Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Fall of Saigon and Forced Migration

On this day 40 years ago, the last helicopters left Saigon.  I've been listening to a week of commemorations; I particularly enjoyed this episode of On Point about April 29 and 30, 1975, as the U.S. did its final exit from the capital city; troops were already gone.  Even though I heard this story about Operation Babylift days ago, my thoughts return to those airlifted children, many of them Vietnamese orphans.

I love this stories about how humans try to do the right thing, and how these efforts sometimes actually do work out.  One of the people interviewed for the story was a child who was evacuated; he has gone on to engineer planes for Boeing.  Obviously, if he had been left to his fate as an orphan in Vietnam, his story would have ended very differently.

I think of those children who were evacuated, how they were similar ages to me and my sister.  We were born in 1965 and 1970.  But unlike those evacuated children, I don't have many memories of the war.

It's interesting to think, as I so often do, about how these wars and various conflicts, motivate migration.  I heard one of the commentators talk about getting on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon and looking down at the sea below.  He saw all those tiny boats, people fleeing in any way they could.

I have more memories of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees than I do Vietnam vets.  The churches of my youth were always helping to resettle refugees.  The churches of my adulthood are not doing that activity, at least, not as openly.

In fact, as I look around, I'm not seeing anyone with similar commitments to resettling refugees these days.  Perhaps that's a good thing.  We often hear the success stories of resettled refugees.  I suspect there are plenty of untold stories of resettled refugees who never successfully make the transition.

I now live in South Florida, home to many refugees.  When I first started teaching down here in a local community college, I was sobered by how many of my students came to this country as children fleeing the wars and horrors in Central America.  And of course, there were the children and grandchildren of refugees who fled Cuba.

Perhaps I'd have a different view if I lived in Spain or Italy and saw significant numbers of refugees coming from various war-torn places in Africa and the Middle East.  But in the U.S., right now, I don't see as many waves of people coming here.

I want to believe it's because we live in more peaceful times.  But that's simply not true.  We still see people drowning when their overpacked boats sink.  But this year, they're drowning in a different sea.

On this day, as we observe the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, let us pause to pray for all of those displaced by war and violence.  Let us pray for the day that humans can stay in their homes.  Let us pray for a day when nobody has to flee in terror with only the clothes they are wearing.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 3, 2015:

First Reading: Acts 8:26-40

Psalm: Psalm 22:24-30 (Psalm 22:25-31 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-21

Gospel: John 15:1-8

The Gospel of John includes several "I am" stories, like the one we find in the Gospel for this week. Unlike the idea of Jesus as shepherd, which might be unfamiliar to those of us who live so far away from farms, the idea of Jesus as the vine, and believers as the branches isn't that hard for most of us to grasp. Most of us have watched plants grow, and we understand that one branch of the plant won't do well if we separate it from the main stalk.

We know what happens when we forget to water plants regularly or when the rains stop, and the yards grow crispy.

Jesus is the one who delivers water and nutrients to the rest of the plant. We won't do well when we're disconnected from the life source. In fact, Jesus makes clear what happens to those of us who separate from Christ: we wither.

What if we're feeling withered?   We might assume that Christ has left us to parch, but maybe we need to meet Jesus in a new place.   Maybe it's time to return to our gratitude journals.  Maybe we need to plan a retreat.  Maybe we need to try an artistic practice.  Maybe we need a physical discipline to shape our spiritual discipline:  yoga or fasting or walking a labyrinth.

And then it's time to bear fruit.  It's in this area that I find this week's Gospel unsettling.

Notice how in just 8 verses, Jesus repeats several things. More than once, we're reminded that branches that don't bear fruit are cut away from the true vine. Look at the verbs that Jesus uses for these non-bearing branches: wither, gathered, thrown, burned.

My brain wants to know what kind of timeline we're working with here. How long do I have to prove I can bear fruit? Is it too late? Have I been cast into the fire already, and I just don't know it yet?

I suspect I'm missing the point. God, the true vine and vinedresser, seems to give humanity chance after chance after chance. In these verses, though, Jesus reminds us that much is expected from us. Where are we bearing good fruit?
Every action that we take helps to create a world that is either more good or more evil. We want to make sure we're creating the Kingdom that God has called us to help create. We're to be creating it here, now--not in some distant time and place when we're dead.

We're in a world where the Good News of the Gospel is that the Kingdom of God is both here now (thus a cause for joy) and not yet (as evidenced by evil in the world). How can we be the vine bearing good fruit that doesn't allow room for the bad?

We don't have time to waste withering on the vine. God has many joyous tasks for us, and the world urgently needs for us to do them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to Be Welcoming to All

Last night, on the eve of the beginning of a Supreme Court case that may make historic decisions about marriage rights, my church council discussed what it would mean to be a Reconciling in Christ church.

Before I get lots of nasty comments about how I'm not a true Lutheran, let me remind everyone that my ELCA church is part of an ELCA synod that is a Reconciling in Christ synod.

Reconciling in Christ congregations declare themselves to be welcoming to all, specifically to transgender, homosexual, lesbian, and queer people.  Some might wonder why that welcoming stance needs to be articulated.  Some of us know that churches might declare themselves to be welcoming, but they really aren't. 

There is some part of me that wonders if we are very late to this conversation.  Many younger people aren't wrestling with this issue, the way that their elders are.

When I look at our church, it doesn't seem to me that we have a struggle with being welcoming to gays and lesbians.  In fact, we've had a transgendered person as a member for a few years, and although that situation was very new for many of us, we rose to the occasion. 

I certainly don't mind going through the process of being a RIC congregation and declaring ourselves to be welcoming.  But part of me thinks we're spending a lot of time and energy on what I suspect will be a non-issue. 

Instead, perhaps we should be talking about how to be welcoming to the mentally ill.  I wrote this blog post about our experience in church on Sunday.   It's much harder to be welcoming to the disruptive mentally ill than it is to be welcoming to most gay and lesbians who come through our door.  After all, most of our gay, lesbian, and transgendered visitors and members have been very similar to the rest of the congregation.  But the mentally ill may not be.

It's hard in modern society to know how to be welcoming and open and how to keep us all safe.  There is some niggling part of my brain that whispers, "God did not gather us together to be safe."

Our church insurance company would not like to hear that whisper.

