Tuesday, May 31, 2016

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, especially as I think about what it means for projects that may be taking more time than I anticipated.

 In our age that worships fame and celebrity and insists that if they haven't come early, then what we're doing isn't worth much, this feast day reminds us that there are times when we may need to sit with our projects.  It may be good if it takes months, years, or even decades to bring a project to completion.  We may need periods of distance to see what we're creating with fresh eyes.  It may take time for us to know what we're doing.  We may need to wait for the surrounding world to be ready.

In short, when I find myself feeling despair over how long it's taken me to see a project to its end, I remind myself that time to incubate is not bad.  It's a stronger manuscript that I have now than the one that I would have had if I had rushed it into existence when I first had the idea.

I also love the idea that these two women have each other.  They're both taking similar journeys through very unusual territory, and they can use support.

We live in a culture that doesn't support much in the way of any activity, unless we're harnessing all of our powers powers to make gobs and gobs of money.  It's good to have fellow travelers.  On this day, I'm offering up gratitude for all those who have given me encouragement while also working on their own projects.  I'm grateful for the ways that their creativity has nourished mine.

This feast day also reminds us of the value of retreat.  I love to get away on the retreats that I take periodically.  I get so much done when I'm away from the demands of regular life.  And even during those years when I return with not much done, I often have a blaze of creativity shortly after I return.  Those retreats nourish me on multiple levels.

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.  Our work will never find favor, our relationships will always disappoint, we will never truly achieve mastery over what hurts us--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.

The world tells us of all the ways that things can go terribly wrong.  We need to remember that often we take the first steps, and we get more encouragement than we expected.  God or the universe or destiny, however you think of it, meets us more than halfway.

Today is a good day to think of all the times we've been afraid to take those first steps, those projects and dreams to which we've said no.  Maybe it's time to go back and say yes.  It's not too late.  As long as there is breath in our bodies, it is not too late.

So today, on this feast day that celebrates unlikely miracles, let's practice saying yes.  For one day, let's quiet the negative voices that shout at us.   Today, let us try to remember all of the dreams we might have discarded as improbable, impossible.  Nourish all the possibilities.  Let's choose one possibility and try it on for size.  Let that dream incubate a bit.  Let it swell and grow into a full-blown alternative. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Prayers and Practices for Memorial Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

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

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mepkin Abbey in Black and White

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

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

I expected some shots to look arty:

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

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

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Inspirational Words from Around the Internet

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

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

Here's a wonderful quote from Desmond Tutu:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Songs that Shape Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am so grateful for these songs.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Spiritual Manure: The Important Questions

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

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

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

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

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

I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 29, 2016:

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

Psalm 96 (7)

Galatians 1:1-12

Luke 7:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Walk by the Woods--with a Camera

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what I learned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

When a Church Group Takes a Photo Expedition

My church's pastor has been taking amazing photos for years now.  Recently, he started pairing those photos with Bible verses; go here to see what I'm talking about--scroll down to see a full sample.

A few weeks ago, he sent out an invitation to some church members to go with him to a nature preserve in the county above ours.  It was a Monday, and I probably could have made a lot of rearrangements to miss work--but because it was a bit of a last-minute possibility, I decided not to go.

It was a successful outing, so he arranged another outing, this time to the Everglades.  This time, I had more lead time, so I decided to go ahead and take the day off and go. 

I've wanted to see how my pastor chooses his subjects.  I know that he takes the photos first and then decides on the Bible verse--or at least, that's his usual approach.  But how does he find the photo?  Perhaps after today, I'll know.

I'll take my camera too, but my pastor has much more sophisticated camera equipment than I have.  Still, I look forward to seeing what develops (ha-I didn't even mean to make a pun!  but does that pun even work in this digital age?).

I had thought that we might be taking this trip before the summer weather returned, but we're about a week and a half too late.  Ah, well.  I'll take bug spray and sun screen and hope for the best, by which I mean that I hope other people sweat the same way that I do.  I'll take a towel to sit on.

I'm assuming we'll be out traipsing in nature, but perhaps it's going to be less of a nature walk than a nature sit, waiting for wildlife, waiting for the right camera shot.

I'm taking this day off to go on this outing for many reasons:  the art process insight reason, the chance to make art myself, and the chance to be out in the kind of nature that's been mostly paved over down here.  I'm also interested in the fact that it's church folks going out in my pastor's van.  What will that be like?  And it's a repeat trip--what does that mean?

My church is in the process of creating several types of ministries which you wouldn't find in the typical "How to Run Successful Programs" church guide (is there such a guide?  I was writing satirically, but perhaps there is).  We may create a Dine and Jam ministry--we have a lot of musicians who might like to get together in a non-choir setting--and we may do something else with ukuleles.  This photography expedition feels like another kind of nascent ministry.

I've long been interested in the intersections of faith and art and creativity--I didn't want to pass up a second chance to see this process up close.

