Sunday, May 31, 2015

Feast Day of the Visitation

Today is the Feast of the Visitation, a church festival day which has only recently become important to me.  This feast day celebrates the time that Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Both women are pregnant in miraculous ways:  Mary hasn't had sex, and Elizabeth is beyond her fertile years.  Yet both are pregnant.  Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist, and Mary will give birth to Jesus. For a more theological consideration of this day, see this post that I wrote for the Living Lutheran site.

In the churches of my younger years, we never celebrated feast days.  What a loss.  I love this additional calendar that circles through the year, this calendar that reminds us of what ordinary people can do.

I also find these days inspiring in so many ways. Over at my creativity blog, I wrote a post about how this feast day speaks to us as we work on our creative projects.  It should also speak to us as we think about our lives as the Church.

We live in a culture that is fond of telling us how insignificant we are, both as individuals and as the Church.  We live in a culture that wants us to feel inadequate so that we can be sold something.  We're told that no one goes to church anymore.  We're told that only a few churches are big enough to matter.

Well, that's simply not true.  History is full of small groups making a huge difference:  I'd point to the Civil Rights Movement as the most famous.

Here in South Florida, we've just enjoyed a win that you won't hear of in the national media--or even the local media.  Our Bold Justice group just sent this update: "Governor Scott recently signed SB 378 into law.  Through a grassroots organizing we successfully changed the system at a state level in a way that will potentially impact thousands of people. Law enforcement now has the authority to offer up to 3 civil citations to the same individual."

We've been working for over a year so that juveniles who commit non-violent crimes get a civil citation, not an arrest.  A civil citation might require some community service or some other learning component.  But most importantly, a youthful goofy mistake, like throwing rocks through the window of an abandoned building or skipping school, won't wreck their chances at having a career or a path to college, the way that an arrest so often does.

We did this as a coalition of churches who met regularly.  Most of us are small, but together, we're more than capable.  The Feast of the Visitation reminds us that God often works through the small., through the ones who are at the edges of their culture, not the ones at the center. 

This feast day also reminds us of the value of retreat.  Mary and Elizabeth take time to be away, but to be away together.  They have found each other as fellow travelers, as they take similar journeys through very unusual territory.  That sounds like a great definition of Church to me.

This morning, I'm feeling most inspired by the possibility of the impossible.  The world tells us that so much of what we desire is just not possible.  Even churches hear this message that we will never attract the next generation, that we don't have enough money, that we can't have an impact, that our dreams of social justice will never come true--in short, we live in a culture that tells us we are doomed.  We swim in these seas, and it's hard to avoid the pollution.

 Along comes this feast day which proclaims that the not only is the impossible possible, but the impossible is already incubating in an unlikely womb. It's much too easy for any of us to say, "Who am I to think that I can do this?"  The good news of this feast day is that I don't have to be the perfect one for the task.  By saying yes, I have made myself the perfect one.

Today, on this Feast Day of the Visitation, let's remember that God's dream is bigger than anything that the world can offer us.  Let us return to those dreams and look for the ways that we can say yes.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Time to Write Phyllis Tickle that Appreciation Note

I was sad to hear that Phyllis Tickle has been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  I was also sad to learn that her husband had died recently.

She is 81 years old, so why am I surprised that death moves to the forefront of her narrative?

But she seems so ageless that it's hard to imagine that she, too, will die.  And now it looks like her death will be sooner, rather than later.  Her prognosis is less than a year to live.

This recent article shows that she's in good spirits about the situation:

“'At 81 you figure you’re going to die of something, and sooner rather than later,' she says, sitting at her kitchen table for her first interview about her diagnosis. 'I could almost embrace this, that, OK, now I know what it’s probably going to be, and probably how much time there is. So you can clean up some of the mess you’ve made and tie up some of the loose ends.'

'I am no more afraid of dying than I am of, I don’t know, drinking this coffee,' she continues, pointing to her mug. (It’s actually filled with Postum since she’s had to give up caffeine. She remains, thankful, though, that she can still drink a nightly whiskey.  'Jack Daniels, of course!' she says, shocked at the suggestion that a Tennessee native would drink anything else.)"

Writer David Gibson sums up her work this way:  "Taken together, Tickle’s works combine the sprawling scope of historian Karen Armstrong with the fine-grained command of sociologist Robert Bellah and the rural sensibilities of poet Wendell Berry. Throw in a dash of Thomas Merton’s sense and spirituality for good measure."

As she dies, I expect new insights from her on this chapter that closes on us all.

Should I write to her?  Should I tell her how much her work has meant to me?  If I want to do that while she's here with us, in a physical form that we recognize, I should write soon.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Keeping the Flame of Pentecost Burning

Have you taken down your Pentecost decorations or do you keep them up for the full 12 days of Pentecost?  Oh, wait, wrong holiday.  But it is interesting to me how quickly Pentecost comes and goes.

As a child, I saw summer as the long, boring green season:  no special decorations, no music, no food, no children involved in worship service.

In many ways, although much has changed, much remains the same.  It's a long stretch until we make our way back to Advent.  In some ways, I'm glad.  The fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, and the season of Lent before it, make strenuous demands on the faithful.  It's good to have some fallow time.

Or maybe I should look at this time differently.  Pentecost offers us much in terms of changing our worship spaces--lots of decorating possibilities.  But it's not about transforming the surfaces of our worship spaces, much as they might need that.  It's about getting us out of our worship spaces to go out to transform the world. 

Yes, transform the world that seems so resistant to change.  No wonder we throw ourselves into our decorating projects.  The true mission of Pentecost makes us too uncomfortable to bear.

Throughout church history, we’ve seen what the presence of the Holy Spirit can do, even in the most improbable settings.  Pentecost is the holiday designed for discomfort, a celebration that should stir us to get up off the couch to go out and do great things. We learn about Pentecost in the book of Acts, after all, not the book of Sleeping Late. Perhaps that’s why so many of us approach Pentecost with a bit of apprehension.

 If we trusted in the transforming power of God, what changes might we see? How might our local society and the larger world be different? The answers to those questions might scare us.  Of course, not asking those questions should scare us more.