In many ways, my thoughts this morning trace back to the burden of having a building to care for.  Did Jesus die on the cross so that we could discuss insurance issues and how to install a ramp for the handicapped and how to keep the roof from leaking?

I've written about this issue before, like in this blog post.  As I've said before, I don't have the answers.  A church building is both a blessing and a curse.  A community of humans will have different ideas of how to be welcoming.

But it is good to be wrestling with these issues together.  We have a better chance of embodying the light of Christ when we combine our flickers into a brighter flame.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Disruptive Visitor

Yesterday I got to church just after 9:00, and a man was sleeping against the back of the outside of the fellowship hall.  I asked our pastor if he had seen the man, and he nodded.  He said, "I tend to leave sleeping people alone, unless there's some larger issue like alcohol."

Our 9:45 service is held in the fellowship hall so that the choir can have one last practice in the sanctuary before our 11:00 service.  At 10:20, as we were around a big table having a discussion, the man came into the fellowship hall and got a cup of coffee.  We were talking about free will and our understanding of God's plan for us.

The man quoted several verses from Proverbs and left the building.  As we prepared to pray 10 minutes later, he came back.  I asked if he wanted to join our prayer circle, and he said, "Yes.  But not like this.  He is risen!"  And off he went again.

He came to the 11:00 service and sat in the back.  As we sang "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today," the man seemed to be singing, but also rising his fist in triumph.  Throughout the service, he occasionally shouted, "Alleluia" or "Amen."  For the most part, he wasn't disruptive.

During the prayers of the people, he wasn't visible on the back pew, but he did raise his arm, pointing towards the sky.  When our pastor said, "The peace of the Lord be with you," the man pointed at the front of the church.

When people came up for Communion, he came up to the altar, instead of kneeling at the rail.  Our pastor explained the procedure, and he knelt.  But then he started yelling a verse from Revelation, I think, something about the mark of the beast.

Since he had been seeming increasingly agitated, we asked him to leave, and one of our burlier men walked him out.  He left calmly.

My spouse and I talked about it on the way home, and I heard people talking about it on the way out.  Most people were scared.  Some people thought the man was harmless.  He wore an Army t-shirt and had a big Army duffle, which made some people nervous about his ability to kill us all.

My spouse said, "Maybe he had a Messiah complex.  Maybe he was the Messiah.  Until he seemed to be channeling Satan."

We talked about how the people of Jesus' day likely would have seen Jesus the same way our church did:  Jesus would have made them uneasy, with his disruption of services, although they might have been impressed with his knowledge of Scripture.  Many would have speculated on Jesus' mental health, although they'd have talked about it differently.  They'd have seen Jesus as possessed.

My spouse said that the man did us all a favor.  Most of us are probably not nearly as attentive on a weekly basis as we were yesterday.  We are not as involved with the worship service as that man was yesterday.

I will continue to think about this stranger who showed up on the second Sunday after Easter.  I'll think about Jesus, who hung out with the strangers and the outcast.  I'll think about God, who hangs out with the lowly. 

I doubt that I'll be any more sure of what to do than I was yesterday.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Spiritual Gift of Ecumenical Adventures

Yesterday, we went to a Mass that celebrated the First Communion of a daughter of our friends.  Before the service started, my spouse said to me, "This is the second Catholic church we've been in this week."

On Monday, we were in a Catholic church for our BOLD Justice Nehemiah rally out in the suburbs.  Yesterday, it was a Catholic church in an older part of Ft. Lauderdale.  Both churches had a school and huge parking lots.

The suburban church had 3 entrances, each with a vestibule, each one leading to a wing of the sanctuary.  Over each entrance was a balcony.  The vaulted ceilings and extensive sound system made the space feel modern.

The older church yesterday had three entrances which led directly to the sanctuary.  No vestibule at all.  The AC system was not hidden away, as it was in the more modern church.  The ductwork wasn't exposed but it might have well been.  Along the side walls were statues, and some had rows of votive candles in front of them.

The service itself felt familiar, except for one key point.  It was bilingual throughout (but not consistently).  For each hymn, we sang a verse in English and then in Spanish.  The Psalm was done in similarly.  The priest gave his sermon in English and then in Spanish.  The Bible readings, however, were done only in English.

My spouse went up for Communion, but I didn't.  At my nephew's First Communion last year, the Lutherans in the family decided not to go up, so yesterday, I chose to stay seated.  I'm puzzled by my choice.  At Mepkin Abbey, I commune.

Lutherans have understandings with many denominations that let us commune together, and with some denominations, to be hired by churches of a different denomination.  I hope Pope Francis makes some of those agreements.  I have many Catholic friends, and I'd like to be free to commune with them.

Sure, I'd like to see female priests too.  I would have quite an ambitious agenda for Pope Francis, if I was the one in charge.

But I digress.

Now it is time to get ready for today's spiritual experiences.  I'm in charge of the 9:45 service, and then I'm Assisting Minister at the 11:00 service.  It's a healing service, so there will be more to do.  And then, my spouse and I are part of the team that counts the money.

It's a wide variety of tasks, and some day, perhaps I'll write an essay that weaves together all those strands.  I made a start with this post about the spiritual gift of counting money after church. 

Soon we will be at the festival of Pentecost, that time where we think about our spiritual gifts.  I notice that Saint Paul never mentions counting the money either.

Sure, I'd like a flashier spiritual gift:  to be able to heal immediately with the laying on of my hands or the ability to prophesy the future.  Of course, those probably come with some fairly severe drawbacks.

Ah, the eternal task:  to appreciate the gifts that I have, without envying the gifts bestowed to others.  And perhaps the ability to appreciate ecumenical adventures is another kind of spiritual gift that Saint Paul doesn't discuss.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Poetry Saturday: Demands of Dough

It's been one of those kinds of weeks where I turn off the news:  refugees drowning at sea, wars in all sorts of places, more news of police brutality, anniversaries of genocides (Armenian) and bloody World War I battles (Gallipoli).

What do we do in the face of this bad new?  How do we retain our hope? 

I'd argue that we should make some sort of art, that we should celebrate our intellects.  After all, if 100 years ago, the Turkish authorities thought that Armenian artists and intellectuals needed to be rounded up first, it shows the value of those activities.