I'll be back in this space with more details tomorrow.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Exile: Extinction and Survival

My church goes off-lectionary frequently.  Part of me is sympathetic:  I, too, grow weary of the cycle at times, and I long for something different to ponder.  Part of me mourns the fact that we're not in sync with the larger Christian world; when we're on-lectionary, I love knowing that Christians of all sorts throughout the world are reading the same texts.

Today my church will hear about the Babylonian exile.  We've already explored the Assyrian exile.

How interesting to read these stories in light of all the migration, forced and voluntary, happening through the world today.  We live in a time when more humans are on the move across the globe than any time since the end of World War II.  Our various cultures will be shaped and changed by this movement.

Our thinking about exile is both similar and different to how the ancient Israelites saw exile.  We see evidence of that thinking in the texts that tell the story of exile (2 Kings 17:  5-20 and 2 Chronicles 36:  5-21), with its emphasis on the sins of the leaders and the people and the displeasure of God, who needs to punish everyone for going astray.

Historians might explain it otherwise, explaining how the Israelites lived in a bad location, between various warring countries, which meant that armies were always crossing the land of Israel.  Historians would say that Israel and Judah were the weaker countries in a region of heavily armed, fierce fighting cultures.  Historians would tell us that these smaller, weaker countries were living on borrowed time and that it should have come as no surprise that they were conquered.

But generations after the forced exile saw it as God's punishment, and some of them saw it as their task to figure out how to get back to God's favor.  They would have centuries to wrestle with this question, as generation after generation was subsumed by whatever empire ruled the world at the time.

If we read the Gospels deeply and then do some research, we might see the Pharisees in a more favorable light.  They did not insist on purity laws because they wanted to make Christ's ministry difficult.  They thought that if they could get the Jews to perfect their observation of all the laws that God gave them in the early days, then God would look favorably upon them, and all that was lost would be restored.

Humans are prone to this thinking, and especially humans who have lost so much--or who come from families/cultures who have focused on the loss.

Some theologians might remind us that from these great losses come great growth.  We might argue that if cultures don't go out into different parts of the world, they will become more and more insular and eventually die.  Historians might tell us that exile inoculates a culture against extinction.  If a group stays in the same geographical spot, they are easier to destroy.  If parts of the group have migrated, they can regroup, even if a genocide has occurred elsewhere.  We see this dynamic with both centuries of Jewish culture and Christian culture.

I realize this idea is small comfort when one has lost one's homeland and everything that matters.  One does not sit in the ashes and say, "From this event will come great art and then a stronger culture."  And yet, it is usually true.

I'm interested in the various communities that are formed by exiles.  Often they are more vibrant than the ones left behind.  Exile can teach us what is important, what we value.  We see this trajectory in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles of the ancient Israelites.

We live in a time of exile of all sorts.  Some of it is geographical, as people become ever more mobile and countries more unstable.  Some of it has to do with psychology, as we are required to make adjustments in the face of what we thought we knew having to change.  Some of us must leave our families and some will have our families leave us.  Some must shed identities.

In a time of exile, it is good to remember the value of creating community in the place where one has washed up.  It is good to remember that although we may feel abandoned, God is there with us.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cairns and Other Signs

I arrived at Mepkin Abbey in late March, and as I moved my belongings to my room, l noticed these rock structures in the public area on the cement benches outside of the private rooms:

I understand a bit about the topic of cairns, but more because I've heard people who love the outdoors debating the merits of them, about the upheaval of habitat that happens when people want to mark their path.  Clearly, these cairns were little threat to habitat:

I thought of the other ways we try to mark our existence, to say, "Hey, I was here."

Some of those ways are more subtle:  we create a garden, which won't last long without someone there to tend it once we're gone.

We've developed every sort of ritual to signify our passages.

We've tried so hard to deal with all that scares us, to scare away the haints.

In the end, all we can do is walk the path where we find ourselves.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Poetry Friday: "The Hollow Women"

I am tired this morning.  I got home from spin class last night, did an assortment of chores (bed making with clean sheets, vacuuming, laundry, getting food ready for Friday).  Then I watched a bit of TV while sketching.  It was good to get back to sketching.

My spouse is back to teaching during some week nights.  I don't sleep as well when he's out late teaching--I go to bed before he gets home, and then he gets in and I wake up a bit and then fall back asleep.

In short, it's no wonder I'm tired.  Plus it's day 5 of my "shred," and people have told me that this is the time period where a bit of fatigue sets in, with the lack of carbohydrates.

I've been thinking of the poem that I wrote years ago, "The Hollow Women."  It's 3 poems composed to go together along with chunks of prose in between.  I describe the writing process in this blog post.

I consider the whole poem among the best of everything that I've written, and I like how each of the three poems can stand alone.  I've thought of writing more of them, of composing a poem that addresses many aspects of modern female life.  My friend who is also a writing buddy has told me that I could write the modern response to "The Waste Land."  I wonder if this idea could be such a poem.

