Monday, August 31, 2015

God Language and Metaphor

Earlier this August, our congregation’s sending hymn was “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It was strange to hear this song so far away from Reformation Sunday, but hearing it as part of a regular service and not on a high-festival day gave me a chance to really listen to the lyrics – something I haven’t done for many years.  I wrote an essay exploring the metaphors that we use for God over at the Living Lutheran site.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite.

"I know the history of the time period in which Luther lived, work and wrote. I know that God as fortress, as bulwark (to use the older language), as sword and shield might have been remarkably effective for those listeners."

"I realize that the Bible is full of rich imagery, but it has problems, too. I think of all the agricultural metaphors and bread metaphors. Do they speak to people who have never made a loaf of yeasted bread?"

"I know that many people hate Facebook or other types of social media, but they’re a means of communication that help many of us stay connected. I see God as my Facebook feed on my birthday, full of messages from people throughout my past, all of whom are writing to wish me well. Facebook at its best reminds me that I am surrounded by a wide world of love. God’s love is vast like that."

"I’ve been thinking of God as a coral reef, something that sustains a variety of creatures and keeps the ocean healthier than it would be without a coral reef."

Read the whole blog post here.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Breath of God

We won't be dealing with a tropical storm today, but we do have some remnants.  We've had thunderstorms sweep through in waves through the night.  It's unusual for us to have these kinds of storms, with lots of lightning, in overnight hours.

Luckily, there's been space between the bands of storms, so our streets aren't flooded; we'll be able to make it to church.  There was even a moment of eerie, beautiful light.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a different kind of sunrise picture:

With the flash on, the pictures take on an apocalyptic quality:

Yesterday I wrote about going through old files and finding poems that I thought might be lost forever.  Let me post one here.  I think I wrote it in 1998, when we had a hurricane pass nearby.  My spouse and I went to Hollywood Beach, and I was impressed by the power of the ocean and the wind, even with the storm passing through the space between the Florida Keys and Cuba, some 5 hours to our south.

I wrote the following poem, which I still like.  I look at my current poems and see how much I've grown as a poet.  But I'm glad that poems like these still make me happy.

I think there's a Pentecost/Holy Spirit quality to this poem too, although I wouldn't have articulated it quite this way at the time I wrote it.  In the intervening years, I've become much more aware of the wind imagery in the Bible, in the idea of God breathing and creating things, in the idea of "ruack," that wonderful, Old Testament word for wind and used to describe God's creative process in the creation stories of Genesis.

Clean Sweep

While other folks board
up their windows,
she opens hers wide
to the hurricane winds.

She goes to the beach.
Unlike the surfers,
she has no interest in waves
that crash against the shore.

The sand abrades her skin.
The wind sweeps into every crevice.
Behind her, transformers pop and crackle.
Energy explodes.

Even though the palms bow
to the storm, she lifts
her arms above her head,
struggles to remain standing.

That night, she sleeps
soundly. Even though the wind
howls and hoots and hammers at the walls,
she breathes clean air and dreams fresh visions.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hurricanes Present and Past

It looks like today may be more of a normal Saturday than I was expecting.  I checked the 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, and we are no longer in the cone of possibility.  Hurrah!

Of course, we may still get some heavy rain.  We will now be on the dirty side of the storm, if there's a storm moving north.   If we get enough rain for flooding, which often happens during heavy thunderstorms that last over an hour, we have sandbags.
Ten years ago, life would have been different.  We'd have been in the condo that we still owned after the death of my spouse's mom in April, returning to our house to do hurricane clean up from Hurricane Katrina.  Ten years ago today, Hurricane Katrina would have been coming ashore at New Orleans.  And then, the levees broke, which did the true damage.

Happily, this week will be different for me.  My hurricane prep is done, and does not require a lot of undoing--the sandbags can be stored as sandbags.  Hopefully the storm will fall into tiny shreds that bring rain but not much destruction.  Hopefully the island of Domenica, so far the worst hit, can recover quickly.

But let us also use this time to remember the lives lost with every storm.  Let us remember those who will never return to their homes.  Let us remember the homes that are gone forever.

Here's a prayer that I wrote for those preparing for storms and those recovering:

Creator God, who fashioned this astonishing planet of atmospheric swirls, help us remember the abundance that our habitat usually offers us.  Be with those who work to protect their homes.  Be with those who can never return.  Be with those who suffer from fear and anxiety each time a storm gathers intensity.  Remind us that you are with us, and help calm our fears.

Friday, August 28, 2015

An Illuminated Prayer for Those in the Path of the Storm

As storm clouds gather, let us remember God's power:

Let the batteries not die.  Let us remember the true source of our light:

As we fill up the water bottles, we can remember our baptism:

Let us take time to savor the sweetness, especially when storms approach:

As we shutter the windows, we can also protect the fragile and the breakable:

We must cling to the ultimate promise:  the sun will come out, and order will be restored:

(with the exception of the sunrise beach picture, the other pictures were taken in August of 2012, as we prepared for Hurricane Isaac, which stayed to our south)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stay Alert: Watching for Hurricanes, Watching for God

I've spent an inordinate amount of time tracking Tropical Storm Erika.  At work yesterday, productivity plummeted as we kept a wary eye on Tropical Storm Erika.  It's not like we waited for the update at 11 a.m. and then went back to work.  We analyzed the cone of probability.  We looked at possible rain amounts.  We tried to remember which side of the storm is the more destructive side.

I have a vision of God saying, "You know, if you spent half the time that you've spent on this storm on the look-out for me--why think of how your life would be different!"

I always try to be mindful of how I spend my time, but I'm not always successful.  Often I say, "Hey, I've spent a lot of time on Internet sites that don't nourish me"--but it's after I've spent more time than I would like on those sites.  Sigh.

As I do an inventory of my days, I realize how much more I could work writing opportunities into my day.  I would like to remember to stretch every time I get up from my chair.  I'd like to pray more.

There's so much to distract us.  Again and again, I lose patience with myself and say, "Why is this so hard for you?"

As I analyze my frazzled, fractured attention span during approaching tropical systems, I realize that this state of mind is becoming more common.  It's not just during hurricane season. 