Or maybe it's time to return to some basic spiritual practices:  praying for peace and baking bread.  I've got a poem that's perfect for the end of a week of bad news.  It suggests baking bread in the face of despair--that's always one of my first instincts, to do something that affirms life.  I also love the metaphor of yeast.  Even during times of despair, granules of hope and transformation may be incubating, ready to leaven the loaf!

I often think of bread and spirituality as I'm baking and writing. Two hundred years from now, I have a vision of a grad student writing a dissertation on the enduring symbolism of bread in my life and work.

I often return to bread baking in an effort to remind myself of who I am at my essential core. It's nice to have that practice. Years ago, I wrote this poem, as I thought about those high school years when I made the most bread, from 1979-1983. It was published in the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review.

Demands of Dough
Each decade ushers in a new genocide;
each bloody crime introduces histories
of humans I’ve never heard of before. Each
year’s newscast schools me in ways to slaughter
masses of humans efficiently, human rights
violated in ways I never would have imagined. Yet,
the familiarity persists as well. Armenia, Auschwitz,
Cambodia, Rwanda: an ongoing, constant
story of corpses stacked like cordwood, rivers choked
with bodies, a consistent backdrop
to the bloodiest century on record.

I turn off the news and declare a news fast.
I pull out my old recipe books to revisit
an earlier self, the vegetarian pacifist with a quick
temper, the girl who marched on Washington
to protest Apartheid and arms races and abortion
rights backsliding. I pull yeast and flour
out of my cupboard and knead myself younger.

My first loaf of homemade bread. What possessed
my mother to suggest it? Vegetarian seminarians
coming for dinner and a long, summer afternoon
to fill. What kept me baking? Praise.
An excuse to play with dough. Desire
for more nutritious food. By age seventeen, I’m the only
high school senior with her own garden.

I can think short term. I may not live
to see my twenties, especially if our president
continues to joke about bombing the Soviet Union.
But I’m able to invest the space and time
a rising bread dough demands.
I’m willing to commit to a germinating seed,
willing to hope for one more season of growth.

That was before cable brought us multiple news
channels. Somehow the abstraction of a cold
war and an arms race disturbed me less
than these scenes of neighbors butchering
each other. I cannot process misery at this scale.
I return to what I can handle:
yeast and a pinch of sugar, oats and flour,
a window sill of seedlings,
an afternoon of tea and books.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Plant Prayer Flags This Spring

Wednesday was Earth Day, which I didn't remember until later in the day.  In a way, I feel like I already celebrated it, since I wrote a post for the Living Lutheran site a month ago.

That Earth Day post is now up at the Living Lutheran site.  It asks the question:  what shall we plant if we're not good at gardening?

My answer:  prayer flags!

You might say, "But I'm also not good with creating things out of fabric."

I have good news:  my project only requires scraps of fabric and no sewing:

"I don’t mean the traditional Tibetan prayer flags, although those flags inspire this idea. Naomi Sease Carriker, a pastor, told me about her simple practice at a recent Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge, a Lutheran camp and conference center in Arden, N.C.

She writes prayers on tulle, a thin cloth, and ties them to pieces of lattice fencing in her garden. She takes great joy in seeing them flutter in the breeze. The fluttering reminds her to pray."

I wish I had a picture of this project, but I don't.  The picture above is from a Create in Me retreat where we experimented with batik techniques.

But why do this at all?  There are many reasons and the post explores them.  Here's one of them:  "Any practice that reminds us to pray has value, and this prayer flag idea has an added bonus. I need to be reminded that I pray so that I turn over issues to the one who is much more powerful than I am. Prayer flags give us this ongoing symbol: that we release the prayers to go to the creator who can handle it from there. The visual reminder to let go of some of these concerns once I've prayed about them seems especially important in our culture that prizes self-sufficiency and the ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps."

I'm also interested in spiritual practices that get me out of my head and back into my body.  It's too easy to get distracted when I rely only on words and language.  I don't discuss this overtly in the piece at the Living Lutheran site, but it's woven through.

Go here to read the whole essay.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tree Trunks and Transformation

It is the time of year when I dream of new paths.

It is when I yearn for a new gate to open.

I feel like I see the answer, hiding in plain sight.

Some days, my life feels like a wrecked tree.

I need to remember that a fallen tree can be transformed into a work of art.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 26, 2015:

Acts 4:5-12

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. (Ps. 23:1)

1 John 3:16-24

John 10:11-18

Here's another familiar set of images in today's Gospel, ones that are so familiar that we neglect to see the strangeness. But read the passage again and notice how many times Jesus says he's the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. At first, knowing the outcome of Jesus' life story as we do, we might find that a comforting thought.

But imagine that you're a little lamb with a scary wolf nearby. Maybe the good shepherd kills the wolf while laying down his life for you. But does that leave you protected from the other wolves that are out there? No. A dead shepherd is no use for further protection. We don't raise much in the way of livestock these days (most of us), so we forget how strange this metaphor would have seemed to an audience of people who knew shepherds (and thanks to Pastor Jan Setzler, who led Bible Study at the excellent Lutheridge Create in Me retreat several years ago, who pointed out the oddness in this metaphor--the first time I'd ever thought about that angle).

The people of Jesus’ time who heard him speak in this mystical way would have been more puzzled than comforted. I suspect that would have been their usual reaction to him. His parables are familiar to us, so we’ve lost sight of their strangeness. Two thousand years ago, people would have said, “What good is a dead shepherd?”

They might have been more like me. I want a shepherd who will remind me to come out of the rain. I want a shepherd who will tilt my head back down so that I don’t drown in the rain because I’m too stupid not to inhale the rain. I want a shepherd who will gather the flock together and kill the predators with a skillful shot from a sling. I want a shepherd who leads us to safe pastures.

And the good news of the Gospels is that we have such a shepherd.

These verses serve to remind us that the world we live in is a scary one. You may think you can make it on your own, but you can't. Notice that Jesus doesn't compare us to cats or horses--no, we're sheep, some of the dumbest animals ever domesticated. You may be able to make it on your own up to a point--but where will that point be?