We live in a time of rapid change, from revolutions abroad to church schism at home. Various scholarly disciplines continue to give us new discoveries that completely reorder the way we see the world. We may not know what our next steps should be. We are people who want a plan: a daily plan, a five year plan, a ten year plan—yet the circumstances of our lives, both on the individual and the global scale, may make planning impossible.

But Pentecost reassures us with the mystical promise of the Spirit. We do not have to know what we are doing; we just need to be open to the movement of the Spirit. Pentecost promises daring visions; we don’t have to know how we’re going to accomplish them. God will take care of that.

God became incarnate to prepare humans to carry on the work of Kingdom creation. And Pentecost reminds us of our job description, to let the Holy Spirit blow into our hollowed out spaces and to fill us with the fire to dream and the resources to bring our visions to life.

In this time after Pentecost, instead of sinking into the lull of a long, green season, let us continue to think about the Holy Spirit and the call of God.  Fifty days from now, when the holiday is long gone, what might we begin to incubate?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Incubating the Improbable

My post on the Feast of the Visitation is up at the Living Lutheran site.  Those of us who grew up in Lutheran churches of the past may not know about this holiday.  Even my Catholic friends often don't celebrate feast days.

But the more I learn about feast days, the more I yearn for what they promise:  an enriching of our spiritual lives, a way to have more festival times, a way to be inspired, a way to learn about important heroes of the faith who might be otherwise lost to us.

Now, the Feast of the Visitation doesn't celebrate the lives of people lost to us.  Anyone who has paid attention during Advent knows about the lives of Mary, mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, mother of John.  They were cousins, and unexpectedly, improbably pregnant.  During their time of getting ready, they spent time together.

My post explores the implications of this feast day.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"I love this story of new life being held in unlikely wombs. I love this message that biology is not destiny, that our bodies can do all sorts of wondrous things, like heal, generate new life, and nourish what we previously thought to be impossible."

"Never far from my mind are the issues of discernment, call and retreat. God calls both Mary and Elizabeth, and both say yes to a radical change of direction to what they might have planned. And it's a change that will have an impact on the rest of their lives, not just a year or two. What a great idea: to take some time away from regular life to support each other and to prepare."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 31, 2015:

First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm: Psalm 29

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17

Gospel: John 3:1-17

Ah, Holy Trinity Sunday. It's interesting to look at various denominations to see how each one handles the idea of the Trinity. Some Christians are certainly more Trinitarian than others. I know that the idea of a Triune God is a huge stumbling block for many people.

As a child, this concept didn't bother me much. It seemed obvious that humans had many different sides, so why shouldn't God? As I got older, the idea of God being able to split those selves into various incarnations seemed a cool trick, but why shouldn't God be able to do that? I'd like to do that, but I don't want those other responsibilities that come with divinity. I'm working to be happy to let God be God, to let the mystery of the Trinity not even enter my consciousness.

Lately, as I've been thinking about community, I return to the idea of the Trinity--we worship a communal God who desires to be in community with us. I've always liked the symbolism of a braid, and Trinity Sunday seems a good time to return to that symbol. In a braid, each strand can stand alone--but what a more intriguing shape they make when woven together.

We might look again at the story of Nicodemus, a man who was a serious scholar. Jesus tells him, and us, that we must be born anew. We might look at our place in the braid of the Kingdom and wonder how we might be born anew. We are not that far from Pentecost. We should be listening for the Spirit.

I love verse 8, which says, "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." My rational mind rebels. My rational brain demands that we make a plan, a plan for each day, a 5 year plan, a 10 year plan. My rational brain makes lists and wakes me up at 3:00 in the morning with worries.

I like the mystical promise of the Spirit. We do not have to know what we are doing; we do not need a plan--we just need to be open to the movement of the Spirit, a task which is not as easy as it might sound. God invites us to be part of the work of creating the Kingdom, right here and right now. But Christ tells us that we need to be born anew.

The evangelical movements have done a lot with John 3:16, which may be one of the most famous Bible verses. Many evangelicals can tell you the exact day and time that they were born again. However, many of us find this model lacking. Being born again is not a one-step process, when we invite Jesus into our hearts and we're done. Most of us need to be born again each day, day after day.

Now is the time for a different approach to this effort of being born again. We could greet each day, asking our Triune God to help us be born anew to be braided into community and Kingdom building. We could end each day by thanking our creator for the ways that we've been shaped that day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Interactive Pentecost

Our church's 9:45 Worship Together service tries to do several things, and one of them is to have us all interact with the Biblical texts:  we sing, we do our best to sign, we look for ways we see the Bible intersecting with our lives, we act out the stories, we do a variety of art projects.  It's a small group, so there's no sitting there watching others interact.

On Sunday, I confess that I wanted to just sit.  But I'm a good sport, so I pushed through my lethargic mind set.

We divided into two groups.  One group would tell the story of Pentecost using the language of puppets, and the other group would use the language of pantomime.  I was in the pantomime group.  We could use props, but no words.

We cut flames out of paper.  We made fans to simulate the wind.  I was Peter, and I found it strangely easy to mime the speech found in Acts 2.

The hope is that we will all remember the Pentecost story long after Sunday morning.  We've been part of it, after all.

Yes, I know that the hope of every worship planner is that we remember the stories and lessons of each Sunday long after we go home. 

But I left church energized--all my lethargy expelled.  If I had gone to our larger service, I doubt that would have happened.

I love having the option to have an interactive service.  I often tell people that we're creating this service for our children who need something different.

Sunday was a potent reminder that many days, adults need something different too.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Prayers on Memorial Day

The wind has howled all night, as we have moved from Pentecost to Memorial Day.  I wake up with a vague unease, as I often do on Memorial Day.

Is it because of Memorial Day?   Even though my dad was in the Air Force, and then the Air Force reserve, for most of my life, I, like many Americans, have felt some ambivalence about the military. I have some trouble reconciling my religious beliefs which tend towards pacifism, to the necessity for military protection. There have been times in my lifetime where I've thought, at last, we're moving towards a world that won't need military action. And then the world launches into a new form of barbarism.
It is impossible not to realize the cost of war.  There's the money, of course, and the death of soldiers.  We may forget the other costs:  the families of military members, the injured veterans, the civilians damaged in so many ways, peace of all kinds shattered.