I think about my spin class experiences--it's easy for me to lose focus.  But my spin class instructor always calls us back.

A friend of mine talks about her frustration living in the center of a German town (Heidelberg?).  She talks about the church bells going off every 15 minutes and how that frustrated her.  I know that many people likely tune out the bells.  I like to think that I would use them to center my attention.

I could do something similar with alerts on my computer or a chime on my watch.  But my ultimate goal is to be mindful without the reminder.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 30, 2015:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Psalm: Psalm 15

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 45:1-2, 6-10 (Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 NRSV)

Second Reading: James 1:17-27

Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

You don't need me to tell you that humans are a rule-bound people. I've often wondered why this would be. I suspect people get to Heaven and try to create new rules. Many of us are committed to rules that make us unhappy. I have a friend who irons rather obsessively, for example. She complains bitterly about her family's ironing expectations. Why doesn't she just buy clothes that don't need such care? Why doesn't she pull clothes out of the dryer after about 10 minutes and hang them up? Why doesn't she accept wrinkles?

My favorite science fiction writer, Octavia Butler, had a theory that humans are both excessively intelligent and excessively hierarchical, and these two traits are often in opposition. It is our tendency towards hierarchy that so often gets us into trouble. We divide the world into the pressed and the wrinkled, between the vegetarians and the meat eaters, the drinkers and the A.A. folks: essentially between the people who live right (which means according to the rules we accept) and those who don't.

We often think that the Pharisees in Jesus' time were rule-bound people who couldn't see that God walked among them, even as Jesus was right there before them. While that is true, it's also important to realize that the Pharisees thought that following the rules to the letter was the trait that would save the Jews. We must not forget that the Jews of Jesus' time were under threat from many sides. We forget that Rome was a brutal dictatorship in so many ways, and that the peace that the Jews had found could have been (and eventually was) easily overturned.

We fail to realize how similar we are to the Pharisees. How much time do we consume wondering why people live the lives they do? I'm driven to mad frustration by the actions (and inactions) of some of my colleagues. What I'm really saying is "Why won't they act right? If they'd just act the way we all should act, life would be so much easier!" Of course, they probably say the same thing about me.

We look back to past periods of humanity, and we shake our heads over the things with which they were obsessed. We can't imagine the ritual purity laws that were in place in Jesus' time. We can't imagine the rigidly stratified societies that most humans have created. We can't imagine a time when women couldn't get credit in their own name or a time when blacks and whites had separate bathrooms, but those days aren't that far away from our own.

Jesus reminds us that so many of our rules come from humans, not from God. We think that God ordained the rules that we embrace, rules which so often tell us what not to do, but Jesus reminds us that there's one essential rule: love each other. God will judge us on the quality of our relationships. I've seen all sorts of relationships. I suspect that God would prefer the lesbian couple who still genuinely loves each other to the heterosexual relationship where the couple is cold and condescending to each other.

But more to the point, I suspect God is baffled by our constant desire to rank these things. God probably wonders why we can't just get it together and help each other to become more loving people. God probably wonders why we are so judgmental, even as we engage in all sorts of harmful behaviors.

Jesus reminds us again and again that love is our highest nature and that the actions that move us towards being loving humans are the ones that we should take. We can operate from a place of love or we can act from a place of fear. As we act out of love, we will find ourselves in company with God.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Market Tumbles and Where We Store Our Treasures

All day yesterday, as I watched the world's stock markets tumble, I thought about various Bible passages that talk about wealth and where we place our trust. 

Money--and the power and status that it brings--is a powerfully seductive thing. Once, when facing reduced circumstances as my husband left his job, my Charismatic Catholic AA friend acted as if I'd had a death in the family.

I shrugged and said, "I think having too much money is spiritually dangerous."

You wouldn't think I'd have to explain that to her, but I did.

If we have too much money, we tend to think of ourselves as capable and smart and able to go about our lives on our own. We think we don't need God. And soon, we begin to worry that we don't have enough money, and we lash ourselves to our jobs, jobs that require ever more of us, so that we can ensure we have enough money. But we'll never have enough money.

We will never have enough money. We will never be safe and protected by having enough money.

The only way to win that game (to paraphrase books and movies about other subjects, like female beauty and nuclear war) is not to play.
When markets tumble, I'm reminded of how much faith I've put in my money, of how I've stored up for myself treasures on earth, where moths and rust and thieves and worldwide economic downturns can take it.

Most spiritual traditions warn us not to rely on our monetary wealth.  Yesterday's market tumble was a good reminder.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Longing for Other Liturgical Seasons

When I was a child, I thought of this liturgical time as the long, green season.  I still do.  How I long for different colored paraments.

I'd like a festival Sunday to come along to interrupt the late summer malaise.

I'm ready for autumnal bouquets.

I look forward to Advent:  four special Sundays ending in Christmas:

The drama of Good Friday would be a welcome interruption:

But the late summer malaise may yet have much to teach us.  Let us listen for those lessons.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hurricanes and Church History

I wondered if any work has been done on the impact of severe weather events on church history.  I have hurricanes on the brain, because of where I live, but I'm also thinking of fire and earthquake.  I've been thinking about Hurricane Katrina which blew through South Florida 10 years ago today, and Hurricane Andrew who stormed through 23 years ago tomorrow.  I'm thinking of churches that never did recover, as their members moved, and new members never came to take their place.

I might also think about insurance rates, which may have driven some churches out of business.  I know many churches who are not insured for wind, because the deductible is ridiculously high--if a church knows they will never be able to pay the deductible, then why pay the monthly insurance bill, also quite high.

I think of hurricanes and our experience of God.  I think of the laws of nature, laws of Physics and Chemistry, laws which are not very forgiving.

I think of human structures and institutions, so very fragile in the face of these harsh laws of nature. However, I also think of the ways that humans come together in the aftermath of a storm.

I wonder how storms change our brain chemistry--I think of those of us who may never achieve brain stability again.  I wonder how these traumatic events affect the long-term health of the church.

When a storm forms, I watch some of the weather bloggers react with glee, and I say to my screen, "You have never spent 6 weeks trying to move ficus tree debris from your back yard only to have a stronger hurricane rip through."

