Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The Readings for Sunday, September 4, 2016:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm: Psalm 1

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 (Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 NRSV)

Second Reading: Philemon 1-21

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

Here we have another tough Gospel, where Jesus seems to knock all our defenses out from under us. With his reference to the person building a tower, he seems to be telling us to think very carefully before we leap onboard his Kingdom train. We may have to give up (or at least transform our relationship to) much that we've held dear.

First, he tells us that we have to hate our family. Notice that I'm not exaggerating--hate is the verb Jesus uses. He doesn't use a verb that would be more palatable, like reject or leave or forsake. No, we have to hate them. Many of us have spent much of our lives struggling against a certain human tendency towards hating others--now we're instructed to hate our family?

It gets worse. In that list of family, Jesus includes our very lives. We have to hate our own lives? What's that all about?

Many scholars would tell us that Jesus is telling us that we can't have the same lives when we're Christians as we did before we came to Christ. Our relationships will have to be transformed. Many of us place our relationships with our family members above all else. Many more of us place our own self-worth above everything else. We've spent the last several weeks listening to Jesus telling us that we can no longer behave that way. We have to transform our world of relationships. For those of us who have been used to hiding away with our families, we are called to treat the whole world as our family, especially the poor and the outcast. For those of us who put no one's needs above our own, we can no longer behave that way. The only way towards the world for which we yearn is to place the needs of others ahead of our own.

Our relationship to our possessions is not exempt from this discussion. Here is Christ again telling us that we have to give up all that we have. For some of us, it might be easy to hate our family and give them up. For some of us who are filled with self-loathing anyway, it might be frighteningly easy to hate ourselves. But to give up our possessions too? How will we ever feel secure? Again and again, Jesus reminds us that we rely too much on the things of this world, the things (and people and our own egos) that pull us away from God.

At this point we might feel despair about our ability to walk this pilgrim path.

But as our spiritual forebears would tell us, if we would listen, this all gets easier the more we practice. If we think of all that we own as being on loan to us, it's easier to pass our stuff along. If we simplify our lives, it's easier not to clutch to our money as much. If we spend our time in prayer and spiritual reading, it's easier to rely on God. If we spend our time practicing inclusivity, it's easier to expand our idea of family. The world is filled with lonely people who would like to be invited to dinner or coffee.

 And some day, we might look up and realize that the life we once lived was living death. We might realize that by renouncing that life (or by expanding it to include others), we've gained a life worth living.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Perfect Prayer: "Dona Nobis Pacem"

For several days, I've had the music and lyrics from the ancient canon "Dona Nobis Pacem" in my head.  Our church choir sang it as the offertory on Sunday, so my spouse spent time practicing by watching this video.  And now, the music is stuck in my head.

There are worse things.  It's very calming music, and the lyric translates to "Grant us peace."   I've been thinking about other things one might do to calm one's anxiety, simple things that don't require medication.  I want to remember to sing those lines.

Once I thought that essential oils might provide some soothing, so on Friday night, when I felt anxious for reasons I no longer remember, I looked to see what I had left over from our summer of candle making last year.  Citronella--hm, essential these days in Zika infested South Florida, but probably not soothing.  Likewise lemongrass.  So, I put some of the rosemary oil on a paper towel and waited for calm to descend.

Instead, I got annoyed by the smell.  Clearly that's not the way to calm for me.

On Sunday night, we worked on finger picking techniques.  My favorite was to pluck the top string of the ukulele, then the lowest string, and then the two inner strings.  As we practiced, I noticed that I felt immediately calmer.  Let me remember this too.

Traditionalists would tell me to pray, and I do.  But as with many meditation techniques, like clearing my mind, prayer is not enough to shut down the chatter of my brain, what Buddhists would call the monkey mind.

The ukulele technique works because I have something for my hands to do; it's similar to crocheting prayer shawls, which I've also been doing for a variety of reasons.

But praying set to a simple melody--that's the best soothing technique of all.

Monday, August 29, 2016

They Will Know Us by Our Singing (and Our Love)

Earlier this summer, I was part of a group from church who had 5 weeks of ukulele lessons.  We had such a great time that we decided to keep meeting once a month.  Yesterday was our first meeting.

We could bring music to share or a piece to sing by ourselves.  My spouse spent some time yesterday afternoon looking for a piece we could present, him on violin and me on ukulele.  In the end, we just didn't have enough time.  He can see a piece and play it fairly easily.  I am still having trouble shifting chords.

We did find a version of "They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love" with only 2 chords.  My spouse asked if I thought that everyone would know that song.  Given that our group skews somewhat older, born before 1968, I was pretty sure that we would.  And we did.

When I first found the chords and strummed them, I couldn't make them go with the song that I remembered.  But in a group, with more of us singing and strumming, with the upright bass and the violin, it sounded just fine.

I thought of how many groups I've been in who have sung this song.  Would they be surprised by our ukulele rendition?  Probably not.

It's no wonder we still sing that song--it's fairly simple, with lots of repetition, which makes it easy to remember.  The theology isn't troubling.

The minute I typed those words, I started wondering about the people who might find it troubling.  They might ask about creeds, about choosing Jesus above all.  They might argue that we can love each other without being Christian.

But if we're Christian and we don't love each other, I'd argue that we've failed in a most basic way.  We can still be redeemed, of course.  But we do need to love each other, in all the ways that we know how.