So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue, let us pause to reflect and remember.  If we're safe right now, let us say a prayer of gratitude.  Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places.  And recent events have reminded me that the world we feel is safe can quickly dissolve into conflict and war.

Oh so quickly.

Today, I'd like to be at a national monument, listening to one of the service bands perform. Or maybe I'd rather be in a contemplative spot, saying a thank you.  Or maybe something more festive.  I miss the small town parades; I know that my college town of Newberry, South Carolina will be celebrating in ways that remind me of the 1950's.  Now I no longer know the stories of my neighbors.  I don't know whose great great grandfather/uncle served in which ways.

Now I live in a place that feels more like a future U.S., where English isn't the dominant language, where there are more recent arrivals than people with ancestors buried in the soil. Most days, I'm cool with this, and invigorated by it.

But today, I feel uneasy.  Part of it is the wind.  I've lived in states in the U.S. South where this kind of wind portends a fiercer wind later, as the heat has time to build to storms.

Part of my unease is how invisible the military feels to so many people today.  Once, all of my schoolmates had relatives, often a father, who had served in the military.  Now I find that I'm often the only one.  Growing up, I chafed a bit under the expectations of military family discipline.  Now I find myself thinking we might all be better if national service was required.

In his lecture several weeks ago, David Brooks responded to a question about the value of national service.  He said, "A kid from Connecticut living with a kid from Birmingham living with a kid from Cody, Wyoming--that would be valuable in many ways."

We've become a more stratified society in so many ways, and not just the economic ways that often trigger handwringing.  More and more, most of us tend to meet people just like us.  Maybe that's the source of my unease.

But most likely my unease comes from this day to honor the dead--while realizing that we are far from a world where we can beat our swords into ploughshares and practice war no more.

So, let me return to a valuable practice.  Let me pray to the One who has more power than I do in these matters.

 Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost Morning

While other parts of the country are having a bit of a cool stretch, we are waking to a hot Pentecost morning.  It's the kind of shimmery heat where I wouldn't be surprised to see flames.  But they probably wouldn't be the flames of the spirit so much as the flames of wildfire.  It's that season in Florida.  We share many things with California--I wonder if our fire seasons are the same.

I think of other Christian holidays where mythical creatures appear and leave presents in the dark overnight hours.  I see no gifts yet.

What gift would I like to receive from the Holy Spirit?  I have no desire to speak in tongues.  I know what Western societies have done to their prophets.

Only profits get attention in our culture, rarely God's prophets. 

And the attention that comes to prophets usually comes with a bullet attached--and sure, one might get beatified 35 years later (I'm thinking of Archbishop Romero), but social justice doesn't happen quickly or easily or at all.

I would like to be gifted with patience.  I would like to be less judgmental.  I would like to accept that others get to make their own choices, and they're not likely to look to me for advice.

I want the rushing wind to scour me out, but I don't want it to hurt.

I want to be startled into new appreciation.  I want to say, "Hello, Holy Spirit.  It's good to see you again.  What have you been up to?"

I want the answer to fill me with longing not fear.

I want to be ready to be rekindled, to burn with a flame that does not destroy but transforms.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Beatification of Archbishop Romero

A ceremony to beatify Archbishop Oscar Romero happens today in San Salvador.  I never thought I would see this in my lifetime.  Romero is still a divisive figure in many circles, even 35 years after his martyrdom.  He is not universally beloved, like Mother Theresa.  You wouldn't think that his fierce commitment to the poor would win him enemies, but he combined politics and spirituality in a way that still repels many.

Beatification is a step towards sainthood.  A verifiable miracle is required for beatification.  For canonization (sainthood), a second miracle must be verified.  At every step of the way, every aspect of the candidate's life is supposed to be analyzed.

Romero left us much to analyze, with his daily radio addresses, his sermons, his letters.  I wonder if in future years, candidates for sainthood will have their Twitter feeds analyzed, their blog posts, their Facebook posts.  We lead such public lives, most of us, these days.

I know that I return to the life of Romero with some regularity on this blog.  He has been one of my spiritual touchstones since my college years in the 1980's.  Those days are beginning to seem very far away.  I remember President Reagan warning us of the possibility of Communists swarming over the border into Texas, if El Salvador fell.  I remember thinking that the Texans could take care of them with little effort.  We probably wouldn't even have to send extra weapons.

I remember meeting refugees from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  Long before I knew as much about Romero as I do now, I knew that he was right about the horrors endured by the poor caught in the crossfire in those countries.

Unfortunately, they're still in the crossfire.  El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates of all countries.  In his article in The New Yorker which looks at the life of Romero and the history of Central America, Carlos Dada concludes, "Due to criminal violence, mostly related to gangs and drug cartels, El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates on the planet. Poverty, one of the structural problems so frequently pointed to by Romero, has decreased only because a third of Salvadorans have left El Salvador, and many of them send money back. Corruption has been rampant under both rightists and leftists. It’s a good time, it seems, to reread the teachings of the now celebrated Archbishop."

Today is also a good day to pray for those caught in the crossfires of policies gone terribly wrong.  It's a good day to pray for leaders across the spectrum who must decide how to respond.  It's a good day to pray for the poor and the dispossessed.

Sadly, it seems that every day is a good day for those prayers.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pentecost in Pictures

You may be hollowed out by grief and loss.




But the Holy Spirit can rush in to fill those hollow spaces.



It's a wind that can fill the sails of your life and take you to new places.



On the eve of the first Pentecost, those believers didn't know what was about to happen. I imagine that they felt at loose ends.  They didn't understand they stood at a turning point.




We often don't know we're at a hinge time until much, much later.



Maybe we have been feeling that we're in a post-Ascension, pre-Pentecost time. Maybe one mission has come to an end, and we're not sure what to do next.



Pentecost promises us that we won't be adrift forever. At some point we'll hear the rushing wind and feel the flame, and we'll be able to do more than we ever dreamed possible.




And then, every gate will open.