But that's a thought for another day.  For today, let me post one of the poems that makes up the larger poem of the same name.  This poem will be part of my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.

The Hollow Women

We are the hollow women,
the ones with carved muscles,
the ones run ragged by calendars
and other apps that promised
us mastery of that cruel slavedriver, time.

We are the hollow women
with faces carved like pumpkins,
shapes that ultimately frighten.

We are the hollow women
who paint our faces the colors
of the desert and march
ourselves to work while dreaming
of mad dashes to freedom.

At night, the ancient ones speak
to us in soft, bodily gurgles
and strange dreams from a different homeland.
We surface from senseless landscapes
to wear our slave clothes
and artificial faces, masks
of every sort. We trudge
to our hollow offices to do our work,
that modern drudgery,
filing papers and shredding documents,
the feminine mystique, the modern housework,
while at home, domestics
from a different culture care
for the children.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Camp Counselors of All Kinds

Over the past few weeks, I've seen lots of Facebook posts about former camp counselors, about the need for counselors at a Lutheran camp here and there this summer, and this morning, a sad thought stabbed me:  I never got to be a camp counselor at Lutheridge.

I was, however, a camp counselor at Camp Congaree, Girl Scout camp, the kind with semi-permanent tents on big wooden platforms around a lake.  It was a similar experience to being a counselor at Lutheridge, but also vastly different.

I had wanted to be a counselor at Lutheridge, but they hired former counselors first, and then college seniors, then juniors, then sophomores, then freshman.  For summer of 1984, all the slots were filled, and no freshman females were hired.  I also applied for the internship to the chaplains in the national parks program--another no.  By May, I was applying at fast food places--another  set of no and no answers, how discouraging.  Someone at our Lutheran church in Lexington knew that the Girl Scout camp needed counselors, so I applied, and finally, someone wanted me.  I was profoundly grateful, and overall, it was a great experience.  I got to be one of the backpacking counselors, which was an amazing experience, and shaped me in ways I continue to discover.

But still, a moment of sadness, both because I never got to be a counselor at Lutheridge, but also because I'm not likely to ever be a counselor.

But then I had another thought:  maybe I am a camp counselor, but in a very non-traditional way. 

I'm thinking of all the years I've been at Create in Me at Lutheridge, many of them in a leadership role.  In a way, that's like being a camp counselor, in charge of shepherding others with less camp/retreat experience.  I also feel more connected to both the camp and the retreat during the months when we're not there.  And more important, I'm part of a community, far-flung as it is.  In recent years, social media like Facebook has helped me feel connected to that community on a weekly basis.

I imagine it's different than being a college kid who spends a whole summer at camp.  But it's also an opportunity many adults will never have.  For that, I am grateful.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 22, 2016:

  • First reading and Psalm
    • Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
    • Psalm 8
  • Second reading
    • Romans 5:1-5
  • Gospel
    • John 16:12-15

  • 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.

    I like the mystical promise of the Spirit that we find in this week's Gospel. 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.

    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 17, 2016

    Of Bodies and Bathrooms

    On Friday, when I heard about the Obama administration's directive about transgender students and bathrooms and locker rooms, I felt a bit of despair.  I knew that we'd be hearing lots of ugliness, and some of it would come from Christians.

    I must admit that the part about locker rooms gives me pause.  When I was in high school, I didn't want to be in the locker room with my fellow females.  And in fact, even as an adult, I'd prefer not to have anyone in the bathroom with me, regardless of gender--but it's not because I'm worried about attacks or anyone seeing anything private.  I am a bit of a medievalist--I tend to think of myself as a soul trapped in a body, even as I realize the cruddy theology that shapes that kind of thinking.
    I also don't want a gender-free bathroom.  If we're being honest, I'd prefer that we have single-use, gendered bathrooms.  But I also realize that I'm being unrealistic when it comes to the design of public buildings and the space that single-use, gendered bathrooms would take.

    I've read lots of great articles, especially one in The Washington Post about why public bathrooms bring out all of our various guilt and shame responses.  I am not the only person who wants to disguise the fact that I have a body which has fluids which must be dealt with--in fact, it's a common response.  And add the germ factors and the general messiness that can come with a public restroom.

    I keep waiting to see a really great article from a theological perspective that advocates that we use this issue to talk more generally about our physicality, about our relationships to our bodies, about the ways we think that God feels about bodies.  I'd like to explore this medieval idea that I have, that my body is somehow less than my intellect, than my creative self, than my soul.

    I'm also interested in our human tendency to divide everything and everyone into strictly binary categories, which we see in our various transgender debates.  I have always seen gender and sexual identity as more of a spectrum, rather than an either/or.  I have a BA in Sociology, so I will also say that I think that where one lives on these spectrums is deeply affected by our society.  I will also admit that recent advances in various scientific fields make me think that our biology has as deep an effect on our gendered lives.