Ten years ago, it had just started raining in South Florida.  By the end of the day, many of us had a lot of clean up to do.  Our back yard ficus fell over, very gently, and squished our shed.  In the picture below, you can see the top of the shed, now on the ground:

In the picture above, much of the debris has been cut away to reveal the shed below.  The picture below gives you some sense of the scale; the figure in faded red is my spouse bending over his chain saw with the fallen tree above him:

Luckily, my spouse was able to get the chainsaw out from under the tree.

Just looking at these pictures makes me tired.  And this damage was done by a category 1 storm, not a superstorm like Hurricane Andrew, which wiped out Homestead 23 years ago tomorrow.

How do hurricanes change our faith and our larger church institutions?  And how can we train for resilience in the face of a changing climate? 

Climates of all sorts are changing--I wonder how these events will shape our history?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Jimmy Carter's Witness

I am not the only one sad about Jimmy Carter's cancer diagnosis.  And I am not the only one who is admiring the way he is handling it.

However, I am not surprised by his reaction.  The man has always exemplified grace under pressure.  And his Christian ideals have always undergirded his actions.  So I'm not surprised that his faith supports him now.

I loved his line from his press conference that he hopes the last guinea worm dies before he does.  If that happens, Carter and his Carter center can take full credit for that.  It's an easy pest to eradicate, but because it was so easy, and the possibility for profit so minimal, no one had done it.  But he's close--there are only 126 cases left in the world.  When he started his campaign, there were 3.5 million cases (from this NPR news story).

I'm glad that Carter has talked about his long, full, good life.  I'm glad that he's talked about his lack of fear and being ready for the next step in his adventure, while avoiding some of the stranger platitudes about Heaven.

He's been an amazing former president--an amazing human in general.  Some of his opportunities to be amazing have come from his standing as a former president, but many of us could have lived similar lives.  I love the stories of people who have gone to Plains, Georgia on Sundays when he's in town.  He teaches a Sunday School class where all are welcome; go here to see the schedule.  People who stay for Sunday School and church can stay to meet the Carters.  He's reported to stay as long as people are there who want to meet him.

I love that he's continued his Sunday School teaching even as he's been doing other amazing activities, like helping rebuild in the face of humanitarian disasters.  He's scheduled to go to Nepal soon, for example--even after his cancer diagnosis.

I hope he continues to have a vibrant life, but I am aware that he's in his 90's.  He won't live forever.  But I'm glad for his life of witness.  How I wish more of us could live this way!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Training Cheerful Givers

Our church is off-lectionary.  For the next 2 weeks, we'll be focusing on the spiritual discipline of giving with these readings:

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 & Luke 6:27-36

In my much younger years, I remember having heated arguments with my parents about money--but not the kind of arguments you might expect.  My parents tried to train us to have good money sense, which included talking about how we would spend our money.  In my rebellious years, I didn't think I should give money to charity.  I had an attitude which might be very typical:  "I earned it; why should I give it to charity?  What did they do to deserve any of my money?"

We may have been the only family talking about the idea of tithing as we ate our family meals. 

My parents had very good answers, and they must have sunk in, because I give money to charity now.  My charities include the church and church camps, a variety of social justice organizations (all of them Christian, not all of them Lutheran), and other good causes.  Along the way, I've returned to my parents to have discussions of what it means to give our money away.

If I give money to a friend or family member who is having money problems, is that the same as giving money to an organization that helps the poor?  If I give away household goods, does that count as cheerful giving?  Does it only count if I give away items I still like?  Or can I be even more cheerful a giver if I'm getting rid of clutter while also giving away items?  How does doing volunteer work count?

You may notice a spreadsheet mentality in those questions, and you would be right.  What counts?  What doesn't?  It's not a very grace-filled approach.

My family talked a lot about the idea of tithing.  My Lutheran pastor grandfather and grandmother had a simple approach to giving:  for every amount that came into the household, they gave 10% to the church, 10% to savings, the rest to spend on expenses.

In my adolescent years, I asked my parents, "Why 10%?  Why not 15 or 20?"

My dad once replied that 10% is enough so that you notice it; it's not an extreme hardship to give up 10%, but it requires you to be more intentional.  But it's also a goal that can be met by most of us.  My parents understood the importance of not setting up children to fail, and they saw the same thinking behind the idea of tithing.

My parents didn't mention the additional benefit of regular giving:  most of us who give away part of our money notice that money loosens its grip on us.  Most of us who don't give say that we can't afford it--I've been that kind of non-cheerful, non-giver during parts of my life, so I do understand.

But I've noticed that when I give on a regular basis, I'm not as clenched about the idea of money and having enough money.  My spreadsheet mentality loosens its grip on me.  I begin to give out of a sense of gratitude, not because I think that God is making notes on that spreadsheet in the sky.

I give because I have and others don't.  I give because I've had opportunities, and many of them came my way out of sheer luck, not because I'm more deserving.  I give because I like the way it feels when I share.  I give because when we pool our resources, we can accomplish so much more than when we try to hang on to what we see as ours with our clenched fists.

And in this way, I can transform myself into the cheerful giver that God wants me to be--not because of a spreadsheet, but because God has a vision of a world where everyone has enough.

What a wonderful, grace-soaked vision!  And we can help bring it about by sharing what we have.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Poetry Thursday: "The True Miracle of St. Brigid"

If April is the cruelest month, perhaps August is the most exhausting month.  The heat seems permanently set at "instant wilt" setting.  I started the month with lots of grading as my online classes came to an end.  I can't seem to settle into a writing groove.  In my administrator job, I'm working with three schedules at once:  Summer, Midquarter, and Fall. 

For comfort, I've been thinking about medieval monastics who formed nunneries and kept them running and did their creative work and cared for the larger community.  People like Hildegard of Bingen and Brigid (of Ireland) probably had creatively difficult months or months where their workload increased, yet they kept going.

A few years ago, as I was researching Saint Brigid for her feast day, a poem came to me.  It's just been published in Adanna, and I'm happy to repost it here.  If you want some background on Brigid, see this blog post.