 
 
 
For a more substantial essay on this subject, see my latest post over at the Living Lutheran site.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ash Wednesday Sensibilities as Pentecost Approaches

Pentecost approaches.  But what about those of us who are still stuck back at Ash Wednesday?

I feel like a person who has a seasonal clock that's off.  I think of my friend who put sweaters on through the summer, as I stripped off layers that I had sweated through.  Other people are dreaming visions and being gifted to do great things, and I'm poking around in the ashes.

My latest post over at the Living Lutheran site explores this idea.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"I want to be ready to be infused and sent out to be a blessing. I fear I am more like Lot's wife, looking back. Or maybe there's some other biblical person, the one who says, 'This speaking in tongues is very nice, but who is going to fix the roof?'"

"I am hopeful though, because I know it's when we're feeling tired, disengaged and smug that the Holy Spirit can rush through and cleanse us with one big whoosh of Godly breath."

"I take heart from the stories that show that God doesn't always wait around for us. One minute we're the disciple saying, 'That guy on trial? Nope, never seen him before.' Fifty days later, we're transformed into someone who can speak the words that people need so desperately to hear."

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 24, 2015:

First Reading: Acts 2:1-21

First Reading (Alt.): Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 104:25-35, 37 (Psalm 104:24-34, 35b NRSV)

Second Reading: Romans 8:22-27

Second Reading (Alt.): Acts 2:1-21

Gospel: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Ah, the liturgical year cycles back to the feast of Pentecost.  It really should be the second most important festival of the church year, second only to Easter, but I suspect that many churches pay more attention to Christmas than to either of the other two festivals.  I've talked to many a Christian who didn't know the first thing about Pentecost.

Maybe we're afraid of some of the more, well, pentecostal elements of the holiday:  the speaking in tongues (but in languages that could be understood by native speakers), the rushing wind, the fire.  Maybe we're feeling overwhelmed by the example set by that first generation of believers.

Maybe you're having more of a dry bones year than a Spirit seared year.  Maybe you've been having a dry bones decade.  It might be hard for you to believe that Holy Spirit or no Holy Spirit, any flesh can be hung back on a dried out frame.

Maybe you've been whipped by so many winds that you don't know which way to turn.  Maybe it's hard for you to hear the breath of God with the howling of so many other winds in your life.

Maybe you feel scorched by circumstances.  Maybe you're looking at your desert of a life and thinking that you could use some water.

Often in nature, we see that it takes an unusual event, like a fire or a storm, to invigorate a landscape.  We look at the immediate aftermath and see a moonscape that looks forever barren.  Yet if we came back in a few years, we'd be amazed by how much new growth we'd see.  And that new growth would have never gotten a chance without the calamitous, clearing event.

We often celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, but we often fail to mention that this birthing, with all its pain and messiness, is an ongoing process.  We tend to look back at the early days of the Church with idealistic vision, but if we carefully reread the letters of Paul, we see that those churches had just as many problems as our current churches.  We tend to see ourselves as deficient, but we don't have the longer view.

On this festival day, revel in the promise of renewal that God offers.  Be alert for new visions and different directions.  Trust that dessicated ruins--whether that be our lives, our Church, our neighborhoods, our planet--can be reinvigorated.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When the Soul Walks on a Stony Beach

I see the scraps of past efforts.  I remember whole sheets of paper, practices which used to feed my soul.  I wonder how to get to that place again.



Some weeks, my spiritual efforts feel like a barefoot walk on a rocky beach.



But then I look closer, and I see that I've been here before.  So have others.  I see altars that at first blended into the landscape.  The Christian community has built an altar out of abandoned houses of crustaceans and corals calcified into rocks.  But it's an altar that withstands the tides.



I see a glimmer that may or may not be gold.




Even in isolated tidal pools in isolated shelves of coral stones, life bubbles.



I will keep walking, hoping for the time that the Spirit breaks through my skull and washes my brain with wonder.



(pictures from our April 2015 trip to Hawaii)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Yearning for Both Silence and Connection

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about my desire for more silence and then went off to my non-silent Sunday.  In fairness, I should note that I could have gotten out of the house earlier and gone to my church's more meditative service.   But that service still has a lot of talking, even for a service that's a half hour.  And there's rarely a Sunday where my spouse would be awake and ready for an 8 a.m. service.

I go to the 9:45 service for several reasons:  some of my friends go to this service, and I like the arts aspect of it.  I go to the 11:00 service because my spouse is part of the choir and because I have friends at that service.

Occasionally I think of other approaches to worship services that I think could work at our church, but we've already got 3 services.  To be honest, we don't really have enough worshippers to support three services, much less the others I might dream up.

But though we might not have a large enough congregation to support every endeavor we can dream up, there are gifts to be found in our smallness.  One is that I know lots of the congregation.  Some I know deeply, others on more of a surface level.  One reason why it's hard to think of switching services is that I'd lose some of the connections.

Maybe I'm not really yearning for silence at all.  Maybe my yearning for silence is really a yearning for something else--to get rid of all the distractions, so that I can focus on what matters.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Silent Spiritual Formation

Friday's blog post about the rise of the unaffiliated made me think about all the articles I've been reading.  I've seen articles about how we shouldn't worry, how we should keep doing what we've been doing and trust the Holy Spirit.  I've seen letters from Millennials instructing us how to change.  I've seen many a post about how we need to be raising our children and how church can help.

And I just feel tired when I think of the morning ahead:  the 9:45 service where we will share our highs and lows, then I'll be assisting minister at the 11:00 service, and then we'll count money.  It's a lot of human interaction in a week that's been more full than usual of human interaction.

I find myself continuing to think of Julian of Norwich, whose feast day we celebrated recently.   I find myself longing for a cathedral cell.  I want to believe I'd be more creative if I could just find quiet.  I'd certainly be less irritable.

I find myself yearning for the calm that comes in the best sacred spaces.  But I want to be less busy in those sacred spaces.  I love liturgy and music, but once again, I return to my yearning to just sit in silence.  I know that spiritual formation is important, but we've given too little time to the possibility that spiritual formation doesn't have to involve words, sound, and relentless interaction.