    How would our lives be different if we saw gender as a spectrum?  How would our societies be different if we thought less rigidly about gender?

    The issue of gender, especially transgender issues, may come to be seen as one that's as important as the Civil Rights struggles of the 50's and 60's.  But I also wonder if future generations will wonder why we were so insistent that bodies look a certain way--so insistent that people spent money on surgery to make all sorts of changes. 

    I've heard transgendered people who say, "You just can't understand what it's like to feel like you have a body that doesn't fit, how it feels when your outside doesn't match your inside."

    I'm a woman in the U.S. culture, a woman who's not living a life painted in frilly pastels, a woman who's larger than my culture would tell me I should be.  I think I have a glimmer of what it's like to inhabit a body that isn't what I feel it should be (I'd be happy to be 30 pounds lighter) or what my society tells me it should be.

    Middle age has given me yet a different view.  In this age when so many of my friends are stricken with bodies that are no longer healthy, I've found a new gratitude for mine.  I no longer spend much energy on how my body would be better if ______________ (so many ways to fill in that blank!).  Now I'm grateful to be free of disastrous disease, to be able to breathe freely, to be able to bend and stretch and make it through the day with energy and enthusiasm most days.  If I weigh more than I wish I weighed, well at least that flesh is healthy.

    I do wonder, too, about the transgender people who finally get the surgery.  Are they happy or are they surprised by elements they hadn't considered?

    And then my thoughts loop back around to God.  I have a vision of God saying, "You already have a perfect body.  Why cut into it?"

    But I also know of all the ways that surgery can be a factor in healing. 

    I could go on and on like this, my thinking looping around and back around, all morning.  Clearly I'm not the person to write the theology of the body, in this modern age when we don't have to be as constrained by our bodies of birth as we once were. 

    But I'm ready to read that book!

    Monday, May 16, 2016

    Lectio Divina in the Interactive Service

    At the Create in Me retreat, I experienced some different forms of lectio divina, which I wrote about in this blog post.  Yesterday, I tried something similar at our more interactive intergenerational service that's a combination of church, Sunday School, and camp.  We hold it in the fellowship hall, so we can easily move from worship space to tables--and we could rearrange the worship space if we wanted.

    I put a piece of paper at every seat, along with a few markers in yellow, brown, orange, and red--I also kept the larger container of markers in the center of the table.

    I read the Pentecost passage--in fact, more than we usually get.  I read all of Acts 2.  I had people sketch and draw as I read.

    We talked about the drawings and the process.  It won't surprise you to learn that people drew flame shapes and that people tried to capture the essence of the Holy Spirit in other ways.

    We also had people draw the end of the passage, the shared meals and the baptizing of many.

    People did say that they wish I had read the passage again, and I know that in lectio divina, that's traditional.  But I was worried that it was already so long, so I decided not to do that.  People agreed that they paid attention even though they were sketching.

    Based on their pictures, I would say that they got the message of the Gospel.

    I also went to the later service, where I was one of the readers of Acts 2.  Our pastor began his sermon by saying, "I have one word:  audacious."  So I wrote that at the center of my page and then sketched around and through it.  This was the finished product:

    I really wanted to do something different than some of my Pentecost images of the past, like this one:

    I'm very happy with my sketch for Pentecost 2016.

    Sunday, May 15, 2016

    Pentecost Dawn

    Here we are at the beginning of a great festival Sunday, second only to Easter.  In some churches, the festival may come and go, barely noticed.  In others, the whole worship space may be transformed.

    Are we willing to be transformed?

    I have been thinking of times of transformation in my own life, especially the times of transformation that made me ecstatically happy.  They were times when I was accomplishing something that I didn't think could be possible, and times when that change came fairly quickly (unlike the changes that came at the end of a long slog).

    I tend to believe that we can't live in that ecstatic state of getting goals accomplished for long, and certainly not year after year.  But what if I'm wrong?

    The festival day of Pentecost reminds us that great things can happen when the Holy Spirit takes hold of a community.  If we need a reminder of that, all we need to do is to look at the state of the church on Pentecost morning, and then think about the spread of Christianity in the decade after Pentecost.

    And Christianity was spread by regular people--sure, there were some superstars like Paul.  But Paul came and went and then regular people had to keep the vision alive.

    They did.  Pentecost both celebrates that fact and invites us to welcome the Holy Spirit in to our modern communities.

    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.

    Saturday, May 14, 2016

    Pentecost Eve

    The day before Pentecost, and some of us are probably feeling like dry husks, dimly burning wicks.

    I think of those ancient disciples and those days between the Ascension and Pentecost, that time of waiting.  I wonder if some of them were anxious to get started on a project, any project.  I wonder if some of them were secretly making alternate plans, just in case the larger vision never appeared.

    I think of how hard it is to wait, to listen, and to watch.  And then, how hard it is to know for sure that God has spoken.