The True Miracle of Saint Brigid

You know about the baskets
of butter, the buckets of beer,
the milk that flowed
to fill a lake.

You don’t know about the weeks
we prayed for the miracle
of multiplication but instead received
the discipline of division.

I managed the finances to keep us all fed.
By day, I rationed the food.
At night, I dreamed of a sculpture
manufactured of metal.

I didn’t have the metal
or the time, but in the minutes
had, I illuminated
any scrap of paper I could find.

Lost to the ashes:
The Book of Kildare, but also
my budget ledgers, flowers
and birds drawn around the numbers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for August 23, 2015:

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Psalm 34:15-22

The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous. (Ps. 34:15)

Ephesians 6:10-20

John 6:56-69

In some ways, the Gospel readings get more difficult with each passing Sunday this August. They're difficult in part because they seem so repetitive: another week, another set of verses on flesh and bread and feasting on what actually nourishes us. You might find yourself protesting, "O.K., O.K., I get it."

We've spent the last month hearing about the importance of both physical and spiritual nourishment. As school starts, as the political campaign season picks up steam, as we start to think about the hustle and bustle of holidays that will soon be here, it’s good to be reminded of the importance of nourishing both ourselves and others.

Maybe it’s time to recommit to the good nourishment patterns that we know will keep us healthier. There's still time to enjoy summer's pleasures when it comes to the produce stand:  have melons for breakfast and corn on the cob for dinner. Bake a batch of bread or muffins. Watch the bread rise and remind yourself of the larger Christian task of being leaven in the loaf of society.

Think of ways that you can nourish yourself spiritually so that you can be that leaven. Can you add some additional reading to your day? How about some extra prayer time?

You say you have no time? Stop watching the news: a spiritual practice that will benefit in all sorts of ways. Spend as much time in prayer as you do on Facebook. Listen to your favorite spiritual music as you go through the day’s tasks.

Once we've nourished ourselves, maybe we'll be better able to nourish each other. 

The world groans more and more each day. We must fortify ourselves and each other to face the task of repairing the world. Our month of bread readings reminds us of the ways to do that. As delicious as our home-baked loaves of bread are, Jesus reminds us of the source of our true nourishment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Illuminated Prayer for the Beginning of the School Year

If your county's children haven't yet reported to school, they will soon.  They will learn to stand in neat lines:

They will have reading to do.  Will they have stacks of books to read--or is all reading done on electronic devices now?

They might have new art forms to learn:

Perhaps there will be time to play outside:

But the desk will rule the schedule:

May teachers remember the precious lives they hold in their hands:

May students be able to make sense of it all and to see the illumination lying underneath:

May baskets of angels protect us all:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Blessing Backpacks, Blessing Teachers, Blessing All Workers?

Yesterday my church blessed teachers and staff--our public school teachers head back today, and students head back to class a week from now.  So Sunday, we'll bless the students and their backpacks.

I've written about aspects of this blessing service before, but I recently wrote a post for the Living Lutheran site which weaves various strands together.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"We also bless teachers, usually on the Sunday before we bless the students, since teachers return to school first. At first, I hesitated to go up with the other teachers. Some of my teacher friends in the church teach seventh grade; I’m sure that my job teaching college level English is easier."

"In terms of what we do in a normal week or month in church, I find being blessed to be a profound experience. When I was a child, we did none of this. I'm glad we do it now."

"It made me wonder why we only bless teachers. Many of us have jobs caring for our fellow citizens. Many of us hold lives in our hands. Perhaps we're workers in the medical field, and we literally hold lives in our hands. Perhaps we work with data, and metaphorically we hold lives in our hands. I’d like to see us move to blessing more workers across a variety of fields."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Letters and the Making of a Canon

Our weeks of thinking about Paul's letter to the Thessalonians has made me think about letter writing, both past and present.

I was intrigued to see this post about the same topic.  The question arose in a Bible study group as to which letters were saved and which were not:

"When my class eventually turned its attention to this topic, I gave them a discussion topic I typically use in my classes at Butler University. I asked them to imagine that a new letter of Paul’s had been discovered, and to discuss whether it ought to be added to the New Testament.

Inevitably such discussions cover the same ground that the ancient church did, such as matters of authenticity, apostolicity, catholicity, and orthodoxy. But this time, there were some additional interesting twists – such as the question of how the canon – and the church – might have been different if more women authors had been included, and more women’s voices had been considered in the assembly of the canon."

I loved the game that is designed to help people think about how canonical texts like the Bible are formed:

"I also mentioned an idea I had for a canon-making card-game (yes, inspired by Gen Con). It could have cards representing books which you and your community use. You need to make the case for their inclusion. Other players have different cards. You need to try to get as many of the texts represented by the cards in your own hand into the canon. Some cards will be very common, some will be rare. You can simply discard a card and draw another two – whether because you have a duplicate and that will cost you points at the end, or because you have one that you cannot persuade others to embrace. But there is no guarantee that the new cards you draw will be better.

You then use information on the cards – and online research as well, perhaps? – to try to argue for your canon, forging allegiances with others, but also hoping that in the end your hand of cards will be match the final canon list more closely than anyone else’s.

I could see a game like this helping to convey the extent to which politics, compromise, and consensus-building were major factors in the development of the canon."

All of these conversations, both in church and throughout the Internet, have made me think about our own letters, blog posts, and other types of writing.  If our writing was collected to be part of a canonical text, what do we hope would be chosen?

And should we be doing more of it?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Spiritual Gift of Encouragement

Our church has been off-lectionary this summer.  For the past 2 weeks, we've explored 1 Thessalonians 3.  I wrote the following meditation which I want to record here too:

I've spent the last week thinking of the idea of encouragement.  My brain has also returned, as it often does, to the subject of whom the church should serve.

Many of us might answer that the church should serve future generations.  We might see the purpose of the church as bringing up children in the way they should go.  Those of us who think this way might see the purpose of church as encouraging not just children, but also their parents.

Some of us might see the church as being formed to serve those who are not members.  Maybe it's our community, maybe it's new members we haven't met yet, maybe it's the poor and outcast and oppressed.  Maybe all of them.