Not for the first time, I find myself wishing that Lutherans had a more contemplative tradition. I just want to sit in silence. Maybe I'll let you interrupt occasionally to read the Word of God.  But nothing too long.  I don't want a sermon full of others' interpretations of the Word.  We can do a bit of liturgy to prepare for the Eucharist. But maybe we could simplify it down to the words of institution.  Maybe we could sit silently and each pray our own prayer:  praying together in silence.  Don't bother me with lots of instruments. Don't amplify. It's O.K. to remain in the background.

I know that lots of churches have spent lots of money on sound systems.  I know that many of us are doing multimedia shows with screens.  I know that lots of churches have spent lots of money on grand organs--maybe on whole orchestras. But I can't be the only woman who finds her nerves increasingly jangled, who needs a space of quiet where she can hear God speak.

Those of you who are casting about for your niche in the mission field, hear my whisper!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Motorcycle Prayers in the National Park

A week ago, we'd have been getting ready for our latest motorcycle trip.  From the very first day we got the bike, I knew I wanted to experience Everglades National Park on the back of the motorcycle.  It's wonderful in a car, so I thought it would be even better on a bike.

I was right.

Before we went inside, we stopped at the visitor center, which is free to visit.  I love the mosaic that's part of the floor; it depicts the state of Florida, with different colored tiles representing different types of land and water:  marsh, wetland, ocean, and so on.

We ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a bench outside of the visitor's center.  It's not the picturesque picnic that others might have enjoyed on a Mother's Day week-end, but I thought it was perfect. 

I watched the other visitors in the parking lot.  Some were clearly on a mission; they did not linger to take in the sights.  One man with a stuffed station wagon sat on a beach chair reading a newspaper under a tree with his dog on a leash.  One younger woman screeched as a black bird got too close to her.  One older woman had an enormous camera.

It was a good day to be in the park.  There weren't many bugs, and the weather was sunny and dry.  The sky was that deep blue, with white clouds scudding across the panorama.

We didn't see many animals.  I'm not surprised.  I thought the roar of the pipes would repel them.

We also didn't see many cars.  How I love the small moments of non-tourist time that we get down here.

As we rode, I stretched my arms wide above my head.  At a retreat once, someone told me I should pray that way.  Inside, I scoffed.  But then I tried it and was surprised.  I felt my heart open in a different way.

On Saturday, I said a prayer of awe and thanks for such an amazing creation.  I prayed for everyone in need of improved health, and as always, I was a bit saddened at how long that list becomes. 

We couldn't stay long, alas.  I always thought of motorcycles as getting hundreds of miles to a gallon of gas.  That is not true.  We headed back when we needed to fuel up.

Later, I told my spouse that my experience was like an IMAX movie, only with better special effects.  I don't have that feeling in a car, although I do like the vastness of land and sky that one experiences in that national park.

How I would love to plan a trip going from national park to national park--but only during the off times, when I wouldn't have to share the park with hoards of people.

In the meantime, I'll start planning the next trip to the park that's in my back yard.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Rise of the Unaffiliated

All week, I've been hearing about the new study from the Pew Research Center which shows that more of us have no religious affiliation.  In the U.S., fewer of us say we're Christian, while the affiliations with Judaism and Buddhism stayed steady. The increases in those who say they're Muslim or Hindu were small:  .5 and .3 respectively.

No, the big jump comes from those who are atheist, agnostic, or who profess not to know.

If you want to read the whole study for yourself, you can find it hereThe Diane Rehm Show devoted a whole hour to discussing the implications, and it was interesting.

I've read many reactions to the story.  I thought I'd hear more expressions of shock and outrage, but either I don't move in those circles or there's not much shock and outrage.

I greeted the information with a shrug and a "Tell me something I don't know."  In my closer circle of South Florida friends, I have precisely one who has what I would consider a regular spiritual practice--and she's Hindu.  I  might should add my Wiccan friend to that tally too.  As I think about my work colleagues, I am the only one who attends church almost every Sunday.  Maybe others do, and they're quiet about it; I know that I'm quiet at work, because I was raised to believe that talking about religion and politics at work is rude.

I have a wider circle of family and friends, and many of them have regular spiritual practices.  Many of them live in places where church attendance numbers in the hundreds on an average Sunday.

That is not anything I have experienced as an adult.  When I was in grad school, I worshiped with a student group--tiny.  Most Sundays in South Florida, we rarely have over 100 at any given service, and most Sundays, we worship under 100 when we count all three services.  This statement holds true at several other Lutheran churches in the eastern part of the county.  I've heard that some of our western county Lutheran churches see more people at worship, but I'm not sure I believe it.

I know some people who believe that these low numbers portend the death of the church, but I don't believe that other.  It may be the end of church as most of us have known it, but that's likely to be O.K. too.  That model of church clearly hasn't been working for many people.

Of all the reactions to the Pew study that I've read all week, this one makes some important points.  My favorite:  "The people sitting in my church every Sunday morning really want to be there.
It is hard to form passionate, thoughtful, and transformative communities of faith when people attend church to fit in, or because it’s the only socially acceptable activity for Sunday morning. I love it that in my sweet little Pacific Northwest congregation every person there is fully aware that their neighbors are hiking, sleeping in, or doing yard work. They know they could be doing that stuff and no one would judge, but they choose church, God, and each other. There is vast potential in this gift."

I'll try to remember that when I'm one of 50 sitting in the pews this Sunday.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Feast of the Ascension

Today we celebrate the ascension of Jesus into Heaven.  Some churches will celebrate this feast day this Sunday.  I suspect that many of our churches will let the festival slip by uncelebrated at all.

Imagine this time period from Holy Week to Ascension from the point of view of those first disciples: traipsing around Galilee, crucifixion, and then resurrection. They’ve just gotten their beloved messiah returned, and then, poof, he's gone again. What a whipsawed feeling they must have had.

And now for a more important leap of imagination:  what does this feast day say to us?

I've addressed this very question in my latest blog post which is up at the Living Lutheran site.  Go here to read it.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"Just like the first followers, just like Jesus, we don't get to stand around waiting for our chance to go to heaven. There's work to be done on earth. The coming Sundays of the time after Pentecost remind us that we’re not put on earth to wait to die. We are here to be part of the ultimate redemption of creation. Jesus began that work. We are here to further it along, at least as much as we can during our very short time here."