No, we need the safety of the flock, the safety of a shepherd. We need someone who will train us to recognize his voice. Now if we could only slow down and quiet our minds enough to hear our shepherd’s voice.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

BOLD Justice 2015

My church has been participating in BOLD Justice* since the beginning of the group.  Last night was our BOLD Justice Nehemiah event, where religious folks gathered in the spirit of Old Testament prophets to remind elected leaders of their responsibilities to the poor and outcast. We were overwhelmingly Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic, with an Episcopalian group and a UU group here and there, along with a stray Evangelical group or two. We enjoyed music from a fabulous black Baptist group. We demanded that county officials do more to save elderly people in assisted living facilities from abuse and to move towards a less punitive approach to minors who commit non-violent crimes.

Some years have felt more successful than last night, and some years less.  Some years we've felt successful, only to see gains reversed.  Some years, officials seem to have hardened their hearts against us, only to reverse course later.

The quest for justice is so fluid--it's one aspect about social justice movements that I was never taught.  In school, it seems like a straight line from injustice through the struggle to a more just world.

It wasn't until much later that I realized that those sweeping changes were started with small, halting steps.  I suspect that most changes that lead the world to a more socially just place begin with tiny steps stepped by people who aren't entirely sure what they're doing or where they're going.

I used to think that the end result was how we would be judged.  Now I realize that the process is what's important.  It's about doing what God commands, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, in the words of the Old Testament prophet, Micah; it's about caring for the least of these, in the words of Jesus. Our presence and demands may not mean much to elected officials, who spend every night going to groups who make demands. They may not care as much about us as about those big donors. But our silence would send the kind of message we cannot afford to send.

And frankly, we just don't know what will finally tip the scales towards justice.   Back in the 80's, when we gathered to pray for South Africa, we had no way of knowing that Nelson Mandela would soon be free, and then be elected president. We had reason to be despairing and cynical. I would have predicted civil war, not freedom.

But we are people who listen to a different promise, who see a different possibility. We are resurrection people with a vision for a redeemed creation, a Kingdom that is already breaking through.

*Broward Organized Leaders Doing Justice

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Easter Sunday, Hawaii, 2015

Two weeks ago, it would have been Easter.  Before my family left for Hawaii, we discussed the possibilities, and my mom proposed we create our own service.  We were enthusiastic.

I come from the kind of family who went to church, even on vacation.  When we got groceries, before we took them back to the beach house, we drove by the Lutheran church to see when they offered Sunday services.

I have happy memories of being at campgrounds far from civilization.   If it was summer, there might be an ecumenical service at the fire circle or ampitheatre; I so loved those experiences that I applied to be a worker or volunteer in the program that took those worship services to the national parks--one of many jobs I did not get.

Occasionally, we'd find ourselves in campsites with no program, and we'd create our own.  We would create the worship service and then we'd find a place to worship.  When my sister and I got older, we'd be in charge.

We had a similar experience on Easter Sunday in Hawaii.  We walked around the grounds, past the worship service that a local congregation was offering.  They were still assembling, but their band was playing typical praise music, with no Easter theme at all.

Yes, we are music snobs.  My mother brought worship supplies with her, including the words to several Easter hymns.

We walked across a manicured lawn to the rocky beach beyond.  We saw a spot that looked like an altar, even though it was possibly a fire circle:

We each found a rock to sit on in a circle around the rock.  We read the Easter reading for Easter Sunday.  We sang "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" and "This Little Light of Mine" and "It Only Takes a Spark."  That last one is one we sang at Lutheridge and in our camper, and then my sister grew up to sing it as a lullaby to my nephew.

It was a short, simple service.  We had no Eucharist, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that we're both Lutherans and Catholics in my family.  That's the one element I'd have liked to have found a way to include.

I like the way that the rocks looked like the empty tomb.  I returned later and took the pictures.  I also like the way the waves washed up against the rocks.  I got a sense of the Holy Spirit, a precursor to Pentecost, in the shot below:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Poetry Saturday: The Ides of April

What a week it has been:  for me it's been a week of travel, back from the other side of the planet and back to work.  For others, it's been a week of numbers, counting how many students actually attended classes.  Many of us had to do our taxes.

I thought it might be stormy today--it's the time of year when weather systems are on the move.  But it looks like next week will be when the rains roll in.

I think of an earlier poem I wrote.  I don't have as much time to write an essay today, so here's a poem for our Saturday, which captures this mid-April mood.  We talk about the ides of March, but it seems to me that each month has its danger points.

The Ides of April
Mid April, when bills come due and debts
must be paid.  Both winter and summer battle
for dominance and rip the landscape
with tornadoes and late spring snows.

Good battles evil, captives set free
by way of forced and bloody frenzies.  Refugees
driven from their homes trudge down dusty
roads towards a desert destiny of freedom.

A gospel of radical love battles entrenched
orthodoxy.  We must sacrifice our lust
for structure and rules, our yearning
for punishment.  We must arc our minds
towards grace and unconquered redemption.

We must be as flowers who battle
against the frozen ground, who thrust
themselves towards a distant sun
in the hope of a future warmth,
a profuse explosion of fiery blooms.

And here's a photo of a fiery bloom from my recent trip to Hawaii.  We were surrounded by floral loveliness, but this plumeria/frangipani tree captured me like no other:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Flunking Holy Week

Two weeks ago, we'd have been getting ready to go to the airport to make our way to Hawaii.  Because we knew we'd be leaving early, we didn't go to Maundy Thursday services.  Because we were in the air all day, we didn't go to Good Friday services. 

But because the stream of the liturgical year is always moving below the rocks of my regular day, I was aware of what I was missing.  I did my own recognition of the holy days, but it was strange to observe them alone.

Wendy has a post about flunking Lent.  I flunked Holy Week.  Or maybe I just made a D.

On Maundy Thursday, I did have communal meals, but nothing like some Maundy Thursday meals I've had in the past (the occasional Seder, the pot luck dinner).  A group of work friends went to lunch in our work neighborhood; someone paid for our lunch, including the to-go lunches that we were taking back to colleagues who couldn't leave their desks.  That would have been strange any day, but it felt especially weighted with meaning on Maundy Thursday.

On Maundy Thursday evening, while the rest of the Christian world washed feet and stripped altars, we shared a simple meal of hamburgers with a friend and then did our final packing.  Again, our activities fit a Maundy Thursday theme in a way, but a strange way.

We got up early on Good Friday and made our way to the airport.  We waited for our first flight, and one of our fellow travelers told us about his recent heart attack and renewed life:  an Easter story!