Lately, I've begun to think about how we can encourage each other--the grown ups, the children, the members with whom we go on retreats, the ones we don't know very well.  I've been thinking about encouragement not because we want to recruit new members, not because we want to form children so that they'll stay with the church--no, I'm thinking about ways we can encourage each other because we are all so in need of encouragement.

I return to Paul's letter, and I see it shot through with that need for encouragement and gratitude when it comes.  I recognize that emotion.

There are many ways that church members can encourage each other:  we can go on retreats together, we can create retreats for each other, we can work on projects together, we can keep up with each other via social media (or old fashioned media like letters and phone calls).  We can pray for each other.

Most churches, especially smaller churches, may not always have methods in place for members to do this.  One thing I've always admired about the megachurches is their use of small groups to keep members connected.

I predict that one of the great developments of social media like Facebook, texting, and e-mails will be that we stay more connected, in this small group kind of way.

But could we be more intentional?  The new media will help some of us feel connected and encouraged.  What about the rest of us?

I'd like to spend some time thinking about ways we could encourage each other.  It's a hard, lonely world out there--if we're not going to encourage each other, who will?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Gender Neutral Language

Yesterday as I wrote about my marriage anniversary, I thought about my use of the word "spouse."  I've gotten interesting comments through the years about my use of that word.  Some people seem to find it offensive.  Some people suspect that I'm hiding something.  Some people wonder why it matters, since I refer to my spouse with male pronouns--why not use "husband"?

I've been using gender neutral language when I can since the 1980's.  I was an English major, and I really believed that if we made our language more gender neutral, we'd make our society give women more opportunities.  I also had similar beliefs about the gender neutrality of God language.

I could argue that we've been successful.  I could smile fondly at the language activism of my young self.

I thought about refusing to get married until my gay and lesbian friends had the same opportunities.  But honestly, I never thought I'd see that day in my lifetime.

I didn't have my marriage-should-be-sacrament ideals then.  On the contrary, I thought marriage was a trap, a tool of patriarchal culture.  I can still make a case for that view, especially for women who have children. 

But we've made progress in that area.  We still have a distance to travel, but at least it's not legal to rape your wife any more, the way it was when I got married in South Carolina in 1988.

I still like the idea of gender neutral language for all the reasons that I did when I was younger.  I think if we can make all of our language, not just marriage language and God language, more gender neutral, life will be easier for our transgendered brothers and sisters--and easier for us all.

I'm an English major at heart, after all.  I believe that our language shapes us in ways most of us are hardly aware of.  I believe that God calls us to create a more egalitarian society, and a place where we can all start is with the words that come out of our mouths and our pens (or fingers, as the case may be).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Marriage at 27

If it was this day in 1988, I'd be getting ready to be married. 

Our wedding was at 11 a.m.; we had guests who would have a long drive after the ceremony (back to Memphis, back to Virginia), so we wanted them to get an early start.

This pillow was made by one of my mom's friends.  It's astonishing that we've kept it in good shape.  It's a great metaphor, if I don't think about all the wedding presents that have been destroyed through the years.  Why did I put the gorgeous crystal pitcher in the dishwasher?  What was I thinking?  I don't want to see the metaphor there.

Happily, our marriage has more in common with fabric art than works of art in a more fragile medium.  The fabric does not shred apart completely; the trials we've faced have knotted us together.

Here you see a picture of us on this day in 1988, and the two of us at our 25th anniversary dinner.  What holds a couple together for 27 years?

Once I'd have said that common interests were important.  Once I'd have said a couple needs to have similar beliefs, whether they be religious in nature or a shared commitment to a social movement.  Once I'd have said that couples should have a similar outlook when it came to finances.  I'd have said that because it would have been true for me.  I've since met many couples who don't have those things, and they're perfectly happy too.

I'd go to something more essential if I was giving premarital counseling today.  I'd talk about the need for compassion and forgiveness.  If you're thinking about marrying someone who holds a grudge, I'd advise you to think long and hard before going through with that.

I have felt lucky because my spouse forgives me, even if I make the same mistake again, as humans do.  His compassionate nature helps him see that I'm trying and helps him see the factors that contributed to the mistake.  His compassionate nature helps him remember the greater good that he's seen in me and the potential that I have.

I try my very hardest to do the same for him. 

Sure, there are times when I wish I could change things.  I'd like to wave a magic wand and change our behavior or our circumstances.  But we have learned so much more because we don't have that magic wand.

I would argue that we can learn the same lessons in different schools:  through our relationships with our families, through our work with colleagues, through our friendships.  The great British poet John Keats called this world "a vale of Soul-making."  I would argue that it's our relationships, especially the ones that last for many years and decades, that most form our souls.  Even the relationships that don't end well have much to teach us.

I look back on that day and shake my head.  I was convinced I was so grown up; I had just turned 23.  But really, what do any of us know when we enter into such a union?  We think we know all that we need to know, but we will learn so much more. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 16, 2015:

Proverbs 9:1-6

Psalm 34:9-14

Those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good. (Ps. 34:10)

Ephesians 5:15-20

John 6:51-58

In this Sunday's Gospel, we see Jesus confounding his listeners; the more he talks, the more confused they become (and a bit revulsed by the idea of eating human flesh and drinking human blood; let's not underestimate the strangeness of Jesus' message).

We shouldn't fault the people of Jesus' time. After all, Communion can be a divisive issue even in our own time. Churches differ in how often they celebrate Communion, and denominations differ widely in what they think the Eucharist means.

I have discussed going to seminary with a wide variety of people, and we always talk about what a seminary degree would give us that we don't have right now.  I always say, "I could consecrate the bread and wine for the Eucharist."  Would that be worth the cost of the degree?  Some days I say yes.  Other days, the idea that we need someone with church authority to be in charge of the sacrament seems like something left over from a darker age.

And yet I also know my history.  I know what can go wrong--terribly wrong--when no one has vetted those to whom we give authority, or those who seize authority.

Jesus didn't intend for the sacrament to become divisive (at least not to his believers). On the contrary, Communion is designed to unite us--that's why most churches offer the sacrament as a communal practice. Unlike prayer, which is easily done in private and often silently, the Eucharist should solidify us and nourish us as a group, much the way that family meals together nourish us not only as individuals, but also as a family.