    Photo of a painting by Linda Anderson

    But then there are the Pentecost times, the rushing wind, the flame, the ability to do what we did not know we can do.

    Come Holy Spirit.  Let us blaze with your energetic fire.  Let your breath fill us with the will to do what must be done.

    Friday, May 13, 2016

    More Involved Projects for Pentecost

    Yesterday's blog post talked about easy projects for Pentecost.  But maybe you're in the mood for something more challenging.  Here are some projects that will take more time, but aren't particularly hard.

    Project 1:  Wind Chimes

    Pentecost is not only about flame.  It's also about wind, and what a great reason to make wind chimes.  I've made wind chimes out of pottery ornaments made especially for a retreat:

    But you can also make them out of old hardware, old keys, old utensils, pieces of wood, anything that the wind can move.  As you make the wind chime from items strung on yarn or string, just remember that they need to hit each other to make sound.  The first time I made a wind chime, I forgot, so mine isn't as melodious. 

    For more instructions, see this blog post.

    Project 2:  Make a Bouquet of Flames

    I came across this picture, which made me think about how many different bouquets of flames that one could create.

    This one was made out of a garland of fake autumnal leaves.  You could use paper creations or pieces of cloth and ribbon arranged artfully.  Glue them onto sticks and put all the sticks in a container.

    Project Three:  Glass Blocks with Mosaic Flames

    Yesterday I pointed out that one can paint on glass blocks.  But this picture shows how beautiful mosaic on a glass block can be:

    The one in the picture has a votive candle burning behind it.

    Making the mosaics is relatively easy, once you have mosaic blocks and cement to attach them.  For more permanence, you also need grout.  This blog post which talks about making a fountain can give you a sense of how the mosaic process works.

    Project 4:  Paper Creations

    At one retreat, we did cut paper creations that could be turned into bouquets, bundles, or mobiles:

    I've also seen interesting Pentecost creations made out of red, yellow, and orange origami cranes:

    found on Pinterest site; not sure who should get credit

    Of course, you wouldn't have to use cranes.  You could create flame shapes out of paper.  Streamers of ribbons would be beautiful too.

    How one attaches them to a tall ceiling is one I have yet to solve.

    I wish us all a wonderful Pentecost week-end, full of creative visions and the cleansing breath of the Holy Spirit.

    Thursday, May 12, 2016

    Easy Projects for Pentecost

    Perhaps you are done with your planning for Pentecost.  But if you're looking for some inspiration, here are some ways to prepare for Pentecost.  They can be done as an end in themselves, or they can be used to decorate the worship space in the weeks to come.  We've got a long stretch until Advent, when decorating opportunities abound.  Let's celebrate Pentecost all summer!

    Project 1:  Paper Flame Banner

    For this project, you need sheets of tissue paper in reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and violet (flame colors), glue, and a banner-sized piece of paper--or make several!

    Tear the sheets of paper into flame shapes and glue them on the paper.  They can overlap.  Finished banners might look like this:

    Project 2:  Paint Windows

    Paint flame shapes on windows:

    If you don't want your painting to be permanent, there's paint designed for windows that should scrub right off.  Or you can paint on wax paper.

    3.  Paint on Glass Blocks

    Painted glass blocks are beautiful--with a candle behind them, they are magical:

    If you paint enough glass blocks, you can build a pillar of fire.  These glass blocks have mosaic blocks on them, but the same effect could be accomplished with paint.

    3.  Paint/Color on Paper or Canvas

    It's easy to paint/draw on paper or canvas, a group project . . .

    or a solitary sketch:

    4.  Make Headbands

    Cut flame shapes out of paper.  Attach them to headbands (you can make them out of paper) and have people wear them to church--voila!  Instant decorations for your church:

    Wednesday, May 11, 2016

    Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

    The readings for Sunday, May 15, 2016:

    First Reading: Acts 2:1-21

    First Reading (Alt.): Genesis 11:1-9

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

    Second Reading: Romans 8:14-17

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

    Gospel: John 14:8-17 [25-27]

    It's interesting to think how different churches celebrate Pentecost. Some churches will be stressing the rushing wind and the coming of the Spirit; perhaps parishioners will be exhorted to become more Spirit-filled. Some churches will be focused upon the mission of the early church, and I predict parishioners will be asked to think about the mission of the contemporary Church, both global and local.

    This is one of those years when I'm relieved to turn my attention away from Acts, to think about the Gospel of John. I want something a bit more comforting, like John, not readings that make me feel inadequate, like Acts. I know it's called the Book of Acts, not the Book of Relaxation, not the Book of Taking a Nap. Still, some years I find all the energy in that book to be a bit draining. Some years, it all seems a bit loud, a bit energetic, a bit amplified.

    John's Gospel reading for today has a different emphasis. Throughout the whole fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus promises that we're not going to be left alone. Jesus must know how hard it will be for his disciples; it's been somewhat easy for them as they sojourn with their Savior. But once he's gone, how will they carry on?