Sharing a meal and singing together is a great way to start.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Job's Happy Ending

On Sunday, Aug. 28, we finish our reading of Job with this passage:  Job 42:7-17.  In this passage we seem to see Job enjoying a classic happy ending:  new wife, new children, fortunes restored.  How do we interpret this ending?

One standard--but troubling!--way to interpret this ending is to see it as Job's reward for being faithful.  One way this approach troubles modern theologians is the interpretation of faithfulness: is he faithful because he talks to God and listens when God responds?  Is he faithful because he stays true to God, even in the midst of suffering?  How much are we expected to endure?

As a 21st century reader, I'm troubled because I know that Christianity has a history of holding up examples like the one we see in Job as a way to encourage people to put up with difficult situations without trying to change the structures that make the difficulty possible.  I'm thinking of generations of women encouraged to stay with their abusive husbands.  I'm thinking of Civil Rights workers being told to suffer and wait for society to catch up with them.

I'm also troubled because Job seems to leave his old family behind and move on to the replacement family, but that probably says more about me.  I'm trying to see this ending as a presentation of Job embracing life and learning to live and love again.

Here's a more radical interpretation:  theologian  Kathryn M. Schifferdecker says, "Job's fortunes are restored. He (and presumably Mrs. Job) have more children, and he gives his daughters names befitting their great beauty and an inheritance along with their brothers (an unheard-of act in that patriarchal culture). In other words, Job learns to govern his world the way God governs God's world: with great delight in his children's beauty and freedom. Like God, Job gives his children the freedom to be who they were created to be."

I wonder how my relationships would change if I, too, could be more like Job at the end and God--if I could give those around me the freedom to be who they were created to be.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Who Is the Gameboard?

As I've watched people around me struggle with a variety of issues, I've also been observing whether or not they feel they have any power in situations.  I recently came across a great way of refocusing this idea.

In this post, MaryAnn McKibben Dana references the work of Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander's The Art of Possibility when she advises:  "Be the gameboard." 

So many of us see ourselves as helpless game pieces, moved by unseen hands, participating in strategies we do not fully understand.  Maybe those hands are those of our boss or upper management or the distant corporations that seem to have acquired all of our American institutions.

What happens if we see those unseen hands as God's hands?  I have real theological trouble with that view of God, that view that everything happens for a reason, a reason known only to God.  I don't believe in God as puppetmaster.  God as gamesplayer, controlling all the pieces--where is the room for free will in that.

So what happens when we view ourselves as the gameboard, not the person playing the game? MaryAnn McKibben Dana  includes this quote from Zander and Zander:  "When you identify yourself as a single chess piece—and by analogy, as an individual in a particular role—you can only react to, complain about, or resist the moves that interrupted your plans. But if you name yourself as the board itself, you can turn all your attention to what you want to see happen, with none paid to what you need to win or fight or fix. …One by one, you bring everything you have been resisting into the fold. You, as the board, make room for all the moves, for the capture of the knight *and* the sacrifice of your bishop… for your miserable childhood *and* the circumstances of your parents’ lives… Why? Because that is what is there. It is the way things are." (emphasis in the original)

I have also started to wonder how our view of God changes if we see God as the gameboard?  We get away from the idea of a God who can control all.  In some ways, we might move to a more widely expansive view of God, a God who is everywhere, not in some distant space like Heaven.  We might also move to a more sacramental view of God.

And maybe we'd move away from some of the dangerous aspects of seeing life as a giant game.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Creating Nests, Creating Construction Sites, Creating Contentment

For the last few days, I've been going to weather sites much more often than is really necessary.  To those who would ask, "Is it ever necessary?", I would answer, yes, when a tropical system is bearing down on you, it's necessary to stay updated.

But the Hurricane Center only updates the track projection every six hours.  Why, then, did I hop from site to site?

If I wanted to justify my action, I could say that the other weather services update at different hours or I could say that I wanted to see what amateur forecasters were saying.  But it's really not that.  I just liked feeling updated, plugged in, caught up.  And there's more than a whiff of enjoying the possibility of impending apocalypse that's part of my psychology.

Truth be told, I spend a lot of time going to various Internet sites on any given day.  I don't usually stay long.  But when I need a break, that's what I do.

I stay away from sites that make me angry.  I connect with friends and family on social media.  I research for inspiration for my writing.  I look for ways that others have dealt with issues.  I admire the meals of others and think about recipes--and it's the same with other art forms that I enjoy.  And I do go to spiritual sites.

Lately, though, my aching back has demanded that I leave the computer.  On Tuesday, I was feeling grumpy for all sorts of reasons--primarily because I tried to fix a student issue that I didn't create, but we were all late to discover--and I wasn't appreciated the way I wanted to be.  So I left my office for a bit of a walk around the building.

Our building is next to a construction site.  While mourning the loss of open space, I have enjoyed watching the construction of the new condo/shopping center complex.  So on Tuesday, I went to see the progress.  I like being reminded that progress can be made.

Standing at a second floor window, I saw two birds working together to build a nest in the palm tree right outside the window. I stood very still and observed for over 10 minutes. My mood brightened.

If I'm being honest, I'll confess that my Internet zipping rarely leaves me in a brighter mood.  It can be hard to avoid content that drags me down.  And of course, all that zipping can leave me fragmented.

I need to remember to leave the computer.  I need to remember to be on the lookout for creation of all types.  And then, let me remember to say a prayer of thanks to the Creator who started it all.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

To Return Again

Last night, my spouse thought I would be home by 7--but it was my late night at work, as Wednesdays have been for some time, so I wasn't home until 8:30.  It was a simple misunderstanding, but by the time I got home, he was starting to feel panicky.