In the Dallas airport, an announcement invited us all to the chapel for a Good Friday service, but didn't tell us where the chapel was.  I wondered if the worship planners did what they would normally do, or if a Good Friday service in an airport chapel would be substantially different.

And then we got on the plane for our almost 9 hour flight to Hawaii.  I thought about all the mortifications of the body that a long flight requires.  I won't go as far as to call it a crucifixion; I'm very clear about the agony involved in that punishment.

We flew west, so the falling of the night was always behind us.  I'd love to be the kind of person who sleeps on a plane, but even on overnight flights, I have trouble.  On a flight where the sun doesn't set, it's even harder.

We ended Good Friday sitting by a pool under the light of the full moon.  We drank tropical drinks and ate fried chicken.  Even my best poet self can't make that experience fit into a Good Friday theme.

It's strange to be in the Easter season, having missed Holy Week and having had a very simple Easter.  I like Wendy's assertion:  "Now it’s Eastertide, a new season, a new day, a new opportunity. I am trying to practice creativity this Easter. I am following Christine Valters Paintner’s book The Artist’s Rule, and seeing what I can do over this season to be contemplative and creative. So far I am at a brilliant so-so."

A brilliant so-so--at least it's better than flunking!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wounds: Hidden and Healed

I continue to think about doubting Thomas, the figure from last Sunday's lectionary.  I think about his insistence in touching the wounds of Christ.

How many of us demand the same?  We want proof, something made of marble and concrete, before we believe.

I think of all the forces I'll never understand:  electricity, internal combustion, how the orchid can survive with so little water.

I walk the labyrinth and feel my equilibrium restored.  I'm not sure I understand that process either.

I think of all the hidden wounds.

I pray for healing, another process I cannot always comprehend.

Luckily, God does not need my comprehension.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 19, 2015:

First Reading: Acts 3:12-19

Psalm: Psalm 4

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-7

Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48

In this week's Gospel, we have another post-Resurrection appearance story, and what an odd story it is. In the post-Resurrection stories, Jesus has taken on supernatural capacities that he didn't really demonstrate before his crucifixion. Here, he suddenly appears (a few verses earlier, he has vanished after eating).

The disciples quite logically assume that they're seeing a ghost. Their senses, rooted in the rational world, can't make sense of what they're seeing and hearing. Those of us who spend our secular lives surrounded by people who are disdainful of the mystical might find ourselves more sympathetic to their plight.

Perhaps we've felt the same way. It's not hard to accept the pre-Resurrection stories of Jesus, at least most of them. We're not unaccustomed to hearing about humans who can do almost superhuman things: human rights crusaders, charismatic politicians, the fabulous doctor that we'd hate to lose. Just think of Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu, and Aung San Suu Kyi, and all those other people who might make us feel inadequate for just living normal lives. Some times, we lump Jesus in with those kinds of people, and we forget about the spiritual side of the Gospel. Even when Jesus performs spectacular miracles, they don't seem outside the range of possibility in our current day and age.

But these post-Resurrection stories don't let us dance away from Jesus' identity. We might know of someone who has been declared dead, maybe for a few minutes, and returned with stories of white lights and floating above one's body. But to die and lie in a tomb for 3 days and then come back to life? So far, no human has ever done that.

I like how these post-Resurrection stories, shrouded as they may be in mystery, are also still rooted in the earthy body-ness of Jesus. Jesus appears to people, and then he asks for food, which he eats. This evidence shows that he's not a ghost or a spiritual presence; doubters can't explain the post-Resurrection sightings with this claim. Jesus is still God Incarnate. His body still needs all the things our bodies need: food, liquid, sleep, a bath.

In this week's Gospel, Jesus again shows us a useful way of inhabiting our human bodies. He shows his scars, which might lead to some exchanging of stories, if the disciples didn't already know the story of how he got them. He shares food with them. He reminds them of their higher destiny and calls them to greater things.

Jesus is still here, reminding us of his scars and of the capacity to overcome those things that scar us. Jesus is still here, waiting to share a meal with us. Jesus is still here, reminding us that we are witnesses, that we are called to a far greater destiny than our tiny imaginations can envision.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Practice of Paying Attention

We may not think of the practice of mindfulness as being part of the Lutheran/Christian tradition, but I would argue that it should be.

I'm also interested in the intersections of mindfulness as a spiritual practice and mindfulness as part of a creative practice. 

In short, the practice of mindfulness can enrich us on so many levels--so why is it so difficult?  Why do so many of us avoid this practice?

One obvious reason:  if we are mindful, we are not mindful just of joy and beauty.  Mindfulness means letting ourselves feel grief and loss.  Many of us try to numb/avoid these feelings.

In her new book Small Victories:  Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, Anne Lamott reminds us that only by grieving, by letting ourselves feel that emotion deeply, do we move beyond grief.  Her essay "Ladders" in the book is an amazing exploration of the process of grieving.  She talks about the strange phenomena of full grieving often having moments of connectedness and joy.  She says, ". . . finally grief ends up giving you the two best gifts:  softness and illumination" (p. 35).

But it's not only grieving that can give us these gifts.  Jane Hirshfield reminds us that a creative practice can give us softness and illumination too.  In this interview, she reflects on her twin practices of Zen meditation and writing poetry:  "Both writing and any spiritual practice are technologies to exceed your own capacity for presence. Both are learned by entering them over and over, and both are without any arrivable-at destination. You don’t write a poem and say, “Good, I’ve done that now.” It’s more like breathing: you finish one poem and begin another. The same is true of meditation. One breath leads to another. Some breaths are transparent, some are filled with silent weeping. Some tremble on the cusp of disappearance, others become the sound of cars or birds. Closely attended, any moment is boundless and always changing. You emerge from these kinds of undoing awareness and you know it is not you yourself who are all-important. You know something of the notes of your own scale."

I'm thinking of mindfulness because of my recent holiday experiences.  On the plane ride to Hawaii, my reading light didn't work and the in-flight entertainment was also not working, so I spent much of the flight looking out the window.  I was amazed at the beauty of the country underneath me.  At points, I wanted to run through the plane reminding people to look outside.

Of course, most people were sleeping or looking at their electronic devices.  They probably wouldn't have appreciated my enthusiasm.  How much do we miss because we forget to look?

At the resort, I also noticed how many people sat and pecked at their screens.  Part of me understands.  Part of my route to mindfulness, after all, involves writing, which involves a computer.  But part of me wanted to say, "Here we are, at a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific, and what are we doing?"