"We don’t want to get to the end of our time here, only to be asked, 'Why did you stand there slack-jawed and idle, when there was so much work to do?'” 

"I love that language: clothed with power from on high – how would we behave if we truly believed we had been clothed with power from on high?"

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 17, 2015:


First Reading: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Psalm: Psalm 1

Second Reading: 1 John 5:9-13

Gospel: John 17:6-19


In today’s Gospel passage, we see Jesus close to the end of his mission. We get to watch him pray. And notice that Jesus prays for those people whom he has called to continue the work he has set in motion.

This passage reminds us that we are sanctified consecrated, and sent out into the world. The not yet message of the Gospel reminds us that we have work to do And this Gospel passage reminds us of the stakes: Jesus prays that we will be protected from the evil one.

In many ways, our most basic task is to confront evil. Everything we do, everything we create, needs to be a challenge to evil. We are not to go through the world with our business as usual selves. We are not to have a self that we bring out on Sundays, in church, and our week day self, and our Saturday self. Our task is to live an integrated life, a life that lets the light of the Good News shine through us and our actions.

The thought of living an integrated life can drive some of us to distraction. How can we be sure that we are? Some of us are so distracted that we never really make the attempt.

As humans, we have a tendency to make these things more complicated than they need to be. Here again, as he so often does, Christ shows us a path towards a life of integrity.

We can pray. We are to care for everyone. We can start by praying for them.

We can begin with the easy prayers: the ones for our families and friends. And then we can move on to the difficult people. You say you have a boss who is driving you crazy, making you redo work 5 times, only to arrive back at the place you started? You could growl and grumble. But you'd use your time far more wisely by praying for your boss. Your neighbors play their music too loud and fight through the night? Pray for them. You disagree with your leaders? Pray for them. As you drive home, let yourself notice the homeless people, the ones who wait for the bus, the teenagers who look to be loitering with no place to go. Pray for them.

As you move through the day, be on the lookout for ways to be the yeast in the bread, the salt that flavors the soup. Look for ways to show Christ's love. You can do it quietly--in fact, there are plenty of Gospel passages that say you must do it quietly. You don't want to be that pious Christian that makes people feel squirmy; you don't want people to accuse you of being a typical hypocritical Christian on the days when your light flickers and dims. Radiate love, as often as you can, and you will be a far stronger advocate for God, and a person who is far better equipped to fight evil.

Each day, pray the prayer that Jesus prayed so long ago, that his joy may be fulfilled in you (verse 13). Each day, look for ways to bring that joy to others. Each day, work for beauty and peace and the defeat of evil.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Another Earthquake in Nepal: How to Help

Another earthquake hit Nepal today.  Once again, I'm thinking about our Vacation Bible School.  We use those pre-packaged curriculums, and this year, long before the earthquakes, we chose the one which uses imagery of Mt. Everest and mountain climbing.

We've been talking about the best response to the Nepal disaster.  Each year, our VBS raises money for a cause, and this year, we'll raise money for Lutheran World Relief, who is doing good work in Nepal and other places.  We're also going to make a quilt or two.

I'm the arts and crafts director, so I've thought about how to incorporate a quilting project into the VBS week.  We have very tiny children, so the thought of lots of needles in the arts and crafts area makes me queasy.  But I have plans:

--In the fellowship hall, I'll have a quilt that needs to be knotted together (much easier/faster than quilting).  We need almost every able-bodied adult to help with VBS, but there are times throughout each night when we're not all needed.  Maybe some people would like to work on quilts as they wait for their time to be needed.  Maybe parents who arrive early or stay later would like to work on this project.

--I'll give each child a square to decorate with fabric markers.  The children can trace their hands and draw other pictures.

I've thought about doing something similar at our school as a service project (less the fabric decorating than assembling a quilt).  Just because Lutheran World Relief is the distributor of quilts doesn't mean that we can't make a quilt as a secular project.

Go here for more information on quilts.  And if quilts aren't your thing, there are other ways to help:  school kits, health/personal care kits, and of course, monetary donations.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sacramental Quilting Group

Yesterday, instead of going to church, I went to spend time with my quilting group.  We met at the house of one of us, a house that's been undergoing lots of transformation in the past half year.  I quilted, one friend sewed patches together, one friend knitted (or was she crocheting?), and one friend sewed beads on a piece of fabric art.  One friend couldn't come for a variety of reasons.

I am surprised by how quickly my Inner Apocalypse Gal leaps into action.  She is convinced that one friend's inability to clear her schedule means that we'll never see her again.  She thinks about how we used to meet regularly once a month, and now it's closer to once a quarter.  She's both sad about that and feeling swamped by scheduling demands like the rest of the world.

There's always a bit of sadness for me around our quilting group get-togethers.  I think of one of our founding members who moved to Virginia and died in June from a brain tumor.  I think of all the other losses.  Once we all worked full-time at the same place.  Now we don't.

Still, I try to rejoice in the fact that we still make time for each other.  I rejoice in the fact that we have gone on to other jobs, even if it means we don't see each other as much in our day to day lives.  I can acknowledge that I miss people, even when they're nearby.  I can accept a situation, even if it's not perfect.  I don't have to perfect it.

In our early days of meeting as a group, I wrote the following poem.  I was not a lapsed Lutheran, although I liked the way it sounded, so I kept that language.   Careful readers may note some Passover symbolism too.

Strange to think that those daughters who used to join us here and there have gone on to college and soon grad school.  When we first started meeting, they were in elementary school. 

This poem was first published in Ruminate:

Eucharist


I knead the bread leavened with beer,
stew a lamb shank in a pot of lentils,
prepare a salad of apples, walnuts, and raisins,
sweetened with wine and honey.
No one ever had herbs as bitter as this late season lettuce.

My friends gather at dusk, a motley band
of ragtags, fleeing from the Philistines of academia:
a Marxist, a Hindu, a Wiccan, a Charismatic Catholic,
and me, a lapsed Lutheran longing for liturgy.