He could have been angry when I pulled in the driveway or relieved.  He chose the latter.  He greeted me with a big hug and told me of his fears.  We hugged multiple times last night.  We know how lucky we are--and at some point, we will face this loss.  At some point, one of us will not be coming home.

I thought about this sudden re-orienting, this reminder of what's really important.  I thought about all of my returns.

This morning, I'm thinking about other returns--what would be the most famous return in the Bible?  The Prodigal Son?  God who returns again and again?

I thought about God, who surely wants to welcome us as warmly as my spouse welcomed me home last night.  I thought of all the times I have returned to focus my attention on things spiritual again.  I imagine God saying, "I'm so glad you're back.  I was getting worried."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The Readings for Sunday, August 28, 2016:

First Reading: Proverbs 25:6-7

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 2:4-13

First Reading (Alt.): Sirach 10:12-18

Psalm: Psalm 112

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

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

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Signing Our Names for Justice

How many times would you sign your name to secure justice for someone else?

I'm not talking about signing a petition, although that's an interesting angle too.  I'm talking about the governor of Virginia, who tried to restore the voting rights of 200,000 felons earlier this year with a decree that restored the rights of each felon all at once--one signature required.

Some legislators protested and the Virginia Supreme Court said that he needed to restore rights one person at a time--that's a lot of signatures, and he's vowed to work his way through every single case.

I listened to this story yesterday as I was driving home from work, and I thought of the two students that I had helped in the afternoon.  I had to go to the registrar's office, get a file, make copies of transcripts, and then try to puzzle what classes had been transferred and what might still need to be transferred.  Once we made all of those decisions in-house, and it would have been me making those decisions.  Now I'm trying to sleuth my way through other people's decisions.

My afternoon task took some time, 45 minutes per student, but it's nothing compared to what the Virginia governor is facing.

I thought about the other factor--I had students sitting in front of me, so I had to take some action.  The governor could have chosen to do nothing.  Since felons have few advocates, he'd have likely faced no criticism.  He could have shrugged and said, "Well, the Supreme Court told me no--what can I do?"

Instead, he took the route that will require him to sign his name over and over and over again.  It's not a particularly brave stance--not the kind of action that so many Civil Rights workers took in the 50's, 60's, and beyond.

But it's inspiring nonetheless.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Blessed and Headed Back to School

Today in public schools across Broward county in southeast Florida, students go back to class; the same is true for our huge community college.  In public schools, teachers have been reporting for duty to get ready for at least a week.

Our church blessed students yesterday and teachers and staff the week before.  Based on what I'm reading on various blogposts and in various Facebook updates, the Blessing of the Backpacks as part of August church services is becoming fairly common across the nation, or at least in the Southeast.

I'm all in favor. Lately, I've come to believe that as a people of faith, we need to spend more time on blessing and laying on of hands. And as I remember my own school years, I remember it as being fraught with dangers of all sorts. Yes, by all means, let us bless our students and their backpacks.  Let us bless the adults who are charged with so much responsibility.

I've heard of churches that collect school supplies for the less fortunate and the blessing of the backpacks includes a blessing over those supplies and for those children.  I like that idea too.  Our synod did something similar earlier this summer, and we collected items as a church.

When I was a child, we did none of this.  I'm glad we do it now.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Job's God in a Time of Climate Change

Our church continues to make its way through the book of Job.  The readings for Sunday, August 21, 2016:

Job 38:25-27; 41:1-8; 42:1-6

In these passages, God continues to give Job a tour of creation.  When I first read it, it was hard for me to shake the tone of God saying to Job, "Who are you to question me?"  But my response still shows a human-centered approach to God, God as being defensive.

Why is it so hard for us to come to Job's realization?  Why is it hard to see God as expansive?

For some of us, it's hard because we have to admit our puniness.  Humans are not the center of the universe.  Creation was not made for humans.  We are not the largest element or the smallest--and that means contemplating the idea that we are not the most important.

I will be interested to see how theologians wrestle with these ancient views during our own time of extreme climate change.  Is it different to read the texts for this week as we create new records for hottest month and hottest year on record?

I find this vision in Job a comfort in our own times of mass extinction.  Creation will continue, even as various species expire.  God will continue to delight in creation, in all of its varieties.

God seems to invite Job to join in this wonder and exaltation.  I'd like to see other translations of Job's response.  My text uses words like despise, dust, and ashes.  Job's response seems extreme, but maybe it's just more ancient, and thus, harder for me to understand.

Like Job, I need to return to this vision that God offers.  I despair in what seems like planetary depletion, but God reminds us that the Creator works in wondrous ways.  I need to be reacquainted with this rain bearing God, the one who makes grass spring out of the desolation.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

What Would You Tattoo on Your Body?

First, let me acknowledge that I realize that many Christians take quite seriously the Biblical prohibitions against tattoos on the body, so what I'm about to write might seem heretical. 

When we were in the water park on Thursday, I noticed several people with Bible verses tattooed on their bodies--usually not the whole chunk of text, but just the book, chapter, and verse.  That got me to wondering:  if you could choose only one text to tattoo on your body, which one would it be?

And would the text you choose today be different than the one you would have chosen when you were younger?