    Once again, we have Jesus saying he will pray for the disciples. He tells the disciples that they will have everything they need as they go out into the world. He suggests that the new incarnation of himself/God/Spirit will dwell inside us.

    I feel like this Gospel lesson peers straight into my soul, my tired, overstretched soul. Jesus reminds us that we are not alone. The verse after the Gospel ends has Jesus promise, "I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you" (John 14: 18). That's the Good News of this Gospel: we are not alone. We do not have to go about our Pentecostal mission alone. Jesus reminds us that it's a team effort: "Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14: 13-14). Jesus reminds us of all that we can accomplish, if we would but call on God.

    I love the way the Gospel ends, with these images of all these incarnations of the Divine, swirling in the world around us, gathering within us. This Gospel gives me hope that I will be enough. It's unlike some of those other readings that make me feel so inadequate. Speak in tongues? I can hardly get my laundry done in any given week. Help in the Kingdom mission of redeeming the world? Who will do the grocery shopping?

    In our Gospel today, Jesus reminds us that we are enough because we're not all alone. It's a message that's so unlike the messages beamed to us from the larger culture in which so many of us live our daily lives. Our larger culture does not treasure teamwork. Our popular culture likes the larger-than-life leader, the one who goes it alone.  Watch T.V. for a week, watch politics, go to the movies--it's rare to see a team working together for the greater good. It's a poisonous message, one that's very useful in selling us stuff, because most of us don't feel very adequate all by ourselves.

    Jesus reminds us again and again that we are more than adequate. We see disciples that are gloriously human in many of the ways that we are too, and Jesus takes a small band of these flawed humans and changes the world as he sends them out to work in small groups. Jesus can take our overscheduled selves and transform us, so that we love each other, his ultimate dream for us.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2016

    Second Experience of Spiritual Journaling During the Sermon

    On Sunday, I experimented with sketching while our pastor preached.  Again, it was a good experience.  Here's what I drew:

    Our church celebrated Ascension Sunday, so the blue section was going to be Christ above us all.  But I ran out of room for arms and a head.  I decided to keep going to see what I came up with.

    I feel like I drew something that looks like an upspring, a surge from an underground well.  It also somewhat reminds me of a parting sea.  And yet, the sea seems to gathering itself to the middle, rather than parting in the middle.

    The words in burgundy are from Julian of Norwich, whose feast day was Sunday in the Lutheran and Anglican traditions.  I liked putting Be Well on the one side by itself--it makes the quote less passive--that side is more of a command.

    I also drew faces at the bottom.  I wanted them to look upturned, like they were staring gape-mouthed at Christ above.  But I didn't like the way they looked, so I drew over them in purple.  Then I kept sketching the same lines in other colors.  I liked the way they reminded me of sea weed or grasses.

    Our pastor's sermon focused on the promise of Jesus, that he's not abandoning us.  Several times our pastor said, "God will not leave us stuck."  So I wrote the word unstuck in several places, along the edge of the blue figure and within it.

    I did the same with the word open.  I am trying to stay open on various levels, trying to retain the wisdom gained during my spring retreats.

    As with my previous experiment with sketching during the sermon (see this blog post for thoughts on the process and the image), I found that I paid closer attention during the sermon and that the message of the sermon has stayed with me.

    I plan to keep doing this--and with Pentecost approaching, I went out yesterday and bought some markers in Pentecost colors:  red, yellow, and orange.

    Monday, May 9, 2016

    One Last Look Back at Easter

    Today, I need to hear the Easter message.  Today, this time between Ascension and Pentecost, let me cast a look back at Easter.

    Let me remember the Easter flowers, so varied and beautiful:

    Let me remember the cross, an tool of torture turned into an instrument of redemption:

    Help me to turn my head in time to see normal sights in a new light:

    Let me be wary--the crowds that love us at the beginning of the week can turn on us by the end.

    But let me never forget that God can take the most brutal and ugly in humans and turn it into something that gleams eternal hope.

    Sunday, May 8, 2016

    Mystics, Mothers, and Ascension

    Today is one of those days I'm glad that I don't have to preach--there's too much good stuff converging on this day. 

    Mother's Day presents its own challenges, and I've definitely seen ways that I wouldn't do it, with a mostly secular focus on moms and how hard a job they have and what great sacrifices they make--no, if I want that kind of treacle, I'll hang out in the card shop.  So how would I do it?

    I'd probably talk about all the money that we spend on one day, and all the money that we don't spend on mothers in 3rd world countries.  Or our own country.  I'd probably talk about all the mothers who can't afford to stop working, Mother's Day or no Mother's Day.

    Maybe I'd point out how much families spend on this one day, on things that are fleeting, like restaurant meals and flowers.  Why not buy Mom some shares of stock for her special day?

