laureate of Virginia.  She's putting together a book of the favorite poems of Virginians, and she wants to use one of mine.

Oh, let me be completely honest here.  My dad wrote in and nominated my poem.  I am so lucky to have such supportive people in my life.

I am amused and amazed at how many people have liked this poem.  Of everything I've written, it seems to resonate the most with people.  I'm amazed at its ability to connect with such a diverse group.

I'm amused because I almost didn't write it, and when I did, I almost didn't send it out.  It felt dangerous to me.  I could see how people would see it as profane, even though I was trying to comment on the down-to-earth ministry of Jesus using modern metaphors.

I've read advice that says that if a poem scares you, you shouldn't run away.  I'm glad that I've sent the poem out into the world to see where it goes.  Garrison Keillor read it years ago on The Writer's Almanac--that was a highlight of my writer's life so far.

So, here again, for your reading pleasure, my poem "Heaven on Earth."  It first appeared in Coal City Review, and I included it in my first chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.

Heaven on Earth

I saw Jesus at the bowling alley,
slinging nothing but gutter balls.
He said, “You’ve gotta love a hobby
that allows ugly shoes.”
He lit a cigarette and bought me a beer.
So I invited him to dinner.

I knew the Lord couldn’t see my house
in its current condition, so I gave it an out
of season spring cleaning. What to serve
for dinner? Fish—the logical
choice, but after 2000 years, he must grow weary
of everyone’s favorite seafood dishes.
I thought of my Granny’s ham with Coca Cola
glaze, but you can’t serve that to a Jewish
boy. Likewise pizza—all my favorite
toppings involve pork.

In the end, I made us an all-dessert buffet.
We played Scrabble and Uno and Yahtzee
and listened to Bill Monroe.
Jesus has a healthy appetite for sweets,
I’m happy to report. He told strange
stories which I’ve puzzled over for days now.

We’ve got an appointment for golf on Wednesday.
Ordinarily I don’t play, and certainly not in this humidity.
But the Lord says he knows a grand miniature
golf course with fiberglass mermaids and working windmills
and the best homemade ice cream you ever tasted.
Sounds like Heaven to me.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Reminders of God's Good Creation

A week ago, at our Church Council meeting, we were giving our highs and lows, as part a variation  of the Faith Five exercise we've begun to do at the beginning of each meeting.  Our pastor talked about his high being a chance to get out into nature and take some of the nature photographs that he loves.

We had a brief conversation about living in an urban setting and still finding plenty of nature.  Our pastor talked about different butterflies he's seen in the southern part of the county to our south and his amazement that he doesn't find them here, not even 70 miles away.  We talked about the parks and the green spaces.

We talked about the families of foxes that lives between the community college and the regional airport.  I expressed my amazement that foxes would want to live so close to humanity (some 40,000 students, as well as other community members) and roaring airplanes.  We talked about all the hidden spaces that are there, places that would look good to foxes.

It was a good reminder that we have evidence of God's creation everywhere, even if we live in places that seem determined to pave over all of it.  We can make our own spots of resistance, places that will attract wildlife. 

A butterfly garden is easy to plant, and the sight of butterflies gives most people great joy.  Our church has planted a butterfly garden, and we've given our members encouragement and extra supplies so that we can plant a home garden too.

As we shift into August and begin to make plans for the season to come, now might be a good time to think about how we can encourage nature and heal the planet.  A simple flower garden or butterfly sanctuary is a good place to start.

Friday, August 2, 2013

In Praise of Church Camps

Now we enter the end of summer, for all intents and purposes, the time when church camps will be having their last week or two of campers.  Soon, the dining areas will go back to being empty, just waiting for the next time of fun and fellowship.

Let us take a minute to say a prayer of thanks for church camps, for all the ways they nourish both us and the next generations.
They've offered us challenges that we never thought we could master.

They've taught us many a new craft (below, fun with fiber!).

We've had a chance to explore our performing passions.

Church camps let us make friends of all sorts.

But most important, church camps foster a love of both God and the community of believers that will stay with a camper long into adulthood.
In fact, one of the variables that separates grown ups who go to church regularly from those who don't is an experience at church camp.

And so, today, let us say a prayer of thanks for all those camps.  Let us praise the counselors and the camp directors.  Let us continue to pray for the campers, and for all of us who must come down from the mountain, back to real life.