I have loved the Micah 6:8 text since I first heard it during a Lutheran Student Movement national event:  the Lord requires of us justice, mercy, and walking humbly with our God.  But would I want that in a tattoo?  I've long loved the verses that admonish us to beat our swords into ploughshares--but is that the most important text?

Lately I've had the words of John the Baptist ringing in my ears:  I am not the Messiah.  But again, a tattoo with those words?

I saw tattoos with religious themes that had no Bible verse.  One man had these words tattooed across his larger than usual stomach:  "Only God can judge me."  Was that about his body?  Just a reminder of whose judgment is important?

And of course, there were tattoos with no words but religious imagery--or was it?  I was surprised by how many tattoos had images of death:  skulls and guns and apocalyptic scenes.  I don't really understand the appeal of having those images on my body forever.

I wondered how people decided to go with a tattoo.  Was it a kind of evangelism?  Did people think I might leave the water park and look up those verses?  Was it an action of witness?  Did the person choose it because it had deep meaning to the person?

And then the sociologist in me had other ponderings.  Are certain branches of Christianity more inclined towards these tattoos?  And there's the larger issue of societal acceptance of tattoos.  When I was a child, tattoos had an unsavory connotation--and now people carve all sorts of things into their bodies.

Of course, if I hadn't been at a water park, I wouldn't have seen many of these tattoos at all.  Now I wonder how many tattoos surround me, covered up with clothing.  Maybe it's a more private thing than I've been assuming.

I still come back to the question that interests me most:  we only have so much room to tattoo our bodies, so how do we choose?  So many essential Bible verses, so little fleshly canvas.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Remembering my Baptism at a Water Park

My sister and 10 year old nephew are visiting us this week, which means we are having a stay-cation.  My nephew wanted to go to a water park in the Bahamas, but decided he could be happy with the huge one in the neighboring county.  It was nothing like the waterslides of my youth, which usually consisted of a few concrete slides and mats for all.

Yesterday we went to a water park that had over 20 slides.  You could ride in mats, innertubes, rafts, or just your back, depending on the ride.  There was a lazy river, a wave pool, and a place for very little kids.

We spent the day surrounded by water, and I confess that at first I spent more time thinking about Physics than about water.  How could we be sure that we wouldn't get airborn and sail off the slide?  What actually happened in that vortex?  Could the raft really get that high?  How much did we all weigh and how should we space ourselves in the inner tube built for 4?

Later in the day, I thought about all the water we sloshed through the park--how we moved it on our bodies, how it dripped off the rides only to evaporate, how it got cleaned and recycled.  I thought about third world citizens who would be amazed at this wealth of water, and I thought about how few of us really seemed to appreciate it.  I also thought about how thirsty I was as we trooped from slide to slide.  I didn't want to pay the hefty price for a park drink, and there were no water fountains for drinking.

As we floated on the lazy river, with water raining down on us, I thought of Martin Luther and his advice to remember our baptism each morning as we splashed water on our faces.  I've since wondered if he really said that, since people in Luther's day used water very differently than we do.  But I do appreciate the sentiment.  As we floated, I imagined all my inadequacies washing away.

At first I thought, if only it was that easy.  But the sacrament of baptism tells us that it is that easy, that water and words combined with God's grace can do what we cannot do ourselves.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Advent: People Get Ready

A week ago, I would be going to a ukulele meet-up in the evening.  It was a treat to do something different on a Thursday, and to see the summer ukulele group in a different setting.  We stayed for a bit of the open mic, and when a group sang, "People Get Ready," I whispered to our group leader, "We should practice this for Advent--we have plenty of time!"

She suggested that I write different lyrics, but as I listened to the lyrics sung by the group, I realized that the original lyrics could work for Advent as is--and for Easter--and for Pentecost.

Still, it might be fun to write new lyrics.  So let me look at the original lyrics and give it some thought:

People get ready, there's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
People get ready for the train to Jordan
It's picking up passengers from coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board 'em
There's hope for all among those loved the most.
There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there's no hiding place against the Kingdom's throne
So people get ready, there's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
Yes, some bits need some revision--I'm not comfortable with the idea that some of us are loved more than others, which is what some people would hear with this line:  There's hope for all among those loved the most.  And no room for the hopeless sinner?  Aren't we all hopeless sinners?
And the larger issue--faith is the key--no, that's not very Lutheran.  Grace is the key.  You don't even need faith to hear the diesels humming--grace will overtake you before your senses perceive it--or am I wandering into even more mistaken theological imagery?
So yes, let me play with this song--and let me look up some chords!
C, Am, and F--or D, Bm, and G--or G, Em7, and C--yes, this is doable!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 21, 2016:

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14

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

Psalm: Psalm 103:1-8

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

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

This week's Gospel, and others like it, is often used to show the rigidity of the religious officials of Christ's time. And indeed, the Pharisees and other temple officials were extreme in their adherence to the law.   But they have a point--couldn't Jesus wait one more day to heal the woman?

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

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

Of course, it's important to remember that the religious leaders are not acutely concerned about the "on-call" nature of life.  They are not scolding Jesus because they've tried to create a retreat from hectic life that he's now disrupting.  They scold Jesus because there are rules that he refuses to follow.

To be fair, the religious leaders thought that strict observance of the rules of the purity codes would lead to the salvation of the Jews. Viewed in that light, their horror at the miracles of Jesus makes a certain amount of sense. The future of the chosen people is at stake.