No doubt about it:  mindfulness is tough, whether it's being mindful of our losses or of the surrounding beauty.  But many of our best teachers make it clear that the rewards of mindfulness are great.

Monday, April 13, 2015

From One Paradise to Another: the Hawaii Overview and Spiritual Insights

I am back from a long journey--faithful readers may not have realized that I was gone, since I left posts scheduled to go up.  Or perhaps faithful readers said, "Hey, she's not writing every day like she usually does."

My family tries to go on a big trip every few years (while we're all alive and able to travel and able to make our schedules sync), and this year, we headed to Hawaii.  It was a wonderful trip, although the plane trip feels ever more arduous.

For an overview of the trip, see this post on my creativity blog.  In this post, I want to think about my trip from a spiritual standpoint.  Today's post will be more of an overview than an in-depth exploration.

--Although we were at a resort, we did more than relax in the sun.  I was glad that we had a chance to explore and appreciate the natural world of the island of Oahu, both by day and night.  We went on a great boat trip, where we saw all sorts of marine life.  Some of it is similar to our marine life in our backyard sea.  But we also saw Hawaiian Spinner dolphins and sea turtles and even a whale, which I assume was on its way back to Alaska.

--The natural landscape is breathtaking.  All sorts of mountains and clouds and sunsets to make me remember to appreciate the diversity of creation.

--We also got to appreciate the night sky in a way that I usually forget to do.  The moon was full for part of our trip, and I loved seeing the moon full in a new location.  I also had fun watching it set.

----We also had an astronomy tour.  A NASA ambassador set up some very powerful telescopes and showed us some wonderful objects, up a bit closer.

--Part of me still expects to see Hubble-type images when I look through those telescopes.  I am surprised to look through powerful telescopes to see stars that look like specks--larger specks than I can see with my naked eyes, but tiny still.

--Several days, I got up just before dawn to try to see the Southern Cross, but it was always too overcast.  Still, there was beauty to behold in the pre-dawn light.  I said a prayer of gratitude.

--We did a bit of driving around the island.  I was surprised by how few churches I saw--very different from the landscape of the Southern U.S. mainland.  One church simply labeled itself Protestant.  The Catholic church had a statue of Jesus, complete with several leis.

--Since the Lutheran church was on the other side of the island, we decided to create our own worship service.  More on that later.  Suffice it to say that it was very moving.

--There was an Easter worship service on the grounds of the resort, which was surprisingly well-attended.  We thought about going, but we'd already created our own, and we wanted to do that instead.  But it did make me wonder about local churches in my own resort community, and how we might minister to the travelers passing through our midst. 

--I loved staring out of the plane window.  What an amazing planet!  Again, I'm struck by the diversity, by the wonders of creation.  It makes me have new appreciation of the creator who made it all.

--Airplane travel tests my resolve to see my fellow humans with love and sympathy.  It seems a metaphor for all sorts of spiritual disciplines and tests.  I suspect this topic has already been covered by better theologians than me.

--There were many times when the noise and bustle of a resort was almost too much.  I was glad for the peaceful times of pre-dawn.  I wondered if Hawaii had many retreat centers.  Some day, I might like to experience one.  I suspect there would be an Asian influence, which could be good.

But overall, it was a great trip. It's good to travel, to make that effort, to see how other parts of the world live (and even in a resort, we see glimpses).  It helps renew my appreciation of both my home and the wider world.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Justice Poem Prompts

A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of prompts for the Create in Me retreat planners to use.  My vision:  that people would fill in blanks and come up with interesting ways to think about justice.

I thought I'd post the exercise here, too, in case it would be more widely useful.

Justice Poem Prompts



Fill in the blanks, make new blanks, and see what happens.



What does justice look like?



--The elders say, “Our children need ___________________________.”


--The prophet calls upon the legislator and says, “Do  _________________________.”


--The flocks say, “Give us ___________________________________.”


--The angel Gabriel gives us these instructions:  “_____________________________.”



A different approach; fill in these blanks and then in the next section, fill in those blanks:


Detail of shift from one season to another ________________________________


Type of noise ________________________________________


Element of nature  _____________________________________________


Type of emotion _________________________________________________


Favorite flower __________________________________________________


Something very tiny  ________________________________________________


Floor or wall covering  ______________________________________________


Something nourishing ________________________________________________


Favorite fruit __________________________________________________________


Element of self-care  ______________________________________________


Something that oozes _____________________________________________


Favorite treat  ________________________________________________________


Something that turns _______________________________________________


Something that grinds   ___________________________________________________


Now let’s move to the next section and see what happens:


--A commitment to justice helps us offer __________________________________.


--We yearn for the day when justice covers the earth like ______________________________.


--We are crushed into bits smaller than _____________________ by injustice.


--Truth rolls down through the valley like ________________________________________.


--When I work for justice, it’s as if ________________________________________________.


--I first felt the move to justice as __________________________________ ripening.


--Evildoers cover their rotten foundations with _____________________________.


--We burn with __________________________________for truth and justice.


--Injustice grinds us like a giant ____________________________________________.


--The____________________________ of justice turns slowly, but the turning does occur.


--The ___________________________of justice has found fertile soil in my heart.


--_________________________grows in the garden of justice.



One last question which may prompt poems:


Is the pomegranate of justice different than the pineapple of justice?



Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bonhoeffer's Meaning for the Twenty-first Century

On this day in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was put to death by the Nazis. Like Anne Frank and many other nameless victims, he came heartbreakingly close to surviving the war.  Like Oscar Romero, he fought against a corrupt government and paid with his life.

Bonhoeffer was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. A Lutheran pastor, he lived what he preached, actively resisting the Nazis and living in intentional community. He was arrested for his role in an attempt on Hitler's life.
I've written an essay that's scheduled to post today at the Living Lutheran site.  The essay considers Bonhoeffer's idea of cheap grace explored in The Cost of Discipleship, and in it, I spend time pondering whether or not we've been spending time with the wrong Bonhoeffer book.  Lately, Life Together speaks to me more forcefully.

Go here to read the rest of the blog post, along with all sorts of other thought provoking pieces.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Celebrating Barbara Kingsolver on Her Birthday

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite writers, Barbara Kingsolver. The story of how she moved from being an academic and a technical writer to a woman who makes a living as a creative writer has probably inspired tens of thousands of people.