    Maybe I'd talk about creative acts, like making a baby, and how that could give us insight about God.  Maybe I'd talk about mothering an adolescent, which could give us insight into the ancient question:  "How could God let this bad thing happen?"  We're not puppets controlled by God.

    I would likely be unable to resist pointing out how many churches are going off lectionary to talk about mothers, even though many churches don't talk about motherhood at all for the other Sundays of the year:  just Mother's Day and perhaps Christmas Eve.

    It would be irresistible to tie Mother's Day into the matriarch of the Bible or perhaps, Mary the mother of Jesus--although preaching a sermon that focuses on Mary might be risky for a Lutheran outside of Advent--but all the more reason to do it!

    Some of us will be celebrating the Ascension--Jesus is here, then he's crucified, then he's risen, then he hangs out both in similar and different ways, and then he's gone again.  I could make interesting connections to Mother's Day and Pentecost, and that could be fun, but also risky.

    Today is also the feast day of Julian of Norwich in the Anglican and the Lutheran church.

    Ah, Julian of Norwich!  What an amazing woman she was.  She was a 14th century anchoress, a woman who lived in a small cell attached to a cathedral, in almost complete isolation, spending her time in contemplation.  She had a series of visions, which she wrote down, and spent her life elaborating upon.  She is likely the first woman to write a book-length work in English.

    And what a book it is, what visions she had.  She wrote about Christ as a mother--what a bold move!  After all, Christ is the only one of the Trinity with a definite gender.  She also stressed God is both mother and father.  Her visions showed her that God is love and compassion, an important message during the time of the Black Death.

    She is probably most famous for this quote,  "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," which she claimed that God said to her.  It certainly sounds like the God that I know too.

    Although she was a medieval mystic, her work seems fresh and current, even these many centuries later.  How many writers can make such a claim?

    Yes, there are many elements of life to celebrate today.  I hope I'm mindful of that as I move through the day.

    Saturday, May 7, 2016

    Mother Daughter Banquet 2016 (and beyond?)

    The last mother daughter banquet I attended was when I was so young that I almost don't remember it--so it must have been 1971 or so.  I remember having a special dress and going to a special restaurant.  I don't remember much else.

    Through the years, I haven't given this tradition much thought.  I haven't gone to one:  I am not a mother, and my own mother has always been far away.  This year, younger women were in charge of the dinner, and since they were my friends, they invited me to come.  Our church tradition is to have the men staff the kitchen, so this invitation came about because they needed my spouse to help.  I bought a ticket.

    It was a lovely evening, and I had arrived at Friday worn out, so I needed a lovely evening.  And it was.  There were families with three generations who arrived.  There were a few people like me, who had no female relatives with them, but who had female friends.  There were people I didn't recognize, as some of our members invited their family and friends.  We even had one male who sat with the females--he had first come to worship last week, and as some of us cleaned up after the event, we wondered what he thought of it all.

    We also had one woman who chose kitchen duty with the men.

    I confess to feeling some uneasiness at the gendered nature of the event.  It feels very mid-20th century to me, back in that mythical golden age when every family had a mom, who would go to mother-daughter banquets and a father, who would go to father-daughter dances.  Where are the sons in the scenarios?

    In our modern age, I think about the single moms who have sons?  I suspect as the baton has passed from the elders who used to run this event to a younger generation in their 40's and 50's, the nature of the event will change.

    Hopefully we will ask important questions, like who gets to be seated with dinner served and who does the serving?  Is this a major change?  Is it even important?

    And I predict some will scoff at these questions.  Some people might say I'm making too much out of this, that it's just a way to celebrate Mother's Day.  But I would say that we should always be asking ourselves these essential questions, especially about traditions that might seem inviolable. 

    I would remind us that these are variations of the questions that Jesus asked:  who serves and who gets to be served and is it always the same?

    Friday, May 6, 2016

    The Witness of Daniel Berrigan and the Rest of Us

    Daniel Berrigan died over the week-end.  I think of him as shaping my theories of social justice and Christianity, although it was through the way he lived his life rather than through his writing.

    I think of the ways that I've tried to live my life as witness.  It hasn't been as flamboyant as the ways that the Berrigan brothers lived their lives.  We can't all be dumping blood on government records  and nuclear warheads, after all.

    Tuesday night, my spin class was cancelled, so I headed home.  Our Comcast service is disrupted again, this time the phone, not the Internet.  So I called and requested that my bill be reduced to reflect that I only had a half month of service--this was granted.  My spouse grilled the fish, and we headed to the porch for supper.

    What a delight.  My spouse is finishing up a semester of teaching Ethics at the community college, and he's been having a great time.  We talked about how teaching Humanities in general, Ethics specifically, is the most important subject, about how the Humanities teaches students how to live an honorable life.  I like to think that our work is as important as the work of the Daniel Berrigan, although it's a different type of work in some ways.