Over and over again, Jesus reminds us that following the rules will not save us.  Jesus makes it clear that any day is a good day to unloose people from the issues that bind them. Again and again, he tells us that we are to stay alert for opportunities to minister to each other.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Assumptions about Grace and About Doing/Being Enough

Yesterday, as I thought about the Assumption of Mary, I wrote, "I remember hearing about the possibility of Assumption into Heaven, and I remember as a child wanting to be good enough for that eventual reward.  Clearly, my childhood self was not well-schooled in the concept of grace."

As I reflected on the various events of last week, it occurred to me that my adult self is still not resting easily in the land of grace either.  I went with a group of work folks to see one of us get an honor.  We were greeted with mango mojitos in the grand gathering area of the hotel, and for a moment, I felt sophisticated.

Later, though, I started to feel a bit worn down;  lots of stimulation, a sound system that was intrusive, and then there was the introduction of each and every woman getting honored as she walked down a runway.  I'm not sure when these women sleep, as they go out to restructure the way we offer English language classes to recent immigrants and rescue children victims of trafficking and raise their own expansive families, and invite foster children to join them--and I'm not even exaggerating some of their dossiers.  Do they have support staffs to keep their households running smoothly?  Do they work time into their schedules for self-care?

My own dossier is much less flashy, even though I have over two decades of teaching as an accomplishment.  I have changed individual lives, many of them, but I haven't changed social structures, although I've been part of groups working towards that goal.  I've written thousands of poems, but will that have any lasting impact?  I thought of what the announcer would say if I was the one walking down that runway--and boom, I spent the rest of the day in a quiet despair over having done nothing with my life.

My thoughts return to Mary, whom we honor today and throughout the year.  My younger self would have been uncomfortable with this veneration--after all, what did she do?

My older self wonders if I'm not too focused on the doing.  Mary was there and fully present in a way that so many of us never learn to be.

I have spent much of the week-end sleeping, which makes me think that maybe I am still trying to do too much, and not enough of it self-care.  Once again, I hear Mary's lessons, waiting for me.

The world is happy to let us flog ourselves into rags as we try to prove that we're worthy.  Even the church world is happy to show us examples like Mary, examples that regular women can never attain.

Let us remember that these ways are not God's ways.  God loves us from the beginning, before we've done a thing.  God delights in us, not because we're worthy, but because we are singular creations.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven

Today is one of the many Marian feast days. Today we celebrate Mary's Assumption into Heaven. Here are the readings for today:

First Reading: Isaiah 61:7-11

Psalm: Psalm 45:11-16 (Psalm 34:1-9 NRSV)

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7

Gospel: Luke 1:46-55

When I was very little, I was taught about the two Old Testament people who got to go to Heaven without dying (one was Elijah, and I can't remember who the other one was). We were taught that very good, very righteous people got to go to Heaven without dying--but interestingly, our class of little Lutherans was not taught about Mary's Assumption into Heaven.  Mary, the mother of Jesus--why was she left out?

My childhood Lutheran churches didn't mention Mary much at all, outside of the seasons of Advent, Christmas Eve, and the post-Christmas Sundays. As I've gotten older, I've felt a bit of mourning for all the celebrations and richness that we've lost in our Protestant traditions that were so eager to show how different we were from the Orthodox religions.

I remember hearing about the possibility of Assumption into Heaven, and I remember as a child wanting to be good enough for that eventual reward.  Clearly, my childhood self was not well-schooled in the concept of grace.

I understand that Mary has often been used as a tool of sexists who want to dominate women and convince them to deny their wants and needs. But as I look around and see the consequences of a whole nation devoted to selfish consideration of ONLY their individual wants and needs, I wonder if it's not time to return to the models of the saints, the prophets, Mary, and Jesus.

You might protest, "We haven't left those models.  What do you mean, return?"  But for most of us, we're surrounded by so many examples of bad behavior.  For example, it's difficult to watch TV and come away feeling enriched.  The news is full of bad behavior, and many a reality show rewards bad behavior.  It's time to start adding good role models back to our lives.  As a Composition teacher, I know that a lot of us do learn best when we have a model to follow. And many of us need lots of models.

Mary gives us a wonderful model of how to structure our religious lives. Today is a great day to go back to read the Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

God Speaks to Job

My local church is off-lectionary, exploring Job over 6 Sundays.  The readings for Sunday, August 14, 2016:

Job 31:  35-37 and Job 38:  1-11

In the readings for this Sunday, we see Job wanting God to speak to him--and then God does.  On the face of it, on the first read, we might see this as God saying to Job, "Who the heck are you to question me?"  But upon additional readings, we see a creator who takes the questions of Job seriously.

Job gets a tour of all of creation, perhaps as a reminder that humans aren't the reason why creation exists and humans aren't the reason that God exists.  In many ways, the God that we see in Job seems very modern.  This God that we see this week is a God with much to do, but not too busy to attend to Job's request.  This God is a God of the entire universe, not just a wish granter/magician for humans.

We see a vision of God in control, but not a God who is controlling.  There are boundaries that God has established, but all of creation has enormous freedom within these boundaries.  Luther Seminary professor Kathryn M. Schifferdecker explains in this essay, "God gives his creatures the freedom to be who they were created to be, and that freedom is a great gift to human and animal alike. In this vision of creation, the world is not an entirely safe place for human beings, but it is a world of order and of beauty, and its Creator delights in it."