Later, having drunk several bottles of wine
with prices that could have paid our grad
school rents, we eat desserts from disparate
cultures and tell our daughters tales from our deviant days.
We agree to meet again.

Gnarled vegetables coaxed from their dark hiding places
transform into a hearty broth.
Fire transubstantiates flour and water into life giving loaves.
Outcasts scavenged from the margins of education
share a meal and memories and begin to mold
a new family, a different covenant.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day 2015: Thoughts on Care, Nurture, and a Poem

Here we are at Mother's Day, that huge festival where we celebrate Mom--with flowers, brunch, and a gift.  But what about the rest of the year?

I am not the first person to note that we can tell a lot about a society, or an organization or a person, by looking at where it spends its money.  In the U.S., we are not a culture that celebrates mothers much at all.  We certainly don't do much where it counts.  If you don't believe me, ask a mother about leave policies at her work place.  Ask about childcare if its needed at odd hours.  Ask about schools and how they're funded.

As a church, how well do we celebrate mothers?  Do we mention them on Mother's Day and Christmas Eve and not much in between?

We talk about God as Father.  In some churches, we don't leave room for many other metaphors.  But how about God as Mother?

I'm thinking about nurturing of all kinds, the kinds we get from our families, the kinds we get from our friends, the kinds of nurturing we might get at work and school.

How well do we nurture each other at church?

I'm fairly sure we do a good job nurturing each other through life's big crises.  Most churches still know how to help people who have lost a loved one.  We celebrate weddings and births.

But what about what happens in between?

We're never really done trying to balance all these demands of nurture, both the nurture of ourselves, our children, and all the people who cross our paths.  We're not done as a church either, but it's easier to keep ourselves aloof.

On Mother's Day, I'm thinking about some of the mothers I've known best, my own mother and my sister.  Let me post a poem that came out of some advice that my sister got early on.

But the woman in this poem is not necessarily my sister.  In some ways, the woman in this poem is Alternate Life Kristin.  In some ways, I was trying for an iconic depiction of a mother.  In some ways, she's all of us.

In some ways, the mother in this poem is God.

Comforters

The pediatrician tells her to change
her bedtime practices with her baby.
All her friends agree: "Just leave
the baby in the crib. Let the baby cry."
In this way, the baby will learn self-comfort.

The evening compresses with the wails
of a baby not skilled at self-comfort.
The mother sleepwalks through the day,
but even her bleary eyes can see a failed
domestic policy. For several generations,
parents have left screaming children to self-comfort.

Now a nation careens from bottle to bodies to fudge,
looking for love.
Never before have so many members of a country gulped
anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants.
The unmedicated drink wine or scotch
or eat whole cakes for dinner.
With a shudder, the mother looks at the angry
offerings of a popular culture raised
on this belief that they need to comfort themselves.

She returns to the rocking
chair, the nightly ritual craved
by herself, her baby, and several billion citizens
of a scary world that's short on comfort.
She sings nonsense songs and smells
her mint tea seeping on the windowsill
keeping the horrors at bay.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Between Julian of Norwich and Mother's Day

Yesterday was the feast day that celebrates Julian of Norwich.



Tomorrow is Mother's Day.



So many of us live in this valley between the two.




We long for solitude, a tiny cell to call our own.



But we also want to nurture.  We wonder if it's the most divine calling.



We spend our lives navigating this tension.



How can we know what is true?



Friday, May 8, 2015

Poetry Friday: Poems for Mother's Day

I am pleased to be included in the Mother's Day feature at the amazing online journal, Escape into Life.  I always love the way Kathleen Kirk, the poetry editor, combines poetry and art:  it's often unsettling and enriches both the poetry and the visual image.

My offering:  my poem, "Orpheus Visits the Fertility Clinic."  It begins this way:

"Orpheus considers the frozen
embryos of his dead wife.
Long ago, they preserved possibilities.
and now, he pays the price."

I had originally submitted it as a possibility for Valentine's Day, but Kathleen wanted to hold onto it for Mother's Day.  It's an odd inclusion, but it works.

I have also written a poem, "Cassandra Visits the Fertility Clinic."  I think the Orpheus idea came first, but I have a memory of one idea informing another as I wrote.

It's an interesting way to write poems, transporting figures from mythology into our modern lives.  Some day, perhaps an enterprising grad student will write a dissertation about which figures I've used most.

Right now, it's Cassandra, Penelope, Persephone, Orpheus, and the occasional Eurydice poem.  I wonder if my preferences will change as the years go on.  I'm not writing as many Persephone poems as I once did.  In the past five years or so, I've been returning to Cassandra more than any other figure.  It doesn't take a genius grad student to figure out why.

If I taught a poetry writing class, I'd challenge students to write a Mother's Day poem that avoided clich├ęs, both the good and the bad.

I'd direct them to the Escape Into Life feature to see how others have responded to the challenge.

If I was teaching in a place that allowed me to bring spiritual discussions into the classroom, or if I was leading a retreat exercise or a church study group, I'd then ask the group to consider God as a Mother.  We talk a lot about God our Father. We talk a lot less about God as Mother.

We're missing out.  More thoughts on God as Mother as this Mother's Day week-end progresses.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Meaningful Philosophies of Life and How We Develop Them

A week ago, we'd have been going to see David Brooks tonight.  I've found my thoughts returning again and again to some of the things he said.

He talked about annual surveys of college students and what they hope to achieve.  Forty years ago, the number one answer was "Develop a meaningful philosophy of life."  Now that answer is the #16 goal. 

He says when college students are asked whether they'd rather have lots of fame or lots of sex, they choose fame.  Interesting to ponder what that says about our society.

He says that in our current society, we have many platforms to talk about economics and politics, but not many platforms to talk about love and greater moral values.

He bemoaned the lack of public intellectuals, like Reinhold Niebuhr, who used to keep these conversations front and center in our national conversations.

Clearly, he hopes that his book can help start these conversations, and I predict that it will.  But it probably will among people who already are having these conversations, like the book group or the campus group at my mom and dad's Lutheran church in Williamsburg (St. Stephen).