Of course, we can't leave it there. Communion should also transform us to do the work of God on earth. The surrounding lessons tell us of virtues we should strive to manifest in our lives. Our goal is to be leaven to this loaf of a world, to be the light of Christ in the world.

Again and again Jesus reminds us of the necessity of nourishing ourselves with him. Our ancestors ate manna, and they died. We can feast on the food that will bring us eternal life.

God calls us to do serious work. We must live as if the Kingdom of God has already taken over our world. To keep ourselves strong for that work we need to keep ourselves fed with good food: homemade bread and good wine, grilled fish, the words of the Bible, the words of writers who inspire us to transform both ourselves and the world, the images of people who inspire us to visions of a better world, music that can wind its way through our days, prayers that keep us connected to God, relationships that remind us that we are loved and cherished and worthy, and the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Spiritual Dog Days

It is that time of year when it feels like summer will never end--and down here in South Florida, we have months to go before our first "cold" front. 

As a church, too, it's easy to feel we're in a slump:  no high festival days for awhile.  Months and months to go before Advent.

In short, I'm feeling the dog days of summer, both in terms of weather and in terms of my spiritual life.  I've written a post for the Living Lutheran site that explores this idea.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"Or perhaps our response to our spiritual dog days might be more aggressive. I remember childhood trips to the beach. Many summers we spent a week at Lutheridge, a wonderful Lutheran church camp in the mountains. Those kinds of retreats are still available to us, even if we're grown."

"I remember wonderful summer evenings with grown-ups on the porch, talking about old times and relatives I would never get to know. How I treasure those memories now. Maybe during your spiritual dog days, you might start writing down the details of your life. Resolve to write a spiritual memoir."

Monday, August 10, 2015

Instruments of Peace

I would like to work in a small, chapel-like space:

Marion's Chapel in Saluda, NC

I would like this sign outside my office space:

Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, SC

I would like a copper roof to block the cell phone signals:

I would like to put up a glass wall to protect my work space from the clamor:

But that is not the life I lead, in this choir of an office suite:

And so I offer this prayer:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Password as Prayer

Most of us live in landscapes that require frequent changing of passwords:  one of my schools has us change passwords every 60 days.

We might start by using the names of our pets as part of our password, but that approach quickly drains us of options.  I understand the case to be made for completely random strings of letters and numbers, but I need something easier for my life of multiple computers and locations.

Last week I was talking about passwords with a group of colleagues.  I said that I used passwords that reminded me of ways to behave, words like patience or mindfulness, along with some numbers.  I also use passwords to remind me of other things I want to make manifest in my life, words like discernment or agent or shortened forms of book titles, again with numbers.

One of my colleague friends said that she uses prayers from her tradition:  one phrase for one password cycle, the next phrase for the next password cycle.  She's got the advantage of being part of a religious tradition that's not as ubiquitous in this part of our country, and she speaks multiple languages, so she could use a non-English language or her own translation if she wanted an extra layer of protection.

I immediately thought of my own prayer traditions, of using parts of the Lord's prayer as password.  I thought of the Psalms which I love and use as part of the Liturgy of the Hours.

I used to put prompts in my Outlook calendar to remind myself to pray.  But to pray every time I type in a password:  this approach is one I must try.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Missing Camp

My spouse is waking up to a very different vista:

He's not too far from the farms where your Christmas tree likely was born.

Why am I not there?  I could be spending this afternoon reading on this porch:

Well, my life is different than it was 3 years ago when we first went to Lutherock, a Lutheran church camp near Grandfather Mountain, for my spouse's Board meeting.  I have grades for my online classes due on Monday, which means I have grading to do this week-end.  Lutherock is isolated enough in the mountains of North Carolina that I can't count on getting any kind of Internet connection there.

Of course, I could have made that work if I wanted to--but if I went, we'd have gone by car, and it's a very long drive, with the last 5 hours through small towns and up twisty roads.  It was easier to buy my spouse an airline ticket and send him on his way.

Still, I feel those mountains tug at me.  I'm missing camp.

I'm missing camp, even as most camps are bringing their summer seasons to an end.  I'm missing my friends that I see on retreats and at my spouse's periodic meetings.  I'm missing the different vistas, the chance to hike, the breath of fresh air.

Today, instead of the mountains, this vista will be mine:

I'm having a picnic with some friends from church who teach in the public schools.  Their summer comes to an end soon, and we want to have one last pool day.  I'm happy to provide the pool, and we'll have a picnic lunch.

And then I'll do some more grading until it's time to pick my spouse up from the airport.  Maybe I'll write a poem this afternoon.

It's not camp, but it will be restorative in a different way.  For that, I am grateful.

Friday, August 7, 2015

E-mails, Facebook Posts, and Letters as Nourishment

Over the next two Sundays, my church will be considering this text: 

1 Thessalonians 3

I haven't read this text in many years, and I read it just after having a Facebook chat with a friend--sort of like writing letters, only more immediate.  So perhaps I was more inclined to see this text for what it is--a letter.

I was struck by Paul's tone--not only is he encouraging the very new church, but he's also drawing encouragement from them.  There will be persecution, yes, but it is survivable, with the good news that other followers remain faithful.

Through the years, many people ask me why I go to church.  Many of them assume that I'm going so that I can secure my lodging in Heaven after I die.  A nice spot in the afterlife would be grand, but even if we knew that there was no life after this one, I would still go to church.  For me, it's not about the next life, but this one.

I spend much of my day surrounded by people who are not motivated by any vision of an alternate life worth living.  Many of them aren't exactly inspired by this life--but neither are they inspired to work for change.

I go to church because it's where I've found a community--both locally and larger--where people are committed to that vision of God expressed again and again in Scripture, a vision where everyone has enough, where no one feels the boot on the neck.  I go to hear where people have seen God at work.  I go to be encouraged.

I have a good grasp of history, so I know that we will not live to see all of the transformations that we'd like to see, whether in our personal lives or the larger world.  I think of it as building a cathedral, a project that took many generations of workers' efforts to come to fruition. 