She was pregnant and suffered insomnia. Her doctor suggested that she clean the bathrooms with a toothbrush, so that she had motivation to stay asleep. Instead, she decided to write what would become her first novel, The Bean Trees. She moved her typewriter into a closet so that she could write on her typewriter and her husband could sleep.

Notice that she had always been a writer. In addition to the academic and technical writing she had been doing as part of her work, she had been writing poems and short stories (for most of her whole life). But The Bean Trees catapulted her into popularity. She's continued to write fantastic novels and wonderful essays. I love how her novels weave themes of social justice into compelling plotlines with characters who are utterly believable.

I love her essays too. If I ever give up this South Florida life and move to a farm, her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will be partly to blame. That book makes sustainable living sound doable.

Hardly a week goes by when I don't wonder if I'm living a good life, the kind of life that makes a difference to anyone.  Kingsolver's books show us ordinary people doing simple actions that tilt the trajectory of humanity towards a more just and humane future.  She assures us that we can all do these things.

 If you've been having a similar time, where you wonder if anything you do is worth doing, here's a quote from Kingsolver to inspire you: "What a writer can do, what a fiction writer or a poet or an essay writer can do, is re-engage people with their own humanity. Fiction and essays can create empathy for the theoretical stranger."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 12, 2015:

First Reading: Acts 4:32-35

Psalm: Psalm 133

Second Reading: 1 John 1:1--2:2

Gospel: John 20:19-31

This week's Gospel returns us to the familiar story of Thomas, who will always be known as Doubting Thomas, no matter what else he did or accomplished.  Years aso, one of the bloggers at RevGalBlogPals said, "You have to love him (while being glad that we're not all branded for centuries on account of one aspect of our characters; you can so imagine it...'She's a bit of a panicking Kathryn, you know...')"; I would forever be Fretful Kristin, I'm afraid.

And yet, what I love about the Gospels most is that we get to see humans interacting with the Divine, in all of our human weaknesses. Particularly in the last few weeks, we've seen humans betray and deny and doubt--but God can work with us.

If you were choosing a group of people most unlikely to start and spread a lasting worldwide movement, it might be these disciples. They have very little in the way of prestige, connections, wealth, networking skills, marketing smarts, or anything else you might look for if you were calling modern disciples. And yet, Jesus transformed them.

Perhaps it should not surprise us. The Old Testament, too, is full of stories of lackluster humans unlikely to succeed: mumblers and cheats, bumblers and the unwise. God can use anyone, even murderers.

How does this happen? The story of Thomas gives us a vivid metaphor. When we thrust our hands into the wounds of Jesus, we're transformed. Perhaps that metaphor is too gory for your tastes, and yet, it speaks to the truth of our God. We have a God who wants to know us in all our gooey messiness. We have a God who knows all our strengths and all our weaknesses, and still, this God desires closeness with us. And what's more, this God invites us to a similar intimacy. Jesus doesn't say, "Here I am, look at me and believe." No, Jesus offers his wounds and invites Thomas to touch him.

Jesus will spend the next several weeks eating with the disciples, breathing on them, and being with them physically one last time. Then he sends them out to transform the wounded world.

We, too, are called to lay our holy hands on the wounds of the world and to heal those wounds. It's not enough to just declare the Good News of Easter. We are called to participate in the ongoing redemption of creation. We know creation intimately, and we know which wounds we are most capable of healing. Some of us will work on environmental issues, some of us will make sure that the poor are fed and clothed, some of us will work with criminals and the unjustly accused, and more of us will help children.

In the coming weeks, be alert to the recurring theme of the breath of Jesus and the breath of God. You have the breath of the Divine on you too.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Poem for Easter Morning

So, here we are at Easter morning.  Here's a poem for Easter.  It tells the story of the first Easter morning from the view of a gardener.  It was inspired by the piece of the Easter story where Mary thinks that Jesus is the gardener, which made me think about the fact that there must have been a real gardener and made me wonder what he thought of all the commotion.

It first appeared in issue 3 of Eye to the Telescope.  The whole volume is devoted to persona poems and edited by Jeannine Hall Gailey.

The Gardener’s Tale

I liked to get to the garden
early, before the harsh
light of day revealed
all my mistakes, all the growth
I couldn’t contain.

I liked the pre-dawn
hours, when I knew
the flowers by their smells
as I rustled
their stems.

That morning I saw
him first. He asked
for bread, and I had a bit
to share. I offered
him olives and some cheese
from my son Simon’s goat.

We talked of ways to attract
butterflies to the garden:
the need for nectar
and leaves for the babies.
I showed him a tree
that had been ailing,
and he suggested a different nourishment.

I thanked him for his wisdom
and moved to the border
of the garden. I didn’t make
the connections until I heard
the shrieks of the women
and Peter nearly knocked me down.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday: A Photo Essay

When I was young, Good Friday was my second favorite service of the year.  My very most favorite, of course, was Christmas Eve.  But I LOVED Good Friday with a passion that might have frightened people if they had known.

For several years, the pastor of my childhood church, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama, read an article that recounted the crucifixion in medical terms.  The article was quite clear about the agony that Christ suffered, hour by hour on the cross.  I remember hearing about wood scraping against scourged flesh and the suffocation that crucifixion brought about.  And the nails--through the wrists, not the palms, since the flesh in human hands won't support human weight on a cross.

I loved that the lights went out as the Good Friday service went on, and eventually there was the big bang when our pastor slammed the big Bible shut.  I loved the drama.  I loved that the service was so different.  I don't understand why churches don't do more with that.

There are so many ways this service can go wrong.  It's too easy to get bogged down in what I call the Old, Rugged Cross school of theology.  That script can get dangerously simplistic:  that Jesus had to come to pay for my sin because 2000 years later I would get into fights with my baby sister.

Of course, my theology of the cross can get dangerously simplistic too.  I focus on the fact that Jesus was crucified.  Ancient Rome had many crimes that warranted death as punishment, but crucifixion was reserved for those who were seen as a threat to the State:  terrorists and insurrectionists and such.  Jesus was seen as such a threat to the social order that the government had to kill him.  But of course, the crucifixion of Christ was about so much more.