Many of us may find this vision of God to be very different from the God we might have thought we were worshipping.  We may have been told that if our faith is great enough or if we pray hard enough, all of our prayers and wishes will be granted.  But that's crummy theology--it doesn't take into account free will or the problem of evil in the world or countless other factors that will undermine our faith in the world of that theology.

Job shows us a more mature vision of God--a God that has created the universe with certain laws and boundaries, a God who allows freedom, even though that freedom may bring heartbreak.

For many of us, it's not a comforting vision.  It means that the cancer cells may win, regardless of how hard I pray.  I might prefer the Santa Claus God of my childhood Sunday School classes.  But the Santa Claus God is not the true God, although it may be the more comforting God.

These passages in Job show us a God who has not deserted us, but at the same time, will not necessarily rescue us.  For many of us it's a tough vision.

But throughout the Bible, we see God's promise:  that God will be with us and that God delights in us--and in all creation.  God will be there, not as the magical easy fix, but as a much larger force, one not controlled by humans.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Marriage Anniversaries and the Sacramental View

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

I'm a Lutheran, and we only have two sacraments:  Baptism and Communion.  I think Martin Luther was too hasty when he got rid of so many sacraments.  I wish he had kept marriage as a sacrament.
Marriage has taught me many things, but the nature of love is one of the most important things it has taught me.  And by experiencing my husband's love for me, along with his forgiving of me, I've come to understand God's love for all of us just a bit better.

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

A sacrament is a way that God makes grace visible to us. Some religious traditions would say that the sacrament itself is the route of grace--think of baptism or communion. I know that Lutherans believe that sacraments are actions that God commands us to do.  The Anglican Book of Common Prayer defines sacrament as  an "outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible Grace."

One way of viewing sacraments says that we see glimpses of God through earthly elements that take on additional meaning--some variations of Christianity, like Celtic traditions, have a much more sacramental approach to daily life.

Marriage has so many variations that I understand why various expressions of Christianity do not include it as a sacrament.  But as a frazzled woman who needs more of the Divine in her life, I want to return to a more sacramental view.

Here is where I'm grateful for marriage and for larger family life--which I would also extend to all sorts of human community, like schools, workplaces, and churches.  I have learned to forgive things I do not fully understand.  I have learned that even great pain can be transformed so that we grow and become better humans than we would have otherwise.  I have learned that my needs are not the only needs.  I have learned to trust that all will be well--eventually.

My younger self believed in justice.  My married-for-28-years self hopes for a world of grace and mercy.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Pollution, Perseids and the Psalms

When I first got up this morning, several hours before sunrise, I slipped outside in the hopes of seeing the Perseid meteor shower.  I had heard all the reports that said this year's version should be glorious.  I expected that light pollution would get in the way, but I've seen shooting stars since moving down here.

I looked up, and rain dripped in my face.  I looked at the one clear space of sky, the 5 stars as faint pinpricks.  No meteor sightings this morning, at least not for me.

Still, I gave thanks for the rain that will nourish my newly planted shrubs.  I heard the air conditioners humming around me--I gave thanks for this technology which makes it possible to sleep down here in the middle of summer.

I live in a place of population density, which means lots of electric lights which makes it hard to appreciate the larger universe.  I'm grateful that I've had the experience of looking at the night sky in a darker place.

I thought of the Psalms that make up the liturgy of the hours, the way I begin many days.  I thought about the natural world that is part of the Psalms, and I wondered how a modern Psalmist might approach pollution of all sorts.

Can we find God in the pollution?  The Psalmists would tell us that we can.  The ancient prophets might remind us that we're most likely to find God in the polluted places--if we keep our eyes open.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Feast Day of St. Clare

Today we celebrate the life of St. Clare of Assisi, one of the first followers of St. Francis, and founder of the Order of the Poor Ladies (more commonly called the Poor Clares).  She wrote their Rule of Life, the first woman to have created such a thing, a set of rules for the life of a monastic order.

The Poor Clares lived a life commited to poverty, what St. Clare called a "joyous poverty."  Why joyous?  Because they felt they were following Christ in a much more authentic way and because they more vividly felt the presence of Jesus because of their lifestyle.  Throughout her life she faced pressure from church officials to abandon or weaken this commitment to poverty, and she resisted.  The order still exists today, which tells me much about her accomplishment.

She was also instrumental in assisting St. Francis of Assisi, and many give her credit as one of his earliest followers.  Her order was based on his intentional community, and again, Franciscan strains of spirituality not only exist but are strong today--a testament to their work.

In these days of increasingly interesting economic news, the life of St. Clare seems to take on fresh importance.  Let us take a moment to say a prayer of gratitude for her.  Let us remember the poor.  Let us vow to be joyous about reduced circumstances, should we be facing them.  Let us meet our savior as we minister to each other.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 14, 2016:

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:23-29

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

Psalm: Psalm 82

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

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

Gospel: Luke 12:49-56

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Job's Hope and Ours, Here in the Twenty-first Century

Yesterday, I was the one in charge of services, while our pastor was away.  But we're off lectionary, so I had some tough texts from the book of Job.

I write a meditation for our congregation's blog, so in this post, I'd already written on the text for yesterday:  Job 14:  7-15 and Job 19:  23-24.  In these texts, we see Job wondering about what happens when we die, and it's not exactly hopeful, despite Job's assertion, "I know that my Redeemer lives."

In fact, modern readers won't find Job's vision hopeful at all.  As I said yesterday, it's no meeting of our pets at the rainbow bridge and then going on for family reunions, like Thanksgiving except for no fights.  I pointed out that this vision of Heaven is very recent to Christianity.  It's not wrong, necessarily, since no one can know for sure, but there's no Biblical support.