And I know that the transformations that I want to see won't take place at all without the efforts of ordinary folks like the kind I know from church.  The most enduring social movements have a base of faith.

I read Paul's earliest letters to one of the earliest churches, and I smile in recognition.  They feed Paul, as he has fed them--and thus, the wider world is fed too.

And then my mind circles back to our Facebook posts, our e-mails, our wide variety of communications.  I see so many posts by people who are angry in all sorts of ways.  What would happen if we tried to nourish and support each other?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Transfiguring Atoms

On this day, 70 years ago, the world was about to change in dramatic ways that we likely still don't fully comprehend.  On this day, 70 years ago, the first nuclear bomb was used in war.

The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it.  There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement.  The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim.  And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

In a strange twist, today is also the Feast Day of the Transfiguration in Orthodox churches, the day when Jesus went up the mountain with several disciples and becomes transfigured into a radiant being. Those of you who worship in Protestant churches may have celebrated this event just before Lent began, so you may not think of it as a summer kind of celebration. Pre-Reformation traditions often celebrated this day in conjunction with blessing the first harvest.

I find it an interesting conjunction, and of course, I've written a poem about it.

Ides of August

We long to be transfigured in the Holy Flame,
to harness atoms to do our will.
At the thought of what they attempt,
leaders and scientists tremble.
On the other side of the planet,
people vanish into the unforgettable fire,
wisps of cloth pressed into concrete,
the only sign that they existed.

We cling to the Ancient Lie
of the violence that can redeem
us. We purge and plunge whole
landscapes into the land of ash and smoke.
The sun rises over a steamy swamp
of decimated land and decapitated dreams.

Like Peter, we long to harness Holiness,
to build booths, to charge admission.
Christ turned into Carnival.
No need to do the hard, Christian work:
repairing community, loving the unloveable.
No, we seek redemption in the flame.

We pin our hopes on the nuclear
family, small units than can withstand the fission
of everyday stresses and detonating loss.
We cast away thousands of years of human
knowledge; we forget the wisdom of the pack.
We head for our hermitages in the hills,
hoping to be transfigured into hardy-stocked survivors.

Today is a good day to think about what distractions, atomic, cosmic, or otherwise, take our attention away from the true work. Today is a good day to think about mountaintop experiences and how we navigate our lives when we're not on the mountaintop.  Today is also a good day to meditate on power and how we seek to harness it and how we use power once we have it.

Today is a good time to spend with the texts for the day, to carve out some time for quiet contemplation. Go here for readings, complete with links, so that you can read online, if that's easier.

Today is also a great day to celebrate the transfiguring possibility of power.  After all, not all uses of power lead to destructive explosions.  Some times, we find redemption.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 9, 2015:

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:4-8

First Reading (Semi-cont.):

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Psalm: Psalm 34:1-8

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 130

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:25--5:2

Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51

Now we enter into that time of bread, where Sunday after Sunday, Christ uses that metaphor.  Many of us are hungry, physically, but we're not sure what we hunger for.  Bread makes a great metaphor, as it sustains us in our daily life, but it stands for so much more.  Think of the miracle of bread:  water, yeast, and flour, at its most basic level.  But given time and attention periodically and an oven, it's transformed into so much more.
We, too, are hungry for transformation, but like those people who followed Christ from shore to shore, hoping for a free meal, we often don't know what we hunger for.  Perhaps this explains why so many of us shop compulsively, eat compulsively, drink compulsively, gulp down anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants and painkillers of all sorts. We want to do God's work in the world, but there's so much work to do, and we're so tired before we even get started.

Our Scriptures remind us in both the Old and New Testaments that God provides. God gives us both physical food and spiritual food. But we must be receptive. God won't open our mouths and chew for us.

We are in such desperate need of spiritual renewal. We think we need sleep, but we need communion (and I use that word on all sorts of levels).  Our ancestors would have seen the temptation to skip church and sleep in for what it was: the devil trying to lead us astray.

We are in the dog days of summer, when it seems so long until we feel Fall's coolness. We may be in a bit of a spiritual funk, as well. I often find August a slow slog, spiritually. We're deep into that long, green season, but so far away from Advent. And now we hit week after week of bread Gospels.

But of course, the Gospels point the way out of my spiritual doldrums. Perhaps it is time to return to a bread baking regimen. I can watch the yeast work its magic and contemplate the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. I can share that bread with others and take a moment to catch up. I can end the day with a Psalm, a glass of wine, a prayer of thanks. In the morning, as I bathe, I can remember my baptism and pray, "Preserve me with your mighty power that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord" (found throughout the 3 volume set The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle).

Then, fortified, I can do the work of the week before returning again to the sacraments of Sunday.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Poetry Tuesday: For Those in Peril . . .

On July 24, two South Florida boys headed out to fish, and they have yet to return. Throughout last week, I found my thoughts returning to them, as the last line from the first verse of "The Navy Hymn" kept surfacing in my brain. My online students, in an act of random synchronicity, spent last week discussing Stephen Crane’s "The Open Boat," which would not give me much hope for surviving the power of the sea. By the end of the week, I was weaving these strands together to form the poem (the words in italics are the first verse of "The Navy Hymn").  I'm still not sure I'm happy with the title, but here's the poem.


Eternal Father, strong to save,

The children fear the murky depths,
but teenagers assume invincibility.
The old ones can read the wind
to understand the weather that will come.
The teenagers know that they can outrun
any storm.

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,

The boys go fishing and vanish.
The days drift by; the search widens.
Did they have water? Were they wearing
life jackets? Which way
would the current pull them?
We search for specks on the surface
of a bright sea.

Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep

We comfort ourselves with older news
of survivors once presumed lost, prodigal sailors
returning. Conrad, Crane and Coleridge told
us, but we would not heed
their ancient mariners with warnings of woe.
We watch the shoreline, but the sea
knows how to keep
a secret.

Its own appointed limits keep;

The sea will suck away all you love:
your best sunglasses, favorite rings slipped
right off your fingers, loved ones, sandals,
swimsuits, all gone along with your sense
of safety.