I did find it curious, the absence of churches, synagogues, mosques, and other traditional venues of moral training in this country and others.  Of course, many of the people he talks about in his book had that moral formation from churches. 

I'll be interested to see if he circles back to the idea in his book.  It certainly wasn't present in his presentation.

Or maybe that will be his next book . . .

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 10, 2015:


Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands. (Ps. 98:5)
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17


This week's Gospel continues where last week's lessons about the vine and the branches left off. Notice how many times Jesus commands us to love each other.

On this Mother’s Day, as we read the Gospel, we might see Jesus as the ultimate mother. Jesus nourishes us by giving us his own body. But Jesus doesn’t nourish us just to keep us close and smothered and dependent. Like any good parent, Jesus nourishes us and trains us so that we’re ready to leave the nest, ready to be resurrection people shining light into a darkening and desperate world.

You may not be feeling like you’re in a loving space right now. Pretend that you are. Make the effort that it takes not to snap at your troublesome colleague. Pray for the people that annoy you. Leave love notes for your family members. Say please and thank you more often.

Here, too, on Mother’s Day, we can look at the mothers who are doing a good job and try to emulate them. Tell people that they’ve done a good job when they have. Thank people for doing their chores. Remind people that they need to use their words, and not in their angry voices. Say please and thank you more often, and apologize when you’ve not done your best. Look for ways to make play dates with God and with the world.

You will likely find yourself transformed by your own actions—and hopefully, you’ll find the world transforming around you in response to your loving kindness.

Receive replenishment from Christ so that your withered branch will once again bear fruit. Allow yourself to be transformed into the part of the plant that sustains life.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How Should Christians Celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

Today is Cinco de Mayo.  How many of us know how this holiday came to be?  The Writer's Almanac web site tells us, "It commemorates the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. In a David-and-Goliath confrontation, the 8,000-strong, well-armed French army was routed by 4,000 ill-equipped Mexican soldiers, and though it wasn’t a decisive battle in the course of the war, it became a symbol of Mexican pride. It’s also become a celebration of Mexican heritage and culture in the United States."

For many of us, it's just another excuse to drink, like Saint Patrick's Day.  But what if we looked at this holiday with new eyes?  Today, I'll be thinking about how great odds can be overcome.

Some of us may be feeling discouraged, given the events of the last few weeks.  We may think of all those dead in Tibet.  We may think of all the news of poverty and despair that came to light after police brutality.  We may look at shrinking numbers in our colleges and churches.  We may wonder if societal transformation is possible.

But historical events like Cinco de Mayo, like the marches around Selma fifty years ago, like communities that have rebuilt after disaster--all these things remind us of what can happen if ordinary people come together.

And even if we feel we can't do anything physical, we can still pray.  I leave you with the words of  my all-time favorite theologian, Walter Wink, who reminds us again and again that God will not intervene in this universe that gives us free will unless we ask God to intervene: "This is a God who works with us and for us, to make and keep human life humane. And what God does depends on the intercessions of those who care enough to try to shape a future more humane than the present" (Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, page 301).

So, however you choose to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, let us pause to pray for a world where people do not have to rise up against oppression.  Let us pray for a world where oppression no longer exists.

Maybe we can't imagine such a world.  But God can.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Seasonal Shifts

Some days, we may feel like a partly frozen pond.





Maybe we see ourselves as an orchid blossom trapped in a strange prison.




Some days, we wander down a dimly lit path.




But then we realize that new life has taken root in improbable places.



We see the ways we have been supported.



We see the great gifts that have been brought to us.



We are ready to ascend.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Notes of Hope in a Week of Bad News

My inner sociologist has found the last week interesting, as the crisis in Baltimore grew worse and worse and then a curfew seemed to solve much of the immediate problem.  Despite having a B.A. in Sociology, I really don't understand riots that end in people burning their own neighborhoods.

Oh, I understand the anger.  Most of us do.  I understand the frustration of the slow pace of social change, of feeling unvalued.  I understand the nihilistic joy that comes from destruction.

It intrigues me that so seldom in U.S. history do we see people torch government buildings.  Perhaps they are more protected or perhaps riots escalate and no one says, "Hey, let's move this demonstration to the true source of our misery."

It's hard to move a group, especially a group that's in a bad mood.

In these days, those of us who have ever worked for a better world may be feeling discouraged.  We may wonder if anything that we do will make a difference.

So, I wanted to offer two quotes of consolation.  I listened to the latest episode of the radio show On Being; Margaret Wertheim is part of a huge project, Crochet Coral Reef.  She talks about why the project is important and how it is a metaphor:

"One of the things about the reef project that I feel is important is that it's a constructive response to a devastating problem. I think most people, as I am, are completely freaked out about the problem of global warming. What can we do? Can we do anything? And the reef project — the Crochet Coral Reef project is a metaphor, and it goes like this: if you look at real corals, a head of coral is built by thousands of individual coral polyps working together. Each coral polyp is a tiny insignificant little critter with almost no power of its own. But when billions of coral polyps come together, they can build the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living thing on earth and the first living thing that you can see from outer space.

The Crochet Coral Reef is a human analog of that. These huge coral reef installations that we build with communities are built by hundreds and sometimes thousands of people working together. So the project capitulates, in human action, the power and greatness of what corals themselves are doing. And I think the metaphor of the project is, look what we can do together. We humans, each of us are like a coral polyp. Individually, we’re insignificant and probably powerless. But together, I believe we can do things. And I think the metaphor of the project is we are all corals now."

And to return to theology, which often informs my thinking on social justice:

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).

For many of us, the most difficult part of Jesus' mission that he gives us will be the willingness to believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King reminded us. The arc of history also bends towards beauty and wisdom and love and mercy.

Some of us are so beaten down that we forget. Some of us would have no problem being crucified for our faith, but it's much harder to believe in God's vision of a redeemed world and to work to make that happen. But scripture and thousands of years of theology makes it clear, as Wright says, "We are called to live within the world where these things are possible and to agents of such things insofar as they lie in our calling and sphere" (248).

I'm glad to wake up this morning to hear that Baltimore was quiet again last night.  But clearly, we all still have work to do in bending our current arc of history towards justice.