I talked about our modern view of God, free will, and the problem with the crummy theology that says that if we just pray hard enough, God will cure us of our ills.  What if the cancer gets worse?  Is it because I didn't pray hard enough?  Is it because God wants to see how much I can take?  Does God like my cancer cells better than me?

I said, "Who could believe in a God like that?"  I ended by talking about how God is with us in the suffering, even if God can't magically remove our suffering.

At the passing of the peace, my spouse looked concerned.  "Tough sermon," he whispered in my ear.  "Not wrong, but it will be difficult for some people to hear."

I didn't think that I said anything too off the mark, although if I was suffering some ordeal, it wouldn't be the most comforting message.  I might prefer the warm and fuzzy vision of a magician God.  Or I might prefer the flintiness of Job.

After the service, I stood at the back to shake hands as people departed.  If people were upset over my sermon, they didn't show it.  In fact, one man who has only recently started attending said, "I've waited for years to hear something like you preached.  I've always struggled with why God would allow the suffering of children.  You've helped me answer that."

I have a certain liberty as a lay preacher.  I don't want to lead people astray, of course, but I know that if people want it, they have an out.  They can say, "Well, what does she know?  She hasn't been to seminary?  She's not my real pastor."

But I also know that my preaching yesterday wasn't a departure from what's usually preached in our pulpit.  In that, I feel fortunate.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?

It's the time of summer when I start thinking of my grandmother's cooking, especially her peach cobbler.  I can make peach cobbler on my own, of course--the way I like it, with more pastry and a better quality ice cream.  But I'm not crazy about getting the peaches off the stone.

Still, last week when I was in the Fresh Market, and I thought, let me get some peaches.  I saw the boxes that the peaches were in--they were from a farm in South Carolina, which I thought was a good sign.

In the brief moment before I picked up a peach, I thought about those South Carolina peach farms, the gnarled trees so bare in the winter, full of blooms in the spring, heavy with fruit in the summer.  I thought of road side stands, where I first learned the difference between a peck and a bushel.

And then I picked up the peach to bring it to my nose.  Oh dear.  What a hard rock of a peach.  Sadness.  I put it back and decided to bake something else. 

A Facebook friend suggested I try frozen peaches--that might be a good solution. 

I know that our modern agricultural practices have helped keep food prices low and helped alleviate many of the problems of hunger that past generations have faced.  I'm willing to sacrifice perfect produce if it means that more can be fed.

But I'm still sad for some of the losses. 

And then there's the larger issue of food and hunger in less developed countries.  But that's a topic for another day.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Transfigurations, Ancient and Modern

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

Those of us with any sense of history are likely also remembering today as the day when the first atomic bomb used in warfare was detonated at Hiroshima, thus launching us into this brave new world where we find ourselves.

Through the years, I've seen many a documentary about the rush to build nuclear weapons, about the uncertainty of what would happen with those first tests and explosions--would the very atmosphere around the planet dissolve?

But I've lived long enough to see history being made to know that the choices can be fairly ghastly.  In this case, far better to develop the weapons before the Germans. 

I've also done enough reading and thinking about pacifist approaches to wonder if there might not have been another way if we had acted much earlier.

The Feast of the Transfiguration reminds us to be mindful.  We don't always recognize the Divine in our midst--do we need Jesus transfigured before we truly see?

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

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

Friday, August 5, 2016

Trying a Simpler Approach to Worship Variety

Several weeks ago, our spin class teacher had a very simple approach to our class.  We would climb for six minutes, go fast for 20 seconds, and then recover for three minutes.  Then we'd do it again, cycle after cycle, until class was over.

Some teachers have more complicated routines.  For example, we might climb switchback style, adding gears and pedaling for 30 seconds, taking off gears and pedaling, adding one here, taking off two there.  I like those routines because they keep calling me back to the moment, reminding me to be present.

But when we did our streamlined routine several weeks ago, I was reminded of the benefit of a simple approach.  When it was time to climb, I added as much gear as I could stand and pumped away.  When it was time to speed, I took much of the gear off and went as fast as I could.  We didn't worry about the music--although I like a routine matched to the beat of the music, the beat of any particular song seemed less important that day.

As I think about that approach and the satisfying workout that I had that day, I wonder if we could adopt a similar approach to other areas of life.  I think about it especially in terms of church.

We often create worship services that try to be all things to all people.  We have a band and we have traditional hymns.  We do liturgy in a variety of ways--and all in one service.

Or we create several services, each vastly different from another, as we try to please everyone--and then we spend lots of time wondering how to increase attendance at each one.

My church has gone with the variety of services approach, but we don't spend as much time as we once did thinking about attendance numbers.  I worry a bit about burn out; as with many small churches, the brunt of the work falls on the shoulders of the few.

But so far, our approach has been working--it's good to rest in this space, without trying to reinvent our worship approach every year.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Hope of Job

Our off-lectionary study of Job continues with these passages for Sunday, August 7, 2016:

Job 14:  7-15 and Job 19:  23-24

In these passages we see that Job still wrestles with how to handle his suffering and where to find God in this suffering.  In these passages, we see similar themes that careful readers see throughout the Bible.

Job finds hope--strange, inexplicable hope--in the middle of his extreme suffering.  He doesn't have the same kind of hope in an afterlife that twenty-first century readers might have.  He senses that other parts of nature might have more hope of an immediate redemption, new sprouts, and that humans die and dry up as a lake might.