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Pre-Work Prayer

This morning, before the noise of the working world, takes back over the week, let me remember the quiet of the meditation space:

Let me channel the power of the open field:

Let me know the whisper of the sanctuary:

Let me speak with the quiet authority of the river that flows to the sea:

Let me know when to keep silent:

Let my light burn with steadiness:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Fight for Habitat Here at Home

Many of us have already expressed our rage over the shooting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.  But how many of us have taken steps to protect habitat closer to home?

I got an e-mail about the proposed route of a electric transmission line right through the grounds of Lutheridge, a Lutheran camp in Arden, North Carolina.  You might shrug and say, "So what?"  But this camp is one of the last patches on underdeveloped land in the area just south of Asheville.  If the powerline goes through the camp, we will see great loss of habitat.

I am selfishly more concerned with its impact on the camp, which gives retreat opportunities to thousands of campers throughout each year.  We have so few places of refuge in this overdeveloped eastern seaboard--why choose this one for the powerline route?

You might shrug and say, "Well, what can be done?" 

Duke Energy is taking comments from the public until the end of the month.  Your comment could include any of the following:

  1. Lutheridge is a Christian Retreat Center and designated as a Caring for Creation Retreat Center by the North Carolina Synod. 15,000 guests come to Lutheridge each year to experience a time and place apart.
  2. Lutheridge consists of 172 acres that features natural and naturalized areas, and is the largest tract of such land in Arden, which is a crucial part of its outdoor activities and programs on a year-round basis. The loss of trees from the 150’ easement area would severely reduce the forest, which is an “oasis” in the midst of area development and a loss of natural habitat for bears, wild turkeys and other animals.
  3. Lutheridge serves 2,000 children every summer, 4,000 children year-round as part of 15,000 annual guests. The electric transmission line would negatively impact the visual and scenic beauty, ecological integrity of ecosystems and animal and plant species, and would endanger the outdoor environment and religious program areas, which depend on protected green open space.
  4. The proposed route of the electric transmission line would run very close to Whisnant Chapel where congregations worship six months each year and adjacent to the outdoor chapel, which is the site where dozens of families have scattered cremains of loved ones over the years.
  5. The proposed route would pass over the only large playfield at Lutheridge where thousands of children and youth play.
  6. The proposed route would pass over the new swimming pool and play area that was just completed May 2015 at a cost of $500,000.
  7. Lutheridge provides Christian summer camp and year round programs for youth and adults of all denominations, including programs for mentally challenged, low income and other special needs youth. Environmental education is also offered to area schools.
It's easy to register and comment.  Here's how:

Go to this link:  to

  1. Scroll down and click on Interactive Map
  2. Click on “Enter”
  3. Click on “Submit a Comment”
  4. Register – you will need to give your name and create a username and password
  5. Login – using your newly created username and password
  6. Select a Location for Comment – 2511 Hendersonville Road, Arden, NC28704. Complete the questionnaire and type your comment in the text box provided - then submit.
Here are some possible comments; feel free to mix and match as you wish:
As one of the last patches of underdeveloped land in the Arden area, we should be preserving land, rather than running power lines across it.  I would hate to see the destruction of trees and wildlife habitat that would result from such a project.  I am hoping that a different location can be found for this power line.
In any given year, this Lutheran camp serves over 15,000 people of all ages, faiths, backgrounds, and abilities.  In addition, this camp serves as an educational resource both in North Carolina and across several states. The disruptions resulting from this project would limit Lutheridge's ability to serve in this capacity, and other institutions are not likely to fill in the gap.  I urge you to choose a different route.
The power line installation would result in the destruction of valuable land:  land that is used as wildlife habitat, land that is used as educational resource, and land that is used as fields where campers play.  I urge you to choose a different route.
It's easy to go on Facebook and announce our outrage over Cecil the lion or global warning or habitat destruction.  Today, let's do something that takes only a few more steps and fight to protect a patch of undeveloped land in western North Carolina.  Let's save some trees.  Let's save some habitat.  Let's preserve a place of peace.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

For Those in Peril On the Sea

The older I get, the more I realize how much music swaddled so much of my childhood.  We went to church every Sunday, and my parents sang in the choir, both at church and community choirs.  My dad sang Barbershop.  My parents had an extensive record collection, and they played music every evening.  My mom kept the radio on for company during the day--this was during the 70's, when the AM station played a variety of music, in a way I don't expect to ever see again.

Now, as a grown up, I often find snippets of songs floating through my head, often songs I haven't heard/sung in decades.  I've had the Navy Hymn on my brain during the past few days.  On July 24, two teenage boys from South Florida headed out to fish.  They have yet to return home.  Lots of people have been doing lots of searching, but the field is vast. 

Their boat has been found much further north, but no one knows how many life jackets were on board.  Could the boys still be alive?

I hold out hope.  I think of the South Florida grandmother, Tillie Tooter, who went to pick her relative up from the airport and both she and her car vanished for days.  She was forced off the road and over the edge of I 595, where her car landed on the tops of trees below.  She caught dew in her socks and in her steering wheel cover while trapped in the car in the sweltering heat.

I know that the boys face larger odds, as the ocean is even more harsh.  I hope they have water.

There's a Yeti cooler that's missing.  A trainer at my gym says it's a high-end cooler--indestructible and unsinkable.  Maybe they're clinging to it.  Maybe there was water inside.  Maybe a sandwich or two.  But they can go without food.  I don't keep my sunscreen in a cooler, but I hope they have sunscreen.

My short story class has been reading Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat."  That naturalistic depiction of the ocean seems particularly timely right now.

Many of my colleagues at work are aghast that two fourteen year old boys would be allowed to go out fishing all alone.  Even with what has happened, I still approve.  I suspect that those boys are fairly well-equipped to handle what's happened to them, since they've been on boats since they were very young.

Ordinarily the ocean seems a safer place than land.  Then an incident like this reminds us of the power of the sea.

I have no boat and no plane.  I can't join the search in any meaningful way.  And so I fall back on what residents of the shore have always done:  I hope and pray and sing the old songs to calm the anxiety.  I say prayers of gratitude for my decades of being in church, singing these old songs.

Here's a beautiful rendition of the first verse of the Navy hymn, if you, too, could use some calm.