    And let me just contemplate this:  our work might impact more people in the end than the more flamboyant social justice demonstrating.  In so many different settings, we have both worked with students who come from a disadvantaged place in society--education may be their best shot at a better life, and we have helped.

    In these later years, I've worried about the amount of debt that students take on as they work towards this better life.  I've worried about being part of the system that enslaves the modern student.

    I suspect that Daniel Berrigan would lecture me about how I am complicit and therefore must make different choices.  I think of students who need more people like me, people who care about their success and want to help them through.

    Ah, living the moral life--it's not as easy as my 19 year old self thought it would be.

    Thursday, May 5, 2016

    Cinco de Mayo Marriage

    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.
    I don't have many Cinco de Mayo memories, but my favorite one came recently.  My spouse is a notary, and so several people who want to avoid being married by clergy have come to him.  He always offers to help create a ceremony, and so far, no one has said, "Nope--just notarize the documents." 

    He helps to create a marriage ceremony that is rooted in faith, and since his faith is Christian, they are ceremonies that reflect his Christian outlook:  marriage as partnership/relationship rooted in love, the love of the couple for each other, the love of God for the couple, the way that love strengthens us for the tasks ahead.

    So far, friends are the ones who ask him to officiate, so he has a sense of whether or not they'd want readings from the Bible or from some other source.  He has been asked to do a homily for most of the ceremonies.  So far, there's been no singing, but that could be an option.

    Last year on Cinco de Mayo, he officiated at his first same-sex ceremony.  Our friends had decided to seize the opportunity to be married, and they wanted it to be on Cinco de Mayo, since they had had their first date on that day.  Although I don't remember many details, I do remember it as a beautiful service complete with Mexican wedding cookies (which I might call pecan sandies at Christmas time).  And their union is recognized by the state of Florida, a legal opening which had just occurred at the start of the year.

    I think back to my younger years, in 1986 when the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that the state of Georgia could regulate sex between consenting adults.  I despaired of ever seeing a day when my same sex friends could wed their beloveds.

    And here we are 30 years later, and that change has come--a victory that seems similar in scope to the Mexicans defeating the French.  I see it as a victory for love in the face of hate.

    I realize that the battle isn't fully won, and that there are still many places, same sex or otherwise, where love still needs to overthrow hate.  But on this Cinco de Mayo, let us celebrate the victories that we have seen with our own eyes.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2016

    Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

    The readings for Sunday, May 8, 2016:

    First Reading: Acts 16:16-34

    Psalm: Psalm 97

    Second Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

    Gospel: John 17:20-26

    This Gospel always inspires Trinitarian thoughts when I read it: to whom does Jesus pray, when he prays? Why does Jesus have to pray, if we really believe in what we say we do, which is a Triune God? Is it a divine version of talking to oneself?

     Lately, I've been thinking about the prayer life of Christ, which we get a glimpse of in this Gospel. I find it deeply moving to think of Christ praying for me. I think of him praying for those that will come later (in our case, much later, 2000 years later) and want to weep in amazement. To the very end, Christ prays for his followers, for those that have been and those that will be. In these last prayers, he continues to focus on his central message of showing God's love to the world.

    Christ also reminds God that he wants to share the glory that God has given him. He wants to give that glory to his followers. Think on that for a minute. What if you actually were capable of being like Jesus?

    Many theologians would argue that we are, in fact, capable of being Christ like. If we but believe, anything Christ could do, we could do too. Of course, that would mean we'd have to shuck off the ideas of success, the way the world defines it. We'd have to give up our comfortable habits of anger, greed, meanness, looking out for our own skins. We'd have to practice radical love. The good news: the more we practice being Christlike vessels of radical love, the better we'll become at it.

    Here, as with any change, it's better to start with the tiniest of baby steps. Maybe this summer is a good time to increase your charitable giving. Maybe you want to donate some time to work with the poor and the oppressed. Maybe you want to remember to pray for those who aren't as fortunate as you are. Maybe you want to clean out your closets and give your surplus to those who have little.  Maybe you want to adopt an artistic practice that will help you notice the presence of God.

    How else can you be a Christ-like light in the world? We are surrounded by people who are poor in spirit, people who are suffering terrible blows. You could be there for them. You could be the person in the office who always has a smile and a kind word and reassurance that all will be well and all manner of things will be well (to use mystic Julian of Norwich's words). You could sow the seeds of hope and help fight despair. You could be the person that makes people wonder and whisper, "I wonder what his secret is? What makes her so capable of being happy?" Maybe they'll ask and they'll really want to know, and you can talk about your faith. Maybe they'll just be drawn to you and hang out with you, and you can minister that way.

    A smile is easy. Praying for the world, like Jesus does, is easy. And it's these little changes that lead to happier habits. Eventually, you've changed your trajectory and you didn't even realize it. Maybe you'll look back from a certain vantage point and say, "That was when I started to claim my glorious destiny. That's the starting point that led me on a road to be this close to the Christian God wants me to be."

    Begin today.