Yet he also professes belief that he will see God, and Job yearns for this time, even as he admits to not understanding how it will happen.  Job's response feels familiar to me.

I think of the Easters that I have celebrated when the Easter message rang hollow to me, when death felt more victorious than God.  I felt surrounded by happy people who felt more reassurance than I did in that Easter message.  In these times, I like the message of Job, the message of the Psalms--I like these texts that show us the human response to God and to suffering.

I know that the disadvantage to a free will world is that God cannot just sweep in and make everything OK.

But I also know that the message of that weaves its way through our Bible, with the Easter culmination, the promise that Death will not be the final answer.  We do not know how and when Death will be defeated--at least, I'm not going to try to engineer God that way.  We know the how of the beginning of the defeat of the Death culture:  we have spent days hearing that part of the story.  But we don't know the future part.

But we do have God's promise that Death doesn't have the final word.  We see it as a constant theme in our texts, and we see that announcement throughout all of creation.  And even when we feel the despair of Job, even when we doubt this promise, God will not abandon us.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The Readings for Sunday, August 7, 2016:

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

I've heard many a minister preach on this text, and others like it. Almost all of them rush to assure us listeners that Jesus doesn't really mean that we should sell all of our possessions and trust fully in God to provide for us. Yet as I read the Gospels, I see that Jesus gives us these instructions again and again. Why are we so quick to dismiss these instructions? What if Jesus really meant what he said? What if it's not some kind of code, but something we're meant to take literally?

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

One of the often repeated messages in the teaching of Jesus is that God will provide for us everything we need. Why is it so hard for us to believe?

I share this burden. Although I give money away, I still have a variety of savings and investment accounts. What would happen if I decided that I would trust that God will provide for me in retirement? How could I change lives if I gave that money away to people who have nothing?

I remember once when my spouse had gotten a promotion and a raise, I expressed worry that too much money was spiritually dangerous. My Charismatic Catholic friend was the one who was most shocked by that idea. But really, why is that idea so shocking? Jesus is very clear that money and the pursuit of money can seduce us away from God's mission for us.

Once, when I was stuck in an airport in Kentucky, I saw a book in the bookstore with this title: God Wants You to Be Rich. Really? In what Gospel would that be? I scanned the book, hoping that the author would cleverly remind us that God wants us to be rich in love, not rich in money and stuff. Alas, no. The author assured the reader that God's deepest desire for us is for us to accumulate money.

What blasphemous heresy! Read the Gospels again. Read the New Testament again. So much of the New Testament can be summed up thus: Stay awake and alert, focused on what's important; what's important is to love each other, the way God loves us; don't get too attached to things that don't matter--they keep you from loving your fellow sheep.

Again and again, Jesus tells us that we can't serve two masters. We must choose. Take a hard look at your life and the way you spend your time. What have you chosen? Do you spend more time in prayer or more time sorting through your financial investments? Do you read your Bible more than you read the business section of the paper? Do you look for ways to welcome the poor and the outcast? The Bible tells us that we'll find God there.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Applying Our Hearts to Wisdom

What strange angels, made of everyday materials, painted in the bright colors of parrots:

A monk, made of wood, not flesh:

Funeral flowers meet their last demise:

We find fading flowers everywhere:

We are reminded of our ultimate end:

But all is not as it seems:

"So teach us to number our days, so we might apply our hearts to wisdom" Psalm 90:12 :

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Festival of Lughnasa

Today is the Celtic festival of Lughnasa, which Christine Valters Paintner describes in this blog post: "Lughnasa (pronounced Loo-nassah) is one of the ancient Celtic feasts celebrated on August 1st marking the time of the beginning of the harvest and the gathering in. It is said to honor the Celtic sun-god Lugh who was an ally to the farmer in the struggle for food. With the Summer Solstice six weeks before, you can start to really feel the shortening of the days in August in Ireland. There is a subtle shift in the light and the air that leans towards autumn’s crispness and cooler days.  The energy in the world is changing."

Her blog post describes some of the Celtic ways to celebrate this festival, ways that celebrate some of the first fruits of the autumn harvest.  Celtic Christians in the Hebrides in Scotland have wrapped elements of this festival with the Assumption of Mary on August 15.

I will celebrate by gathering with neighborhood friends.  My spouse will give the child of one set of friends her violin lesson.  Then we will all catch up with each other.  We were last all together in early May, when summer hadn't even started.  And now it's almost over.

In our part of South Florida, we are in the last weeks of summer--not in terms of weather, as it will be hot for months to come.  Our light hasn't changed significantly--sunrise is only 18 minutes later now than it was at the summer solstice.  But teachers in our public schools will be reporting to school in two weeks, students in three.

Our church does the same thing throughout summer as we do the rest of the year, so we don't have a fall schedule to launch.  We've wrapped our Sunday School into our middle worship service, so we don't have a Rally Day to welcome Sunday School kids back to a routine.  But we do bless the teachers and then the next week, we bless students and their backpacks.

My day to day life won't change as radically in the next few weeks as will the lives of students and my friends who teach in the public schools.  Still, I look forward to the changes that August will bring.  July has been a tougher month than I expected--I've been nursing a back that has launched into spasms at the slightest move, plus we've had lots of workers at the house to finish various projects.

Today my back is better, and the home repair projects are almost done.  I look forward to what August has in store.