I love the way that Nora Gallagher describes the cycle in Things Seen and Unseen:  A Year Lived in Faith:  "I kneel down in front of the cross.  I've come full circle from Ash Wednesday, on my knees for the imposition of ashes, to kneeling here to kiss the cross.  I am marked here, in the same way I was marked with ashes, in the same way I was marked at my baptism.  As my lips met the wood, I'm pierced by a shaft of pain so tender I sob.  A last layer cracks" (page 128).

Good Friday reminds us of all the ways our hopes can be dashed, of all the ways that we can be betrayed and abandoned, of all the ways that it can all go so terribly wrong.  N. T. Wright says, "The greatest religion the world had ever known and the finest system of justice the world had ever known came together to put Jesus on the cross" (How God Became King, page 208).

It's good to remember on Good Friday that God can make beauty out of the most profound ugliness, wholeness out of the most shattered brokenness.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Showing Love on Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day that commemorates so much. The Lutheran tradition sees Maundy Thursday as more than just a memory of the Last Supper.  In fact, the word "Maundy" comes from the Latin word "maundatum" which means commandment. 

I've been thinking about all the ways we can show love for each other.  There's the complete humbling of ourselves, washing the dirtiest parts of each other--that's one approach.

I'm thinking about Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite 20th century theologians.  He wrote many books while teaching at the top universities in the U.S.  However he spent the last few years of his life living in an intentional L'Arche community with a group of Christians who live with extremely disabled people.  For years, Nouwen was the personal assistant for a man with severe disabilities, which meant he helped with bathing and bathroom duties, while also serving as pastor for the Daybreak community.

Does our new mandate call us to that kind of loving sacrifice?

I've been thinking about other kinds of loving sacrifice recently, a different kind of humility.  I was working on two essays, one about Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed March 24, 1980 in El Salvador and one about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, killed April 9, 1945.  Both men could have turned away from the suffering of the poor and oppressed.  Both men could have chosen not to speak up about the government forces doing that oppressing.  They could have lived comfortable lives.

But they chose to speak up for the plight of the people whom others were ignoring.  And for this unceasing call to be better, the empires which ruled the land killed them.

It's important when thinking about Jesus that we not get so focused on his humility that we forget the ways he was not humble.  In his book Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers, Eugene H. Peterson reminds us, "Nothing is more rudely dismissive of Jesus than to treat him as a Sunday school teacher who shows up on Sundays to teach us about God and how to stay out of trouble. If that is the role we assign to Jesus, we will badly misunderstand who he is and what he is about" (page 135).

Jesus showed us the fullness of a life lived in love.  The love he showed went far beyond washing feet and healing the sick.  Jesus called for a change to the very structure of society, a society that was a brutal and dehumanizing experience for all but the ones at the very top.

Jesus spent part of the time leading up to his crucifixion, after all, by pointing out the oppressive power structures that surrounded him and by criticizing those who had made themselves very cozy with the ruling Roman empire.  Think, for example, of Jesus throwing the sellers and moneychangers out of the temple.  The Roman empire put him to death and rather swiftly.

But the Easter story reminds us that God can use even the most abject situations, the darkest times, to move the world towards redemption and resurrection.  At times it may seem that evil has the final word, but the Passion story shows us that even the violence wrought by unjust earthly systems can be changed into a force for redemption and resurrection.  Humans may not be able to force that change--but God can.

I'm also thinking of an even older story of God overcoming oppression.  Soon it will be Passover.  Soon many of us in a multitude of traditions will hear the story of the Jews led out of Egypt.  We will hear about a different kind of love--which is in so many ways, the exact same kind of love.

I have a post over at the Living Lutheran site that ponders the intersections of the Seder meal and Holy Week.  I conclude the essay this way:  "My experiences with the seder meals through the years have left me nourished in all sorts of ways. I like this reminder that God delivers freedom to the oppressed and that, even in our ingratitude, God will not leave us stranded. As long as Christians approach the seder with respect, and ideally in consultation with Jewish resources, we can celebrate our ecumenical seder meals."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Meditation on Holy Week and This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 5, 2015:

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43

First Reading (Alt.): Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Second Reading (Alt.): Acts 10:34-43

Gospel: Mark 16:1-8

Gospel (Alt.): John 20:1-18

Finally we move through Holy Week to Easter Sunday. At last, our Lenten pilgrimage draws to a close.

But perhaps you still linger back at Ash Wednesday. Perhaps you find the Good Friday texts more evocative than the Easter texts. It's interesting how our emotional lives aren't always in sync with the liturgical seasons or the Lectionary.
Maybe this year we can approach the Holy Week stories differently.   Maundy Thursday gives us a view of how to love each other.  Notice that it's about what we do:  we eat together, we wash each other's feet, we anoint with oil.  It's not about an emotion--it's about an action.  It's not a theory of love, but a concrete way of being loving.

We are called to break bread together, to drink wine together. We are called to invite the outcast to supper with us. We are called to care for each other's bodies--not to sexualize them or mock them or brutalize them, but to wash them tenderly. Thus fortified, we are called to announce that the Kingdom of God is breaking out among us in the world in which we live, and we are called to demand justice for the oppressed.

Perhaps we find ourselves more like the disciples who would transform the loving act of anointing with oil into a way to help the poor by selling that oil and giving the money to the poor.  It seems a good way to show love.  Jesus rebukes this way of thinking.  We will always have the poor; we won't always have the ones we love.  This year, a year when so many mourn such severe losses, those words speak to me.

Good Friday gives us a way to think about betrayal and how we can respond.  The Good Friday message is that we will all betray God.  But some of us will try again, while others will give up in abject despair.

I also find myself thinking about the tree that must wish for a great destiny, but is transformed into an instrument of torture.  Likewise, Jesus, who has been in some amount of control of his own actions, but finds himself handed over to others.  In this past year when I've watched so many friends and colleagues battle cancer--handed over to the medical-industrial complex--the idea of the Passion takes on an excruciating hue.

Easter promises us that our efforts will not be in vain. In Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N. T. Wright says forcefully, " . . . 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). We may not understand how God will transform the world. We may not be able to believe that bleakness will be defeated. But Easter shows us God's promise that death is not the final answer.

Spring reminds us that nature commits to resurrection. Easter reminds us of God's promise of resurrection. Now is the time for us to rekindle our resurrection selves.